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According to the Commerce Department, which keeps track of the Consumer Price Index, inflation is very low. But if that's true, how come things keep costing so much more all the time? Has the Commerce Department tried buying a pair of sneakers recently? You can easily pay $100 for them, and it doesn't help me that some basketball player who endorses them probably gets half.

I can't get used to the price of some things. Tickets for a movie in New York are now $7.50 and you can't get your money back if the it's no good. The dogs cost as much as the good ones and there's no taking a movie back.

Ordinary grocery store items like a quart of milk, a loaf of bread, a candy bar or a box of baking soda -- which is not much of anything -- is way up. I haven't bought a new necktie in three years because I can't stand the thought of having something that costs $35 around my neck in the line of fire of any stray morsel of food that inadvertently drops from my fork.

It's nothing now to pay $100 a night for a hotel room. I have a reservation for one night at a hotel in Montreal where things are cheap compared to the United States and the price is $230. It's supposed to be a good hotel. I hope so.

I saw a pair of women's shoes in a store window for $535. A corduroy jacket to replace my old one that's worn at the elbows -- for which I paid $35 quite a few years ago -- is now $275 at the same store. I think I'll have worn elbows on my corduroy jacket for a few more years.

Has the Commerce Department bought a magazine lately? Time, U.S. News and World Report and Newsweek are each $2.95. At least Vogue doesn't try to con you into feeling it's cheaper than it is. The price of Vogue is an honest $3.

The other night, on a special occasion, Margie and I went to one of the best restaurants in New York. They had "appetizers" on the menu that cost $12. We had three drinks for $18. I had two, Margie had one. A restaurant does pretty good with that when you consider that an average 24-ounce bottle of good liquor costs about $16 in a liquor store. A restaurant buys it wholesale for less. If they get 16 one-and-a-half-ounce drinks from a bottle and charge $6 for each drink, they take in $96. Less expensive restaurants even get $5 for a drink. Maybe it's like the government trying to get people to stop smoking by raising the tax on cigarettes.

Margie was nicely dressed that night and she'd been to the hairdresser in the afternoon. Women don't go to a barber because a barber wouldn't dare charge that much. The price women pay to have their hair cut and combed may be the single most inflated price of all. "Done," they call it. "I had my hair done." I'll say they get done. Margie pays so much she doesn't even dare tell me how much she pays. That's how much she pays.

Cars seem expensive. My Jeep, the least expensive model, cost me about $17,000 three years ago. When I replace it, I think I'm going to have to pay $30,000 for anything comparable. Maybe I'll even get a model with push-button windows, and that'll cost me another few thousand.

I can't get used to the price of books. The idea of paying $24 for a cheap novel you're only going to read once seems outrageous. I don't know why all books aren't issued in both paperback and hardcover when they're first published. The tradition in the publishing business is that they don't put a book out in paperback until a year after the original publication. Paperbacks are no bargain anymore, either, they go as high as $12.

What I ought to do is find out how much the Commerce Department's budget has increased in the last 10 years. That would be a real indication of whether we have inflation or not.

Tribune Media Services

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