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By Annabel Monaghan

The tag says $5,000, which is exactly how much it would cost my family of five to see “Hamilton.”

I went to the outlet mall on President’s Day. I’m sure this isn’t what the Founding Fathers had in mind – our loading up on merchandise we don’t need at low, low prices. But Tom wanted to go, and I like going places with Tom, so I went along. On the drive there I vowed to come home empty handed.

You see, I’ve been to the outlet mall before. The last time I went I got really overwhelmed. There’s just so much stuff at such low prices that it’s hard to know where to put your eyes. When the fluorescent light hit the sleeve of a lavender cashmere sweater in just the right size, I knew I had to have it. I don’t wear lavender, it makes me look like a corpse, but when have you ever seen a cashmere sweater marked down to $21? It was originally $160, so I left the store with the sweater and the satisfaction of having saved $139.

I know for sure it cost $21 because it’s still in my closet with the price tag on it, a pastel reminder of why I can’t be trusted at the outlet mall.

Outlet malls are made for people like Tom. He’s a person with a plan and no ambiguous feelings about the plan. This is the major difference between the two of us and sometimes the only way our kids can tell us apart. He arrives knowing exactly what he needs, along with sizes and quantities. He transacts and then finds the most efficient way back to the car. Tom’s highly successful at the outlet mall.

I wander. I walk into a clothing store where everything is 60% off, and the salesperson hands me a scratch-off card. All of a sudden I’m on a game show. She asks me to go ahead and scratch it to see how much additional savings I’d won. 15%! The salesperson cheers. I can’t believe it. Everything in that store is going to be 66% off, just for me!

Thirty minutes and a full dressing room later, I feel like I’ve let fate down. There’s nothing I want, not one cropped top or pair of faux leather pants. A sweater is too big in one size and too small in another. I can’t make anything work, no matter how great of a deal it is. I leave the store feeling like I’ve lost the Showcase Showdown on “The Price is Right.” I was so close.

Meanwhile, Tom has his two bags full of exactly what he’d intended to buy, and he seems to be feeling anxious for me to buy something too. I wonder if shopping’s not fun unless everyone participates. Or maybe shopping’s not fun, period.

We walk by a handbag store, and I spot a brown one in the window. It’s pretty. It’s about the right size to hold a spiral notebook, but not so big that you feel like you’re hauling a high schooler’s backpack. It has some fringy stuff hanging off of the bottom that I could probably cut off. And it’s brown, making it already a better decision than my lavender sweater.

I go in to have a closer look. Bonanza! Everything in the store is 80% off. And because it’s President’s Day we get an extra 10% off. How is that even possible, I wonder. How much are normal retail items marked up in the first place if this discount still makes sense? I reach for the price tag to see just how cheap the bag is.

The tag says $5,000, which is exactly how much it would cost my family of five to see “Hamilton.” Or have our deck repaired. With my insurance, it’s the cost of three colonoscopies. And I don’t even really like the bag that much. I can’t see what’s so $5,000 about this leather rectangle. But it doesn’t matter, because I am about to get sucked into outlet mall economics.

The salesman must have registered the look on my face as I tromboned the price tag forward and back to make sure I was seeing it correctly. “It’s 80% off,” he tells me. “So it’s only $1,000. And today you get an extra 10% off so it’s $900.” Suddenly this bag is so cheap. Suddenly I’m the luckiest girl in the world. They’ve dropped this bag a whole place value. Suddenly I can’t afford not to buy it. I’d be leaving $4,100 on the table if I left the store without that bag. That’s almost enough money to take my family to see “Hamilton.”

I hate to admit that I was perilously close to spending $900 on a handbag I didn’t really like. Luckily, a woman walked in to the store wearing a pair of lime green jeans and brought me back to my senses. No one at the outlet mall was making good decisions. Well, no one but Tom.

By Annabel Monaghan

 

Pullquote: The object invokes terror, like Chucky from that horror movie in his innocent, but bloodstained, overalls.

 

Fifteen years ago my mother-in-law gave me a mandoline for my birthday. When I try to talk to my friends about the mandoline, they think I’m referring to an instrument in the lute family, which actually might have been a better gift for me. This device is the culinary kind. The box says it’s supposed to quickly slice, shred, crinkle cut, waffle cut, and julienne my fruits and vegetables. To date, it has julienned nothing by my fingers. 

 

When I first opened it, I was pleased that my mother-in-law thought I was the sort of person who would insist on my carrots having ridges and my potatoes being waffly. <Today’s the day we take dinner up a notch,> I thought. A moment later, I’d sliced my finger, fashioned a tourniquet out of paper towels, and shut that box for what I hoped would be the last time. 

 

I placed it on a high shelf. It’s a universal truth that you should just give away whatever is on the high shelf — especially if you’re 5’3”. The moment you put it there, you’ve acknowledged the fact that you’re not going to use it again. Ever. It sits up there with the soup tureen and the Thigh Master. 

 

But every few years I take it down and try again. I decide I’m going to take an Idaho potato and turn it into waffle fries, even though you can buy waffle fries already waffled in the freezer section of the grocery store. My kids beg me not to. They suspect the problem with the mandoline is user-related. They’ve told me a million times that I’m reckless with the cheese grater. And a million times I’ve rolled my eyes at them on my way to find the band- aids.

 

Years ago, when the organizing lady came to my kitchen, we spent a lot of time talking about the mandoline. To be honest, I find it sort of cathartic to talk about. She said that if I don’t use it I should give it away to someone who would. Such an easy thing to say, but the issues run deep: the guilt over not having appreciated or even successfully used this gift once; the implied failure in serving my kids potatoes shaped like, well, baked potatoes. 

 

Finally, I tried the Japanese de-cluttering trick of holding it close to me to see if it brought me joy. Of course, I left it in the box while snuggling it to my neck. I don’t have a death wish. I found no joy in the mandoline. The object invokes terror, like Chucky from that horror movie in his innocent, but bloodstained, overalls. I looked up and saw the newly empty space on the top shelf and felt a wave of possibilities wash over me. I resigned to give it away. 

 

If you’ll follow me a bit deeper into my madness, I’ll admit I wasn’t sure that I could actually give it away. This thing is so dangerous that I’m worried about where it’s going to end up. I worry that some young newlywed is going to see it at the Salvation Army, entertain fantasies about impressing her mother-in-law with julienned vegetables, and with one swift motion of the “safety guard,” lose all of her fingers. Not on my watch. 

 

Which is how I found myself at The Salvation Army, very carefully placing my boxed mandoline on the counter and taking a step back as if it would detonate at any moment. I explained to the man working there that this was a very dangerous object. I regaled him with a decade of tales about my own flesh wounds. I told him about how my plumber Bob had just seen the device on my counter and remarked that his sister had lost the tips of all of the fingers on her left hand using that thing. The man said, “Then why in the world would we want this?”

 

“Exactly,” I replied.  

 

I grabbed the offending box and put it back in the trunk of my car. Which is where it still is, eerily just over my shoulder at all times.

 

  

 

Notes for Next Christmas

By Annabel Monaghan

 

I have a friend who has a very thoughtful way of living her life, and I try to pick up her habits when I can. She recently told me that every year after Christmas she takes a few minutes to jot down what worked and what didn’t, so that she doesn’t make the same mistakes over and over again. I suspect that I should probably do this every Sunday night, but starting with Christmas seems like a solid idea.

 

  1. Obviously, drill a hole in the bottom of my tree and make sure it’s stable before decorating.

 

  1. Do not buy the square Christmas card. Again. For the second year in a row, I was lured into ordering the square card, which has to be hand processed at the post office and requires a 70-cent stamp. I guarantee there is not one person on my Christmas card list who will think more of me for having a square card. Not one of them will think, “Wow, things are really going well for the Monaghans. This thing cost 21 extra cents to send! Impressive.” And if they do, I should probably take them off my list.

 

  1. Do not be lured into the “40% off holiday cards” offer that you get just before Thanksgiving. It will be 50% off the following Monday. (Again, second year in a row I’ve flubbed this.) Contrary to everything I’ve ever held to be true, during the holidays all the spoils go to the procrastinator.