November 18, 2018

The 99-Cent Solution

Dating a woman in Los Angeles can be an expensive proposition. But must it be one? Don’t all the greatest religious and spiritual masters tell us that true happiness comes from within? Does genuine dating success require that a man spend more than $100 on his date? Is not a man more than a wallet and some testosterone? Do I ask too many questions?

I decided on a dating expense experiment never before attempted (or at least admitted) in the course of human dating history: I decided I was going to have a wonderful first date, and spend less than $20 doing so. That’s right, less than $20 on a date in Los Angeles. OK, I know. I can hear women throughout the city exclaiming, “Cheapskate! Loser! No way!” Hey, they poked fun at Columbus, but he showed them. He found a way of impressing women without having to spend a fortune — simply by discovering a continent. Surely my date will admire my thriftiness, my resourcefulness, my imagination and creativity. I’ll discover a continent of inexpensive fun.

And so, armed with 20 big ones in cold, hard cash, I strode confidently and determinedly into the one place where I knew I’d get great value for my money — the 99-Cent-Only Store at the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Sixth Street in Los Angeles. The store with not one — but two — mottoes: “Shop Us First! The Smart Shoppers Do!” and “Nothing Over 99 Cents Ever!” I felt at home. I looked for the “Cheap Daters Welcome Here!” sign, but apparently it was being repaired.

Flash forward to the date. I arrive at Sarah’s place wearing my playful Looney Tunes tie (a $9.99 value!), with a gift for her — an official Olympics Souvenir Program. A collector’s item! It originally sold for $12.95, but I got it for, yes, 99 cents. Oh, sure, it was for the 1984 Olympics, but that makes it a 20th anniversary collector’s item. Nor did I forget her cat, who I surprised with a Whiskas four-pack of Chicken and Seafood. Before we get in the car, I take out a big canister of 21 pieces of jumbo colored chalk, and right there on the sidewalk I create a multicolored heart with Sarah + Mark inside. I bet her wealthy boyfriends never did that! So far, so good!

We drive to the beach. (Free scenery!), where the heat is no problem because I’m thoughtful enough to bring along Pinnacle Drinking Water, six for 99 cents, with sports cap. We sit there munching on Granny Goose’s 13 oz. Size of tortilla chips and Sun Maid six-pack of raisins. I even immortalize our fun with my new 35mm “Famous Name” 99-cent camera containing 99-cent color print film.

By my count, we had only gone through $9 of my $20 of purchases, when Sarah said, “OK, what’s going on?” I said, “What do you mean?” all innocent-like. She mentions my tie, the chalk, the cat food and goes in my bag and pulled out the remaining purchases, including Sesame Street Chocolate Chip Cookies, Krazy Glue, a solar-powered calculator, Famous Publishers Books and Matchbox “Around the World” Cars.

“Are you losing it, Mark? What is all this?” I told her of my experiment and my plans later on for the Krazy Glue and the cars. And it’s not that she told me that this was to be our first and last date, but I inferred it from the lack of response to my subsequent 12 phone calls.

I’m sure Sarah told all her friends. And they told their friends, and so on. Because whenever I’m out in public, I get the strangest looks from women. As though they’re thinking, “So you’re the loser who took Sarah on the 99-Cent-Only Store date.” I still believe that true happiness comes from within. But I realize now that on the journey of romance, thrift and creativity will take you only so far — for the rest of the trip, you’ll need Visa and MasterCard.n

Mark Miller has written for TV, movies and celebrities, been a professional stand-up comedian and a humor columnist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. He can be reached at