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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29 responses to “Tight”

  1. Whippersnapper Avatar

    Heh. We’re a family of four living on HALF a teacher’s salary. I’m more cheap than you, I’ll bet.

    I was in Duluth once. At least I’m pretty sure it was Duluth. I’m a prairie girl and sitting at a red light on a steep hill in my standard car had me sweating buckets.

  2. Voyager Avatar

    Free groceries for a year? I would build a popsickle stick grocery store model for that! Groom should have won, his entry rocked.

  3. lime Avatar

    family of 5 on a teacher’s salary here. oh yeah we love the free. so much so that when my son’s big source of handmedowns (high quality, gentle use, massive quantity…free heaven) dried up and i finally had to buy him clothing at age 10 i nearly cried.

    and a gnome??? groomeo was ROBBED!

  4. Jazz Avatar

    If you are the queen of Free. Mr. Jazz is the king. I dunno how he does it, but he regularly picks up Free and his cousin Discount. Well, he picks up Discount more often, I think she looks better to him…

  5. My Reflecting Pool Avatar
    My Reflecting Pool

    I need some free and discount lessons. It seems I’m a completely out of practice and you have knowledge I could use. Help.

  6. Patience Avatar

    This Work of Art lost out to a stoopid mosquito and a freakin’ gnome?!? What’s this world coming to?!?

    Oh, and btw, I tagged you! If you wanna play along that is. If not . . . well, I’ll get over it . . . . . . . .

  7. Glamourpuss Avatar

    I have a new respect for you Jocelyn, tinged with fear; I’d hate to get between you and Free…


  8. velvet Avatar

    FREE is da bomb! I need more FREE in my life.

    Great score on the swingset and $25 dollars for groceries isn’t bad, either. Though I think Groom shoulda won first place… his entry was awesome!

  9. Top cat Avatar
    Top cat

    Great post jocelyn and I love your usage of the word Free.
    I was hoping you had won 1st prize, groom worked so hard.

  10. the frogster Avatar
    the frogster

    I’m cheap too, but not because of financial conditions- I have to, at the risk of making everyone hate me, admit that we are a family of two living on a hedge fund accountant’s salary. But I am not cheap with my volunteer work. If you can find a big enough truck, I’ll be glad to help you replace your playset with Duluth’s landmark lift bridge.

  11. frannie Avatar

    this post made me weak in the knees– I adore free stuff.

    I’m so tight- I squeak.

    you want me to kidnap the gnome?

  12. cathy Avatar

    This takes me back to my search the rubbish tip for furniture to paint and sell at theflee market days.The holy of holies….

    …. FREE MONEY!

  13. furiousBall Avatar

    Holy moly, I got my swingset the same way. Someone down the street had two teenage girls and a big nice wooden swingset just like yours and we got ours for free too. My kids love it.

    Free rocks socks. Btw, your RSS feed ain’t workin’ for some reason, sorry for not frequentin’ your premises in too long.

  14. Mother of Invention Avatar
    Mother of Invention

    I love free too!I used to enter so many contests and I’d win something in quite a few. This caption contest in a Toronto paper, I won 5 weeks in a row and then they cut me off. So…I’d put them under somebody else’s name and went on to win 25 more times! Each week I got a free Toronto Sun t-shirt that I’d give away to the kids who won the contest in my Gr. 3 classroom. It was great to see these kids try to be creative in their captions for pictures of animals in that paper! I think I still have one or two left!
    My class won a whole basket of jello related stuff when we sent in about 12 different uses for jello and jello powder. We even painted with it!

  15. Diana Avatar

    You’re scary. But in a good way. Brilliant-scary. Not having seen the actualy gnome, I agree that it’s hard to understand why Groom’s magnum opus would have come in 3rd to that.

    But perhaps the judges were ‘gnome people’?

  16. my4kids Avatar

    I love Free also. how did you manage to get ahold of him?

  17. Shari Avatar

    The Free is popular here, too. Hubby cannot drive by something laying out by the highway. He’s gotten a fish net, beach ball, sweatshirt, and a visor. That’s only a few of the things I can come up with. Hand-me-downs is good.

    I thought he deserved better than 3rd place. Ack. Who were the judges? Mickey Mouse and Scrooge?

  18. david santos Avatar
    david santos

    Helo, Done Jocelyn!
    Thanks for posting. Have very nice fhotos and very good text,
    have a good weekend.

  19. Franki Avatar

    Single mother livin in the richest county in America here. But I prefer “resourceful” to “cheap”. And you, my dear, are amazingly resourceful. Recycling at it’s best.

  20. Theresa Avatar

    How can Free be over there and over here at the same time? He’s gotten us a shed for the garden and a couch and secondhand clothes for the kids. Oh wait, maybe that wasn’t Free, maybe it was his Spanish cousin Gratis. Tell Groom he should have won. A mosquito representing the spirit of Duluth…nasty little bloodsucking insect, how dare he take away first place from such a nice family.

  21. Emma in Canada Avatar
    Emma in Canada

    I wish you had had a pic of the mosquito because I just can not see HOW it beat that.

    You would lvoe my friend Shelley sh eis all about the free too. And if not free, then very, very cheap.

  22. TLP Avatar

    Bravo! Well done indeed! All of it.

    But some of us need to be the ones who give stuff away for this to work. I’ve given away great swing sets and tons of other stuff.

    Recently I put out to good lamps to the curb, and within 20 minutes they were gone. Love it.

    But I do grab up all the buy one get one free stuff (if it’s something that we like) and I use coupons all the time.

  23. Dorky Dad Avatar
    Dorky Dad

    Ah, free crap. The Wife and I love it. We are always looking for free stuff. Or really cheap stuff. Craigslist is our best friend.

  24. choochoo Avatar

    I have very expensive taste, to. Not a good thing for a student to have…. I can’t wait to make money.

  25. BeachMama Avatar

    LOL, you are to funny. THat is the best ode to ‘Free’ I have ever read. I always say, “I see my favourate letters… S..A..L..E.” perhaps I am shooting too low and should be looking for F.R.E.E?

  26. MyUtopia Avatar

    Great pictures. I really like that outfit!

    * Check out my blog announcement.

  27. Wizened Wizard Avatar
    Wizened Wizard

    Well, I didn’t see the ‘squito, but I think your entry should have won more than 100 gumballs…

    Around here people have garage sales, and as far as I can tell, FREE doesn’t enter into it unless something is absolutely beaten to hell. I have capitalized on this by putting stuff we no longer have use for by the road with a FREE sign on it. Whatever I put out is always taken, and in fact, the FREE sign itself has been taken.

    FREE is wonderful from both sides: giving and taking. Fun post, Jocelyn.

  28. urban-urchin Avatar

    I’ll make a deal with you. You come here, I’ll show you where you can get the Manolo Blaniks for $100 and in return you work your magic with free meaning we get MANY pairs of Manolo’s!

    Deal? good.

    kick a*s swing set and bag art guys.

  29. Princess Pointful Avatar
    Princess Pointful

    There IS indignity in losing to a gnome… especially when one uses up all the tasty dinner gravel in the process.

    Incidentally, when you spoke of finding a Jocelyn and giving her the free, I heard that spoken in a Gollum voice. “Give me the free, precious…”

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