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  • Writer's pictureerikaraskin

Prudence And Bliss

--This essay originally aired on public radio.--

Photo by Harry Cunningham on Unsplash

My relationship with money has always been strained. It swings between frugality and careless abandon — often within the same shopping trip.

I spend. Then atone. This has led to a variety of consumer predicaments.

Once, after a particularly effective come-on at the cosmetic counter (the mall equivalent of a red-light district) I bought a stupidly expensive exfoliater. I made up for it by agreeing to a “complimentary" carpet-cleaning offer from a telemarketer. The freebie, of course, turned out to be a relentless demonstration for a $1600 dollar device, ending in an extortion attempt for phone numbers of friends and family. (For the good of the many, I gave up my brother, Noah.)

Not long after that I bought an overpriced purse. This led to attending a promotional event for a new golf community. Located near a factory outlet the pay-off was supposed to be two hundred Outlet Bucks. I cajoled my family into coming, promising to split the money between the kids. The spiel was relatively painless. I sat in the audience organizing my new purse pretending not to notice my family glaring at me. Afterwards we were herded into another room to collect payment. Literally.

An industrial fan hooked up to a little booth was whipping phony money around in a paper tornado. I looked pleadingly at my spouse. He shook his head. My kids were ruthless so I climbed in and valiantly tried to snag the projectile slips of currency. Then I just tried to protect my face. Through a veil of Outlet Bucks I peered at my husband. He was laughing so hard he was kneeling.

I walked away with a whopping $33.00. Which I had to fork over to the children. One would think that little escapade might’ve cured me. One would be wrong. After yet another misguided purchase, I was seeking redemption when I got a call saying I’d won a family ski trip in exchange for a quick tour of a nearby vacation spot.

I accepted.

We parked at the Welcome Center and were assigned to John — a cross between Willy Loman and one of those shrieking talking heads on Fox. His desperation was contagious. We followed him to his little compact and I watched with a sinking feeling as my 6’3 husband folded himself into the backseat. The hype started before the car did. “Let me get one thing straight.” John barked. “This is NOT a time-SHARE operation. Everyone here’s an actual OWNER!” My spouse dug his knee into the back of my seat. Hard. We toured a collection of dingy trailers parked near a suspicious looking lake. Downtrodden residents staggered around like extras from Night of the Living Dead. I kept expecting to be palmed a rescue note through the car window. Finally John drove us to the lodge for a soda and our ski trip voucher. Other people were seated with guides doing the hard sell. Every time somebody caved, his salesperson would jump up and ring a huge bell. “There goes another one!” John would warn. (Which actually got my consumer juices flowing. I started worrying about scarcity.) But I got a hold of myself and explained that we really just wanted the vacation. John glared, gathered himself up and walked away. He ditched us. No soda, no free ski-pass, no ride back to the parking lot. And no more company on acts of consumer contrition. In fact, my husband is urging financial counseling.


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