Opinion » Maxed Out

Maxed out

A call to arms



Like an ancient soldier, long past his active fightin’ days, I am ready to pick up arms and return to the battlefield. I am, at long last, prepared — almost — to do my patriotic duty to my home and native land… the one I left 28 years ago in body, if not entirely in spirit.

Many years ago, when the real call to battle came in the form of a letter from my local draft board, I shirked my duty. Actually, I did my duty as I saw it at the time. I avoided letting the immoral bastards send my sorry butt to Vietnam. Through a combination of artifice, half-truths and purloined letterhead, I played the bureaucracy against itself until they realized I was more trouble than I was worth and was undoubtedly too obstreperous to ever make a good soldier.

This left me free to perform what I considered to be my real duty: attend university, major in altered consciousness, enlist as a footsoldier in the sexual revolution, pinball through various touchy-feely humanities departments until I accidentally graduated, and generally avoid becoming a contributing member of polite society for the better part of a decade. I think those times were what nostalgic people refer to as the good old days. Personally, I think of last ski season as the good old days and I’d be really happy to start thinking of this season as the good old days if mother nature would just get serious about the local snow situation.

I used to believe I was in good company playing the system off against itself and beating the draft. Then I discovered I was in the same company as Dick Cheney, George Bush and most of the current members of the U.S. congress. Now I think I would have been in better company if I’d just taken the honest way out and fled to Canada… which I did, just a decade too late to make the act of moving here a political statement.

But as the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq bleed through their — well, I’ve lost count of how many years this tragic nonsense has been going on; but I know it’s been longer than the World Wars and shorter than the Crusades. Anyway, I’m finally ready to step up and assume my patriotic duty.

I’m ready to go shopping. It is, after all, the only sacrifice the President has asked of the American people not actually in uniform. I’m ready to go cross-border shopping to be precise.

Sort of. The trouble is, I’m not a very good shopper. The truth is, I’m a terrible shopper. Left to my own devices, I’d wear clothes until they reverted to threads — not cool, beatnikspeak threads, actual thread — and flop around on beanbag chairs, if you could still find beanbag chairs. You see, while I was spending all that time in university learning a whole lot of interesting, if marginally useful, trivia, I was inadvertently learning the single most important lesson of my life: how to live on less money than anyone with a hereditary claim on middle-classness has any right, or need, to know how to do.

This is not the same as being cheap. I’m not exactly sure how it’s different but I know it is. Sort of a defining pornography thing, if you will. And it’s certainly not the same as living legitimately poor. It’s the difference between buying a piece of chicken, a bosom say, and grilling and eating it at one meal, versus boiling the essence out of it and using it and the resulting stock to make a pot of chicken and noodles you’ll eat for as long as you can keep facing it, about a week being the current record.

I like to think it’s what explains the Dell computer box I’ve been using as a temporary coffee table in my living room… since the end of February. I suspect there are people out there who can get excited about the idea of shopping for a coffee table, I’m just certain I’m not one of them. And I’m pretty sure I’ve never met any.

But I’m finally ready to heed President Bush’s — after four years of the father and seven of the son I still can’t shake the feeling that some day I’ll write that and wake up to find out it was all a bad dream — call to arms. I’ve field stripped and cleaned my credit cards, after finding where I’d mislaid them, and I’m ready to hit the front lines.

Ironically, my newfound patriotism for the land of my birth has nothing to do with lending aid and comfort to the brave soldiers doing the actual fighting in Iraq. I still believe the most patriotic act one could perform on their behalf would be to bring them home, apologize to the people of Iraq — might as well apologize to the rest of the world for good measure — and impeach the entire executive branch of government, which is how the dream referred to earlier often ends, thus keeping it from being technically a nightmare.

My willingness to do the patriotic thing for the U.S. is borne of a weariness at being played for a sucker by Canadian retailers, wholesalers, distributors and manufacturers, as well as manufacturers from other lands who know a good thing when they see one. As a Canadian consumer — albeit a lightweight one — I feel as though I have a big “SUCKER!” stamp on my forehead. It’s the only thing that truly explains the reason each and every one of us pays the kind of premium we pay when we buy something on this side of the border.

Yeah, I know. Cross-border shopping will hurt Canadian retailers. Tough noogies. If the retailers won’t flex their power to get the distributors and manufactures into line, they deserve whatever they get. War is heck!

Of course, I’ll still patronize the local shops I already patronize, not like that’ll really help their bottom line much. But for big ticket items, whatever those are, I’m heading south. There’s only so much abuse I’m willing to take. Come to think of it, there’s only so much waiting in line at the border and getting strip-searched I’m willing to take.

Oh well, there’s always the Internet. Yeah, I know, those tiny handful-of-pixels pictures on websites are a really poor substitute for actually seeing and touching something as idiosyncratically personal as, say, a smoked ham. And I haven’t found anyone willing to sell and deliver a car across the border. But there are principles involved here. As soon as I figure out what they are, I’ll report back from the front.

In the meantime, knowing how successful I’ve been in past shopping forays, I think I’ll polish the Dell box.