Less is More- Weekly Writing Challenge

(One more Monday, and again I look to the Weekly Writing Challenge abyss and wonder if it stares back.  This time they encourage writing about something different.  I don’t normally talk too much about my opinions, and I try not to rant, so this will be some sort of amalgamation of the two.  The fictional stories are coming later this week, honest.)

Plain question and plain answer make the shortest road out of most perplexities.” -Mark Twain

**********

“’Tis a gift to be simple, ‘tis a gift to be free.”  That’s what I’ve been taught for years and years.  The older I get, the more I find it to be true.  At the same time, I’ve noticed that there are more voices than before shouting at me in defiance of that notion.

I like to consider myself a fairly simple guy.  Okay, my work schedule with four jobs at three places is completely insane.  Everything else is normal though.  Honest.  Sundays are made for jogging, church, and if I’m feeling fancy; a visit with my best friend.  Breakfast is normally cereal or oatmeal; scrambled eggs with ketchup if I have extra time to lounge about.  Kim Kircher offered up a quiz on her site to see how much of a thrill seeker people are.  Out of a possible score of forty, I scored a three.  What can I say; it takes very little to keep me content.

Now, I know that there are different ways to approach things.  Some folks like to keep up to date on all the new stuff.  I am aware of people that buy a new car every few years or purchase a computer to keep their gear top of the line.  Nowhere is this more prevalent than with cellular phones.

I use my phone for two things; texting and phone calls.  If I’m having trouble staying awake at work, maybe I’ll play Carmen San Diego.  (It turns out that my memories of high school geography are still accessible when ushering an eleven p.m. movie.  Who knew?)  I do not need internet access.  I do not need a program to tell me when the bus is coming when I can simply memorize the schedule.  And I don’t need to get updates from people I haven’t seen for two years.  That sort of thing can wait until I’m sitting in a comfortable chair with a computer that has a reasonably sized screen.  Again, that’s my preference.  My newest phone is the only one that my provider offered for free without having to sign up for a data plan.  Clearly I am in the smartphone minority.  The lines at iStores have proven that.

Part of why I raise an eyebrow at people increasing their possessions, is that I have seen how much it really costs them.  I know people that have a tablet, a smartphone, and a laptop, but have problems paying their bills.  Folks will come up to the register with an armful of merchandise and lament how they shouldn’t be buying as much as they are.  A new trend that I’ve noticed are consumers that will pay part in cash and part on a credit card so that their spouse doesn’t realize how much money they are shelling out.  I start to wonder about the issue of self-control that we, the buying public, have over our wallets.

Bumblebee says, “Hand over the dough!”
(Photo from Wikipedia.)

The less is more approach didn’t always come easily to me.  In high school, I bought pretty much every country CD that I came across and had even the slightest interest in.  (I’m looking at you, Garth Brooks and Tim McGraw.)  For some reason, my parents decided to pay my way as long as I was in college.  That meant that all the funds that I got from work could go wherever I pleased.  So, once upon a time, I spent over a thousand dollars purchasing old Transformer toys on eBay.  Not my proudest moment.  I later sold them all to others online for a fraction of what I paid.  It didn’t take me long to buy a clue; purchasing more knick-knacks didn’t make me any happier.

At the end of a long work week, I don’t wish that I had more cool things in my apartment.  Come and visit; you’ll see hand-me-down furniture, used books, and a cat that wants nothing more than a bowl of food and a warm pair of jeans to knead.  I still have more things than I like and try to think of ways to get rid of them.  My friends know that my hundreds of DVDs are available to loan, as are the countless comic books.

Any gal that enters into a long term relationship with me is going to quickly find out that I’m no sugar daddy.  I will never be rich.  I’m going to be working multiple jobs for a while because the thought of a high-paying office job, complete with the corporate stress and “earning your outrageous salary” holds absolutely no appeal to me.  I want enough of a paycheck to keep the debtors away and the cat stocked in kitty litter.  That’s all I really need.

Take a look at my workplace.  People come and see movies at my theater because it has a big screen.  Sometimes I look at what we’re showing and tell myself that it really doesn’t need such a fancy presentation.  I didn’t really love Titanic the first time, and I sure didn’t think that Titanic 3D was any better.  One of my favorite movies is How to Train Your Dragon.  The last time I visited my nieces, they strongly suggested that I simply had to watch it in 3D.  I did, and I still like the 2D version better.  I don’t need seats that movie in synch with the action of the film, I don’t need custom 3D glasses, and I certainly don’t need some waiter coming up to me and offering me another beer during the film.  I just want to watch a movie without any frills.

For those folks out there that enjoy the finer things in life; I get it.  I do.  New and shiny things hold a great appeal.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having nice things.  If you can afford to upgrade your lifestyle every so often, then you’re certainly allowed to.  My family thinks their 3D T.V. was worth it.  Speaking for myself, my ’97 Dodge works just fine, my original Kindle is still souped-up enough for me, and I have no problem patching holes in my clothing.  By all means, do whatever makes you happy.  Personally, I’ve slowly learned that there’s not a lot for sale that makes my life any richer.

The Further Adventures of Ms. Widnik

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told. Some will be fun, some will not. Some will be great, some will be less so. Some stories are true, some are merely possible. This is one of them.

The Further Adventures of Ms. Widnik

“And I’ll tell you another thing!  Those were the worst apples I ever bought!”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Ms. Widnik.”

“Well, you should be.  A man in your position should be taking active steps to make things better for people like me.  You know, people that… an elderly woman… just… people who only want to…”

“Buy groceries?”

“Yes.  We only want to buy groceries.  And you, young man, are trying to trick us out of our hard-earned money.”

“No, Ms. Widnik”, the young man protested with what the older woman thought was a severe lack of earnestness.  “I’m simply trying to facilitate your purchase.”

“Poppy cock!”  Ms. Widnik made sure that she rattled the collapsible cart she was pushing away with extra vigor.  “You think you can just make up any story you like, change prices as the mood suits you, and the rest of us will take it.  Well we won’t!”

“Understood Ms. Widnik”, Arnold replied.  “But as I’ve told you before, I’m not the one that sets the prices.  I’m not the one who puts expiration dates on your coupons.  I put stuff on the shelf, I swipe it across the scanner, and I place them in your bag.  That’s it.  Anything other than that, and you’d have to talk to a manager.”

“Right.  Sure that’s what you want me to believe.  The only other fellow I’ve ever seen in this place is always in the office.  I see him sleeping on the couch all that time.”

“That would be him.  Did you want me to get him for you?”

“Why, so he could give me another string of apologies like you do?  It still isn’t going to unbruise those apples I bought.”

“Did you consider making a pie out of them?” the man offered.

“I didn’t want a pie.  I wanted apples.  Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find an apple that suits my needs?”  Ms. Widnik noticed the man’s gaze lifting off of her and she rattled her cart once more.  “Yes Ms. Widnik, I’m sorry.  I was distracted by another customer entering the store.

Ms. Widnik turned and looked at the new occupant.  The cashier had waved to her just as Ms. Widnik had looked away and now the young woman was waving back in response.  She had to admit that the newcomer was attractive; she certainly had lovely green eyes.  But she was nothing compared to Ms. Widnik in her prime.

“And who is she that she’s so much more worthy of your time?”

“Well”, the man said with a shrug.  “She is my girlfriend.”

“A boy like you with scruffy hair like that manages to find himself a girlfriend?  Doesn’t she know you’re not nearly respectable enough?  Has she seen how cruel and callous you are to others?”

“Actually”, the man replied with his smile growing, “she thinks I’m rather kind.  The people that she deals with on a daily basis are rather crass compared to me.”

Ms. Widnik shook her head and turned back to the counter.  A pile of groceries still waited to be bagged and she threw her purse on top of the nearest flat surface.  “I suppose that she’s a good enough reason to neglect your customers?  You can’t take a minute away from ogling each other to place the last of my items in their own sacks?”

“Oh, my bad.  It’s just that you usually don’t want your milk containers bagged with the other groceries.  Remember when you told me that, ‘the mere presence of such a cold item would undoubtedly do a disservice to your chosen flowers and that it was foolish of me to even think of combining them in the same confined space simply to save on our cheap packaging.”

“So you do listen once in a while.  That is, when you’re not busy being distracted by young tarts like her.”

“Ms. Widnik, please don’t talk about her like that.  And yes, I listen.  It was very memorable.  As our most of our conversations.”

“That may very well be the only decent thing you’ve said all day.  I’m glad you realize that I’m a person, and not merely some face in the crowd that you can step on.”

“No Ms. Widnik, you make a very distinct impression.”

“I’m glad to hear it”, she proclaimed in triumph.  “But don’t get full of yourself.  As you can well see, I have no flowers today.  I do, however, have some bagged vegetables.  If you were to place the milk vertically in the bag with the frozen peas and corn in between those two cartons then it would take up less space in the bag and allow the items to share their temperatures.  You wouldn’t accept my ten-cent off coupon, the least you could do is bag them the way I want.”

“Yes Ms. Widnik”, the man said while rearranging the food items.  “However, as I said before, that coupon expired last year.”

“You said it before and I heard it when you said it”, Ms. Widnik snapped back.  “You think because I’m old that I’m addled and deaf?”

“No, Ms. Widnik.  I do think that you like things done your way and my boss won’t always let me comply with your requests.”

“Well then I may very well take my business elsewhere.  I’ve said it before, have I not?”

“Often.”

“Then you should heed my words!  Ms. Abigail Farnsworth Widnik is not to be taken lightly!”

“Of that”, the young man said with a long pause, “I am well aware.  I’ll see you next week, then?”

“You certainly will not!”  Ms. Widnik placed her purse in her collapsible cart and tested that it would not crush her purchases.  “Clearly you haven’t been listening as competently as you like to think.  That’ll teach you about getting full of yourself.”

“Oh, that’s right.  You’re having your gout looked at next week.  I almost forgot.  So I’ll see you the week after then?”

“Perhaps”, Ms. Widnik replied, the shock at someone remembering her appointment resonating in her.  “Don’t go assuming though.  I’ll come around when I want to, not because some young twerp is saying I should.”

“Of course not”, the man replied while stepping out from behind the counter.  She could see the young woman stepping closer to the man as her orthopedic shoes squeaked on the linoleum floor.  “Have a nice morning”, the man called out as he turned his attention to his new visitor.  A smile took over both of the young lovers
and Ms. Widnik stepped out the door before she could be sickened by their kissing.

Young people and their constant need to draw attention to themselves, she thought to herself.  Why don’t they understand that a sense of decorum should mean something?  When I was their age, I didn’t go carrying on like that.  We didn’t draw attention to ourselves at our workplaces and we certainly didn’t go living together before we were properly wed.  These youngsters are up to no good.

Still, she was surprised that the man had recalled her upcoming surgery.  Since she had only brought it up once before, she had been convinced that this detail of her life would have gone in one ear and out the other.  Perhaps he wasn’t as dense as she had believed.  He still had a vacant air about him.  It had only gotten worse in the past few weeks.  Before he had been bored and listless, now he hummed.  During the course of the last month there had been several times when she had been walking down the grocery aisles and had come across the fellow humming.  A few times he had even been dancing to the off-tune music in his head.

It must be that girl, Ms. Widnik said to herself.  Only two young fools can make each other do such silly things.  Ms. Widnik came to the edge of the parking lot, looked both ways, and crossed the street slowly.  The small cart squeaked along in protest as it always did.  It was only half full of food, so the strain on the one wobbly wheel wasn’t terrible.  As was the case with most things in Ms. Widnik’s life, the cart worked well enough.  She couldn’t afford perfection, so she learned to survive with what she had.

She unlocked the door to her small apartment and smiled as her four kittens came to greet her.  They mewed and purred happily, eager for her affection.  Ms. Widnik had protested when her son had first given her the pets.  She had felt that her son should have gotten his cat neutered and it wasn’t her responsibility to raise his mistakes.  But the kittens had added much amusement to her life.  Her biggest concern had quickly been resolved; once she taught one cat to use the litter box, the other three followed suit.  Her rugs that she had owned for years remained stain free and the heavy plastic she kept on most of her furniture kept the young claws from inflicting any damage.  She took the milk out of the cart and poured some of it into a large bowl.  The kittens lapped up the milk happily, each one wiggling and wagging their tails to their own individual rhythm.  And to think he wanted me to give you little darlings warm milk.

Ms. Widnik stood, watching the kittens until they finished drinking all their milk.  One of them hunched down on its rear legs, wiggled its tail, and tried to jump up on the counter top.  The end result was a little ball of fur rising into the air, limbs flailing about, then the little creature fell back down to the floor.  Ms. Widnik gave the kitten a “tsk tsk”, and considered giving the little troublemaker a lesson about hoping up on the counter.  Then, even though she knew she was alone, she looked around to be sure the coast was clear.  After she was confident, she slowly knelt down by the cat and managed to lift it up on the counter.  The little rascal licked the milk off its mane while purring happily.  Ms. Widnik left the cat to its cleaning while she went and looked at her checkbook.

As it often did, the balance of her account saddened her.  She knew not to expect good news, but something in her wanted to hope for a better answer than she received.    Her appointment next week was with a specialist.  “Specialist”, Ms. Widnik had learned, was a medical term for “expensive opinion that will tend to offer an expensive treatment”.  Her fixed income left her little wiggle-room for such procedures, but she simply could not take the pain anymore.  She would have to find the money somewhere.  Hearing the morning paper fall onto the doorstop, she walked towards the door.

The kitten in the kitchen was still licking itself while two others were rolling about together, tussling in one yin-yang ball of fur.  There was only one kitten unoccupied, and that one followed at Ms. Widnik’s heels, eager to see what would happen next.  As she opened the door, the calico kitten stood between her legs, looking outside with wide eyes.  Ms. Widnik almost didn’t see the little one as she walked back inside and only its young reflexes kept it from being stepped on.  The kitten, having no ill-will towards the one who provided milk, followed Ms. Widnik to the small card table that sat in front of the couch.  Her morning routine began; the newspaper was spread out in front of her. Quickly she discarded the rest of the paper and attacked the ads section with an impressive efficiency.  No coupon that she might be able to use would escape her.  She added each cut-out square to the wicker basket that sat underneath the table.

Ms. Widnik tried to keep her coupons straight, but things happened.  Sometimes a gust of wind would sneak in one of the windows and blow the papers around.  Other times the kittens would nap in the basket and end up taking a coupon or two with them.  Eventually the discount paperwork always made its way back into Ms. Widnik’s hands.  Past date or not, she always tried to redeem them.  The landlord had made mention of an increase and the appointment next week rested heavy on her mind.

Every little bit helps, she thought to herself as her fingers worked the scissors as they had many times before.

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