Category Archives: Too expensive

More like Spam or more like Alpo?

AlpoI’m sorry I’ve been away. I’ve been agonizing over my work situation, and also went to visit the nuns (seven hours each way on the bus). But I had time to long after something to buy.

A story: Someone I knew admitted to having eaten Alpo. The dog food reputed to be the meat of last resort of impoverished senior citizens. It was pretty good, he said.

He did not specify the circumstances, whether poverty or curiosity, that had led to that ingestion, but he sparked my curiosity.

SpamYou see, like everyone who has some connection to Hawaii’s local culture, I love Spam, which too is canned meat. Spam is excellent sliced, fried, and served on fluffy, sticky steamed short-grain rice like Kokuho Rose brand. Serve in stir-fry dishes with vegetables, cut it into matchsticks and put on top of your ramen, and of course make sandwiches.

KokuhoRoseRiceSpam is an excellent ingredient in omusubi (rice balls) or sushi, replacing the traditional pickled plums in the former and the boiled shrimp in the latter. This video shows the simplest way of making this homestyle comfort food. Did you know you can make delicious sushi on the cheap? Indeed you can!

Being a poor graduate student, I looked for ways to eat more cheaply, since I subsisted on sandwiches from the convenience store. So I decided to try Alpo.

When I opened up the can, I was surprised at how good it smelled. I saw bits of offal in it, veins and such, but being an eater of such delicacies as fish eyeballs and chicken hearts, I had no hesitation at its looks.

I dug into the can. Oh, the horror! The horror! It tasted indescribably nasty; the bits of offal were rubbery to the point of being unchewable; and the heavy grease had no flavor, being more appropriate to a tallow candle or lubricating a garden fence hinge. Promptly I threw the can away. The word “animadversion” was made for such a situation.

CannedBeefMeatSo I was intrigued when I ran across “Canned Beef Meat” on the Lehman’s website. “Be prepared to cook hot, wholesome meals in an emergency, or simply stock your pantry for your family’s everyday dining.” “Enjoy in all your favorite recipes: stews, soups, casseroles, ethnic dishes and more.” Ethnic dishes? Hmm.

The sole ingredients are beef and salt. I can’t help wondering: Is it more like Spam or more like Alpo? At least it’s made for human consumption, but…

I would love to find out. But at $10.95 plus shipping for a 28-ounce can, it is too expensive to fulfill my curiosity. Maybe you can try it and let me know.

Off the wagon, shopping-wise

ticketsWell, now I’ve gone and done it. This is bad. I went on a shopaholic spending spree. You probably sense that I’ve been doing worse over the past month, and this afternoon, I realized how bad things have gotten. I’m embarrassed to confess this to you, but I simply went and spent a lot of money without thinking hard about it. I thought I was doing better with the shopaholism, but here I am off the wagon.

I’ve been very unhappy at work, and recently, things got even worse. But applying for jobs hasn’t been enough to fulfill my hunger for satisfying work. One advantage is that I avoided buying physical objects. The other is that I’m not going to be able to afford many physical objects for a while. I have now spent enough money that from now at least through this spring are going to be belt-tightening times. Avoiding physical objects is not enough of an improvement — I simply should have not spent as much.

Zummara_MedievalOver the past few weeks, I bought tickets to 4 early-music concerts in February and March, and I prepaid for Saturday to Sunday single nights at four-star hotels for 1) the weekend before New Year’s last month; 2) this weekend; 3) Presidents’ Day weekend; and 4) Memorial Day weekend. Oh, and I’m planning to visit the nuns for three days at the end of this month, which is $400 including the bus fare.

It isn’t enough to say the concerts are cheap and that I got really good deals on the rooms, that I could bring my own sandwiches to the hotels (room service doubles the cost of a hotel stay), and that the nuns almost certainly would accept less money than I intend to give them. No, I have to admit sadly that I simply spent too much.320px-Waiter_pouring_Zardetto_sparkling_Prosecco

And regardless of how grim my finances now look for the next few months, I am very happy to have all these experiences to mull over or look forward to. I’m still on the shopaholic high at the moment.

There’s a shrill little mosquito buzz of worry about how I am going to keep up with the payments as the bills come in, and some thumping sounds of embarrassment at trying to buy my way out of my unhappiness, both muffled by my shaky confidence that as much as I am a shopaholic, I have never gotten into financial straits I couldn’t get out of. Nevertheless, despite these alarms, I still feel happy to look forward to these experiences. They are anodynes that will (um, I hope) ease the pain of my work situation.

I went back to Wikipedia about “oniomania,” or shopaholism:

Compulsive buying seems to represent a search for self in people whose identity is neither firmly felt nor dependable, as indicated by the way purchases often provide social or personal identity-markers. Those with associated disorders such as anxiety, depression and poor impulse control are particularly likely to be attempting to treat symptoms of low self-esteem through compulsive shopping.

Well, that fits my situation to a tee. My once rock-stable work identity has been shaken by some nasty events at the office; I’m anxious about landing a new job and learning it; I’m depressed at the prospect that it may take years to find a job that I can do this well in, in terms of both competence and pay; and very strongly, I feel like asserting class markers, as pretentious and shameful as it is.

I want to tell my boss: “I stay in good hotels where they call me ‘madam’ and offer to summon the bellhop to pick up my matching luggage, and I eat good room service there, where the waiter lifts the lid off the entree with a flourish. I go to sophisticated early music concerts. I have a convent I like to visit and give money to, as if I were a medieval noblewoman. I want you to know, Boss, that I am still a smart, dignified, hard-working, professional helper, the way you used to treat me.”453px-Gheorghe_Tattarescu_-_Stareta_Manastirii_Ratesti_

So as happy as I feel that I have all these pleasant events coming up this spring, it’s all rooted in bitterness and resentment, and that is not a good thing. The only positive about this is that the purpose of the convent visit is to talk with the abbess about how to handle my work situation with less bitterness and more patience, while retaining my firm decision to leave this job. But she can’t do the heavy lifting. That’s up to me.

I’m ashamed at being so pretentious and resentful and shopaholic, because compared to millions of Americans in dire straits, I’m doing all right. But I know that I am no longer in the right job if my work situation brings out traits such as shopaholism that put me in a bad situation.

Nothing that drastic

Some years ago, I discovered that I love staycations, rather than traveling. My style is to call them “mental health breaks,” aspirationally staying in a local four-star hotel for a night a few times a year. (My latest conquest was the InterContinental, on which I used points to get an absurdly low rate on a top rate room. My next conquest is the Langham.)

These places provide numerous amenities I don’t have at my SRO: A bed, a bathtub, movies, a pool, fine restaurant food served to me on a ceramic plate at a table with a cloth instead of handed over a counter in a styrofoam box, and access to alcohol, the latter prohibition in my SRO probably to prevent fights or people drinking themselves into a stupor alone every night.

In a hotel, unlike the smallest real apartment I could rent at three times my SRO rent, I don’t have to clean the bathtub, tub, and sink, change and wash the linens, go out in the weather to watch movies, and lug home a bottle of wine that will half spoil because I cannot drink the whole thing in time. A hotel room for a night or two gives me true appreciation of amenities for a fraction of the cost of having them where they are merely burdens. (And, as I mentioned in my post on interior design, they have given me a taste for simpler design combined with finer, more durable materials.)

I have made these mental health breaks often enough over the years to sense how hotel clerks size up the customers. But, as I’ve told you before, I tend to look like a bag lady at the best of times.

Frame Traveler in Venetian PaisleyBringing one’s luggage in plastic grocery bags means bad treatment. Using black fabric bags means routine, mindless treatment. Bringing three or four largeish bags in a loud, matching Vera Bradley pattern means being treated like C’mell in Cordwainer Smith’s novel “Norstrilia.” A generous 20-oz. cold bottle of water appears from nowhere, the lightweight bags are gently lifted onto a giant brass luggage cart, and upon arrival at the room, the bellhop carefully explains how the thermostat works before bowing, accepting his tip, and literally backing out of the room.

The bear-man leapt from his stool with astonishing speed. “Cat-madame!” he cried, “A thousand pardons. You can have anything in the place. You come from the top of Earthport? You know the Lords of the Instrumentality personally? You would like a table roped off with curtains? Or should I just throw everybody else out of here and report to my Man that we have a famous, beautiful slave from the high places?”

“Nothing that drastic,” said C’mell. “Just food.”

So it is with embarrassment at my pretentiousness that I admit that for years, I have wanted a fine leather designer purse. Not the tacky fabric kind with an “LV” or “CC” logo; I mean the real real thing, leather. And classically styled, no fringes and useless buckles hanging off it. If humble Vera Bradley can get me this far, what will Longchamp or Coach Classic or Chanel get me? On the rare occasions I have had a chance to examine them, I am impressed by the scent and flexibility of the leather, the attention to rounding off the ends of the stitching, and so on. If you don’t have one of these real bags, and you can afford it, get the real thing and not a fake.

Coach classic duffle leatherBut I also know I have an almost magical, magnetic predisposition to walk clumsily into the tongues of doors hard enough to ruin shirts and, doubtless, ruin a fine leather bag. A good watch will keep running on time, A Vera Bradley bag is loud enough to hide the marks, a leather bag is scarred forever.

And, well, there isn’t much I want from the hotel, not worth spending that kind of money on something that has to be handled with such care to present a social clue that may or may not register. Nothing that drastic. Vera Bradley you can’t miss, it punches you in the eyeball at a fraction of the price.

So I must confine my admiration of fine leather products to the other side of the screen or the window. I’m all set now. Thanks for the free bottle of water!

Smart decision

Smart_ForTwo_PureI took a cab to the hairdresser’s this weekend, but none were visible when I was finished, so I walked home, stopping on the way to treat myself to a nice lunch. Waiting for my order, I mused about what it would be like to have a car. I wouldn’t have to go out into the street in front of my place and hail a cab; I would just get in my car and go! I was seized by a sudden longing. The nuns had two cars, after all, and they weren’t exactly materialists; maybe I should get a car, too.

Could have gotten a driver’s license; didn’t leave home until four months after my sixteenth birthday, after all. But one way or another, never did learn how to drive, and over the decades, never saw a reason to.

Don’t know any other way of getting around than walking, cabs, and public transportation. Once, years ago, I visited a church, and a woman wanted to drive me home. “I just live around the corner,” I demurred. She insisted, so we got in her car. We went up the block and got to the corner. “Okay, thanks, this is where I live,” I told her as I got out. She was amazed. So was I. I hadn’t realized that to car users, “around the corner” is merely a figure of speech.

I sense what I’m missing by not having a car: Necessities would be so cheap! Walmart, Target, and Costco are places of legend I’ve never visited. There, 200 ounces of laundry detergent would cost next to nothing, instead of $8 for 40 oz when it’s on sale.

And there’s the Grownup Factor. When one doesn’t know how to drive, one is spoken to gently on the topic, like a slow child, even by people who treat you as a fully competent adult in other ways. It rankles me, when I let it. Pride, again, I guess.

I decided to crunch the numbers when I got home. Smart ForTwo is an economical car, isn’t it? One of the hotels in my neighborhood has them for their guests’ use, and the ForTwos look pretty useful and easy to handle.

So Smart USA’s website has a payment estimator. I picked a model (the Pure Coupe), plugged in the 2.99% rate my credit union offers, and came up with a rate of $202 per month, let’s say $200. Then add in $310 per month for parking at home, and, lowballing it, $170 for parking at work in one of the lousy lots far away from my office. I’m not interested in taking out a mortgage on a $50,000 parking space.

Let’s leave out the cost of insurance, gasoline, and maintenance. $680 per month still buys a LOT of laundry detergent even paying $12 for 40 oz. at the corner store. My habit of frequently taking cabs is pretty cheap in comparison. Having a car would pretty much obligate living in poverty like the nuns.

Counting the cost, I can’t even recommend that YOU have a car.

Well, that was one of the fastest longings I’ve ever had and disposed of. If only it were so easy to stop wanting other things.

A burst upon the palate

Consider the egg.

Chicken eggs are delicious, particularly if one does not think too much about the fact that hens have only one opening “down there” compared to women’s three, and that roosters and hens are not particularly romantic with one another.

But snails! Ah, snails not only lay edible eggs, they have love lives! Indeed, their lovemaking lasts a good deal longer than that of most humans.

Prior to reproduction, most pulmonate land snails perform courtship behaviors before mating. The courtship may last anywhere between two and twelve hours. In a number of different families of land snails and slugs, prior to mating one or more love darts are fired into the body of the partner.

Helix pomatia live escargotLove darts! Love darts! Just like Cupid! And snails have an orifice specifically for reproduction, so snails are cleanly, compared to fowl. Or men, for that matter. (Now there’s a word that ought to be used more often as an adjective rather than its more common usage as an adverb: Cleanly.)

All this raises the appeal of edible snail eggs, or caviar d’escargot, also known as white caviar. The story of how it is produced is fascinating. Unlike fish caviar, no slaughter is involved. It’s humane luxury food!

Each snail produces a mere four grams of caviar per year. Oh la la, so decadent! (For comparison, an American nickel weighs five grams.) The minuscule quantities of snail caviar remind me of tales of corrupt aristocrats eating roasted little birds whole, but without the perversely nasty part about first catching them in nets, force-feeding them, and drowning them in cognac, leading the eaters to cover their heads in shame. Oh dear, no. The snails are themselves like corrupt aristocrats, given luxuriant beds to breed in. (At least luxuriant by snail standards, I think.)

The promotional language is florid, my translations rough.  Click to hear a cartoon computer blonde read it poorly:

Découvrez le plaisir d’avoir en bouche un produit exceptionnel et incomparable. La sensation unique d’une éclosion sur votre palais et le goût inoubliable d’une escapade au cœur d’une forêt de chênes. Une saveur subtile aux parfums de champignon, de bruyère et d’écorce d’arbre.

Discover the pleasure of having in your mouth an exceptional and incomparable product. The unique sensation of a burst upon your palate and the taste of an unforgettable getaway in the heart of an oaken forest. A subtle scent perfumed with mushrooms, heather, and tree bark.

Or click to hear another promo read poorly, which I have translated roughly:

Les sensations en bouche d’une ballade en forêt après la pluie, arômes de champignon, de sous bois feuille de chêne, fumet de la tourbe, de mousse humide. L’aspect du caviar d’escargot, la forme des grains, la saveur subtile, douce et longue en bouche va vous permettre de nouvelles créations.

The mouth feel of a walk in the forest after the rain, the aromas of mushroom, the undergrowth of oak leaves, the scent of peat, of damp moss. The look of the snail caviar, the shape of the grains, the subtle flavor, sweet and lingering in your mouth, will allow you new creations.

snail caviar 02 v2 250xzzz-500x500I have to stop now and dab my forehead. Is it me or is it getting warm in here? I am breathing deeply. An unforgettable getaway… a walk in the forest after the rain… a subtle scent, a subtle flavor… ah, the burst of pleasure in my mouth! My lips twitch and I swallow hard.

I could afford an ounce of this, whispers my inner glutton. It’s delicate, not gross like chowing down on a meatball in a diner. It’s humane food. You would be supporting small business! The experience would be worth it. Wouldn’t it? You’re a sophisticated person, aren’t you?

It would be so simple. I wouldn’t even have to refrigerate the snail caviar (anyway, I can’t; I don’t have a kitchen). I’d just open the box like a casket of precious jewels, open the jar, and with a few lingering mouthfuls it it would be gone, leaving behind memories of the scent of forest undergrowth, and a hole in my pocket. No junk left to add to my crowded room.

Sensing how I am leaning toward this purchase, my inner glutton shouts in triumph: You just spent more money than that for a ticket to a performance of the Bach B minor Mass!

Oh, what a hubristic overreach to compare Bach’s work of adoration of the divine to this little jar of self-indulgence. Well, that settles that. No. Just no. This is too decadent for even me. I shall satisfy myself with the sensually suggestive promotional language. For me, $65 plus express shipping is too much for one ounce of food.

One ring that ruled my mind

I was trying to write today’s post when I realized that the first object I was describing carried so much ambivalence and confusion for me that I could not write a coherent post. My second attempt ran into similar difficulties. There are different degrees of coveting, and mired as I am in my morass of desire, I need to start with the easy pieces, the ones I can deny myself with a few hundred words.

I don’t want to write about something I cannot sincerely renounce just yet. Obviously, this blog is touching on a deep conflict inside me, which was my intent in starting it.

Hidalgo Flag RingThird object to try. Today I will write about something I have admired and wanted for many, many years, but am finally ready to say I will never have: The  Hidalgo American flag ring (at left).

It is a well known design because within the tiny field provided by a ring, it succeeds at being a blazingly distinctive, stylish, and glamorous miniature rendering of an American flag in the wind. What with the gold and the diamonds, the overall fine workmanship, and the designer name, it is certainly worth the price.

I want one so I can stare at it in the sunshine and wiggle it back and forth so the diamonds sparkle! This draws from a similar attraction to color as the Glass Gem corn I recently described, but instead of making me think of the countryside, it makes me think of myself. It’s in the same league of self-adornment as red lipstick, which I love to wear. One could perhaps get it for someone as a gift, but really, it is so distinctive, it is for the wearer to select.

Eve's Addiction flag ringI could save up to get it. And Hidalgo’s showy ring is clearly beautifully made and worth the money. The knock-off version (at right), purportedly set with cubic zirconia, doesn’t have its panache and workmanship. The stars don’t shine. At least, that’s what I feel… Or… is it just not expensive enough for me? Does the cost itself of the designer version attract me?

No matter. It is clear that the longing itself is the pleasure. In real life, I can’t bear to save up and spend that much money on something I would enjoy for a month and then stop feeling as my finger grew accustomed to it. That much money could make a real difference to a small charity, or to my future self in retirement. My longing, even though it has gone on for many years, and no matter what a pleasure it is in itself, is a sustained “Ooh, shiny!” distraction from what is important. The packrat wants to grab it and make it my own.

But indeed, in this blog, I am trying to achieve a number of important tasks, and one of them is not to say “Sour grapes!” about anything I want, but to stay conscious about both what I want and why I choose against it.

I still enjoy jewelry, and if I want to show my patriotism in a glittery way, I can always get something from Ann Hand, which is informally the costume jeweler to Capitol Hill and the Pentagon. (You ever wondered where the patriotic costume bling comes from that is worn by bureaucrats who testify before Congress, and the wives of senior military and members of Congress ? Ann Hand.)

Perhaps if I were a One Percenter or even less wealthy, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy the Hidalgo ring, because my retirement would be paid up and I could still give quite a bit of money to charity without noticing. If you can do that, maybe you would like the Hidalgo flag ring.

But I can’t do that. I can only make the firm decision to renounce any thought of buying myself this fabulous ring. I choose to spend the money and the thought-power on other things, even other amusements.

There is a reason I have not bought this ring even though I have wanted it for so long. My avarice has been caressing this particular “precious” to the point where the imagining itself is the pleasure. And now I choose to stop letting my daydreams fondle this fantasy.

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