Don't Get Me Wrong, This Cheapness Thing Is Recent And Is Likely Not A Permanent Affliction (And Some Yeats)

I am trying to eat lighter and healthier, because throughout the month of December and over the holidays, I ate like absolute crap, gravy-on-everything-deepfried-creamy-dressings-cheese-chocolate-and-candied-nuts crap. So, today I brought a boiled egg, a cup of yogurt, and an orange for lunch. I believed that these three things were pretty much fail-safe. It turns out, I was wrong.

While I was peeling the shell from the egg, I kept sniffing the air. There was a strange smell about, and I couldn’t locate from which area of the office it was wafting. It was only when I had salted the egg and brought it closer for my first bite that I realized it was that which was creating the stank. It smelled distinctly like the uriney smell of fishsticks in the oven. And you know what? I ate it. It still tasted like a boiled egg, but I will keep you posted if it turns out to be recursive.

The yogurt has turned out to be the least enjoyable yogurt I have ever had the displeasure of eating. Firstly, when I bought said yogurt, I neglected to notice that it is fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt, which is the least nutritious and most like junk food of all the yogurt varieties. Secondly, this particular cup of it claims to be apricot-mango, but it tastes precisely like the fluoride treatments of my elementary school years. You know what I’m talking about: the large U-shaped trays that would be filled with a thick fluoride goo that came in nasty and always soured flavours, the suction hose that sucked out gobs of spit mixed with gelled goo clumps from under your tongue, and the sickening thin stream of it that would dribble down the back of your throat which no amount of fighting your swallow reflex could stop. Along with my fishy-smelling egg, I ate the yogurt, too.

Reading over this, I realize that perhaps you think I am broke, unable to buy better food for lunch. This is not so. I was paid only one week ago. Perhaps you think that I’m trying not to waste food. That is not so, either. I could have left at least the yogurt in the staff refrigerator for one of my co-workers to choke on. The truth is that, over the last week, I’ve suddenly become cheap. I can’t bring myself to spend money on better food when I have such unsatisfying and possibly illness-inducing repast right here in front of me. I'm not usually cheap at all and have not been this cheap in years, so this bout with abject frugality has taken me by surprise.

When I was a kid in elementary school, I was incredibly cheap. If I was at a store with a friend, I would deliberate over the possible purchase of a chocolate bar for minutes on end until my friend, L, would drag me away. I remember one occasion in particular when we were standing in an aisle in Woolco looking at cheap, faux-asian, silk wallets. (The picture of this guy in front of a Woolco brings back memories). I had worked out the price plus the tax and had figured that the wallet would cost me $1.05. Until that point, I had been carrying my money in a business envelope folded inside my jacket pocket, so I really wanted the thing. I think I also saw it as taking a step toward some kind of maturity, as I was right at that age where my body hadn’t sprouted anything yet, but I was right on the cusp of something happening.

I had a crisp twenty in my envelope and another one at home in a jar, which was a lot of money at the time. It’s not like the $1.05 would have busted me or anything, but I found it extremely difficult to imagine breaking the twenty dollar bill. I worried that the leftover money would be spent too easily if it was broken down into smaller denominations, that I might really need the whole twenty for something bigger that I would want, that I might end up being dissatisfied with my purchase, that perhaps a wallet wasn’t a necessity but an extravagance. Overthinking has always been one of my largest obstacles to overcome. I may as well throw “being neurotic” in there, too.

L was patient with me at first. She had been through this many times before and knew that it was best to hang back and let me go through my agonizingly slow decision-making process, because once I was started, I had to see the thing through to the end. Eventually, though, after watching me work it out on paper three or four times and press my finger to my lips repeatedly and pick through the two dozen or so in stock over and over to see which of them was of the best quality, she couldn’t take it anymore. She delivered an ultimatum. If I didn’t buy one of those wallets within the next three minutes, she was going to leave with or without me.

L never kidded about things like that, and she never backed down. Her great sense of reason and practicality were two of my favourite things about her. The seconds ticked by, and my mind raced through its arguments over and over, anxiously trying to come up with a decision within the allotted timeframe. At the thirty-second mark, L warned me that my time was running out. At the ten-second mark, L commenced with a countdown. At zero, she started walking away from me down the aisle.

L! I yelled.

What? Have you finally made up your mind? she asked, turning back with an exasperated hand on her hip gesture.

No, I replied, and then I spontaneously reached out to grab the wallet of my choice from the wire bin. I walked toward L, item in hand.

You’re actually going to get that? she asked disbelievingly. You won’t even buy a chocolate bar if we split it! (At that time, chocolate bars sold for somewhere between 35 and 45 cents, so you can understand her incredulity).

I guess so, I answered. I could hardly believe it myself. I was going to buy the faux-asian, silk wallet that I had had my eye on for weeks. I was going to spend $1.05 and maybe even enjoy it!

When we arrived at the checkout, I fished the twenty out of its envelope and gave it, along with four pennies from my pocket, to the girl behind the counter. I knew that I was short a penny, and turned to L to borrow the last one from her.

You have a twenty there. Are you that cheap?

I don’t want to get pennies back, I explained. In truth, I didn’t want my twenty dollar bill broken down into any more smaller denominations than I had to.

Yes, I was that cheap. At some point during high school, I lost my cheapness and spent money like normal people do. I don’t know what did it, but my neurotic miserliness seemed to clear up in the middle of puberty. That is, it was cleared up until this last week. I am going to assume that this is merely a phase, a January / seasonal depression-induced phase, because I hate to think that I have years of sub-standard food and long deliberations over bargain-bin items ahead of me. Or I could get a jump start on it and start stuffing bills into jars and hiding them in the walls tonight after work.

Brown Penny” by William Butler Yeats

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