Chapter 9

Copyright© 2009 by Lazlo Zalezac

Jack returned home from work Monday night with a little cash in his pocket. The new regulation had been rescinded and he had been able to get access to the money in his checking account. He wondered what that meant with regard to dinner and the commune. He figured that now that the crisis was over, so was the impetus for everyone to work together.

Pulling into the driveway, he was surprised to find a dozen people gathered in the garage. Someone, he assumed it was Abby, had brought out a lamp so that there would be light out there. He walked up to the garage and was immediately greeted by Claire, "There you are."

"Hello, Claire," Jack said. "Where is everyone?"

Claire said, "Now that the crisis is over, the crowd has thinned down a bit."

"I was wondering if anyone was going to be here tonight," Jack said looking around at all of the activity. He still wondered how it was that his garage had become the meeting place for everyone.

The young couple with the two kids was there. The wife was busy watching over the kids and making sure that they didn't get into mischief. The husband was standing off by himself trying not to be noticed. Beverly Smith, the woman who had run the extension cord to the house next door, was seated on the couch. Wanda Johnson, the woman who lived across the street from him, was at the crock pot stirring the contents. Liz Andrews, the woman who lived across the street from Claire, was giving the two kids glasses of milk. Two other women who lived on the street were there, but he didn't know their names. There were three women and an elderly man who he had never met sitting on the couch.

"I had expected about forty people to show up, but this is it. Wanda made three crock pots of stew, but it looks like we'll only eat one of them tonight," Claire said leading Jack over to the table. She handed him a bowl and said, "Eat up."

"It smells good. The others don't know what they are missing out on," Jack said looking at the stew. There were chunks of meat, potatoes, carrots, and peas swimming in a thick rich looking broth.

"I think we'll lose one or two more once things have calmed down a bit, but this is the core group of our commune," Claire said looking around at the people gathered there.

"We went from a hundred people down to fifteen of us?" Jack said doing a quick head count. He figured that by the end of the week there would be only the three of them left. He looked around for some bread, but spotted some hot rolls in a basket next to the crock pot. He grabbed one and lifted it to his nose to smell. He couldn't remember the last time that he had a hot roll.

"We'll probably end up with around ten people in the commune," Claire said smiling at the sight of him smelling the roll. She said, "Go ahead and eat."

"Thanks," Jack said walking over to the coffee table. He put the bowl down on the table in front of an empty seat and returned to the main table to grab some silverware. Returning to his chair, he dug into the stew.

Abby entered the garage carrying a pad of paper and a pen. She said, "I guess this is everyone."

"Yes," Claire answered.

"I suppose that we ought to get down to business," Abby said. She looked over the pad of paper and said, "I guess the first thing we have to establish are the goals of this commune."

"What do you mean?" Liz Andrews asked.

"I mean, we have to decide what it is we want to get out of joining forces. Do we just want to share food expenses? Do we want to start carpooling together?" Abby answered.

"Oh," Liz said frowning.

Jack raised his hand and waited to be recognized. Not surprised that he didn't interrupt, Abby asked, "Do you have something you want to say, Jack?"

"Could we introduce ourselves? I don't know everyone," Jack said looking kind of embarrassed. He had a feeling that everyone there knew everyone else.

"That's a good idea," Abby said. She said, "I'm Abigail Dickerson, but everyone just calls me Abby."

Claire said, "I'm Claire Bridger. I live next door."

"I'm Liz Andrews and I live across the street from Claire."

"I'm Wanda Johnson and I live right across the street."

"I'm Emily Anderson. I live three houses down the street from here."

"I'm Beverly Smith and I live on the other side of Claire," Bev answered. She looked over at Jack and said, "I kind of owe Jack an apology for the other day."

"That's okay," Jack said.

"Thank you," Bev said.

"I'm Cheryl Benjamin. That's my husband, Rich over there. The boys are Chuck and Mike."

Jack noticed that Rich frowned when his wife introduced them. He wasn't sure, but he suspected that she was the one and only reason they were over there. It wouldn't surprise him if they quit within a day or two.

"I'm Ella Shultz," one of the women Jack didn't know said. She had a thick German accent that made it a little difficult to understand her. She gestured to a much older woman beside her and said, "This is my mother-in-law, Frau Shultz."

The elderly woman nodded her head on hearing her name. She looked around with bright eyes, but it was obvious that she didn't understand much of what was being said. Seeing that everyone was looking at her, she said, "Guten Abend."

"She said good evening," Ella said with a weak smile. She added, "She doesn't speak English."

"Guten Abend, Frau Shultz," Jack said nodding his head at the little old woman. She smiled at him.

"I'm Sally Bagley. I live next to the Benjamins."

"I'm Dave Putnam and this lovely little lady is my wife Laura. We live right down the street."

"I'm Abigail Whitney, but everyone calls me Gail. I live next to Dave and Laura."

Jack realized that he hadn't introduced himself. He said, "I'm Jack Dunne and I live here."

Abby said, "Now that we all know each other a little better, I guess it is time to decide what our goals are for this commune."

Bev asked, "Are we all going to move in together and do that free love stuff?"

"No," Jack answered with a shudder. He was surprised to see that Bev looked disappointed at that answer.

Claire laughed and tapped him on the shoulder. She said, "You don't have to make that face, Jack."

"Sorry," Jack said. The idea of having sex with a woman who was fifty years older than him was a little unsettling.

Abby smiled at Jack. Turning back to face Bev, she said, "You don't have to give up your houses. If any of you decide to move in with each other that would be your choice. I don't think any of us would be interested in going as far as having common property."

"You're right. The house is the only thing I have to leave my son and daughter," Gail said.

Abby said, "I was thinking more along the lines of sharing the food expenses, some of the work around the house, and helping each other out more than anything else."

"So how would that work?" Dave asked.

"Well, some of us aren't capable of mowing our lawns and end up having to pay someone to do it. If you get your lawn mowed, that's a little money you save every month. The person who mows the lawn might need some laundry done. One of you can slip their laundry in with yours. That saves some money at the Laundromat," Abby said.

Claire said, "We all chip in some money for food and then take turns cooking meals for everyone else. Some of us work or have to watch kids, so going shopping isn't very easy for them. Those of us with more time can do the shopping. We can clip coupons, search out good deals, and take advantage of specials."

"I don't drive," Ella said.

"One of us could take you to your appointments. You can come with others when you need to do your shopping," Abby said.

Ella said, "Sehr gut. My mother-in-law and I are good housekeepers."

"Jack is pretty good at fixing things," Abby said.

"My Ernie used to work on wood out in the garage all of the time. Maybe you would like to see if you can use some of his tools," Bev said.

"Thanks," Jack said wondering if he was going to become the lawn-mower and fixit man. He tried to remember how many houses were represented by the people there. He came up with a count of nine. That wasn't too bad since he typically mowed that many houses on Saturdays anyway.

"I used to be a plumber," Dave said looking over at Jack.

"That's great," Jack said relieved that he wouldn't be the only one fixing things around the neighborhood. He thought that it would be kind of nice to work with someone else on some of the repairs he knew would be coming his way.

"Rich can mow lawns," Cheryl said. Jack noticed that Rich didn't look all that excited about being volunteered to do work. She added, "I like to garden."

"I do a bit of gardening myself," Liz said.

Cheryl said, "Maybe next spring we could plant a vegetable garden."

Nodding her head appreciatively, Claire said, "We all have something to contribute that will make life easier for the others."

"You're right," Liz said looking around at the others hoping to get nods of agreement. There were a few, but not as many as she had hoped. She settled back in the couch trying not to be noticed.

"I did a little research over the weekend. If we pool our money, we can buy the giant economy size products. We'll get as much as fifty percent more for our money over buying the individual sized items," Abby said.

"Does that mean that I won't be eating noodle soup for half of the month?" Gail asked skeptically.

"Yes," Claire answered.

Laughing, Gail said, "Count me in. I'll die a happy woman if I never have to have another bowl of that garbage."

"Me too," Sally said.

"No more spaghetti," Rich said looking over at his wife. She served spaghetti three times a week.

"There's spaghetti and there's spaghetti," Bev said.

"No more spaghetti," Rich said flatly.

"I'll cook you a steak if you don't like my spaghetti," Bev said with a smile. She took a lot of pride in her spaghetti sauce.

"I might take you up on that," Rich said.

"We can buy bulk items for breakfast and lunch. By splitting them up, we still realize the cost savings without having to share every meal," Claire said.

"What do you mean?" Wanda asked.

"How many of you buy a loaf of bread and find that you're throwing half of it away because it has gone moldy on you?" Abby asked.

A couple of the women raised their hands. One of the women said, "I get the smaller loaf. It costs nearly the same amount as the large loaf."

"I freeze mine, but it doesn't taste the same after it thaws," Wanda said.

Claire said, "If we split a loaf of bread four ways, you'll be getting fresh bread every three or four days. If we split up the packaged lunchmeat four ways, you can have a different kind of lunch meat every two or three days."

"That makes sense," Wanda said. When she bought a package of lunch meat, she usually ended up eating it for lunch and supper for three days.

Abby said, "We'll set up a central repository of food items. You come in and take what you need for a day or two. We wash some small jars and you can put condiments in it so that you're getting just as much as you need. We get the huge boxes of cereal and you take enough for the next day or two. Everything stays fresh because you've got fifteen people consuming them."

"A quart of milk is almost half the price of a gallon, but there are four quarts in a gallon. The only ones here who can go through a gallon of milk before it spoils are the Benjamins. You're paying twice as much for milk by buying it in sizes small enough to use," Claire said.

Jack said, "I don't like skim milk and I know that Abby likes it."

"We have enough people here that we can buy a variety of milks, cheeses, lunch meats, and other items," Claire said.

"Okay," Jack said. He looked down at his empty bowl of stew and wondered if he'd be rude getting another helping.

As if reading his mind, Claire said, "Go ahead and get some more. There's plenty."

"Don't mind if I do," Jack said. He smiled over at Wanda and said, "That stew is delicious."

"I'm glad you liked it," Wanda said smiling proudly. It had been a long time since she had cooked for anyone beside herself.

It was time for Claire to bring up the one subject that was going to cause the most discussion. She asked, "How much does everyone budget for food for a month?"

The answers ranged from a hundred and twenty five to two hundred per person. Abby looked around the room thinking that people had really been skimping on food. She had gone through the grocery store Sunday making note of the prices for various common items. Even a can of soup was more than a dollar. A box of oatmeal was five dollars. A lot of things ran three dollars or more. Her average weekly trip to the store cost her fifty dollars and that wasn't because she was buying gourmet foods.

"How can you live on that little food?" Abby asked.

"It is not easy," Ella answered tiredly. She sighed and said, "It has been a long time since I've made schnitzel."

"Weiner Schnitzel?" Frau Shultz asked looking around excited.

"Spater," Ella said. Frau Shultz sat back in the chair looking sad.

"With a little planning and effort on our part, I figure that we can get twice as much food for the same amount of money. I went on a little price comparison expedition at the grocery store Sunday. Like I said before, a gallon of milk is about twice the price of a quart of milk, but you get four times as much. A five pound bag of apples is the same as two pounds of unpackaged apples and you get two and a half times as much. The family size soup is twice the price of the regular size soup and you get three times as much. Even meats in quantity cost ten percent less than single servings," Abby said.

Claire said, "We couldn't buy the larger quantities because they would spoil. Together we can."

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