The Dollar Store universe

I’m not a shopping snob. I appreciate the allure of a premium brand name and quality product priced at an astronomical height, but I can’t resist the pull of cheap crap. And nothing showcases a larger array of cheap stuff than the dollar store.

Now you may immediately think to mention a thrift store. But I really mean new stuff. Thrift stores are more of a collection of fancy garbage and broken dreams. Most of the stuff comes from the deceased elderly, and people who found a pile of stuff so useless that they decided to give it away.

Now I do enjoy a good visit to the thrift store, but my main interests lay in the electronics and media aisles of store. Browsing the “electronics” section of a thrift store is simple madness. If you’re absolutely lucky, I mean found-a-winning-lottery-ticket-stuck-to-the-bottom-of-an-unclaimed-suitcase-full-of-money lucky, you might get something that works a week or two. Usually you take it home, plug it in, sigh and head back to the store to return whatever paper weight you just purchased.

The media section is a bit more interesting. I usually like to browse for old Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books. They were the staple of my youth, so I’m always looking for a title I enjoyed. I’ve also discovered that apparently that series went off the deep end early and never looked back. In the early volumes you’re solving a murder or escaping a castle. It isn’t long before you’re in Atlantis with ninjas and cowboys.

But the dollar store. Now that’s something else.

The great appeal of a dollar store is, of course, being somewhere where you have the immediate ability to purchase anything within your sight. You don’t even have to see a price tag. You just know you can buy it. That must be what Bill Gates feels like when he meets people. I can buy that guy for $30,000. I can buy that guy for $20, nachos and a free copy of Windows 7.

The electronics section is always particularly exciting. You have your typical items … headphones, nightlights, a USB cable. But every now and then you find a pedometer with a few extra features, or maybe even a radio.

And the CDs. Never have I seen a collection of so many bands I’ve never heard of before. It’s like accidentally wandering into the Christian Metal section of a CD store. The only downside is finding a band you like here. I noticed a Phish CD tucked away near the bottom of the CD rack this time. Not a band I like, but it’s too close for comfort.

What I like the most about the dollar store however is that perfect feeling that I’ve wandered out of reality and into a parallel universe. Every aisle, every product is familiar but different.

Those aren’t Swiss Cake Rolls, they’re Cream-filled Swiss Cake Treats. Fig newtons? No. Fig bars. Liquid plumber? No Mister Plumber.

It’s like I traveled back in time to the dinosaur era, stepped on a moth and returned to find that the Nazi’s won World War II under King Einstein. It’s like finding a Japanese rip-off if your favorite comic, only three pages in a tentacled monster shows up and fights a giant robot. (Which, by the way, would be the perfect way to make Outsourced worth watching.)

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