But just the other day, John McCain’s economic adviser Phil Gramm called all Americans, including me, “whiners” because we seem to have economic recessional delusions and just can’t seem to understand that really, everything is A-OK, you know? Never mind that the price of oil has streaked like a Photoshopped Iranian rocket to $145 per barrel, making a gallon of gas in these parts of California cost roughly $4.50 a gallon, give or take 20 cents or so. Give, actually. I put ten gallons of gas in my 1988 Celica last week and it cost me $44. Diesel, which I don’t use but the truckers who keep our store shelves stocked with food and other goods do, is up to well over $5 per gallon. That means that a lot of them are going out of the trucking business. Which means … well. More unemployment, to start, but also much higher prices everywhere you look.
Yesterday morning I went to the grocery store to pick up, mainly, fresh vegetables for salads. It’s been so hot here for the last week that by 3 in the afternoon, my kitchen thermometer hovers at 82 and rises, slowly, until around 7 p.m., when the sun gets low enough that the house can cool down. No, we don’t have central air conditioning (couldn’t swing the utility bill if we did), but we do have a swamp cooler and house fans. Once the outside temp rises above 95, the swamp cooler can’t keep up anymore, and the fans just blow the hot air around.
So as you can imagine, cooking at a hot stove isn’t a particularly attractive activity right now. Instead, we eat a lot of salads and drink milkshake-like smoothies made with frozen fruit, ice and lowfat plain yogurt. But the crisper bin in the fridge was empty and we were looking at our last half-carton of yogurt. Time to burn some gas driving to the grocery store.
I bought the veggies: 2 bags of carrots, 6 cucumbers, 8 roma tomatoes (grown in California and not on the Salmonella list, yet), a couple of bags of Romaine lettuce, a packet of edamame soybeans, 3 ears of white corn in the husks, and because I’ve developed a raging sweet tooth (for the first time in my life) since being told I’m within a hair of being diabetic, some apples, white peaches, bananas, mangoes and red grapes. That’s so I don’t buy the greatly preferable Snicker’s bars instead.
I also got 4 big cartons of plain lowfat yogurt, some lowfat cream cheese, a block of cheddar cheese, a bottle of Caesar salad dressing, rice vinegar, a packet of Thai Ginger Soup to try out when the weather cools down (a lot), a wee thingie of bobby pins and, in a fit of what-the-hell, a pair of black flipflops with rubber soles and glitzy rhinestones on the straps for $7.99. I mean, ya gotta live a little once in a while, right?
The total at the checkout counter was – wait for it — $83.17.
Allow me to pause as I catch my breath.
Now, I’m aware I could have saved a few bucks by buying the Romaine lettuce whole, rather than in those convenient bags. And really, the cream cheese was just unnecessary, except there’s Wasa cracker-bread in the pantry waiting for it. I could have bought the off-brand cheddar, too, rather than Tillamook, which I love beyond all reason. That would’ve shaved about a buck off the total.
Seems that from now on, looking harder for the bargains is what I’ll have to do, because this is getting serious, folks. The fruit and vegetables I purchased – which by themselves added up to $48.85 – will be gone in a matter of days. The other stuff will last longer, and I’ve got a pantry full of dried beans and pastas, and a freezer stocked with frozen fish and chicken. But fresh food for three or four days alone now costs what a grocery cart full of a week’s supplies, including canned goods and boxed mixes (which I no longer consume) used to cost.
And it’s not going to get better. Ever.
Well, I’m a grown-up. I can tighten my belt. Hell, I need to if I’m ever gonna do those sparkly flipflops justice. (Think Auntie Mame. Wait. No, don’t.) But the high cost of oil will also affect my utility bill, even if I am sweltering all summer and doing some serious layering in the winter. It’s already high. I can only imagine what it will look like this month, hot as it’s been. The poor old swamp cooler has been running day and night. And our water bill! Oh, my.
Still, for now, we’re managing, Mr Wren and I. We bought our house in 1997 with a conventional, 30-year mortgage and no funny stuff. Our monthly payment hurts, but these days, renting a house would cost us quite a lot more. We’ve already bought three cords of firewood for the winter, taking advantage of the lower, summertime price, and now we just have to get up the oomph to stack it all ready to use.
I’m not whining, Mr. Gramm. But I’m also not stupid. Or delusional. The Dow has lost, as of 12:30 p.m. as I write this here in California, 132 points and it looks like the Feds are going to have to bail out Freddie Mae and Freddie Mac, which have lost more than $11 billion since the housing crisis began. They don’t want to bail them out, like they did Bear Stearns, but they can’t allow Freddie and Fannie to implode, either. And who will pay for that? You and me. Oil rose to $145.08/barrel. Here in Northern California, people are defaulting on their mortgages and declaring bankruptcy all over the place. For sale signs fade in the glaring sun as no one buys. (I could say ‘I told you so’, because some of us saw this coming years ago and started running around with our hair on fire, but I won’t.)
And yesterday I spent $85 for a couple of bags of groceries.
Mr. Wren and I received our “government tax rebate” check last week. You know, the one the Bush administration hopes we’ll spend on Cheez Whiz, Rice-a-Roni dinners, iPods and flat-screen TVs (and OK, OK, blingy flipflops!) to help kick-start the economy. We kicked that pink-and-green check right into savings, where it’s losing value as I write.
See, we might need it for fresh vegetables and yogurt before very long. But I’m not whining.