SCARSDALE, N.Y. — Once upon a time, I might have been considered "normal." I had a day job, a wife, a house, and some kids. I even went to the store when we needed milk or diapers.
After leaving my job to become a full-time freelancer, and waiting long days for the phone to ring, I discovered the joys of the Internet. Unfortunately, I also stumbled into eBay.com like it was a rabbit hole. With gleeful abandon, I bought vintage "Bewitched" comic books and "Land of the Giants" lunchboxes. This was my second childhood, only obscenely more expensive.
Then I found priceline.com, and became a new man.
On eBay I was willing to overpay hysterically for frivolous collectibles, but I learned from Priceline that I could pay below retail for things I really needed.
For example, I bought an airline ticket to Alaska for $299, saving $1,100, even though I never used it. This logic prompted me to ask: Why, exactly, do we pay what we pay? How could women possibly agree to pay $640 for shoes? Something had to be done.
I was in the supermarket, holding a box of Cocoa Puffs cereal, and it hit me: Why not offer 38 cents instead of paying $4.99? As if by magic, Priceline opened a grocery business, and I bid 38 cents on my cereal. I admit, I failed to acquire any Cocoa Puffs (but I did drop two pants sizes).
Then, one dark day, while writing a check for my electric bill, my hand froze. Why did I obediently accept this monthly extortion of $217? I decided to offer my local utility a flat rate of $18.25 a month.
Haggling with the power company made me feel like a new man, a stronger, more resilient man: E-Man. And E-Man would only pay the price he wanted to pay. (I quickly adjusted to living in the dark. It's not so hard to move around once you push all the furniture up against the walls.)
I announced to my clients I would work fewer hours and expect larger paychecks. As E-Man, I was operating more efficiently, so I deserved to share the benefits.
I took my wife to our favorite Italian restaurant to help her see that her canceled credit cards were really just E-Man's first attempts to exercise his newly found powers. During her silence, my eyes drifted across the menu. How could Chef Lorenzo justify $16.95 for grilled chicken Caesar salad when it cost only $3.95 to make? (The next day my wife left with the kids for her sister's house upstate.)
My friend Alex took me out to "talk about life," which I interpreted as a sign he wanted to learn the secrets of my e-wisdom. We went to the new Jim Carrey film, but while Alex paid full price, I only wanted to pay $1.19. Alex is living with his head in the sand. E-Man can't help him.
Two weeks ago, some nice county sheriffs escorted me from my home after I reassessed my property taxes. Before this, I had been preparing frantically to march in to see the IRS. These were logical people. They should understand E-Man's right to shift to a straight national sales tax, and give him their blessing.
After settling in at the Westchester County Jail, north of New York City, a friend volunteered to connect me with a criminal defense lawyer, provided I post a $1,500 retainer. E-Man counter-offered with $4.11 in pennies and a 1968 Harmon Killebrew baseball card.
Since my transfer, I have come to appreciate Sing Sing's creative-writing program. I sincerely hope this essay will help reduce my time in solitary confinement from 180 days.
E-Man is willing to do 13 days. I think that's fair.
Bruce Stockler is a freelance writer.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society