Then try to explain how come, if we’ve never had it better, she leaves the supermarket with nothing but lint in her purse, and I’m eating leftovers
ROBERT THOMAS ALLEN
I DON'T KNOW what, if anything, will happen when the country’s political leaders and economists meet in Ottawa to discuss inflation, but they'd better stop drawing those little pyramids of milk bottles that prove we're all better off than we were 10 years ago and start doing something about rising prices, fast. Inflation is lying over the country like nerve gas. and while the experts debate whether it's cost-push pressure or a dcmand-pull spiral or just a sign of healthy dynamic growth, the one who is taking the real beating from inflation is the housewife. She's right in there in stretch pants and curlers, dealing with inflation where the prices on bottle tops go up every week like bingo numbers, and it's affecting her shopping habits and outlook. and probably her faith in mankind.
She's told that she lives in a country with a stable economy when the prices she pays vary from store to store as if they were being set by handicappers. It's demoralizing otherwise frugal, responsible women shoppers. I he other day 1 got talking to a woman in black bangs and sunglasses who behaved less as if she were doing the family shopping than as if she were touting at a dog track.
"The only way to beat them is to play the specials," she said.
She showed me a list, marked up like a scratch sheet, and it read like one. If * you had enough early speed you could buy round roast for 89 cents at the A&P. when it was selling for $1.19 a pound at Steinbergs, and if you got back to Steinbergs fast enough you could buy wax beans for 29 cents when they were selling for 33 cents at the A&P. and if you were a good stretch runner you could get six quarts of tomatoes at Loblaws for 89 cents when you would have to shell out $1.29 for the same amount if you were caught in Dominion Stores when the pari-mutuel wickets closed.
This hasn’t anything to do with national economy; it’s a nationwide crap game. In fact, some supermarkets, with that Muzak, the cash registers going and the manager peering down from that slanted window, are beginning to look and sound like casinos. A housewife today is hustled to play promotional bingo games, paid off in trading stamps, conned into trying to win $1.000 by watching a horse race on TV, and if she puts a $20 bill on the check-out counter it disappears as if she rolled snake-eyes.
Already, a lot of women figure they’re in so deep they refuse to think of prices. "They just depress me,” I was told by one woman who had just bought a jar of marmalade, a brand that has gone up from 29 to 36 cents in a little more than a year. That’s only seven cents, but it's an increase comparable to $1,000 on a $4.000 car. Like a lot of women, she had decided there was nothing she could do about it. She was just loading up her cart and putting off figuring whether she was winning or losing until after she checked out. If things keep up like this, we're going to lose one of our most valuable citizens, if not the most valuable —the normally frugal Canadian woman shopper.
Many women, still trying to do something about rising prices, have given up trying to do it by careful shopping and are planning to take part-time jobs to help feed the family, working out strategies like serving bacon just as often as they used to but serving half as many
strips, and looking around for other emergency steps.
"My budgie costs me $25 a year." one woman told me. and for a second 1 thought she meant she was going to eat him. but she added. "I'm going to start cutting down on his gravel and feed by
changing his cage once a week and feeding him every other day.” She stared at a shelf thoughtfully, then said. “I’m not really." but she looked toward her husband as if she'd just thought of a better way to save on the food money.
One little blonde, who looked as if she
YOU SHOP WITH MY WIFE conihmed
Men don’t know what the score is — until they pay the tab
couldn't lift anything heavier than a bottle of Givenchy, turned away from a basket of tomatoes priced at $1.75 and started to outline plans for reclaiming land by ripping up her patio next year and planting vegetables. “I've got $20 a week’s worth of my backyard covered in flagstones,” she said. “Next year the stones come up.”
Some women shoppers are marking down the price of everything as if they had guilt feelings, to use as an alibi against the day their husbands wake up to the fact that the stork doesn’t bring the food. Most men don’t know what the score is. A man pays higher taxes. $1.75 for a haircut, over $100 for his car insurance, $3 to see Doctor Zhivago when his wife can pry him away from TV, but these things aren’t with him daily and, anyway, he’s never short of what he lightly refers to as “pocket money.” (Or maybe you know some guy who says, “Well, fellows, that’s my last drink. I’m 25 cents over my allowance.”) Normally, if he takes a turn through the supermarket, he just picks up anything that appeals to him and drops it into the cart — fresh oysters, caviar, tiny fish from Outer Mongolia. If he really has to keep within a budget, he’s lost.
The other day I listened to a guy sixfooi-four in his wagon jacket chewing out a five-foot-four assistant manager, saying that the condition of his place was a disgrace, and that his kid had slipped on some celery leaves and nearly maimed himself and all he, the assistant manager, wanted to do was take money from poor people. I learned afterward what had happened. Earlier that day the man had had a blowout on the way home from
work and had to pay $42 for a new tire. When he got home he gave his wife $20 to do the grocery shopping, and she said, "What am I supposed to do with this?” Then when he blew up at the amount of money she was spending, she said. "Okay, you do the shopping,” and gave him his 20 bucks back. He took his son with him. presumably to show him how a man shops. He got up to $45 and saw his money disappearing as if he’d got too deep into a poker game. Finally, when his son slipped and let out a yell that could be heard over the Muzak and IX cash registers, he took it out on the assistant manager, who just gets his orders to raise prices on a mimeographed sheet.
V-for-victory — and prices jump
Every time a woman sees some worker in a safety helmet backed by a group with the team spirit of a crew of Cambridge eights, look out of her TV screen and make a V-for-victory sign, indicating another triumph for the common man over management, she knows she’s going to have to pay two cents more for something and she must be mystified by how it all works. While economists such as R. E. Olley. of the University of Saskatchewan. state that the average wage has outstripped the cost of living by 49 percent, she gets the most sluggishly rising salary on earth — the housekeeping allowance — which goes up only after a summit conference, about every five years, if then.
She pays 35 cents for a head of lettuce no heavier than a ping-pong ball, which a farmer sold for eight cents 40 miles
away, a price spread that could be explained only if the lettuce were hauled into town on foot by gnomes. She's told in a 30-page report by the Ontario Department of Agriculture that she isn't paying too much for beef, when even the president of Dominion Stores announced that it was so high she should go in for cheaper cuts and "good oldfashioned Canadian pot roast.” East July she was charged an extra two cents a quart for milk to pay for a 1.2-cent raise to the farmer. She's told by statisticians that it costs 67 cents a week more to feed a child now than in 1964. I saw a woman the other day with a 14-year-old son big enough for the Green Bay Packers who kept grabbing food off the shelf. She was a little woman, hardly higher than her shopping cart, and she kept taking swings at him and making him put things back, and I don't blame her. That kid could have eaten 67 cents’ worth of food in one bite.
The average wife and mother is about as interested normally in mathematics as in the principle of the internal combustion engine, and she’s getting less interested as prices get higher. 1 was standing by the turnip bin the other day. listening to a woman in a fur cape tell a complete stranger that the day hadn’t arrived when she was going to pay 47 cents for a turnip, when another thin little woman in blue jeans and grey sweat shirt down in the fruit section got in an argument with a clerk about the price of peaches, which were offered at four for 49 cents. She told him to go back and check the price, apparently figuring that Canada’s economy wasn't all that dynamic and maybe his price-stamping machine had
slipped a cog. When he came back through the swinging doors, he said, no, that was right, 49 cents, and the woman said he should be ashamed of himself, charging 49 cents for four peaches, adding the mystifying remark. “That’s 49 cents a peach.”
“What do you mean? There are four peaches in there, lady.”
"That's right. I’ve got four kids,” she snapped. "Forty-nine cents a peach.”
The clerk looked over at me as if he’d just heard of a new kind of business administration. Actually, she was dealing in something that mightn’t have been mathematics but was a lot more important. She was multiplying mother love by the nesting instinct, to the power of four solid, non-mathematical children. It was as impossible for her to separate the appetite of one child from the other. If one got a peach, they all were going to get one. which she couldn't afford, and she was expressing something that makes women the only economists who really count in the country.
While the experts talk of nonproductive spending, marginal production and disutility output, and use a whole new jargon of terms that sound as if they’re from another language, or even another planet, the point was summed up for me. neatly 1 thought, by another woman out in a supermarket parking lot who was shoving groceries and children through an open window into a rusty Pontiac.
"It's not that my husband doesn’t love the children.” she said, “but let’s face it, a man comes home and sees that everybody is alive and nothing is blocking the toilet and thinks everything is okay.” She straight-armed one youngster who had decided to come out again through the window, looked at her thoughtfully, and said. "I've got to make sure they don't grow up to be midgets.” ★
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