To say that I excel in money mismanagement really doesn’t adequately describe my financial irresponsibility. I do not fear spending money I have; I do not fear spending money I do not have. See, my previous post “If I Had A Million Dollars” for further explanation. To save a few hundred bucks for a trip to Chicago in the fall, I put myself on The Ramen Financial Plan. (Trademark is pending.) This plan really doesn’t require that you eat sodium-saturated noodles from a cellophane bag every day, but there are occasions that it certainly becomes a necessary and logical option. It requires less going to the movies, eating out, additions to the wardrobe, and less spur-of-the-moment trips to the Rite-Aid for … for what was it that I needed? Do I really have to have a specific reason to go to Rite-Aid? I could always use some fingernail polish/shampoo/conditioner/lip liner/mascara/Q-tips or (and this is why I love New Orleans) a cheap bottle of wine. So needless to say, when it comes to retail spending, I can say I am mildly concerned about price comparing. I get it when I want it and wherever I am when I want it. I’m not glorifying this character flaw, and it is most definitely not a smart practice. It is but one of the many character flaws I am working on in my quest for mere minimal perfection. Quite uncharacteristic of my fiscal frivolity, I must issue this admission: I buy most of my books at amazon.com because they are substantially less costly than buying from an independent bookstore. Some of you are gasping in shock and horror; some of you are saying, “What the hell’s so bad about that?” Well, my soul has been recently embroiled in a battle of being financially prudent and frugal by purchasing books from amazon.com and being loyal to and conscientious of my community and the people that make it such a great place to call home by purchasing my literary material at an increased price from the little shop around the corner. Picture You’ve Got Mail with Tom Hanks’ Fox Books putting Meg Ryan’s Shop Around the Corner out of business.
Since moving from Baton Rouge to New Orleans a year and seven months ago, I have uncovered many differences between the two cities — differences that have made me question and change many of my long-held beliefs concerning weighty social, political, and spiritual issues and alter my deeply ingrained habits such as where I shop, what and where I eat, and what constitutes good music. I will admit I’ve become a bit of an elitist about my shopping, eating and music. I have become much more practical, understanding and compassionate about the social, political and spiritual differences. I never really gave a second thought where I purchased my books … usually wherever I was when I (finally) remembered the titles and thought about buying them. My Love and I talk about trying to buy local when we can, but when I think of sustainability, I usually think of lettuce and eggplant, not The Grapes of Wrath. I recently made a purchase from amazon.com and that prompted me to question cost and convenience vs. community and culture.
So my battle raged: Should I be penny-wise and shop in the ether of amazon.com because I will save a few bucks and don’t have to worry about a place to park? Should I be community minded, contribute to the success of my neighborhood shop, and develop an invaluable bookseller-reader personal relationship at greater financial expense to me?
I was having a difficult time with this decision. Whatever I decided, I was going whole-hog on it. I was only going to shop at either amazon.com or my local bookseller. It just didn’t seem right to resolve this internal conflict by splitting the baby or taking an ambivalent approach. I had to choose my side, decide where my loyalties lay, make a stand.
Then one day last week after work, My Love and I, at the last minute, decided to drop by our local shop around the corner for a David Sedaris reading/signing. Our local shop is connected to a local coffee shop … amazingly. We had tea, listened to Mr. Sedaris read some of his unpublished and wildly inappropriate yet hysterical ramblings, and then stood in a line wrapped around the entire place until we finally got to meet the irreverent author who not only signed our books but also illustrated our title pages as well. On mine, he drew a picture of our mayor’s face (whom I opine to be a pretty good-looking politician … as politicians go) attached to the side of my uterus. I’m not even kidding. And I’m not going to even speculate what meaning that holds. My Love’s had his own head attached to the body of a snail (shell and all). My Love is anything but lazy, a trait commonly associated with snails, so we’re not too sure what to make of that illustration as well. They are what they are. Goofy and funny. The visit that night made me realize the importance of supporting the local bookseller. I equated it to my loathing of chain restaurants. The chains lure the diner with big portions, small prices, and quick, faceless service. Our small, local restaurants offer you so many things … freshly prepared food that might have come directly from the Gulf that morning, a menu that stays exactly the same (and you dine at those places when you know exactly what you want and aren’t in an adventurous mood), or a menu that changes on a weekly basis (so when you want to expand your palate, you have interesting choices to make that possible), cozy and personal service where you know your server’s name (and he knows yours), the progress he’s made on writing his screenplay, where is mama ‘n ’em live, and whether or not he’s going to Snake & Jake’s after his shift.
Yesterday, My Love forwarded an article from The New York Times entitled, “Amazon’s Jungle Logic,” by Richard Russo, which excellently bolsters his subtle attempt at increasing my awareness of the benefits of purchasing from local purveyors. It lamented Amazon’s new policy of using their price check app while in a bookstore (which allows you to scan the bar code on items to find the location of the lowest online price of that item) and earn credit on Amazon purchases. Books were not included, but you could scan a book and use the results to realize you could get this book cheaper through an online outfit, oh, say, like amazon.com.
Several well-respected authors were asked to chime in on this policy. While all admitted that Amazon contributed to their increasing sales, and Steven King even said that he loved his Kindle, the consensus on the policy was one of opposition. One author approached it from a legal perspective commenting that a retail store was not an information-gathering source allowing you to make better purchases online by using this app. The comment that struck a chord with me was by Tom Perrotta, author of Election, Little Children and The Abstinence Teacher, who said, “People have to understand that their short-term decision to save a couple bucks undermines their long-term interest in their community and vital, real-life literary culture.”
Say no more. Point taken. My Love may cease his noble efforts to convert me from the dark side. I see the light. I want to support my community and the local retailers that make stopping by their shops more than just a hunter-gatherer mission but rather a relationship-building visit. I want to be a contributing member of my community, and since it’s looking like I’m going to be here for a while (the increased “serious” quotient in my relationship and subsequent sinful living), I need to support my local retailers so when I do require new reading material, I can swing by the shop around the corner, say hello to the cute red-headed lady behind the counter whose name I will know by then, ask about the latest animal rights cause she is championing, she will ask me how my writing is going, and before I even ask her for said book, she will pull it from behind the counter and say, “I thought about you when we got this in and knew you would enjoy it, so I put aside a copy for you.” That’s community!