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Will Franken’s Guide to Cheapness

Banana Republic beware: comedian Will Franken shows us how to get the most out of that $100 gift card.
By - posted 7/26/2011 No Comment


Not an actual Banana Republic sweater catalog model.

When I was approached by Johnny Funcheap with the idea of writing a blog entry having to do with “cheapness” or “being cheap” or “not being able to afford to take a woman out of her house”, I was stunned.

After all, what do I, Will Franken, star of stains and street, know about cheapness? And besides, if I did know anything about cheapness–and publicly admitted it–wouldn’t that tarnish my image as the Anthony Robbins of comedy? As it is, people probably look at me and think–now there’s a successful comedian! This man probably has yachts for teeth!

Well, as it turns out, there’s quite a few things I know about being cheap. Take this afternoon, for instance, at the Union Square Banana Republic. I had been given a Banana Republic gift card for my birthday a few weeks ago and today seemed like the opportune time to finally go down and find out how much spending I had coming to me.

About the Author:
Praised by the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, The Onion, SF Weekly and the SF Bay Guardian, stand-up comedian Will Franken on stage weaves intelligently-elaborate stories with tons of diverse characters as if he is a one-man Monty Python sketch. Franken is a guest columnist for FuncheapSF.

A gift card, you must understand, is the quintessential “blank slate” gift, so it’s important to manage expectations before entering the store. By the time I arrived at the Banana Republic (the first Banana Republic I had ever set foot in, mind you) I was prepared to walk out of the store with an entirely new men’s and women’s (for my better crossdressing half) wardrobe.

Does it count as a smoking break if you're sitting on the toilet in the store?

This was not to be the case, for I soon discovered the card had only $100 on it. Immediately, therefore, I was grappling with a math question whose answer neatly evaded me for nearly three hours. In fact, I had to take three separate smoke breaks to collect my thoughts. I even asked one of the salesgirls if my shopping experience could be made more pleasurable by allowing me to smoke inside the store.

The riddle was indeed a bitch: Namely, how do I get one of those pretentious collegiate loafing outfits that every single one of the headless mannequins, male or female, is wearing without going over a hundred dollars? For that’s literally all I could see. No steel-toed boots. No Pink Floyd concert T-shirts. No latex or barbed-wire. Just that same pretentious collegiate loafing outfit with only mild variations in color and pattern. Adding to the confusion was the 25 percent discount being offered by the sprightly salesmen and women.

Don’t get me wrong. I needed new clothes. In fact, I always need new clothes.

The bulk of my current wardrobe consists of three pairs of pants, (white cords from an ex-girlfriend, brown cords from a Ross that another ex-girlfriend helped me pick out, and a pair of jeans from Kmart the last time I lived in NY) along with a whole shitload of T-shirts–including free Mets giveaways outside Shea stadium just for signing up for a new Master Card, three solid color T-shirts from a Wal-Mart in North Carolina (that yet another ex-girlfriend out there bought for me), as well as a sexually suggestive T-shirt from a trip to Germany with EVEN YET ANOTHER ex-girlfriend in my late twenties:

“Sperma Licht, damit der fick nicht dick macht” (Sperm Light: so the fuck don’t make you fat).

Yes, you too can look like a douchebag for only $98.

Obviously being no whore to fashion, I of course asked for the help of a lot of very clean, very fastidious, and very effeminate salesmen today. But the only success I met in my quest for fashion advice was confirmation of my suspicion that being openly gay in San Francisco makes you look $75,000 a year richer than you actually are.

I almost bought a pair of $98 sunglasses just to see if I could do so and not feel like a douchebag. Because seriously, how insecure does a person need to be to spend $98 on sunglasses? I asked a salesperson if that really was the correct price. “Yes,” he responded, “Why do you ask?”

“Well, the only sunglasses I’ve ever bought have been $5 at gas stations”.

“Hmm,” was all he could say in return.

After tax, this sweater still looks pretty stupid.

For a moment, though, I did seriously consider getting those sunglasses. The way I saw it, I hadn’t expected the $100 gift card for my birthday, so I similarly wouldn’t have expected a $100 pair of sunglasses if that’s what my friend had given me instead, so what would have been the difference? Besides, if I had decided to buy them, the shopping would have been instantly over; an idea which seemed at that point a much-welcome relief. My head was spinning. I needed another cigarette.

After what seemed like a thousand lifetimes sorting through the sales racks, I was finally able to grab a pullover sweater, a plaid button down shirt, and a pair of brown pants (something the local Banana Republicans call “chinos”). I then hurriedly approached the register and told the lady: “Here’s my fantasy. I’d like to get all three of these things, after tax, after the twenty-five percent discount, on this hundred dollar gift card.”

“Ooh,” she winced, “I don’t know. It’s gonna be close. Let’s see.” After a few clicks and beeps, she smiled, “You just made it!” It was 97 dollars and some change.

And the best part? I received $2 and some change–in actual cash!

I don't KNOW the first rule of Hobo Fight Club!!!!

Outside the store, I watched as two homeless panhandlers argued violently about who was supposed to be “working” that particular corner. Things quickly came to blows between the two and I was having a good laugh when, all of a sudden, one of the homeless men chucked a half-consumed 7-11 cherry Slurpee at the other.

The frozen colored debris came within inches of my Banana Republic bag. I quickly decided it was time to evacuate. What a sad conclusion that would have been for my first voyage to Banana Republic. “Oh, do you like my new Banana Republic outfit? Funny story about the pink stuff, actually. I spent damn near three hours listening to Moby being piped in from unseen

Home of the Union Square shopping victory dinner

speakers, finally found a $100 combination of clothes that would cover both the top and bottom halves of my body, went outside to celebrate by watching a hobo fight, and my bag got hit with some Slurpee shrapnel.”

I went to Tad’s Steak House for dinner. Normally I don’t like to spend above $10 on a meal. Yet as I was now officially a Banana Republic customer, when it came time to kick in an extra $2 for a Coke, I justified the $12 splurge by remembering the $2 in actual cash I wouldn’t have had in my wallet had I not just spent $97 of my gift card on some much-needed autumnal tones.

Will Franken’s Upcoming Live Performances:
Will Franken performs two brand new theatrical one-man comedy shows on back-to-back nights.
– Friday, July 29 8pm: “Dieter Und Sheila” ($20)
– Saturday, July 30 8pm: “Keep Your Dragon Low” ($20)
– Stage Werx on 533 Sutter Street in San Francisco.
Use secret code ABEND at the door for $5 off tickets. Shhhhh.