May 27, 2024

Column: That Got Me to Thinkin’…? “Dollar Tree”


Bruce Williams

“That Got Me To Thinkin’…?” “Dollar Tree” Chapter 102
By Bruce Williams

My daughter Lou asked me to take her to the dollar store because “…they have stuff that I can afford to buy there,” and since I didn’t have anything else to write about—I haven’t submitted anything for three weeks now—and I needed to stop by the UPS Store and also pick up some Papa Murphy’s, I consented to go to one of my least favorite spots on Earth…right up there with Michael’s, Party City and JoAnn Fabrics.

There were three of their stores within a 5-mile radius of us—a 5-star version in Fife and a quadruple star in Puyallup, but of course I chose the 2-star Auburn locale because last time my wife dragged me to the Office Depot adjacent to it there was a shirtless gentleman performing a spasmodic Tai chi in front of the entrance with a cigarette butt dangling from his lips.  “Uh, pardon me…”

Upon entering the Auburn Dollar Tree, I immediately noticed that their air conditioning was out.  I asked Lou if she’d brought her money with her, and she pulled the old, “I have some at home” trick that both of my kids like to employ when they ask me to take them shopping somewhere.  A small, unsupervised boy was goose-stepping past us in the aisle gleefully chanting, “A fire, a fire, a fire…” over and over, serenading the impressive display of sixteen different flavors of Werther’s Originals.  

An older woman was screaming, “Bryson!  Jocelyn!  Your mother is waiting for you!” in the missing-toothed tone common with serial arm-yankers.  There were many empty shelves in the back where they keep the off-brand sodas and fluorescent electrolyte drinks. A homeless man pushing a cart peered furtively around a corner—the brilliant whites of his eyes juxtaposed against his Indian summer tan.  I ushered Lou away to the right, and reminded myself that this essay needed to swerve away from any kind of indictment on poverty and just stick to the vetting of bad taste and questionable behavior.

There was a whole section of plastic flowers—which I abhor—adjacent to those hand-painted signs indicating the seasons as well as how homey and #blessed one’s abode might be.  There were leopard scarves and kitschy socks, big handled combs like the kind kids used to have sticking out of the back pocket of their wide-legged denims in junior high sharing the same wall as the kitchen utensils.

Bryson was getting yelled at again by grandma.  I noticed that there was more than one gentleman sporting either energy drink-themed or Marlboro rewards clothing.  Lou had gathered a basketful of goods and she was ready to check out.  I caught myself staring at a young woman with vibrant green hair.  Someone had opted out of the ‘Fabuloso’ brand antibacterial they’d been drawn to—abandoning it unceremoniously above the mostly empty Pepsi cooler by the checkout.  Our dear Bryson was now walking around with a large cluster of star-shaped Mylar balloons and I felt like the shit was about to hit the fan with grandma, as she was now fully leaning on the cart and hadn’t spied his latest escapades as of yet.

The woman in front of us had piled the conveyor belt high with tchotchkes and synthetic flowers that I fantasized about grabbing in one big armload and throwing into the trash en masse.  Green Hair circled around to wait for her…roommate?  I squinted at some large boxes of Skittles across the way that captured my interest, but Lou informed me that those were actually Skittle-flavored popsicles.  “Gross.”

I found myself wondering whether or not I was a snob or an asshole after so much derogatoriness—probably a little bit of both I shrugged.  I paid for Lou’s $30 of junk—she suddenly remembered that she might only have $20 at home (it was actually $18…in ones)—and I didn’t let on that I owed her because this column wrote itself while I meandered around those filthy aisles.  I caught myself worrying about Bryson’s lot on our drive home…how his life might end up—maybe he’ll skewer that mean grandmother in his own stories when he gets older—nothing develops a child’s sense of sarcasm better than an oppressive ogre.  My family-sized Cowboy & cheese pizzas were ready and I grabbed three garden salads and went about my business—that is until I floated by a convertible PT Cruiser with the top down and custom-striped lime-green seat covers in the parking lot and muttered, “What the actual…?”