“Will this make me happy every day?” I have a friend who asks herself that question every time she considers buying something.
I’m not talking about purchasing a house or a car. I’m talking about a woman who spent 3 1/2 years searching for the perfect shower curtain.
Me, I once spent $2.99 on a shower curtain after looking around for two minutes, total, at a discount store. It was festooned with apples and oranges. When I stood in front of it, I felt as if I should belt out, “I’m Chiquita Banana and I’ve come to say, Bananas have to ripen in a certain way.”
For 3 1/2 years it didn’t bother me — not until I saw that my friend had found the Aristotelian ideal of a shower curtain.
Hers had elegance and elan. Mine had fruit. (I could never figure out why exactly. Who thought it was a good idea to turn a piece of fabric with fruit on it into bathroom accessory? Was it designed to invoke roughage? Was it simply bad taste?)
These questions started keeping me up at night.
Was my friend wiser to summon up patience and select her items carefully instead of employing my method, which was to swoop down on the sale bin like a seagull hovering over a landfill and plucking up whatever seemed shiny?
She was cautious in her choices whereas I was promiscuous. I’d give the time of day to whatever sale was winking at me; I’d be tugged in the direction of a cute promotional gimmick. She’d keep her eyes straight ahead and be faithful to her list.
I’d been known to unashamedly grab something if I knew it would make me happy for a few months, a few weeks, even — dare I admit it? — a few days. That’s the kind of loose shopper I’ve always been.
You’re selling a cheerful and cheap rayon scarf that matches earrings I own? Gimme that schmatte before somebody else grabs it.
Handmade soap scented with fennel and wrapped in organic papyrus? I guess so. It’s made locally? Sold. My friend laughs at me, but I point out that it’s nicely packaged. I only experience disappointment when, upon unwrapping it at home, the cat immediately attempts to push it into her litter box.
My friend would never have bought the soap. She has focus. She has a mission. She wants only what will make her happy every day. Impulse buys, reckless spending on frivolous items and point-of-sale transactions are an anathema to her.
You can imagine what a sucker I am for the stuff next to the register, right? I’m the kind of person who only has to see “ChapStick” while I’m waiting on line to decide that my lips are actually now so dry they are falling off of my face and that I must immediately get three balms (not a word used without causing confusion these days; insist to the guy next to you “Hand over the balm,” and he’ll alert security). Usually I rip open the package before I reach the cashier; I am unable to contain myself.
I’m just retail-incontinent.
At least I’m not one of those poor souls addicted to shopping, the sorts who roam through malls with predatory if undefined tendencies and often travels in packs. I do believe that shopping can be an addiction, but since I also believe that checking Twitter, watching “Mob Wives” and talking incessantly about the benefits of kale can be addictions, perhaps I’m not a good judge.
It’s true that my friend and I have fundamental differences. I believe tomorrow is promised to no one and that we should all make hay while the sun shines, even if the hay is not quite the right texture or color. She believes life’s too short to surround one’s self with the ersatz, the makeshift or the slapdash — and that the sun will come out tomorrow.
We’re both right, of course.
The luxury of being able to make choices is not lost on us. And we know, too, that enjoying our friendship — despite our differences (or perhaps because of them) — is really what makes us happy every day.
Dr. Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut, a feminist scholar who has written eight books and a columnist for the Hartford Courant; contact her through her website at ginabarreca.com.