being cheap contest free stuff past summers



I’m cheap.

It’s not that I want to be; rather, it’s that I’ve never had heaps of money, and I do so like stuff. The marriage of these realities means that I live for a bargain.

Don’t get me wrong: I inherently have expensive tastes, and I would love to be flush enough to shell out $400 for a pair of shoes, or a couple of weeks’ salary for that there Alberta Ferretti suit, or a prince’s ransom for a leather bag (in Minnesota, incidentally, if you pay Prince’s ransom, it’s comprised of Sheila E’s cast-off chandelier earrings, a purple electric guitar, and a stack of raspberry berets). Truly, I’m all for having and spending money, if that’s what one enjoys.

I could very much enjoy.

However, while I make a healthy-enough income, we are a family of four that lives on one teacher’s salary, so, resultingly, I’m cheap. Indeed, I’m cut-rate to the point that my most-panted-after rendezvous is an intimate tete-a-tete at an outdoor cafe with a flirtatious cad named “Free.”

I could sit down with Free for hours and explore his every angle. I am not above making him stand and bend over. Indeed, Free needs to touch his toes and do a couple cherry pickers for me, as I cock my head to the side and analyze his subtleties, considering how to get him to come home with me.

I’ve hooked up with Free at a few clubs–when I was younger, and occasionally someone would buy me a drink. I’ve met him at the grocery store, in the produce aisle, where my kids get one of his apples to eat (FREE!) while we shop. I’ve bumped into him at my college, in a dark corridor; I smelled him first. There he loitered, on a table outside the daycare, lounging. In that case, he took the form of outgrown children’s clothes which were being passed on to random passers-by who might need them in their own lives. Free has dressed my children.

And last summer, Free and I wassailed in our biggest dalliance yet.

I scoped him out for some time, this particularly fine specimen of Free. I admired his tight corners and hard body before making my move. It was on one of my customary running routes that I first spotted him–dejected, alone, looking neglected in the corner. I felt for him. Quite obviously, he wanted to be of use; his good intent was clear. This was a Free with potential, if I could work a little Svengali magic on him.

Subsequent to that sighting–when I first began to have feelings for him–I began a concerted stalking of Free. Twice a week sometimes, I’d jog past his house, my eyes skimming, scanning, on the lookout for Free’s soon-to-be-ex.

Then, one day…there she was, way back in the far reaches of her property: Her. Her owned Free, but not for long, if I was given any license at all to work my wiles.

Calling out ahead of me, “Em, excuuuuuse me…I don’t mean to alarm you, but I just was wondering…”

Within minutes, I had made my case: Her had a playset on Her property. The grass around the playset was long, untrampled; ergo, the playset seemed unused. And if the playset wasn’t being used, it should come home with me. It should be the latest notch on my Free headboard.

Luckily, Her responded well to my overtures. As it turned out, Her son was 12, past the age of swinging and sliding (except in the clubs, wid his posse). She and her husband had just, three days earlier, been despairing–what is it one does with a large playset when the family has grown up?

One finds a Jocelyn and gives her the Free.

In quick order, I had permission to use their trailer, to call upon her husband for help with the dismantling, to tuck this Free unto my proverbial bosom (which, despite being proverbial, is also prodigious). I ran home, this time with pep in my step–for that’s what Free does to me–and breathlessly asked Groom,

“Say, you’ve always wanted a marriage of three, right? ‘Cause I’ve found a new paramour, a new Free, and he wants to move in.”

Groom, who only wished he’d been old enough in the ’70s to participate in a key party (mostly for the hors d’oevres, in truth), was game. He willingly invited Free into our household–in fact, Sweet Swingin’ Seventies, he went on the hunt, seeking out this Free and dragging him to our home, where he, then, with no help at all, got Free set up and set Free’s joint a’jumpin’.

In due time, of course, we got greedy. We loved our new Free. But we wanted more.



Like, for example, food.

Fer Free.

As luck would have it, the local grocery store (I like to imply we have just one, what with our town of 90,000 being such a remote outpost and all) was running a contest last summer: using one or more of the store’s paper grocery bags, competitors were urged to create a figure, artwork, or diarama representing the spirit and feeling of Duluth.

Clearly, most of the Melvins entering this contest would go for the obvious: Duluth’s landmark lift bridge:

But we did not want to be Melvins. We aspired to be something more original.

We aspired to be Jaspers. Or Agamemnons. Or Frejas.

And since the reward for winning this contest was a big bevy of Free (a year of costless groceries), Groom took the assignment seriously; he was gunning for our biggest-ever windfall of Free. He had the Eye of the Tiger (purchased at the dollar store with a 20% off coupon).

I’ll put it this way: by the time he was done, Groom had collected gravel and baked it in the oven, drying it out so that the hot-glue gun could do its best magic.

We don’t bake gravel for just anything at our house, either. Just for contests.

And dinner sometimes.

Occasionally lunch.

But never breakfast. Never breakfast.

In the conceptual stages, Groom pondered. What is Duluth? (check out this little slideshow of his thoughts…only the newest technology could capture his musings):

Damn if it ain’t greenspaces and canyons and water and runners and creeks and bridges and such.

Groom could capture that in the medium of brown paper bag. Mos’ def. Even more, he could capture it all AND still have the grocery store’s logo showing, per contest rules.

This is what he, some scissors, and the hot-glue gun came up with:

Groom is very cute when he gets all nerdy about the Free.

As it turned out, he didn’t win the regional contest nor advance to the state level (and the year’s worth of free groceries). Instead, he came in a rousing third place. Second place was a paper-mache gnome holding a bouquet. First place was a giant mosquito whose body was paper bags wrapped around a garbage can.

There is indignity in losing to a gnome.

But you can’t begrudge a giant mosquito much. Props to the mosquito.

We had to settle, therefore, for a $25 certificate for free groceries at the store.

You feel it? That’s $25 of Free. With our mad Free skillz, that translated in to a hundred gumballs.
Later that summer, we had to work The Free even further. Seems the sun was getting into the kids’ eyes and all.

Of the glasses you see here, I only paid cash money for one pair.

Dig the Free, Chachi.

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