Through the Eyes of Stranger: Saving

I’m still very very sick, so this will be short.

It is a peculiarly American belief that the best way to save money is by spending. Thrift stores, dollar stores, bargain hunting, couponing, 2 for 1 sales – these are ways to spend, not to save. The only way to save money is not to shop. It isn’t about consuming the right way. It is about taking a little break from consuming here and there. I know that it sounds like an impossible proposition but it is, indeed, quite doable not to buy anything for three entire days. Or even a week. Or – strange as it may sound – ten whole days.

The Squirrels, the Sharks, and the Happy Ever After, Part II

When I was 11, I saw the movie Jaws¬†at one of the very first illegal video-salons. When video equipment became available to the fortunate few, they started organizing clandestine showings of American movies in their own apartments. The movies were translated and dubbed by translators who were terrified of being caught by the police. So they’d put clips on their noses to make their voices impossible to recognize. Every Soviet child of my age remembers the nasal voices of these translators that first introduced us to words like “sex”, “condom” and “democracy.”

For those of you who are much younger and unaware of Jaws, it’s a very silly and poorly made movie about a shark that keeps eating people in very gruesome ways. At the age of 11, though, I was very impressed. When I came home, I decided to put my sister to sleep by retelling to her the movie.

“And so the huge white shark reached the guy, snapped its jaws, and bit off his entire leg! And there was all this blood and pieces of human meat floating around!” I narrated excitedly.

Suddenly, I noticed that my sister was in the throes of an approaching crying jag. I was very familiar with those and knew that if she started bawling, my parents would awaken and kill me for upsetting the child with stories about sharks. And then they would kill me once again for visiting an illegal video-salon. As my sister was soundlessly shaking with an approaching bout of crying, I switched track in mid-breath.

“So then the squirrels. . .” I announced, hoping to distract my sister with her favorite story.

She was still at the point where she could burst out crying at any point but she was listening attentively.

“. . . invited the sharks to live with them in the tree-trunk. And the sharks became good and kind, and they all lived happily ever after.”

“And the feeeeerrets?” my sister sobbed.

“The ferrets lived with them and were also very happy.”

“And the man whose leg the shark bit off?”

“It wasn’t really his leg. It just seemed like it was. But he was perfectly fine.”

“And did he live in the tree-trunk with them?”

“Of course, he did.”

From then on, I had to narrate this story with the squirrels, the ferrets, the sharks, and the man who almost lost his leg, all living in the same tree-trunk and being very happy all the time.

The Squirrels, the Sharks, and the Happy Ever After, Part I

When my sister was little, I had to spend a lot of time telling her fairy-tales to put her to sleep. When she was four, I was ten and a passionate reader of fairy-tales from around the world, so I had many stories to tell. However, my sister preferred the story I had invented on my own. The story was about squirrels who lived in a tree-trunk and had everything they could ever need. That’s it. That was the extent of the story. Squirrels living happily in a tree-trunk. I went on for hours, describing all the wonderful food the squirrels had hidden in their tree trunk, the super comfortable beds they had, and how they were never, cold, hungry, or in any danger.

I once tried introducing ferrets into the story as the squirrels’ enemies who tried to hunt them*. This didn’t go over very well with my sister who didn’t want to hear about anything even remotely bad happening to the squirrels. So I had to turn the squirrels and the ferrets into best friends. Then the ferrets got a comfortable, well-stocked tree-trunk of their own, and the story had now two groups of very happy animals.

In summer, we usually went to the country-side to visit my aunt Vera. She had two young kids of her own and they, in turn, had many friends between the ages of 3 and 8. One day, my sister gathered them all in a circle and announced,

“Clarissa knows this really great story about squirrels and she’ll tell it to us right now!”

I was a little unnerved, given that there wasn’t really a story. Or rather, the point of the story was that nothing ever happened to the squirrels.

“Wouldn’t you rather hear about Hodja Nasreddin? Or Cat in the Boots?” I asked. But my sister was determined her friends should hear about the squirrels.

For forty minutes I expatiated on the happiness of the squirrels and their friends, the ferrets. The kids were mesmerized.

“Wow,” said the eldest of them, an 8-year-old boy. “That’s the best story ever. Can you tell it again tomorrow?”

* I know nothing about the animal life, so I have no idea what the real relationship between the squirrels and the ferrets is.