Sunday, April 11, 2010

I Wouldn't Give That For It

It is not possible to win a cost-argument with my parents, as evidenced by this "vintage" Playmate cooler that my Mom and stepdad refuse to replace. As you'll see from the "normal" red Igloo featured on the left, there's a push-button that releases the lid. On my parents' version (as you'll see on the right), there is a screw in place of that button, to keep the top on. At full retail, on the Igloo site, this model is $19.99. That's correct, for less than $20 bucks, a fully functional cooler. They want no part of it. It's like they've become Amish and a $19.99 button is the Devil's Playground (not to mention the kind of wild spending that would lead to a Lehmann Brothers-style collapse of their retirement).

It goes without saying that my "luxury" tastes (in everything from Kleenex-brand tissue to Fruity Pebbles) is an affront to my Mom's frugalista tendencies. I should also disclose up front that I deeply admire and respect her ability to stretch a buck. If it were not for that, we would've gone hungry as kids. But now that she is A. retired, and B. diagnosed with a terminal illness, I think she should treat herself just a little. I'm not advocating a Yacht Club, I'm just saying if it were up to me, I would splurge on this for her -- say, for some extravagant occasion, like Mother's Day -- but I know it would only make her cry. (And not tears of joy either.)

Paradoxically, my mother loves to shop, while there is nothing about it that I enjoy. I don't enjoy the hunt, or the sport, or spending money, or even the saving of money. I am the Purpose-Driven Shopper. If I am hungry, I will forage for food. If I am cold, I will seek outerwear. I don't know how to negotiate. I pay whatever the pricetag says if I have the money. If I don't have the money, I go without. My Mom is just the opposite. The bargain is what drives her. The lone annual exception I make is the annual Church rummage sale, where, after years of careful instruction from Mom, I can now buy Gap T-shirts by the pound.

So this weekend's visit wasn't just about a shopping trip, it was about my mother's missionary zeal to teach me to shop. I've learned not to express my novice opinions when I'm on one of her Expeditions. I used to point out what I thought was the occasional bargain -- say, 50 percent off -- earning nothing more than a snort of contempt when she'd examine the pricetag and, regardless of what it said, pronounce with authority, "I wouldn't give that for it." (As in, "it's fine, but I wouldn't give $3 bucks for it.") Retail is for suckers and trust-fund babies.

Our first night out was the HG show, where I found a good deal on a new oxygen trolley for her (seriously, I had to insist it was her Mother's Day present) and earned some approval ("it has ample storage, and folds to fit behind a car seat or hang on the back of a door.") The next day, I did ok at the mattress store and the tile store. I think maybe even I gained a grudging respect as I surveyed the bed, bath, and beyond clearance items and dismissed them as "overpriced." Then I lost it all when I picked up some shower rings I liked (marked down to $5 bucks) and expressed dismay that they didn't have two sets (since the clawfoot tub in the spare bathroom has to have a double set of everything). Clearly I had failed the test. "Haven't you thought of putting those shower rings you like on the front and then getting cheap ones for the back, where they don't show?" Well, no. I hadn't. In the first place, I thought $5 bucks was cheap. Second, the shower curtain isn't an invisibility cloak -- anyone who walks into that bath can see the entire thing, unless I decide to unscrew all the lightbulbs to save some more money. Clearly, I had a lot to learn.

I didn't do any better at the architectural salvage yard where you can buy sinks for 99 cents. All I can tell you is, I do not want to know what is inside those pipe joints. There was a stainless steel fridge in the middle of the floor labeled "sold" at $149 bucks -- which I promptly proclaimed a bait and switch. I will wager a guess that fridge has been sitting there with a "sold" sign on it since the place opened. I may be a rookie, but I'm not falling for that one.

From there, we went to a discount food chain, where we mostly have to agree to disagree (except about the half-price M&Ms). I don't necessarily object to the premise -- the prices are cheaper because you do their work, like bring your own bags.  DiscoKroger has figured out a way to get shoppers to check themselves out, and still pay fullprice at the UScan (which I won't use, because, I don't work for Kroger... would they like me to stock some of their shelves and mop their floors while I'm at it? Fine. Then take it off my tab at least.)

As for off-brand food, the disputes between my mother and me on this have been going on since she re-married. That's when the Great Crystal Light episode happened. That's when she caught a glimpse of the instant Lemonade in my pantry, and nearly fainted dead away at my profligate extravagance -- envisioning my future alongside the rest of the homeless, trying in vain to warm myself over the Rupp Arena heating vents. The stupid stuff wasn't even for me -- I only bought it to have on hand for my diabetic relatives. It was new on the market at the time (that's how long-ago this fight started), and they were treating it like high-tech electronics, i.e., something they might buy when the prices came down. Like they didn't want to get caught with an investment in Beta instead of VHS. When I asked innocently what I should've bought instead, my mom's (now legendary) response was, "a little RealLemon, a little Sweet 'n Low, you'll never know the difference."

Oh, but I think I would. My stepdad is a volume-eater -- it's like shoveling coal into a furnace. I get that it's not inspiring to live with that on a culinary basis. If he wants to eat "Oatie-Os" instead of Cheerios, that's fine, but I'd prefer to go hungry. Don't get them started on the time my brother bought $13 cheese. I have a feeling the whole town knows all about his Legend, and that whenever he crosses the city limits, he's like Clint Eastwood, and somebody whistles the theme from The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly. If my parents paid $13 for cheese, you can bet they would have to buy a new house to fit it all into.

What I am reluctant to confess for fear of jinxing is the fact that the next store was ... maybe... a game changer -- a permanent shift in our mother-daughter relationship. That's where I found the Magic Chair. Admittedly, I thought it was a loveseat. But it was exactly what I'd been looking for. One of my girlfriends has a similar model in her office (hers came from Crate & Barrel via eBay, I think). The FoodGays have one like it in their living room (and theirs came from the fanciest design house in town). Most importantly, I'm not sure, but I think there were tears of pride in her eyes when she saw the price. It took another couple hours to find a friend with a Suburban it would fit into, and a husband who was willing to pick it up and haul it over -- while the Junior Gays walked over to help unload it. (It does take a Village.) While it clearly was not a loveseat, once I got a better look at it, it was indeed, what Jupe described as "a Big-Ass Chair." And that is what I wanted.  I was happy. The price was right. And Mom was happy. I don't think there's ever been such a convergence.

But it is possible that Chef Tom stepped in and put an end to all this endless debate when he dropped off supper for us last night (boeuf bourguignon) and -- in response to the ongoing conversation -- threw himself under the bus. In an act of pure selflessness, he loved my Mom enough to let her know just what a deal we had actually gotten. He told us what he'd paid for their Magic Chair (at half price), and then handed my Mom his receipt from the afternoon shopping at the Snooty Falooty store. His find for the day was clarified butter.

I won't tell you what he paid for it, but I will tell you my Mom was wishing about then we'd bought a fainting couch instead of a Big Ass Chair.

Finally, the heat is off me, as I think I heard her mumbling rosaries for him all night long.

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