I am having the kind of luck today that makes me leery. I’m one of those people who can never fully enjoy good fortune without looking over my shoulder for the catch. It’s probably just an offshoot of my unreasonable paranoia, but even something as minor as a good parking space makes me wonder what price I’m going to have to pay for it.*

It started out rather innocuously, at Harris Teeter. It occurred to me that I was running low on soda (I drink Diet Pepsi and diet cream soda like it’s going out of style), so I should grab a few bottles. When I got to the soda aisle, there were at least a dozen “hangtag” style coupons, for Pepsi, Sierra Mist, and Dr Pepper Ten.

“On-product” coupons (like the hangtags, or the ones you peel off the package) are incredibly rare to find, probably because inconsiderate people like myself tend to snap them up on those rare occasions we find them. I’m not going to get into a full-on rant where I apologize or rationalize this behavior (I spent enough time doing that on coupon forums, when I was one of “those people” on a full-time basis), but the bottom line is that it doesn’t matter whether I use them today or I hang onto them for awhile until there’s a better sale or a coupon event. It’s not like I’m turning them around and “selling” them (or rather, the time it took me to procure them). And if it seems unfair for me to take them to use at a later date, and that I’m depriving some other poor soul of a chance to take a dollar off two 2-liters, well, all I can say is you win some, you lose some. I drink a lot of soda; other people clear the shelves of peanut butter or cereal or cheese, justifying it with plaintive cries of “I’m just trying to feed my family!” as though those half a dozen children just showed up out of nowhere, and poor helpless Mom is saddled with the nearly-insurmountable burden of finding a way to feed them all without having to resort to, oh, I don’t know, getting a job.

(Looks like it turned into a coupon rant anyway. Oops.)

So I stuck a few of the Pepsi coupons in my wallet, and took three of the 55¢ off Dr Pepper Ten coupons. The 2 liters were on sale for 99¢, and Harris Teeter doubles manufacturer’s coupons worth 99¢ or less, so I figured I’d get three free bottles of soda. Then on the way to the checkout, I looked at the back to see if the coupons actually would double. You used to be able to tell by whether or not the bar code started with a 5; if so, the register would automatically double the coupon even if the wording said “do not double,” and in most cases, cashiers just scan the coupons and don’t give a shit.** It had a new no-number barcode, and said “do not double.” I wasn’t that concerned, because 44¢ is still a great price for a 2 liter.

But when I gave the coupons to the cashier, they got doubled manually anyway. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that it’s because the handheld scanners Harris Teeter uses at their self checkouts can’t read the new barcodes, so they have to be entered (and doubled) manually. I don’t usually go to the self-checkouts when I have coupons (and for that matter, I rarely use coupons anymore anyway), but sometimes the self checkouts are the only ones open. And the cashier manning it this morning had more pressing issues to address than coupon terms (like a guy trying to write a check for under $8 in groceries; I was tempted to just pay for his order myself). Whatever the case, instead of paying 1.32 for 3 bottles of Dr Pepper 10, I got 3 free bottles and an extra 33¢ off my total. Not that 33¢ is a whopping great deal of cash, but it’s extra nice to get at Harris Teeter, because their registers will ordinarily not allow coupon “overage.” If the coupon will be worth more than the item when doubled, it will only “double” enough to give you the item for free.

My next stop was the Dollar Tree. I went to the store on Battleground because I wanted to stop at Edward McKay, which is a local used book/movie/music store that has a pretty decent selection. After seeing last night’s Mad Men, where a teenage Don fears he might have consumption, I had the strangest urge to reread a childhood book where one of the characters dies of consumption. Instead of paying $4 for the Kindle version of The Doll in the Garden, I decided to see if I could find it used for $2 or $3.

Anyway, the Dollar Tree is in the same shopping center as a Ross and a TJ Maxx, so I stopped in each one of those stores first, hoping maybe I’d find a nice roomy, yet stylish, bag to take with me on my upcoming trip to Washington DC. At Ross, none of the bags really struck my fancy (or were priced low enough for my liking), but I did find a nice wallet. I’d been needing one anyway, since the one I’d had was almost literally holding on by a thread. TJ Maxx didn’t really have anything I was interested in, but at the Dollar Tree, I got lucky again and found 3 more packages of the wet wipes I like to keep a stockpile of. They used to keep them in stock, but I haven’t been seeing them lately, which makes me think they’ve been discontinued. It’s a shame, because they’re very versatile. They’re thin enough to use as moist toilet paper, but substantial enough to wipe down my sweaty bits after riding my bike to work. And they come in packs of 100; the closest substitute is Target’s flushable wipes, which are something like $1.29 and come 72 to a pack.

Anyway, one of the packs was leaky, so I didn’t buy it, but it made my hands smell nice, so I didn’t really mind. I was contemplating my dwindling supply of them as I walked through the parking lot, and I fumbled my keys as I unclipped them. They fell on the ground, two inches away from a sewer grate.

This was actually a pretty fantastic piece of luck, because if they’d fallen in the grate, I’d have been up the creek without a paddle (in a wire boat, in piranha-infested waters). It wasn’t even a rectangular grate, that’s about the size of a large textbook and you can see down into it; it was a long strip that ran the length of the parking lot, with holes just large enough to suck down a set of keys, but way too small to let in any light. You’d probably have a better outcome if you dropped your keys in flowing lava.

While this wasn’t a typical Retail Therapy score, it saved me from wasting the rest of the day calling… hell, I wouldn’t even know where to start making those phone calls, especially since the car isn’t mine (borrowed from husband’s grandparents, and they’re signing it over to us next month), my husband is out of town, and we’re not friendly enough with any of the neighbors to give them a spare. What would AAA do? Would the city send a maintenance worker down into the sewer system to see if they could find them? Is the space even big enough for a human to fit?

I was riding pretty high off the buzz of a narrowly-averted disaster, so much so that I almost forgot I had meant to go to Ed McKay. Luckily I remembered, because while I didn’t find The Doll in the Garden, I did find another book by Mary Downing Hahn that I had loved during my youth: Stepping on the Cracks. Additionally, I scored copies of The Twenty-One Balloons, Matilda, Maniac Magee, and The Phantom Tollbooth to send to my niece. She’s only four, but I’m hoping to turn her into a voracious reader.

At this point I was actively feeling good, which is a strange feeling to have when you’re suffering from crushing loneliness. I figured I could swing by the Value Village near my house, on the off chance maybe they’d have a bag that would suit my needs.

On the way in, I noticed they would be having another one of their “50% off everything” sales next week. I love these days; seems like they have one every few months, to try and clear out a backlog, and the place is mobbed before they even open the doors. On previous half-off days, I’ve gotten a cabinet-model sewing machine (which I actually managed to coax into cooperation long enough to make a drawstring project bag and most of a crochet hook roll, and hem five pairs of my husband’s dress pants) and a wooden glider, both less than $10 each. So I thought even if I didn’t find a bag I was totally in love with style-wise, I could probably find one that was big enough to suit me and hope it was still there in a week.

There weren’t any bags I really liked, but while I was there I checked “the wall” out of habit. I have never seen this at any other thrift store, but the Value Village here has several sections of pegboard on their back wall, and on the board they hang small clear plastic bags of… well, stuff. It’s hard to explain, and there’s no really consistent theme, other than “we’d rather not have all this small crap rolling around loose in our store.” There might be a bag full of those oversized Lego-type blocks alongside a bag of 90s-era cassette singles, or a collection of mismatched measuring cups, or some of those little flip-top spiral notepads and some colored pencils. A great deal of it is junk that could probably safely be thrown away, but every now and then there’s something useful. The bags are generally priced from 50¢ to $3.

There’s almost always a bag or two with random balls of yarn in it, but most of the time, it’s in a wad, with no labels. Or it’s just crap you don’t really need or want, like rug yarn in blaze orange, or a few half-used skeins of Caron sparkly acrylic in Christmas colors. I had a stroke of luck last fall, and found a bag with five balls of Bucilla Melody. It was kind of a blah-looking green, but I’d been bitten by the dyeing bug, and I thought “I can do something with this.” I was right: with a liberal application of Wilton’s royal blue icing dye, it became a tonal blue that looked, in the words of my husband, like I had “skinned Cookie Monster.”

So it was through this yarn that I found hope: hope that there could be awesome yarn at a thrift shop, if only I arrived at just the right moment to claim it for myself. Surely it could happen to me, right? Those people on Ravelry who’d claimed to have found great deals on good yarn at resale shops, couldn’t all be full of it.

Today, possibly as a result of a streak of luck that makes me reconsider playing the Powerball, I had my faith restored.

I was strolling along the wall, smirking at some of the WTFery (such as the aforementioned 90s cassettes… who exactly is going to buy an Aaron Carter tape in 2013?), when I noticed a familiar-looking label. “Whoa!” I thought. “Is that Cascade 220?”

It was indeed. Two untouched balls of a deep green, with their labels intact, along with a wad of the same color, for $1.91. Now that the wall had my attention, I noticed a bag with some tan yarn called Wave, made by Filatura Di Crosa. I wasn’t familiar with this particular line, but I’d used a ball of their Maxime to make a pair of ankle socks, and really liked it. (Sadly, it’s discontinued.)

The label said it was 75% merino and 25% silk, and between that and its natural color, it would take dye like a dream (although I’m not sure I want to; it’s nice enough as it is, plus, I’m not terribly confident in my ability to dye a sweater quantity of yarn and have it all turn out the same color). Better still, there were five balls in this bag, and another bag nearby with three more balls and the remnants of a fourth. All for less than $4.

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After that, I was diligently checking each row of the wall for more yarn. There were the requisite acrylics and rug yarns and random mystery wads of fiber that I’d rather take a pass on,*** but down near the end, there was another bag of “I could do something awesome with this” yarn: six skeins of a vintage Bernat called Mohairspun. Sure it was baby-pee yellow, but it was also 2/3 mohair (the remainder being wool and nylon) and therefore, very dyeable. This bag was just 80¢.

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For about a nanosecond, it occurred to me that I could hold off on these until next week’s half-off day. Then I realized I was an idiot, and there was no way I could pass up this much quality yarn and leave it sitting there, vulnerable, for the possibility of saving $3. I took my four bags of fluffy goodness and hightailed it to the register.

Mixed in with these yarns were the requisite random balls of… something. They’re in the freezer now with the rest of it (there’s now almost as much yarn as food in there), but I’m not sure if I’ll keep it. The multicolored one on the left is kind of nice; it’s a single-ply worsted weight that’s not really enough to do anything with, but I’ll probably add it to my Tunisian crochet scrapghan. The larger balls of red and green are flecked with little fiber boogers (I’m not really a fan of tweeds, if that wasn’t already obvious), but I hate to throw away perfectly good yarn; maybe they’ll be the impetus I need to do another yarn bomb. The yellow balls are almost certainly acrylic, and will probably become more surprise yarn art. And the small balls of tan yarn are a cotton or cotton blend that I would probably use as utility twine before I tried to knit or crochet with it.

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All in all, it was a pretty impressive haul, especially for less than $7. And even though my opportunity to win Big Money has passed (as I’ve been writing, the news I have on for background noise has informed me that some unknown Floridian has 60 days to claim the prize), I can’t really ask for a better outcome to this Retail Therapy excursion I almost didn’t go on.

*Now that I’ve thought about it a bit, I think I realize why I never trust good things that happen to me: I call them Barbie Lunchbox Dreams.

I’m sure we all have dreams that fit into this general theme: you get your hands on something you really want, and then you wake up and realize it was all just a dream. (Extra points if you realized you were dreaming while you were still in the dream, and knew you’d have to part with your new toy.) The first one I remember having taken place in the cafeteria at the elementary school where I attended the second half of kindergarten through the first half of third grade, although I think I was a little older than that age when I had it. There were racks of pink and purple Barbie lunchboxes, and they were glittery. Waking up without one was one of the first few disappointments of my young life. (The first I remember distinctly was that I had misheard my father’s parents when they told us we would be next-door neighbors. I guess I hadn’t yet learned the concept of “next door” and thought they’d said “next store.” I was actually kind of bummed that we wound up living on the other side of their duplex, rather than running a newsstand.)

I’ve had variations of the dream every so often since then, and usually it has to do with finding or winning money. And even though I can afford to buy the occasional skein of luxury yarn or high-quality needles, when I come across these things by chance rather than by the sweat of my brow, it’s disconcerting. I keep wondering when I’m going to wake up.

**Sometimes you can “profile” cashiers and tell if they’re the type to scan the stack and not really care, or if they’re going to be one of those sticklers who scrutinize every coupon, then check the receipt/bags to make sure you did actually buy the correct item/size/flavor/quantity, then scan the coupon (ie, Coupon Jedis and Coupon Nazis). The prevailing wisdom is that young guys are Jedis and older women are Nazis, with young girls being something of a crapshoot.

However, I spent 3 miserable weeks living out of a hotel room back in 2010, basically because a “friend” royally screwed me and my husband. One of these weeks was also a “Super Double” coupon event, where they’d double coupons worth up to $1.98, so it was preferable to save your $1 and $1.50 coupons for these times. I was still a pretty prolific couponer at the time (my stacks of inserts were in one of the boxes I made sure to have readily available in the moving truck), but the place we were stuck in only had two Harris Teeters, rather than near-dozen there are here. And in both stores, no matter which cashier I picked, I got a Nazi. Every coupon would be scrutinized, and every DND would be set aside to be entered manually, no matter how long the lines were.

Now, I know they were within their rights to do that, even if I think it was poor customer service to hold up a line while they waited for a manager to do an override. What I’ve never understood is the reason for the DND in the first place. While the manufacturer reimburses the retailer for the face value of each coupon (plus something like 8¢ each), things like doubling and tripling are paid for by the store itself, probably out of their promotional budget. There’s no reason Heinz or Del Monte should care whether or not Harris Teeter makes their products even cheaper than intended, especially if it’s not coming out of their pockets. I know some brands like to think their product has a certain cachet, and they don’t want to cheapen it, but if that’s the case, why offer coupons at all? (Plus, the kinds of brands that want to give off the air of being expensive and classy tend to be sold at higher-end department stores: just check the exclusions on a Macy’s coupon for examples.) And if you don’t want your coupon to be doubled, why not just code it that way to begin with?

At any rate, they are in the process of switching from numeric barcodes with basic, universal meanings, to some sort of jumble of lines that people can’t decipher at a glance (yet, although I’m sure there are some SlickDealers working on cracking the code). So if a coupon says DND, there’ s a pretty good chance that it’s programmed not to double.

I’m not even sure what point I was trying to make here, or if I even had one aside from “hey, another reason to hate Greenville, NC.”

***Putting Yarn of Unknown Origin (YUO, or shit that’s been in someone else’s house, and even though they might be careful about their yarn, and keep it in sealed tubs like I do, there’s also a chance that they could be slobs or hoarders) into my stash is a risk, and I’d rather not take the chance on yarn that has decent odds of being crap. I’m not a yarn snob, but I am trying to move out some of the lower-quality stuff out and get the nicer stuff in, so I’m not risking sullying my nice, clean, bug- and fur- and smell-free yarn for mystery meat. Especially if the meat might have parasites.

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