Column Classic: Rewarding, Or Why Free Is Dumber Than You Think

By Lisa Scottoline

Here’s what I’m telling you: beware “rewards points.”

What?

Yes, that’s right. I said it, and if you remember, it wasn’t always thus. I used to be a big fan of rewards points.

Let’s review.

I remember the day I found out that my credit card was accumulating rewards points, because I felt like I had won the lottery.

Okay, a really tiny lottery, but still, free is free, and I was excited. The way my credit card worked was that every time I used it, it accumulated points that enabled me to choose free stuff from a free catalog, full of freeness.

Wow!

I even wrote about how hard it was to pick stuff out of the free catalog, mainly because I was so dazzled by the free part that I thought I might faint.

I’m not cheap, but free has a unique power, no? I couldn’t go wrong if it didn’t cost me anything.

Or so I thought.

And since then, I’ve been all over the reward thing. I’ve even spread the word. Daughter Francesca is about to get a new credit card, and I’ve advised her to make sure she gets one with rewards.

Who doesn’t want to be rewarded?

Lately, me.

I came to this epiphany with my new spice rack. I saw it in the free catalog, and I forget how many points it cost, because it all came down to the same thing:

It’s FREE, dummy!

So, I bought/ordered/ willed it to exist in my house. And now, sitting atop my oven, is a too-cool-for-school spice rack from Dean & DeLuca. All of the spices are in glass test tubes with real corks, so they’re visible from the side and have nice colors. But the spices are things like lavender and Tellicherry peppercorns.

Huh?

I have no idea when lavender became a spice, but it does look pretty in its purple test tube. Too pretty to use, and anyway, what would I put lavender on?

Marigolds?

The rack also includes imported spices, like Greek oregano and French tarragon. Thank God. You wouldn’t want tarragon from anywhere else, would you? And I smelled the Greek oregano, which smells exactly like American oregano, which smells like a pizza parlor.

So maybe that, I’ll use.

Or eat out of the jar.

But I’ve never used any of the spices in the rack, and the test tubes don’t say when they expire, so the bottom line is, the French tarragon should have stayed in Paris. It was a waste, even though it cost nothing.

Paradoxical, no?

The spice rack taught me that even though something is free, I might not want it. I don’t need it. I’m not going to use it. If I had really wanted the spice rack, I would have bought it, and the fact that I didn’t means I shouldn’t have it in the house, at any price.

Even free.

That was my life lesson.

Let me interject to say that the problem may be endemic to spices. Even before the test-tube spice rack, I’d been known to buy spices that I’d never use. Mainly because I want to be the kind of person who cooks with green curry, I’d buy the spice and throw it out when it became a solid block of greenness. I’d make this same mistake around the holidays, when I’d pick up fresh jars of allspice, ground cloves, and cinnamon, which is the kind of thing I imagine the Cake Boss tosses into his shopping cart. But I never use it, and I’m no Cake Boss.

Cake is the boss of me.

Come to think of it, the real problem may be that I’m a stinky cook, as I barely use any spices at all, and in this regard, I am my mother’s daughter.

Let’s blame Mother Mary. After all, she’s not here, and she doesn’t read the column.

Truth to tell, there was no spice rack in our house growing up, and we had only four spices: dried oregano, garlic salt, onion salt, and salt.

Mother Mary mainly cooked Italian, and salt.

We didn’t even have pepper because Mother Mary is enough pepper for anybody.

And to this day, when she visits me and makes meatballs or tomato sauce, we first make a trip to the grocery store to buy her salts, with their preservatives included the faker the better.

And you know what?

Her food tastes delicious.

And I feel rewarded.

Almost free.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline 2011

Place Your Item in The Bagging Area

by Lisa Scottoline

In these difficult times, it’s important to savor the victories.

And folks, we won!

What am I talking about?

That self-service checkouts are going to be scrapped at Walmart, Costco, and Wegmans.

We did it, gang!

We defeated Big Machine!

According to a news story I read, major chains are beginning to phase out self-service checkouts.

I’m declaring victory for all mankind.

Or at least people who never got the hang of self-checkout, like me.

There’s not a single time I’ve used self-checkout that I have not had to call over a cashier.

And believe me, I try to do it myself. I swipe my barcodes and look through twenty pictures of oranges to figure out the produce code for the ones I got, but it never works. And I get cranky, but try to hide it from the people in the line who are getting cranky but not trying to hide it.

They’re mad at me, and so am I.

Self-checkout breeds self-loathing.

Sometimes I avoid buying produce so I don’t have to look it up.

The day Bartlett pears grow barcodes, I’m in.

Plus I always wonder why we don’t just type in what we bought?

Like why give produce a number code when it already has a letter code, which is what we used to call a word.

After all, I can type ICEBERG before I can find 1928290.

Then nobody would have to remember anything.

But what do I know?

I’m just glad it’s over.

Goodbye to all that.

Because I always struggle with self-checkout, and in time I’ll give up and hit the REQUEST HELP button.

I love to REQUEST HELP.

I wish life had a REQUEST HELP button.

I’d REQUEST HELP all day.

And then I wait for the cashier, always a ponytailed high-schooler trying to deal with middle-aged women who have plenty of agita but are dangerously low on estrogen.

Nowadays, I beat the system.

I hit REQUEST HELP as soon as I pull up.

It’s just more efficient.

I know I’ll need HELP, so why wait?

I eliminate the middle man.

Or the middle robot.

And then I slow-walk finding the code for broccoli rabe until the child cashier materializes and rattles it off.

This is why she has estrogen.

She needs to memorize produce codes.

Me, I have better things to do.

Netflix isn’t going to binge itself.

In the news story, it said that the stores are phasing out self-checkout because it has increased theft.

That’s surprises me.

If I’m going to shoplift, the shop is Cartier.

Tomatoes, I’ll pay for.

Reportedly, the reason they started self-checkout in the first place was because of Covid and also not everybody liked interacting with another person.

I don’t get that, either.

I love talking to people in stores.

My entire social life is Wegman’s.

At Costco, I hang out at the samples and pretend I’m at a cocktail party.

And the other day at CVS, I struck up a conversation with the guy at the self-checkout next to me.

I will not be defeated.

And neither will you.

We win!

Copyright Lisa Scottoline 2023

Column Classic: Password

By Lisa Scottoline

In the beginning, God created the Internet and shopping online. I was an early believer. Where shopping is involved, I get in on the ground floor, especially if I don’t have to move from my chair. Shopping online was like having somebody bring you brownies and stuff them in your mouth.

In other words, impossible to resist.

Plus the economy was better then. It turns out that “shop until you drop” wasn’t such a hot idea. Or maybe we just dropped. Or somebody dropped us. Either way, don’t get me started.

To stay on point, early on, websites like Amazon and bn.com required a four-digit password. It was my first password, and what a thrill! Think of a secret word! It put me in mind of decoder rings, speakeasies, and people knocking on doors, saying “Sam sent me.” In those days, I used the same go-to password for everything – specifically, my goal weight plus zero. It was easy to remember because nobody ever forgets their goal weight, and the chance of ever attaining it is zero.

Then everybody caught on to online shopping, so much so that the other day I went into a pet store and they had only two dog collars, both large and blue. I wanted red and small, so they told me go home and shop online at their website. So you know where this is going. The bad news is that someday the stores will be empty. The good news is that there’ll be plenty of parking.

But somewhere along the line, passwords stopped being fun. Complex rules entered the picture, like an IRS Code for passwords. Nowadays passwords have to be eight or ten digits, mix numbers and letters, use both upper and lowercase, no asterisks or other punctuation, can’t repeat digits, and never on Sunday.

Now I hate passwords.

I have 3,929,874 passwords, not only for shopping but for banking, Gmail, satellite radio, and other stuff. I try to keep track of them but I can never remember to record the password, and if I keep forgetting it, I get locked out of the website and have to reset the password. Then I reset the password to something close to the original, which means that all of my passwords are scarily similar, like some inbred mountain family, so I’ll never be able to keep them straight.

And then websites started requiring user names, because our regular names stopped being good enough and we became users and not people. I can never remember my user names, because sometimes the website requires lscottoline or lisascottoline or lisa@scottoline.com, and the other day I got so fed up, I made “password” my user name.

This amused me.

Then of course I couldn’t get into a website because I misremembered either my user name or my password, and they don’t tell you which one you got wrong, so you have to try different combinations to hit paydirt, which never happens before you are locked out of the site. And you can’t get an email sent to you reminding you of your password unless you remember your user name. But if you’re like me and you forgot your password, you’re also the type to forget your user name, which is when you throw your laptop out the window.

But it gets better.

Yes, I’m talking about Security Questions. These are something my bank has come up with, wherein after I finally get my user name and password correct, they ask me questions, the answers to which I established too long ago to remember, around the time I lost my car keys. And if I get all the answers right, I’m still not in the clear, because the website shows me a picture of an oak tree and asks me to remember the caption I wrote for the picture, once upon a time.

Huh?

I can write a novel, but not a caption. All my captions stink. And so therefore they’re impossible to remember.

I look at the oak tree picture and try the caption, “This is an oak tree.”

Incorrect.

Then I try, “This is not an oak tree.”

Surreal, but also incorrect.

I try “Oaky Dokey!” For fun.

Also incorrect, so I’m locked out of the bank. At which point, I leave the house to go to the store.

And park.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline

Column Classic: Got Limes?

By Lisa Scottoline

You may have seen the news story that one of the major big-box stores has applied for a liquor license, which would allow consumption-on-premises.

In other words, you could drink while you shop.

Yay!

Happy days are here again!

Reportedly, the store is doing this because it’s expanding its grocery and food items, but I don’t care why.

Bottom’s up!

I already love shopping in big-box stores.

Why?

Everything is BIG!

If you need to buy laundry detergent, the smallest bottle is 187 ounces.

And that’s concentrated, so it’s the equivalent of an entire ocean of laundry detergent. 

That’s why I buy All laundry detergent.

Because it’s ALL.

In fact, you will die before you run out of laundry detergent, and you can bequeath it to your children. So after you have given your all, you can give them your All.

If you buy a can of coffee, it will be shrink-wrapped with 4700 other cans of coffee. You’ll have more caffeine than you’ll ever need and you can share some with your neighbors, so your entire block will be highly productive.

Or start a war.

I also buy multicolored gummy vitamins in a big-box store, and I now have 3,2029,348 vitamins. If I took them all, I would gain a superpower.

Or grow a third breast covered with rainbows.

Which might be the same thing.

But you get the idea, the bottom line in big-box stores is that everything is big, plentiful, excessive, and way out-of-proportion.

Ain’t it great?

The shopping carts are humongous, too, perfectly in scale with the massive stores, so that between the immensity of the warehouse space, the gargantuan shopping carts, and the over-the-top quantity of each item, when you step inside the store, you’re a Lilliputian stepped into Brobdingnag, which is the land where the giants lived in Gulliver’s Travels.

You probably knew that.

But I had to look it up.

Impressed?

Anyway it’s a good analogy, because that’s pretty much exactly how I feel when I’m pushing around one of those big carts, and like you, I go into the big-box store for one item and leave with several hundred.

In fact, I have been known to leave the store with two full carts, which shows you that Lilliputians love to shop.

Now that big-box stores will allow you to drink while you shop, I’m imagining myself walking those glistening, extra-wide aisles behind my cart-as-big-as-a-house, a Lilliputian sipping Lambrusco.

I don’t have that many inhibitions to start with, and for me, liquor only makes things worse.

Or better.

I buy too much in the big-box store when I’m sober, but if I shop while I’m drinking, I’ll shop until I drop.

Or until I drip.

Or both.

I might buy EVERYTHING.

Whether you think drinking-while-you-shop is a good thing depends on whether you’re the massive corporation that owns the big-box stores or my retirement fund.

Either way, I’m in.

It certainly improves people’s attitudes about running their errands on the weekends, if they can do them beer in hand.

It changes your Things To Do list into a Things to Drink list.

I’m wondering if the shopping carts will have cupholders in the shape of wineglasses or maybe tiny ones small enough to hold a shot glass.

Shot! Shot! Shot!

Shop! Shop! Shop!

But what happens when people start drinking while they’re driving those scooters in the store?

I foresee major collisions.

It brings a whole new meaning to, “Pick up in aisle four.”

Employees will come with a broom.

And a breathalyzer.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline