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The Spigot


Heather Martin

Others considered her habits odd. But she fancied herself frugal. After all, money doesn’t grow in the garden as her mother had so often told her in broken English. Her parents had lived through the Depression and taught their daughter well. Elorraine knew, though, that times had changed. But her habits remained. The situation had come to a head about a year before, when her endeavors at saving money had taken over the small townhouse. Kimber had screamed at her mother, “The whole house stinks like ketchup!” Elorraine had only shrugged in response, Is that bad?, she thought. Soon thereafter it was decided that she was to confine her canning, depacketing, drying, and other cost-cutting exercises to the one-car garage under the house. Her husband and children referred to these activities as coupon clipping, though her system was far more complex than simply cutting coupons from the neighbor’s Sunday Times Union.

Why spend money when you don’t have to, she thought. So what if they didn’t understand that it was for their own well-being. So Elorraine converted the garage to a workshop. She stacked Iken’s tools, the kids’ broken toys, and the aluminum beach chairs her in-laws had given them several years prior, against the back wall. In front of this and the other three walls, she installed freestanding plastic shelving units which she had purchased at a garage sale for fifty cents each. The units were stained and most of the shelves, cracked, but still held her moderately-weighted items. Inside the shelved square was one half of an old ping pong table she found near one of the neighborhood dumpsters. She used this as her primary station, for measuring liquid goods, spreading, counting, and tabulating the yields from foraging; here she rinsed paper towels and the weekly laundry in a leaky Rubbermaid garbage can. The workshop had wooden beams overhead from which she installed ropes that were good for hanging things to dry.

Her concept originated with the three Rs of recycling. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Though she had modified it slightly to Reuse, Return, Recycle, and then changed it completely to Salvage, Simplify, Save, after an embarrassing incident with a Dress Barn clerk who challenged that she had, in fact, worn the blouse she was attempting to return for a refund.



Once the kids were off to school and Iken to the office, she began her work. The collection runs were scheduled for the morning, as the cashiers were often busy addressing the needs of the speed-obsessed morning commuters. The trips—which she referred to as “freebie foraging”—revolved primarily around the fast food industry. She wore Kimber’s faded Elmo backpack on her chest for easy depositing of items collected. The regular employees barely noticed her daily visits. She found that if she moved quickly and with purpose to the condiment counter, she aroused little suspicion. She stood stiff-backed, letting her arms flitter around the inset bins grabbing various handfuls of items, and never turning around to look toward the cashier counter. “Act like you belong here and you will,” her father had long ago advised after crawling under the chain-link fence into a local theme park. And so she did, with great success. An occasional commuter munching a McMuffin or Croissanwich looked up from his paper to stare in curiosity at Elorraine, as she swiftly deposited goods into her sack—but commuters did no more than stare.

Her weekly foraging schedule was fixed. She biked first to the Burger King on the corner of Route 146 and Farm-to-Market Road followed by the McDonald’s on Mountain Way; at these locations, she picked up the standard items from the condiment counter: ketchup and mustard packets, napkins, salt and pepper envelopes. She then rode to the Starbucks nestled beside the Price Chopper in the Clifton Park Plaza. This stop was especially fruitful as it yielded tall containers of milk and cream, which Elorraine could quickly pump into the Big Bird and Barbie thermoses from her children’s long-since-abandoned lunch boxes. At this location she could also pick up large quantities of sugar packets, both natural cane and regular. The wooden stirs found in abundance at this locale also made their way into her pack, not only for their intended use but also as makeshift stakes, good for retrieving partially cooked noodles dropped below the stove-top burners during Kimber’s haphazard stirring. Once a week she stopped by the Taco Bell on Monroe Street, picked up a variety of sauces and individually wrapped sporks. This was a slightly more complicated maneuver as the restaurant was often near-empty when she stopped in (a little after eleven). Luckily, the staff was generally unconcerned with her and chatted amongst themselves as she moved in and out. The Ramada on Ushers Road was also a once-weekly stop. She would station herself outside the back door, waiting for someone to exit. She began using the back entrance after the beady-eyed front desk manager asked her her room number when she glided through the electric doors. As part of her new system, when someone emerged, she slid in the open door and conducted a search for a maid’s supply cart, complete with little shampoos, soaps, body lotion, toilet paper, shoe shine kits, shower caps, coffee and a variety of tea flavors. She considered taking some of the sweet-smelling linens, but determined that this was unethical as the towels and such were not meant to be distributed free of charge; this would be stealing.

Wobbling above the half-deflated tires on the Schwinn she had purchased for two dollars at the Army-Navy store, she made her way back to the townhouse. At home, she began the second stage of her work.

She squeezed the McDonald’s ketchup packets into the industrial-size pickle bucket she retrieved from the dumpster behind Burger King. She stocked the shelves with soaps and stirs. She carefully rinsed and then close-pinned used paper towels to the ropes hanging from the ceiling. The mustard packets were to have their contents pinched into a suntan lotion bottle for later use. Kimber often complained when Elorraine used non-food containers for her foraged food products. To ameliorate the situation, once the bottles were rinsed thoroughly, Elorraine scratched off the painted product name with the paring knife she had gotten free, for listening to a twenty-minute pitch about Ginsu knives at the Price Chopper.



Elorraine prepared cost-effective dinners each evening. She kept to a schedule: Monday: chicken flavor Ramen noodles; Tuesday: oriental flavor Ramen noodles; Wednesday: vegetable flavor Ramen noodles; Thursday: shrimp flavor Ramen noodles; Friday: beef flavor Ramen noodles; Saturday: pork flavor Ramen noodles; and tuna casserole on Sunday. This was a difficult schedule to keep, what with Kimber’s complaints. She had been such a docile child but had of late, turned into a backtalker, complainer, and worst of all Elorraine suspected, a fast-food diner. Iken didn’t appear too bothered. He slurped his noodles like the younger children, sipped his homemade iced tea. She assumed he was grateful for her dedicated protection of his moderate salary. It was not out of necessity that Elorrraine endeavored to cut costs; she felt it was for her family’s protection—to be prepared for the unexpected.



Coupon clipping was part of her schedule, but Elorraine found that studying the grocery circulars was a more effective tact as coupon inserts never offered discounts on the generic brands. Clearance merchandise and slightly damaged goods were abundant to the keen-eyed shopper and one who formed relationships with grocery staff. Such stores also yielded sometimes unstaffed free-sample counters. She avoided buying whenever possible, but when she had to, she did so with the utmost attentiveness to cost.


The Spigot:

She first noticed the lump during a morning freebie-foraging trip. It was a dull throbbing on the side of her neck. When she pressed her fingertip against it, she figured it was a pimple or perhaps an ingrown hair. It had gotten quite large, however, by the afternoon, when she was hanging paper towels. This time she applied pressure with two fingers; the lump seemed to move under her skin with an ease uncharacteristic of any skin blemish with which she was familiar. When stirring the ketchup and sugar sauce that evening, she felt the lump twitch, press against her skin with purpose. When she examined it closer in the bathroom mirror, she noticed that a little white tip had erupted from the center of the swollen red skin. She pinched the sides as she would a white-headed pimple. The white something slid out and onto the faux-finished counter. Elorraine crouched down for a better look. It was a tiny half circle, reminded her of a Spaghetti-O. She pressed her thumb against it, expecting it to smush into a flat puss blob, but it did not. It slipped onto the side of her finger, stuck there. She raised her hand up to her eye. Odd, she thought. But rinsed her finger under the faucet anyway, watching it slide down the drain. When she scrubbed her hands with a small Ramada soap before bed, she craned her neck to see if the blemish was worsening. It had disappeared. She thought little of it until the next morning when the lump had returned.

She ignored it as best she could during foraging but by four o’clock, the lump was as big as her fist and it pulsated, throbbed. The noodles were on the stove and Elorraine could take it no longer. She leaned over the kitchen sink and squeezed the baseball-sized protrusion. She heard a series of thumps and felt an immediate relief of the pressure. Glancing into the sink, she noticed what appeared to be eight pieces of penne pasta. She nudged one with her finger. Was it cooked? She smelled it, rinsed it and was certain it was. She slowly bit, chewed, swallowed. It was pasta. Elorraine decided to keep this incident to herself—curious whether it would continue.

In the ensuing days, Elorraine was thrilled to learn that this was not an isolated incident. Each morning the lump would appear and then grow exponentially throughout the day. She began snacking on her homemade/self-made pasta after her tiring foraging trips. She found that the more often she squeezed, the more pasta she produced. To her delight, she also realized that squeezing the lump, which she thought of as her pasta spigot, at different angles would produce different types of pasta.

The first night she served her pasta to the family, she was filled with apprehension; she dared not tell them the origin of the feast as they would likely judge her and force her to seek out treatment for the problem. The boys and Iken and even Kimber were delighted with the change in the usual schedule. She served a hearty helping of ziti with ketchup and sugar sauce from her foraging. The next evening she served elbow macaroni and even splurged on a block of cheddar to melt for macaroni and cheese. Her family’s eyes glowed and they ate furiously, daring not to question the seeming adjustment in Elorraine’s behavior.

She spent her days secretly harvesting the various types of pasta her neck would yield, preparing multi-coursed meals for her family. Pasta salad made with tri-colored radiatore to start. A side of angel hair. Even cheese tortellini and ravioli. Each night was a feast for the eyes and tastebuds.

Elorraine’s freebie-foraging fell by the wayside as the pasta harvesting took up much of her time. The lump pulsed and she was compelled to drain its contents into a strainer, which she would rinse and then deposit in a container, sealed tight with a shower cap. She began purchasing more products at the grocery store. Needing only to provide sauces and dressing for her pastas, she felt she could indulge and buy some regular goods without much further expense.

In the post-meal euphoria of a Wednesday evening Cavatelli Caesar salad, followed by Fettuccini Alfredo, with a side of linguini and garlic sauce, Elorraine suggested that the family dine out the next evening. They all cheered and licked their plates clean. They ventured out to the local Olive Garden the following night, where they feasted on bread and salad and of course, pasta. Elorraine was at once disappointed and overjoyed to realize the superiority of taste and texture of her self-made pasta. Iken paid the bill and Elorraine was surprised by how little she worried about the cost.

The next morning when she squeezed her neck in preparation for that evening’s dinner, nothing emerged. She tried again, and again later, bloodying her neck by the evening. She emerged from the kitchen to find her family waiting with forks in hand, chatting happily. But she had nothing to give. Her pasta spigot was dry.

The following morning she mounted her Schwinn and rode off toward Burger King.

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