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My household’s annual round of shoestring budgeting has spawned an eccentric installment of “What if?” to which you, dear reader, are now invited:
What if Ben and Jerry’s made an ice cream that tasted like fiscal prudence? What flavour would it be?
Maxwell House—Maxwell House-flavoured coffee ice cream. And I can say this with authority because I’ve spent a whole week sipping the low-end brew, pondering how the aroma of solvency does little to quell my anxieties about an uncertain financial future.
I’m also bereft for having failed to find the perfect word to describe just how terrible this coffee is. If today’s column is sub-par, I think we should blame it on Maxwell House.
To be fair, though, it’s still better than no coffee at all. And, of course, there’s the Maxwell House math which, at twenty-three cents per Starbucks-Venti-equivalent cup, is damn near heroic. When the rest of the world is trying to screw you with property tax increases, nebulous service delivery fees, and rascally Senators spending your hard-earned money, it’s nice to know Maxwell House has your back.
Slow-Boiled Frog. Sure, they could dress it up, serve it in a fondue pot over Sterno flames in a fatty broth with cilantro and mandolined celery—but boiled frog it would be.
Of course “slow-boiled frogs” is what my husband’s annual tax-time spreadsheet shows us to be. Line by line it tells the sad story of gradual increase in just about every category. Our household surplus currently rings in at a whopping two dollars which, I think, means we’re very nearly cooked.
Each year Mark “plugs in the numbers” and because my husband is a man of principle—versus, say, a politician prone to massaging, juggling or performing untold acrobatics with financial figures—his spreadsheets are terrifyingly truthful.
As a result, we did what many other families do this time of the year: tweaked and adjusted, squeezed and tightened—like a couple of seamstresses trying to make the biggest dress out of an ever-smaller bolt of fabric. At some point, though, the dress will be too tight and the seams will split.
What if I were to write a cookbook, instead of a newspaper column? What would I call it?
“1001 Canadian nights with eggs and beans.” The book would be homage to the less-expensive proteins we eat a lot more frequently these days.
I had several conversations this week with friends about eggs-and-beans and cost-cutting and belt-tightening and frog-boiling. My family is not alone, and there’s some comfort to be taken from solidarity. But I felt heavy-hearted for one friend, in particular—I’ll call him Dave. Dave is on a fixed income that is not indexed to inflation.
At least Mark and I are of an age where we can at least hope to increase our income over time, which is not the case for Dave and too many other retired Canadians.
Dave takes his morning walk past my house and waves, and we banter sometimes because he’s a skilled banterer. But this week’s routine was different: Dave rang the doorbell. I made him a cup of tea and we had a heart-to-heart at my kitchen table.
He and some of his friends want to start a ratepayer’s association to hold our municipal government to greater account for how they spend money. They think there ought to be more watch-dogging and I can’t say I disagree with him. We’ve moved from scandal to scandal in this country, and it doesn’t seem to have changed the way the folks in power do business. Maybe it’s time we put some blood, sweat and tears into community organizing.
A citizenry needs to be engaged with how its money is spent, just as a family needs to crunch the numbers periodically to know if it’s time to humble-up and ditch the designer coffee.
What if the green and red chambers in Ottawa and the Legislative Chamber of the Ontario Parliament decided to redecorate—how might they improve upon the elegant upholstery?
Quilted slipcovers. And not just any quilted slipcovers: The Voices of the People Slipcovers.
I can see it now, hundreds of thousands of yards of colourful patchwork sewn together at community quilting bees from coast to coast to coast using squares of fabric donated by millions of hardworking Canadians. In this way we could stay in constant contact and warm the very arses of the people who are supposed to represent our interests.
Even as they meet in their wood-panelled halls, far removed from us, our elected representatives might think of their constituents more often: As a hand reaches up to cast a vote it might brush, however briefly, against the well-worn pocket from a pair of faded blue jeans or a soft swatch of Grandma’s flour-sack apron. They might even think twice.
I know. You don’t have to say it: That is utter madness.
Like I said before, just blame it on Maxwell House.
Michelle Hauser is a former professional fundraiser turned humorist and freelance writer. She lives in Eastern Ontario (Canada) with her husband Mark and their son Joseph. Please click here to sign up for her monthly Newsletter.