My husband Matt and I recently became the proud owners of a new Costco card.
It has been a life-altering experience for us, as we have not owned a Costco card in 10 years, primarily because I no longer wanted to buy enough romaine lettuce to feed a household of sumo wrestlers for a week, only to watch it turn black and soggy at the bottom of my crisper.
I was tired of rooting through 5-pound sacks of mixed vegetables to get to the 10-pound box of corn dogs in my freezer. Too often, I found myself saying things like, “Look what I found under that old huge bag of frozen berries! Some kind of red meat!”
One day, all of those years ago, as Matt and I pushed a basket filled with multiples of everything – Madras lentil soup, 1-pound packages of pretzel chips, three-jar sets of Bertolli pasta sauce and enough shredded Parmesan, taquitos and toilet paper to see us through the apocalypse – I told him that I suspected we had purchased more than we could ever eat.
“We never get out of this place for less than $300,” I said. “I think we’d save money if we didn’t shop at Costco.”
So we did not renew our membership that year and were content to live without Costco in our lives for a blissful decade.
Then, a relative offered to add us to his membership, and so now I am back to where I was when I was young and easily impressed by a deal on a Vitamix super blender (only $439 after rebate!).
I have over the past few months found myself wandering the aisles of Costco looking for things that are so inexpensive that I dare not pass up the bargain. I will probably be in a nursing home before I can use up 180 ounces of Windex, but I can will the remainder to my children, along with 800 shop towels, 44 ounces of Cetaphil cleanser and 26 Gillette disposable razors.
My newfound fascination with Costco, I believe, is that it is possible to find just about anything for sale there, and in the most unlikely places.
It is only at Costco where I might encounter a diamond engagement ring for sale not far from the aisle featuring electric toothbrushes and PediaSure. I would not be very surprised to discover squirming ball pythons for $79.99 a pair in the hardware section.
I can imagine calling my husband, who would be queuing up for a free sample of artichoke dip, and saying: “Hey, come look at the pythons. They’re over between the light bulbs and screwdrivers, past the solar panels.”
“OK,” he might answer. “But you need to come and try the alligator paté. Go right at the organic moose jerky and turn left at the beach towels.”
Costco also inspires in me an acquisitive side, which leaps to life every time I pass through the store’s wide-open doors.
Once I flash my red, white and blue membership card at the guy who might have the easiest job on the entire planet, I become the retail sector’s dream consumer.
Suddenly, though I left home with the intention of buying only some Miracle Grow and a cheesecake, I think I might really need a new television. I look at all of them, imagining how much better my life might be if I replaced the 33-inch Vizio hanging over my dresser with the 48-inch Samsung on sale for only $489.99.
I am like that for an hour or more as I stroll through the store, working myself up into a frenzy of desire until I know I cannot leave without buying something I did not originally mean to purchase.
Today, it was jewelry.
I cannot pass the jewelry counter without pausing to study its contents, and my most recent perusal uncovered that previously mentioned diamond engagement ring for $16,999.99. I tried to envision a life in which I might conceivably pay $16,999.99 for an object like a diamond ring, which is not very useful and easy to misplace, but I could only think that such a sum could buy a pretty good used car, or a really nice sailboat, both of which would be vastly more useful than a diamond ring and almost impossible to misplace.
Perhaps, in the world of Christina Aguilera, $16,999.99 is a steal for a diamond ring, but in the world of Brigitte Bowers, $16,999.99 is, alas, a lot of money.
And so after looking at cheaper trinkets in the case, all of which paled in comparison to the resplendent diamond ring, I found the 12-pack of Kirkland paper towels I had come for, and then I treated myself to a 2.5-pound container of mixed nuts.
It was an impulse buy – the holy grail of marketing executives from Maine to Hawaii – but it was still $16,983.00 cheaper than the engagement ring.
Brigitte Bowers is a lecturer in the Merritt Writing Program at UC Merced.