Umpire Calls and Other Cheap Thrills

The writing prompt was to observe a stranger and identify them as cheap. Hmmm. What does cheap mean? Is it someone who pays a five percent tip? Someone who uses masking tape instead of Bandaids? Are we talking figuratively, like along the lines of emotionally bankrupt, that kind of cheap? This is a quandary and seems as though a judgment call has to be made. How am I supposed to do that?

I feel suddenly, as if I’m an umpire at a baseball game, calling the shots, making the rules, adding penalties to a sport I don’t know much about. 

I mean, I played Softball when I was an early teen. Actually, I mean, I sucked at Softball when I was young. I was installed as my team, The Running Rascals’, catcher because I couldn’t throw, pitch, or catch (broke every one of my fingers I was so bad). However, I wasn’t afraid to stand in between a person sprinting home and the rounded square plate I always tripped over defending. This is who is running the game? This is who is supposed to call the shots? I picture myself announcing nonsense at a packed stadium, and for some reason, with a microphone in my hand—

Okay, we’ve got the team donning purple, make that Eggplant with white piping on the sleeves …there’s someone up to the plate. Her shoes are cute. I wonder where she got them. Oh! Wait, she swung and hit the ball! She’s running to the first base-thingy. Oh, man, that first base person looks ready to pummel her. I think the color of the Pink team’s costume seems faded. Oh! Eggplant-cute-shoes has made it to the base. Yes, look at the two uniforms together. Purple seems much more dominant than pink. Who thought of that shade? And see? See when the second base person turns around, grass stains. Yep. You’re not going to get that out anytime soon.

Then there is the second issue, the world seems to be in semi-quarantine at the moment. That combined with the fact that I live in a suburb, on a quiet street, with few people who walk or jog by, I cannot go out and find a stranger and critique their spending habits, or lack thereof. 

So, I do the next best thing (something every single shut-in and anti-social weirdo believes, I know, because I am one of them at times), I jump on Google with the question “What Makes a Stranger Look Cheap?” 

Google doesn’t seem to know.

Line after line of answer boxes come up having to do with friendship, making friends, and how to be kind to people you don’t know. This opens up a whole other set of questions. Does Google get this kind of inquiry a lot, or does this mean that Google has collected my answers based off old searches and has decided to gently guide me towards help? If so, what does that make me? I suppose that is a question for another time and a psychiatrist’s couch (virtually, of course).  

Trying to pull myself out of this particular rabbit hole, I turn to the wisest of the computer gurus and go to Quora. 

Ahh, Quora. Quora is the site where like-minded individuals go and pretend to know stuff. Of course, there are the people who seem to know exactly what they are saying and know precisely the answer to questions that seem to pop out of thin air. However, most solutions are strictly opinion, I don’t mind. Just reading through answer chains is like sitting in a restaurant and listening to gossip from the people in the booth next to you—I miss eating at restaurants! 

I miss gossip. The regular kind that doesn’t feel like your life is hanging in the balance either through politics or ethics or health. I want to know who is getting a divorce. I want to know about Botox injections that had gone awry and terrible boob-jobs. I want to know whose kid is dumber than whose. Now, that is cheap, isn’t it?

On Quora, I refine my search to ‘What Makes Someone Cheap?’

A woman named Susan thinks the issue of cheapness is based on fear and the fear of loss. Susan is probably a psychology major. I’ll keep my eye on her because a psychology major is cheaper than a major psychologist. Maybe I could spend some time on her virtual couch, later. Plus, she comes across as nonjudgmental and kind—a boon for us shut-in-socially-inept-weirdos. 

Anyway, as I continue scanning Quora, my curiosity piques at another question randomly posted by someone else.

‘Why are some people so cheap even though they have money?’

Immediately below is an ad to shop the lowest prices on Amazon Prime, which is a cheap shot because really? A sale? 

Further down the message chain, Greg K.’s perspective is that rich people are cheap because they recognize that they don’t need extra items to make them happy. Huh? Could it be they are happy because they have enough money to buy things? 

I come across one person’s trash is another person’s treasure a lot. I don’t like this idiom. Beyond that it is the anthem of hoarders, it is also told by people who don’t know the real difference between garbage and something useful. Not to mention, it is the hope of wealth obtained accidentally, which is just sad. I read on. 

After some time, I discovered the biggest gold mine of a question, one that comes with rows and answers. ‘How do I deal with people’s cheap mentality?’

Who knew that this was an explosive topic? 

Left and right, people have an opinion. Right and left, people obliterate those opinions and leave ones of their own. It’s chaos, heated chaos from people who don’t have a clue. 

Batter up. Cool! She hit the ball. I wish I could hit like that! The ball is going up and up and up—wow, really high. The Eggplant team’s person in the very far back corner—left side if you are looking at the field from the home plate–is going to catch a flying ball. Her gloved hand is raised. I hope the stadium lights aren’t too bright. Oh, and the Pink team is rounding a couple of bases.

On the Quora-sphere, my favorite responses are from three people–Angela C., Monika D. and Nina S. Although they aren’t responding directly to each other, they are women who come at the question with volcanic fervor. 

‘How do I deal with people’s cheap mentality?’

Angela C. answers, “Define?!” (An exclamation point after a question mark? Why? Or Why?!)

Angela goes on,” What do you mean by cheap people?! I’m a bargain shopper, I shop clearance, I’m humble.” 

Poor, poor Angela C. Has she been accused of this very charge? If so, it must be often.

I picture her at JC Penny’s, a downloaded coupon gleaming across the screen of her daughter’s hand-me-down iPhone 6. She is at a clearance rack filled with winter sweaters all marked 60% off, yet she knows, with one swipe of her pointer finger, that knit turtleneck will cost her $3.00. 

$3.00?!

Yes, she will have to wait for cold weather, another six months, to wear it. Yes, it is three sizes too big. Yes, she hates the image of the penguin ice skating along the hem, but, hey, $3.00 is only $3.00. And maybe, if someone is not impressed with the iceberg-loving figure skater, they will be impressed with the price she got it for.

Maybe. 

‘How do I deal with people’s cheap mentality?’ 

Monika D. is mad, too. “Cutoff from people with such cheap mentality if possible. Unfriend them if they are your so called ‘friends’ or ‘well wishers’. You should stay away from such people.” 

My observation of this stranger is that Monika is someone who doesn’t split the bill when the check comes at lunch. If you are friends with her, you will pay. Always. 

I’m tempted to reach out to her. I want to click on the reply button under her comment. Why are you so angry, Monika? Who did this to you? May I refer you to a woman named Susan?

Okay. Nobody actually hit a ball this time, and now the Eggplant team is switching sides with the Pinkies. That determined first base person is back. She’s really eager to tag the batter, I wonder if they have some issue between them? Oh! Also, there are some snacks and drinks at the concessions stand, just in case you didn’t know. The Peanut M&Ms are really fresh, by the way.

Next is Nina S., who has a secondary self-made label under her name of ‘ethical vegetarian’. Hmmm. Are vegetarians generally unethical? Like, do they typically snatch carrots out of the mouths of starving baby bunnies out of spite? This particular gentle garden giant has a lot to say on the subject of cheapness.

“Shameless, selfish rogues who respond to your generosity with cheap shit are so disgusting, demeaning, and aggravating. The world is full of takers, and it’s good to know what you are dealing with. Their one-way behavior will most likely karmically backfire on them sooner or later”. 

 What?! Nina’s isn’t a response to a thread, it’s a thread without a spool. Where is this coming from?

 As my in-depth research on cheap people grows, I come to a conclusion. It seems that someone is “cheap” because they are rich and jerks about it. Karma’s coming for you, Scrooge McDuck! 

So, does that mean if one is poor, they are no longer cheap? Well, I think I can add some perspective to this.

I grew up poor, child number five out of eight. We would reuse things, not repurpose, not redo, not upcycle them. We did not take something old, add a few tassels, and then sell it for three times as much at a Flea Market. Reusing wasn’t a sport or a goal. We did not try to live the minimalist lifestyle. How could we? We didn’t have anything, to begin with. 

We were good at preservation, homing in skills of unwrapping gifts without tearing the paper. Matching extra buttons that came with shirts to other shirts missing buttons. Tin Foil was rinsed off and left out to dry and oxidize until there was more rust on it than tin. Then, it was with heavy hearts, crumpled up and thrown away. One person’s trash is another person’s …what? 

Everything we had was used and mended and reused to death. 

Growing up, the thing most often reused, was food. Leftovers were collected throughout the refrigerator, (mold and expiration dates be damned!) and poured or placed in a square metal cake pan with black scorch marks and multiple dents for some reason. Then, everything was covered in shredded cheddar cheese and baked at 450 degrees for fifteen minutes—Ta-Da! Casserole Supreme or a Cheddar Cheese Surprise! Bon appetite! 

Sometimes the food reprocessing plan backfired. One might find themselves with a mouthful of an old sweet roll topped with spaghetti sauce (This did not actually happen, but it’s close). In a case like this, it doesn’t matter how much melted cheese is added, because some things don’t taste good together! However, would one label this one act as cheap or as clever?  

So…The game’s still going. I’m told it’ll be another hour or so. Nobody seems to be very good if it’s going to take another couple of hours to win. I say we end this right now, Rock, Paper, Scissors style. Three out of five wins the whole game! 

As an adult, my life is much more comfortable, and I have more money and stability. Still, I might be considered cheap. 

After every semester, I leaf through my kids’ school notebooks. I’m searching for any lined paper before I throw out the cardboard carcass and clinging spiral spine. It’s a waste of trees otherwise, and, as a writer who writes everything longhand several times before it ever gets to the computer screen, I can always use the paper. 

Speaking of writing, I use pens until I have to shake them after each cursive letter, eking out every last drop of ink. Why? Because the ballpoint I like best is one that I can never, ever remember the name of. Also, I despise going to the store to buy pens. There are too many brands, and way too many like-features on imposter pens, and I don’t want to spend my energy discovering, which is which.  

I admit to doing cheap things when in a pinch. I once plucked Spearmint gum from my mouth and used it to secure my skirt hem. It worked, lasting several hours. I didn’t love having to scrape gum out of the fabric afterward, but I did it. 

To me, everything that has to do with money is massive, full of sharp pros and con barbs. The cost is first to spring to my mind for any given item, like a taut spring on a bear trap or a worry crease stretching across a Botoxed forehead–she’s gonna blow! I’m always weighing how much a pair of jeans or a tee shirt is and if it’s worth it. 

It’s not that I don’t like fashion. I love love, love shoes. However, I would never purchase a pair of Manolo Blahnik’s or Louboutin’s (even a classic black pump, which I could wear with everything every day). 

In that value-verses-cost trap in my head, I’d see that every step walked is a cent devaluing the shoes. Does that mean I think I know what everyone should and shouldn’t be spending their money on? Am I a jerk about money? I say with confidence, no, I am not! 

I don’t care if other people buy super expensive shoes and never wear them. In fact, please, buy a pair of Louboutin’s! I’m content to live vicariously through you! Does that make me cheap? I wonder what Susan would think? 

What is cheap, anyway? Am I cheap because I’ve felt the sting of being without and it scares me? Am I cheap because I like a bargain? Am I cheap because I have judged every person whose comment I read on Quora? Sorry, so sorry!

Am I cheap because I worry that if I’m not careful, perhaps Karma really will come and kick my ass?

Does anybody know the answer to this question? When it comes to self-evaluation, would anybody recognize they were cheap, and should we care if other people think we are? I have no idea. I’m just glad I don’t have to make that call!

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