Okay, kiddies. There is a way to do things, and there is a way not to do things.

On a first date:

Do compliment the other person if you think they look nice.

Don’t arrive late.

Do bring your first date to somewhere unique, preferably where you both have an excellent opportunity to get to know one another’s sassy little personalities with a pretty backdrop.

Don’t, oh…beseech your first date to let you photograph the two of you together so you can win money once you conceive your first child. Mmmkay? It’s in the first chapter of the Creepy Textbook.

See, as you might have heard, Groupon is proposing a new dating service.

Okay. Hmm. Well, I love Groupon–I think their deals rock face, and I enjoy that the company had a spine and rejected Google buying them out, even though I’m sure they were offered absolutely immoral heaps of green. And dating services themselves are…well, not my brand of whiskey, although it bears noting that I do maintain an online dating profile that I visit from time to time. Mostly for the entertainment; I liken it to visiting the zoo a few times a year. Not that I’m dating furries. Or bears. Or cougars. All right, it wasn’t that complex of a metaphor. I digress.

But somehow in combining these two things (deals and dating), Groupon has managed to stir up a big old cocktail of awkward, impersonal, unnatural, and disturbing propositions and make it the concept for a dating site. And more personally disturbing to me—an encouragement to spawn and make Groupon babies.

For real, though. I thought it was a joke at first, since they have such a great sense of humor over there in the Groupoffice. (I assume they do that with all their words.) But, no. They are literally encouraging you to make Groupon babies. They are giving out 2 scholarships a year to couples who can show photographic evidence that their baby was the product of a couple who went out on their first date using Groupon. Groupon spawn. Grouspawn.

(My assumption—and bear with me—is that Groupon’s motivation is creating a terrifying Groupon army that will inevitably snatch up our prized American traditions and culture, ruthlessly homogenizing our youth into an infestation of date-worthy creatures who are only interested in locating suitable mates by their willingness to bond over coupons. Then all our teenagers and twenty/thirty-somethings start breeding lovelessly for cash prizes, terrorizing cities by irritably demanding half-priced fares from only the trendiest establishments. Aggghhhhh! Your fears have been realized, Huxley–It’s the Brave Frugal World!)

Okay. Sometimes I get perhaps too excited. Possibly I’m a little low on blood sugar. Must seek out a lunch of some sort… I have a Groupon in my purse for—aggghhh!  *drops the Groupon and stares in horror*

But seriously, how not-okay is that for a first date? I want you to imagine yourself getting ready to go out with someone you’ve never been out with before. Let’s assume you barely know them, if at all. Your beau arrives for your very first evening together. It’s getting-to-know-you-time. You fish around somewhat for a conversation topic with common ground, he or she takes you out to a dinner they’ve bought a coupon for (possibly ever so slightly tacky on a first date, even for someone thrifty like me, but whatever). And then, once you sit down … they take a picture of the two of you, explaining that it’s just in case you breed? I’d … I mean … I’d just like to be a fly on the wall for that conversation.

You know? Like, eww. Go home, stalker.

Hell, I once didn’t go out on a second date with a guy simply because he brought me a bouquet of store-bought flowers on the first date. Yeah, already way too committed. Let’s keep this light, Prince Charming. Easy there on the crazy-grand romantic gestures, Endless Love.

So I can’t even fathom a relative stranger taking me out with the wink-wink, nudge-nudge anticipation that I’ll be the future mother of his child so that he can win $60,000. I’m sorry. Do what, now?

See, that just sucks the romance right out for me—dating for procreation and cash prizes. I mean, where’s the broken condom strewn haphazardly across a heated bed, post-one-night-stand? Where’s the teary-eyed, secretive peeing on a stick in the ladies’ stall at work? Where’s the shotgun wedding? All wrong! Romance is dead.

[Joke. Yeesh… I was making a point… *tugs at necktie* Someone warm this room up for me. No respect. No respect at all.]

Again, I love and use Groupon, and I myself would like to sire progeny with the best of them some day. But Groupon here has hit a ball to a very weird and undeniable place in our culture’s… outfield. Shut up. That worked, and you know it.

So when did dating become Gattaca? Don’t two crazy kids just meet and hit it off anymore? Just check out the web site for Groupon’s dating service—Grouspawn. There’s a link on the page: “Want a Groupon baby? Visit our dating service.”

Gah! *recoils, hisses* Don’t hit the button! (I suspect it’s a legal agreement to be frugally inseminated.)


You don’t join a dating service to have a baby. You join a dating service to find a mate. And then kids can come later. Want a Groupon baby? It should link to an adoption site.

Furthermore, in a coupon-inspired dating service where the outcome is to have a coupon kid, my imagination assumes you get matched up by how cheap you are, and then you’re given a (very reasonably priced) hotel room for the evening. (In my case, I’d be passing on the gift of life with some broke-ass person who has no true working concept of money, if they were to be my equal.) Go nuts, kids.  Have fun with all the fertilization! Hey, why need a first date be fruitless? Why wait and see whether it pans out enough in the long run to have a Groupon baby? Get knocked up now, save money later! It’s like an ounce of prevention…

So, just. Yeah. NO to all of this. No to you, if you even briefly entertained the thought of proposing Grouspawn to a first date of yours. You’re better off asking him or her over dinner conversation whether they could please scratch your hard-to-reach psoriasis for you than using any progeny-directed line Groupon will feed you here. Bad Groupon! Bad! What are you thinking? Go sit in the corner. Sit in it. Sit.

Not to mention, is it just me, or does “Grouspawn” look too close to “Groupspawn,” which would be a slightly more alien-movie way of saying “the tragic result of a group sexual endeavor”? Because that’s how I read it for the first 5 minutes. Who picks these names?? If someone I barely knew asked whether I wanted to engage in a Grouspawn with them, I’d shoot their eyes full of pepper spray and blow my emergency rape whistle after having groin-punted them into another room.

So, to recap, no. No, no, no.

No. Groupon—no.

No.

Original Chicago Tribune article on Grouspawn.

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During my past three years of pocket-draining adventures here in Chicago, and also likely due to our city’s charmingly constant atmospheric conditional variances (often inclement, which has frequently left me indoors to cook for myself rather than going out and braving the weather), I made the very fortunate discovery that being fantastically financially unstable will lead to many wonderful food and drink items being created out of necessity. Yes, my lovingly and laboriously concocted feasts are the veritable trash fires of the gourmet world—they do the job, they have unusual smells, and they often contain resourceful (and/or harmful) materials. And to the forcedly thrifty, they are glorious things. Objectively glorious. I mean, who could argue?

Cooking with only the odd ingredients I’ve had left in my fridge and cabinets until pay day (see my previous blog post, The Peter Pancake Syndrome, for an example of past ingredient resourcefulness), I’ve managed to pioneer for myself a whole new, exciting culinary experience using the nourishing and satisfying value of what I affectionately call “hobo meals.” True, it’s probably not technically politically correct, but anyone else who’s ever attempted la vie en rose with very limited fundage—surely you get me here, darlings.

Hobo meals: my gastronomical opus (and please allow me my moment of grandeur, here). Much like penning the elusive Great American Novel, I have perfected the thing I will leave behind as my major worldly contribution after I perish, nourishing all free-thinkers who stumble across it (thank you; that felt good).


And so, for years the kitchenette in each of my adorably dim and small (short, but not too big around) apartment hovels became a delightful bistro for … oh … remarkable originality, culinary … uh … improbability, character-building digestional challenges … and, well, satisfying solitary dining. “What the hell? You don’t want to join me for hobo Dijon tuna rice surprise? Brilliant. Leftovers! This is good for half a week’s meals. A week, actually, if I wish to test the endurance of my stomach and immune system to handle potential E. coli threats. Come on, white blood cells. Don’t crap out on me, now.”

Get it? No? Fine.

Necessity is indeed the mother of invention, as Plato quite rightly noted. My resulting cartes du jour of original, sometimes absurdly convoluted, sometimes craftily minimalist items were always an avant-garde smorgasbord of condiments. And garnishes, like sandwich pickles, canned olives, or store-bought guacamole. Or cans of non-perishables, like cans and cans and cans of tuna, condensed soups, anything Franco-American® or Chef Boyardee® (Saint Boyardee, really), or beans. And carbs that take a long time to fuzz up, like crackers. Oh, and food substitutions that were based solely on color: “No sour cream left. Damn and piss. …Hmm. But mayhap ranch dressing works.” “This calls for milk … unless there is no milk. Mayo, it is!” “Kraft macaroni and cheese. Well, last week I used the cheese powder packet for my cheese-flavored condensed mushroom soup Cornflake bake on graham crackers. So … macaroni and mustard?”

The results were innovative and not entirely unpalatable. Frequently. And despite the hearty richness of the description of these meals, my dear readers, they can be crafted for breakfast and lunch, too! Mustard sandwiches are delicious for before you run out of bread. And you can draw faces on them with the mustard. Who doesn’t want to be smiled at by something they’re about to eat? It just kind of makes my day. Or try a sliced turkey pepperoni and sun-dried tomato hummus sandwich. Treat yourself to a fancy lunch in and toast it. Or crack a fried egg on top of it. Or both! And careful not to lose yourself in the positively sinful indulgence of it all.

Now, note this, because it is tremendously profound: bacon is cheap and can be added to anything. Write that down, write that down.

Or revel in the simple brilliance of cooking up all the vegetables you have left —peppers, onions, tomatoes, Shiitake mushrooms, water chestnuts, sprouts, etc.— in any oil or non-sticky stuff you have at your disposal and some soy sauce packets from the Chinese place down the street. Add Tabasco® for a delectable kick. Want chicken with it but don’t have meat? Spice it up with chicken seasoning. Or chop up hot dogs and cook them up along with it. Same thing, really. I mean, who honestly knows what goes in hot dogs? Might as well be chicken. And then serve up this masterpiece delicately on a lettuce wrap. Put a baked potato on the side for a luxurious “full” feeling. Ketchup works beautifully on a potato when you’re out of butter, like putting ketchup on French fries… only fancy. *wink*

And then there are the hobo pastas. These work well for entertaining. Throw on a little Sinatra, light some candles, and prepare a group of like-minded individuals for some culinary sparkle. To begin with, tomato soup or medium salsa are practically the same thing as marinara, and don’t you let them tell you any different. Actually—pro tip: any condensed soup can go on pastas. And if you have any cheeses whatsoever—especially a shaker of grated Parmesan—that goes in there, too. As much as fucking possible.With enough cheese on it, people will eat a leather handbag.

Ooo. Hadn’t considered my handbags yet… Hmm.

Oh, but my favorite is probably hobo rice. Yes, gentle readers (both of you). My darling epicurean thrill-seekers, positively whatever you have in your pantry can go on hobo rice, and therein lies its genius. Pancakes, mustard, hamburger pickles—it’s all gustatory gold. Because, you know. Gold tastes awesome.

Additionally, absolutely anything goes on bread or a wrap, if you have them. And if your meal is too much of a liquid to put it on bread—like soup—never fear! Bulk it up with some crackers until it’s a solid. Now you have something that will stick with you for 12 hours. And on your hips for the rest of your life. Now that’s staying power!

Lastly, hobo drinks can even be beneficial to your health. Don’t have mixers on hand to hide the taste of your bottom-shelf liquors? Search your medicine cabinet for other flavored delights that mix well. For example, I sometimes give whiskey a boost by treating myself to a Theraflu®-toddy (note: actually very much not recommended by the American Medical Association, or my liver). But do try an Airborn® cocktail (with vodka). Who’s getting that office virus? Not you, sir. Not you. Or a Special K® pink lemonade-flavored protein mix cocktail (with gin or vodka). And you’ve got your nutrients for the entire day, my loves. Woo-hoo! Feel the health trashing about in your kidneys.

As an epilogue, I’ve since moved out of my Chicago apartment and back to my parents’ house for a bit (amazingly not due to financial reasons), where there is Oh My God always crazy amounts of food at my disposal to make more traditional meals. Still, it’s hard to break the habit. Beware that once you start out on your frugal meal-innovation experience, it is difficult to ever look at ingredients the same way. Living at my folks’ place, I still occasionally make hobo foods. And sometimes, when no one’s looking… I indulge my lusty thirst for the nostalgic taste of Airborn® cocktails.

At least I never ate a shoe.

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