The ToB, presented by Field Notes, is live!

It's the 2023 Tournament of Books, presented by Field Notes! Yay! It’s time to Rooster!

The Non-Expert


Experts answer what they know. The Non-Expert answers anything. This week we counsel a young man beleaguered by visions of marked-down tuna fish and cases of Two Buck Chuck.

Have a question? Need some advice? Ignored by everyone else? Send us your questions via email. The Non-Expert handles all subjects and is updated on Fridays, and is written by a member of The Morning News staff.


* * *

Question: I get economy-size. Like at the supermarket, at Costco etc. But I’ve started to see everything this way…am I nuts? Do other people look at people and figure out whether or not they’re a bargain?—Robert E.

Answer: No, you’re not nuts. Far from it. Actually, I’ve been feeling the same way for a while. I don’t just get economy-size. I get economy-size.

Let me explain. The other night I came home and found a 40-pound box of Kleenex Pocket Packs sitting on my sofa, and the first thing I thought was, ‘Damn, now that’s a bargain.’ Only several hours later, when the entire box got up in a huff, grabbed a jacket, and tromped out the door did I realize it was, in fact, my girlfriend.

Make that ex-girlfriend.

Which was too bad. She was quite a bargain.

The next day I was out drinking away my sorrows at the local hole—here’s where those Kleenex would have been handy—when a giant bag of frozen french fries, a knock-off Palm Pilot, and a $4.50 copy of The South Beach Diet walked into the bar.

‘What’s this,’ I asked the bartender, ‘the beginning of a bad joke?’

He looked at me funny, then said, ‘Whadda you, nuts? That’s just a priest, a minister, and a rabbi.’


‘Get outta my bar.’


I won’t even go into the details about the last time I went to Costco. Have you ever seen a six-foot-tall bag of Purina Puppy Chow try to load a flat of 500 pigs-in-a-blanket into a shopping cart? I didn’t sleep for a week.

The fact is: People look at a lot of things through the rose-colored glasses of economics. Is cheating on my taxes to save $15.50 (that’s three beers in some neighborhoods) worth potentially getting fisked—again—by the IRS? Is it worth coming onto my boss, knowing she may charge me—again—with harassment? And so on. Is it any surprise, then, that some people are a little more thorough about their social vision than others—say, for example, by seeing their loved ones not as economic functionaries but as economy-size packs of Ho-Hos? I think not.

The problem, of course, is when things come full circle. Put simply, it’s one thing to see your father as an institutional box of Tide. It’s another to see an institutional box of Tide as your father. Freudian implications aside, it’s hard to love a box of Tide, even when the price-per-scoop is well below what you would have paid for a regular-sized box at Safeway. A box of Tide can’t teach you to throw a ball, or how to drive, or how to make a pass at your supervisor during the end-of-quarter party.

So, no, you’re definitely not nuts. Unless, that is, you look in the mirror and see a hulking, slightly paunchy tin of Planters. Then you’re just sick.


TMN Contributing Writer Clay Risen’s first attempt to build a website fell apart after he learned that had been bought by a hardcore Christian rock band. Clay is a senior staff editor at the New York Times and the author, most recently, of The Bill of the Century: The Epic Battle for the Civil Rights Act. He lives in Brooklyn. More by Clay Risen