Well, that’s a dilly of a pickle. –Ned Flanders (The Simpsons)
The sky is falling! –Chicken Little
Two proprietors of a pet shop are standing outside on what is clearly a slow day. One man wears a forlorn expression as he leans against the front window. In contrast his partner is clearly bubbly. The caption, spoken by the happier soul, is “Cheer up. After all, people will always need exotic tropical fish!”
As a Californian I will try not to sound bitter or elitist when I say that we pioneered the concept of $4.00 per gallon gas. Among the trend setters in L.A. there is hope for five or six dollar petrol to “de-clutter” the freeways and also make us appear more European. I think the rationale is similar to Minnesotans embracing winter cold to keep the riffraff out. Anyway, it is very chic and high status here to be observed by the neighbors loading up the behemoth for a “Sunday drive.” Those of us who now cluster errands, drive sparingly, and go downhill whenever possible, are wondering when someone will take action. We hide behind the green anthem of saving the planet and sticking it to the Saudis. My protests feel like those of decades ago, when I really did have to work on prom night.
All right, silliness over, it’s me. It seems we are rudderless, sinking fast, and in uncharted waters on all economic fronts. That is all the nautical references I choose to make without calling up either a perfect storm or the big T (hint: it nearly rhymes with “gigantic”). Gas prices are both a concrete and symbolic example of the way we cope with a world of ever-diminishing expectations. I was momentarily overjoyed when I spotted a gas station offering 87 octane for $3.98. Angry at myself when I “came to,” I began to ruminate over how tricked and manipulated I feel. I have been programmed to believe that $4.00 a gallon is a deal.
Perhaps my world view is too limited, but on the food front, why did my favorite Trader Joe’s tomato soup jump in price from $1.99 to $2.29 overnight? I know it has to be shipped and trucked, and everything is going up, but these particular cartons were already in the store and on the shelf. I grudgingly understand the need for the new soups to reflect the increase, but these incumbent containers required nothing more than a light dusting between Thursday and “Black Friday.” The same is true of gasoline already in the giant below-ground storage tanks; someone raised the price “because they can.”
What can be done? I have become one of those crazy old people who routinely go to five food stores a week in search of loss leaders. I am presently attempting to fill my freezer and cabinets in anticipation of what will go up in price next. Since I do not understand Wall Street or the commodities market, the only way I can get a good return is to bet on food futures. I could have saved the 11% markup on the soup debacle with a little inside information. I mean, who is getting 11% on their money anymore?
I have taken to cultivating various store employees, but as they are generally a third of my age and heavily pierced. The conversations have often resulted in their needing to attend to pressing issues in the back room, rather than solid tips. In hindsight, buying vast quantities of a single item has probably nudged my profile from “colorful and eccentric” to “watch carefully but avoid eye contact” in a number of establishments. My most recent futures foray is Trader Joe’s peanut butter, which is still trading at $1.69 a pint. I made an aggressive buy and, to JoAnne’s dismay, I have filled the only remaining cupboard and have begun to place the reserves on the garage floor in nice neat stacks no more than five high.
Another tip for the new economy is filling little-utilized bed space with product. Cans and jars fit comfortably under most mattress and box spring setups. You can store foods by category and expiration date. Best of all, it is safely away from those who are critical of your portfolio.
My last point is more controversial, and even I do not want to commit to it unless McCain keeps gaining in the polls. How often have you heard “We go through (insert food name here) so fast in this house, I can’t keep up. We are always out of it!”? Foods we like disappear and we are at the mercy of Kowalski’s, Rainbow, Lunds, and Byerly’s. To really save money, buy not only what is on sale, but items no one in the family likes very much. Beets are not only nutritious, but will cut down on costly midnight snacking.
So eat stuff you don’t mind too much and lose weight! Put the car up on blocks, or maybe rent it out for extra cash. Enjoy the fresher air. Get more exercise. Stymie terrorists by not flying. Discover the wonders and dumpsters you can visit on foot. Think of all you can recycle. Loitering close to home helps you get to know your neighbors. Remember the shelters/kiosks on Hennepin, Franklin, and Lake Street are not just for those with bus fare: they are airy, spacious, and free-of-charge environments that provide a welcome relief from the elements!
On a serious note, a wire service story recently stated that Spam (the near-food, not the computer annoyance) is setting sales records. Perhaps there will be a run on torches and pitchforks at local hardware stores before the Republican National Imposition in St. Paul. Better stock up.
Tom H. Cook is on his way home for a visit, so if you notice unusual dumpster activity in the neighborhood, it is probably him. He will be hoping to corral Walter Mondale or another super delegate at Kowalski’s. Finally, an entry in the Last Straw Department: Hillary Clinton calling it quits after the death of Yves St. Laurent, creator of the pant suit.