Rick Koster: To buy or not to buy ... yeah, go ahead!

May 26—"Why do we — YOU — have a tin of Vienna sausages?" My wife, Eileen, has opened the kitchen cupboard and is responding to an unexpected presence in a storage space otherwise fairly predictable in terms of the dry goods typically found there.

She's not angry. We've long been comfortable with the dichotomous aspect of our relationship in which she's a vegetarian and I'm not. I buy lots of meat products.

In this case, the tone in her voice is a bit accusatory and a bit shaky. These are Vienna sausages, after all, and ... well, they're creepy. It's as though she found out I had a secret taxidermy shop in the garage and sold stuffed baby rabbits in boxing poses over the Dark Web.

I try to explain. "When I was a kid, I used to enjoy the occasional Vienna sausage. I saw these at a convenience store and wondered how they'd taste compared to what my memories of them are. In my mind, they should taste like long summer days, sandlot baseball, cold bottles of Mountain Dew ..."

"But here they are on the shelf. You haven't tried them yet."

"Well, no," I say. "On the way home, with them on the passenger seat next to me, I thought of Upton Sinclair and 'The Jungle' — which I clearly hadn't read when I was 12 — and decided to ponder the wisdom of the whole experiment."

I don't tell her that, next to the Vienna sausages on the convenience store shelf, was a tin of "Libby's Corned Beef — Product of Uruguay." I immediately had to Google Uruguay, which is "a South American country known for its verdant interior and beach-lined coast." Wikipedia says nothing about any tendency by tourists seeking out Uruguay to sample their exemplary corned beef ...

Eileen interrupts my thoughts. "So. Vienna sausages. Another Impulse Buy."


The truth is, we are both frequently guilty of the compulsion to purchase something on the spur of the moment — and as humans I believe we are in no way alone in this. That's why stores have shelves full of weird stuff to study while you're waiting in line at the cashier, trusting that you might grab one or more.

These "impulse buy" products are also clipped to those hanging merchandise strips up and down each grocery store aisles.

You might, for example, be perusing the possibilities of frozen cauliflower crust pizza in the refrigerator case and, in order to open the door, have to maneuver around a hanging display of ... table tennis balls! This happened to me recently, and I have the picture to prove it.

Now, I have no idea which grocery store think tank analysts figured out that the table tennis balls/cauliflower pizza crust combo was likely to snare customers in a one-two punch of "must own," but ...

Among the other foods I've purchased on impulse recently are:

∎ A Heath bar (excellent decision)

∎ A bag of dried mango chips (tasted good at first, but a few dried mango chips goes a long way)

∎ A strawberry cheesecake fried pie at 7-Eleven and a product of their own 7-Eleven bakery (unable to discern that any of the chemically flavored goo within the crust reminded me of strawberries or cream cheese)

∎ Speaking of house brands, and from a while back, the Cajun Blend Trail Mix from CVS' Gold Emblem products (truly fun and we buy this stuff with some regularity)

Among the many low points in impulse purchases occurred when Eileen and I were driving to Vermont years ago for our first foliage trip. We stopped at a quaint roadside farmer's market, all trimmed with pumpkins and cornstalks, and bought some stuff. At the last moment, I spied a bag of "Vermont maple cookies," pre-packaged, and we tossed that on the counter along with our other purchases.

Back in the car, eager for more seasonal Vermont-ness, we tore into the maple cookies. After about two chews each, we looked at each other.

"This is what I think graveyard dirt tastes like," Eileen said, a queasy look on her face.

"It IS what graveyard dirt tastes like — and don't ask me how I know that."

Closer inspection revealed the cookies sell-by date had expired, oh, during the Korean War — which goes to show you that, even in the most seemingly idyllic circumstances, an impulse buy can be risky.

What about you? Care to share any success stories or failures from your recent impulse buys? Email me at r.koster@theday.com and we'll publish some of our responses with the next column.