Cheap Childhood

The vice grip my parents have maintained on every nickel they’ve ever seen is so impressive that NASA contacted them when designing the International Space Station for hints on construction, and the following account is just one small example of this.

On hot summer days our family traveled ten miles–one way–to go to a members-only swimming pool.  That is, we traveled from our small town over to the next, even smaller town where the pool was because the membership fee was cheap.  We were not allowed to spend money at the concession stand, and since our parents were legally obligated to feed us, every pool trip was preceded by an hour of preparing and packing our lunches into a shamefully heavy cooler, which we would then load into the back of our fuel-efficient Datsun station wagon, dislocating a thoracic vertebra in the process.   The amount of money we saved by hunting and gathering our own food, not even mentioning the berries we foraged off of public lands, enabled my parents to put that money toward other, more important things. We just never found out what those things were.

That shamefully heavy cooler, bought for two bucks from the clearance aisle at K-Mart, was not so much of an insulator as it was a semiconductor. Now, I’m not a person normally given to wild speculation, but perhaps that’s why it was put on clearance in the first place.  It didn’t keep anything cool!  By the time our ten-mile journey in a car with no air conditioning was complete (“Why do we need air conditioning when we have perfectly good windows that roll down”), the little bit of ice our mom put into the cooler had melted, and the water found its way into the generic plastic sandwich bags that were supposed to zip-lock shut but never did.  It turned out okay in the end, though.  Since we weren’t allowed to spend money for drinks at the vending machine, the soggy sandwiches served as our food and drink, and as we all know, nothing is better than a buy-one-get-one free deal.

When we rolled our truck-sized cooler through the entrance of the pool it was obvious we were that family, the family who had no intention of spending a dime at the concession stand.  The staff always gave us that same look that a morbidly obese family of ten probably gets whenever they show up at the all-you-can-eat buffet.  Their entire business model depends on people eating an amount of food valued at a lower price than what they pay, and one eager family can throw an entire day’s revenue out of whack at one sitting.

They eventually had to close that swimming pool for lack of concession stand profits.