Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Buying stuff in person

What with the lockdown and everything, I’ve been feeding my comic-book habit the past three months via eBay. As package after package of moldering old comic books has arrived at my house, I have reassured my wife that, yes, every one of these packages has included incredibly good investments that would continue to accrue in value throughout my life and be worth a pot of gold after I was gone. Then I’ve run upstairs with them to quickly extract the comic books and read them.

Today I drove past my local comics shop and discovered — they were open! So I promptly went inside (enmasked), seized upon my longstanding order of new comics that awaited me, and spent an hour picking through six boxes of old comics on offer at the outrageously low and somewhat unjust price of only one dollar each. When I was done, I hefted 124 of those up to the counter along with my new comics, and dropped about $165 at the comics shop.

How refreshing to buy things like this in person! And while observing curve-flattening pandemic precautions. The store had the fashionable plexiglass shield protecting me from the cashier and me from him, and I did my best to circumvent the other five shoppers allowed in the store at the same time. (At one point, a gentleman brought an actual child into the comics shop, which I believe put us at the illicit number of seven people. Or maybe 6.5, given that the kid was small. But someone left almost immediately.)

The previous night, I had gone and gotten a haircut. Yes, a haircut. It had been 10 weeks since my last haircut; at this point, the only way to get the hair off my face and behind my ears was to plaster it down, and also to disguise the effect by growing a distracting full beard. My wife had offered repeatedly to cut my hair, but I begged off, confronted daily with the evidence of the haircut she’d given our teenage son. I had texted my favorite barber, a young man named Danny who somehow seems to have studied barbering in the 1950s, given that his shop plays Rat Pack music and that he will offer you a beer while you’re getting your hair cut. Last time I was there, I spotted actual, real, old comic books in the reading pile, just like when I was a kid in the late 1960s. When I texted Danny to see if he had reopened, his texted reply squealed like a little girl:  “Lee! Yes I’m cutting hair again! Just started back up on Tuesday. What day and time would you like to come in???” This was the sound of someone eager to cut hair, and to book actual revenue for the first time since Q1. On my visit I discovered that some things had changed — the waiting area was now roped off; I was robed with a plastic sheet that was disposed of when we were done; and I wasn’t offered a beer now because I had to wear a mask during the entire procedure — but when I saw myself in the mirror I actually looked like myself again, and tipped Danny forty bucks atop a thirty-dollar haircut.

“You want any change?” he said, looking at it.

“Nope!” I said, still marveling over my miraculous transformation from the prehistoric figure of only 30 minutes earlier. The effect was like the shock ending of a “Twilight Zone” episode.

After lugging all those comic books to my car in a very large two-handled bag that Leland the comics clerk had found under the counter, I drove over to All About Poke about a mile away. This represented the first time since March that I hadn’t eaten a lunch made from my stores at home. (Other than that time I hunched on the curb at the local supermarket like a derelict and ate out of a bag.) I ordered a medium poke bowl with a base of half brown rice, half salad, with edamame, krab meat, octopus, spicy tuna, albacore, carrot shreds, cucumber slices, green onion, cherry tomatoes, and masago, dressed in a sauce of yuzu ponzu and mustard shoyu, and topped with sesame seeds and furikake. Yum yum yum. I eagerly paid my $14, tipped a couple bucks more, and headed for my office to enjoy that while checking the mail and printing out a script I’m reading for a playwright.

While eating, I reflected on all the glorious errands I was now able to do, now that reopening was underway and so long as we retain precautions. I had even dropped off my dry cleaning. Boy, was that guy happy to see me. An immigrant from, as far as I can tell, seven different Middle Eastern countries that he once named for me upon request, he had just moved his operation to this new location, and then watched his business plummet when it was shuttered. I couldn’t imagine his anxiety level. It had been months since I’d seen him — but what dry cleaning could I have had? Since March, I’d had exactly zero in-person meetings. It had taken three months to generate four shirts that required his laundry service because I don’t do ironing, and one that needed stain removal because I was clumsy with lunch one day. It wasn’t much, but when I handed it over, his eyes glimmered with hope.

After lunch, and still filled with the excitement of crossing off all those to-do’s taunting me, I texted my wife and suggested that I swing by and pick her up to do the grocery shopping. The supermarket was having a sale on a number of things we buy, plus I’d been stockpiling coupons. She agreed, so I swooped in, judiciously hid my monster comic-book haul upstairs while she wasn’t looking, and picked up the coupons and her and also the list we’d prepared. I work my grocery list like a maniac, carefully planning what I’m going to buy, and just where the discount comes from; I have codes for coupon (cleverly, “c”) or newspaper (“p,” for “paper”), or digital coupon (“d,” but I may be giving too much away now) to help ensure that I get all the appropriate discounts. Then I watch for those in-store specials, and I also use my son’s employee fob, which gets us another 10% off a whole host of things. As an example, the flavored seltzer water that I like, normally $3.99 a 12-pack, was on sale for $2.77 a 12-pack (“p”), which, when added with my $1.25 coupon (“c”) made it a tremendous bargain. Meanwhile, my wife wanted the seltzer water she prefers, which was by comparison something like thousands of dollars for a few scattered skinny cans, so I reminded her of how diligently we need to feed our retirement plan. “Oh, like those comic books,” she said, which unfortunately required me to remind her again that those are investments, while there is no lasting return on overpriced seltzer water.  By the time we checked out, we’d purchased what the register tape showed to be over $300 in groceries for about $230, and then my coupons brought it down to $188. I also made sure to get my gas-mileage points, which can reduce the cost of a fill-up by as much as $1 a gallon.

We made one last stop, to the local liquor store. I picked up a bottle of malbec for me, and a bottle of chardonnay for her, and a sixer of stout for the two of us. Yes, our supermarket sells alcohol, but we like to support the corner liquor store. We’ve grown to know David, who owns it, and his staff, and we like them all, and we like that they feed treats to our dogs when we bring them by. I also wanted to cash in a winning lottery ticket. “I’ve won a million dollars!” I proudly exclaimed, hoisting my Loteria ticket aloft. With a skeptical look, David ran the card across a laser scanner and revealed that I’d won five bucks. The tab for the alcohol was $38, so he wanted to know how I was going to pay. I pulled out a credit card for our purchases on the counter, and said, “But I want the five bucks in cash.”

And that’s how, when I got home from providing $478 in service to the local economy, I came to have five dollars in my wallet.

8 Responses to “Buying stuff in person”

  1. Dan Says:

    That was positively sensuous!

  2. Paul Says:

    I haven’t had a hair cut in 12 weeks. Hair salons and barber shops can’t open until June 22 in New Jersey. My hair hasn’t been this long since the 1980’s.

  3. Uncle Rich Says:

    New Jersey allows retail to open in about a week. The Tilton Theater has resumed showing movies, including some oldies like FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF. I noticed the furniture store taking shoppers by appointment. My first stops will include the comic book place in the mall and Books A Million in the same area. And then there are the thrift stores with shelves and shelves of old moldering books. Mmm.

  4. Adrian Burns Says:

    Hiding your stash. Mrs W doesn’t read the blog then?! 🙂 I’m still tucking hair either side of my ears. I think my guy is going to have a long waiting list when he reopens. And, as for my eyebrows. Are you familiar with Irish actor Milo O’Shea?

  5. Lee Wochner Says:

    She read it about four minutes after I posted it from another room. She has asked me, though, how to ascertain the value of those comic books after I’m gone. (Makes me wonder if she’s making early plans….)

  6. Adrian Burns Says:

    I’ve tried to let Mrs B know that, difficult though the job will be, there are some of my records that could provide her with very useful cash. [With the exception of a band you and I love – she can be cremated with those].

  7. Kelly Carruolo Says:

    I am obsessed with why there is krab in the otherwise real poke bowl.

  8. Lee Wochner Says:

    You’d have to ask the owners. I’d guess either price or freshness. It’s still seafood (surimi), but not actual crab meat.

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