We hadn’t expected pecuniary tendencies to be the focus of dinner conversation, not that night, not there.
It was a chilly, early-summer evening as we sat down with George and Mary Christie of England’s Glyndebourne festival for dinner and an opera on the estate. We didn’t recognize the other guests at the table, but conversation suggested we were surrounded by captains of British industry and ladies of social distinction.
As the main course arrived, our host decided that each guest should reveal his or her particular “cheapness,” the little economy in which no one would suspect them of indulging. There was avid discussion of saving the last tissue in the box, or using every sheet of loo paper; of wearing a broom down to stubble, or watering down dish-washing liquid.
On a cruise several years later, a flamboyant woman named Rhea borrowed our hair dryer. She returned it with the cord neatly folded inside the cardboard tube from a roll of toilet paper, for which she’d invented multiple uses. Nothing if not inventive, the scarlet-tressed Rhea described with relish how once, at a Mexican restaurant, she’d moved a wicker fan-back chair closer to the door at each visit — until one day, she was able to dash in, snatch the chair, and drive away with it in the back seat of her BMW, an old heap, the economy-minded bandita assured us.
Sometime, however, economies are the result of necessity. A fellow Southerner who’s been working at a fancy clothier in San Francisco recently decided to chuck it all and consider working in a small winery, perhaps as a hostess in its tasting room. Resigned to losing her employee benefit of heavily-discounted designer clothes, she e-mailed us the bitter, but surprisingly upbeat, truth:
“As clothes were a better investment than a 401(k), you’ll be seeing these same clothes for the rest of my life.”
This is all good and fine, I responded, as long as one keeps keep the clothes on (something often not so easy to do in northern California). Years ago, at the freethinking California coastal resort Ventana, where a writer dissed the clothing-optional deck as a gathering spot for people for whom clothing should be mandatory, I gingerly approached the hedged-in area, removed my towel and lay face down on a chaise. No one else showed up, begging the eternal question, If you’re alone on a clothing-optional deck, does it really matter?
It was also at Ventana that I decided I should probably order the “rare tuna,” as, being so scarce, it might not appear on the menu the next evening. The vagaries of the English language sometimes slap you right in the face.
But economizing can be fun. Recently, preparing to depart Highlands, North Carolina, after a Mardi Gras escape to the mountains, I grabbed the two apples in our kitchen, then made sandwiches out of the remains of a rotisserie chicken, two slices of ham and the last two slices of walnut wheat bread. Stopping at the Moreland, Georgia, McDonald’s for a break and to walk Mesdames Clio and Pandora, we purchased two senior coffees @ 59 cents and six cookies @ 2 for $1, then returned to the car, where we ate our lunch in the parking lot, as we couldn’t really bring the sandwiches into McDonald’s, now could we?
I was thinking of our friend as we sipped our old-folks’ coffee. Coming from the South, she could open a coffee bar on the square of picturesque Healdsburg and call it Stand Your Grounds.
Or a clothing boutique for people contemplating a visit to Ventana or other Northern California open-minded vacation spots: Drop Trou & More.
Our friend, however, is more sanguine, envisioning the inevitable.
“I will be selling off clothes,” she responded, “to pay for the early bird specials at Denny’s. As I have a lot of clothes, I should be covered for years to come.”
And I? Well, I’ll no doubt continue to save jelly jars, water down the last bit of dish-washing liquid and enjoy my senior coffee.
As I get Ventana and a Venti at Starbucks confused, I’m better off at McDonald’s anyway.