The Truth, Mainly - 09/23/1991

Paying the price of saving money can make for a rough ride
by Leon Satterfield

George Bush wants to be known as the Education President and the Environment President, but he doesn't want to spend any money on education and the environment. I'm that way myself. I get so excited about saving money that I forget what it costs.

I don't know what the President's excuse is, but I was born a Baptist in southwest Kansas in the middle of the Depression during the worst year of the Dust Bowl. I imbibed frugality with my mother's milk.

As a result, we don't have many visitors at our house any more. Haven't had for about 15 years now—"ever since you had the Ready-Mix Man dump that big lump of concrete in the driveway," my wife says. Then she snickers.

As usual, she's exaggerating. It's not the whole driveway that has the big lump of concrete in it. It's just where you first drive in—the part between the sidewalk and the street. And it's not really a lump. It's more of a little rise. My wife calls it Tightwad Hill. Then she snickers.

Lots of people who don't know as much as they should about turning into a driveway will scrape off their license plates and severely damage their mufflers and differentials and transmissions on the concrete lump. Some of them are real soreheads about it and don't come back.

To hear my wife talk, you'd think it's my fault.

"I can't help it that I imbibed frugality with my mother's milk," I like to remind her. "If you wanted to marry a spendthrift you should have thought of that back in 1956 before you went crazy over me and my '39 Chevy."

"And I suppose," she says, "the pony keg wasn't your fault either."

Okay, so I shouldn't have bought so much beer that hot afternoon in 1976 when I had nine or ten friends over to help pour concrete for our garage floor. But it was cheaper than hiring people who knew what they were doing. You got more beer for your money when you bought it by the pony keg instead of by the case, and we had to keep drinking it because it would be flat the next day and it was already paid for.

So maybe I was a little muddled when the Ready-Mix Man said there was still some concrete left in the truck. He asked if I had any use for it.

"Do I have to pay for it?" I asked.

"You ordered it," he said. "You have to pay for it."

Somebody had told me a week earlier that Ready-Mix Men give away leftover concrete to buddies so they can build free patios. It didn't seem fair to me that I should pay for a patio for this guy's buddy, so I squinted my eyes and looked shrewd. Most of the driveway was graveled, but the part between the sidewalk and the street was a mudhole. A little concrete there, I shrewdly reckoned, would fix that good.

"Dump it out there in the mudhole," I said, "between the sidewalk and the street."

"I don't see forms," the Ready-Mix Man said. "It'll be a mess without forms."

"I wasn't born yesterday," I said. "Dump it there."

We all stood around and watched him dump it. It just kept coming. It started to pile up.

"Are you sure you want it all?" he said.

"You damn betcha," I said. "I'm not paying for your buddy's patio."

He gave me a look, then he dumped the rest of the load. My wife came out to see. It looked like a brontosaurus had done a job in our driveway—a pile of wet concrete maybe ten feet in diameter and four feet high at the peak.

"Isn't that too much?" she asked.

"We'd have to pay for all of it anyway," I said.

We spread it out as best we could, and two days later when it was dry enough to drive on, I high-centered our '57 Chevy. I jacked it up and gunned it off and left deep gouges in the new concrete.

Later I figured out that I can usually avoid scraping by zigging northwest when I go uphill, then zagging southwest when I go downhill. It's not so bad.

Except when she wants to talk about it.

"Tell me again about the frugality in your mother's milk," she'll say. "And then tell me again how much it's cost us for all the stuff you've scraped off the undersides of all the clunkers you've bought in the last 15 years."

"I just wish somebody would come see us sometime," I say. "Then maybe we could have a respectful, non-mocking conversation around here."

"Maybe they would if you'd take a sledge hammer to that driveway," she says. "We could make a patio with the pieces of concrete and save some money since it's already paid for."

That knocks her out. I bet Barbara doesn't make that kind of fun of the President when he gets so excited about saving money that he forgets what it costs.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.

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