Ah, the Dollar Store: that magical place where off-brand Cheetos are densely packed into bags three times larger than any reasonable person could ever consume, and name-brand shampoo costs more per ounce than at the grocery store. It’s a place where injection-molded plastic reigns supreme. They have three brands of crayons in Crayola-lookalike packaging that leave a colorless indentation when you drag them across the page, and the entire back wall contains an array of sketchy-looking drain and oven cleaners that are only a thin layer of non-recyclable plastic away from turning the place into a Superfund site. You can get cases for the latest smartphones from Huatomi and Nokiba, screen protectors that only fit an ePad, and a neoprene “tech sleeve” that’s exactly the wrong size for anything you own. If you’re lucky, you might stumble onto a zen garden pen, which is a pen topped by a plastic globe full of sand and pebbles just waiting to be stepped on and ground into your carpet, and if you’re really lucky the ink in the pen will still be wet.
In short, when you patronize the Dollar Store, the Dollar Store patronizes you.
But I do like their Halloween merchandise.
I like their Halloween merchandise because it’s exactly the sort of thing I coveted when I was a little kid. The local, independently-owned office supply store always had wax lips and vampire fangs for sale around Halloween, and they sold the stuff for considerably more than a dollar which meant that four-to-seven-year-old me couldn’t afford any of it. I recall saving my allowance for weeks, only to be told on November first that the googly eye glasses had gone into storage earlier an hour ago, and it was too much hassle to retrieve a pair from the basement—in spite of my willingness to pay the significant markup. Now that I’m an adult, I can afford many dollar’s worth of vampire fangs, which means I could roll in this stuff like Scrooge McDuck if I wanted to (I don’t). And the crazy thing about all of this is that the value of a dollar has more than halved since then, and the quality of these things has only gone up; when you adjust for inflation, I could purchase nine pairs of googly eye glasses at a modern Dollar Store for what the office supply store was asking.
So I did. Well, not googly eye glasses—those things are available year-round now. But I did make buy plenty of other fine pieces of spooky crap:
You kids today have no idea how good you have it. Back In My Day, your dollar only covered the cost of one set of vampire teeth, and they didn’t even glow in the dark. Now you can get a dozen for a buck, and the only downside is that they’re too small to fit an adult mouth. Back when I was in my early 20s, someone told me seriously that vampire teeth are a good way to pick up girls at goth clubs. Whaddaya think, ladies?
That’s not a general category of items; that’s what these things are actually called: Party Favors. Just take a moment to consider the mindset of a parent who, confronted with several dozen ideas for party favors, decides to go with this one. Next, take a moment to think about the sort of child who would be happy to receive this toy. That second scenario is a trick; the only possible reaction to this thing is indifference.
The lady running the checkout thought they should go on the bridge of your nose like a pair of glasses, but I assume they’re intended for your finger, which is exactly the rating I give them: 🖕 out of 🖐.
Blood Energy Potion IV Bags.
Okay, this is cheating. They sell these things as an alternative way to hold your Halloween beverages, but they’re really the re-purposed packaging from either an energy drink or liquid candy, depending on whose description you’re reading. Why are they selling these things empty? And how on earth do you fill them? A regular kitchen funnel is slightly too big. A Google search indicates that this is a real product whose website indicates that it has “similar nutritional makeup to real blood”, along with a small-print disclaimer at the bottom explaining that the FDA has not evaluated such statements.
Quick, how many uses can you think of for a pack of eight sticky, glow-in-the-dark eyes? If you’re the type of person who asks such questions before making a purchase, then these aren’t for you. They have a texture similar to gummy bears but you probably shouldn’t eat ’em, and they’re reminiscent of the wall-walking octopus toys you used to get at the bottom of a box of cereal, but they don’t so much walk down the wall as splat against it, and then drop anticlimactically to the floor. Also, every pack in the store had at least one eye with a malformed pupil. I’m not saying they’d be worth the dollar if they were shot through with red veins, but it would be an improvement.
Sticky Spider Webs.
INT. ACME NOVELTY CORPORATION BOARD ROOM – DAY
CLOSE SHOT – EXECUTIVE
A middle-aged, mousy-looking man in a conservative suit and wire-rimmed spectacles is addressing his remarks to someone offscreen.
–whoopee cushions, and other flatulence-simulators. We’ve also seen strong growth in itching powder and a 33% year-over-year increase in the sale of smoke bombs…
TRACKING DOWN the LENGTH OF the board room table. Executives line either side. We are APPROACHING the man at the far end of the table, to whom the report is being directed. He is in late middle-age, and wears expensive, conservative dress. His attention smilingly fixed on the Executive who drones on, as he winds a set of plastic chattering teeth. This is WINCHESTER ACME III.
X-ray specs? Don’t talk to me about x-ray specs. We’re making so much money on x-ray specs it isn’t even funny. Now for the bad news: sticky hand toy sales are down.
TRACK ENDS IN A CLOSEUP of ACME whose smile abruptly vanishes as he stops winding the teeth. There is an audibly sharp intake of breath from the other board members, and it is suddenly very quiet.
Previously they’ve given us a big third quarter boost during the Halloween season, but this year the competition has been bringing out holiday themed shapes: hearts on Valentine’s Day, shamrocks for St. Paddy’s… They’re releasing Halloween bats on September first; the hands just haven’t been moving.
B-bats, sir. Yes.
Let’s do spiderwebs. Less surface area, so they’ll be cheaper to produce.
This draws appreciative remarks and nods of assent from the other board members. ACME places the teeth on the table, and they begin chattering vigorously.
Masterful stroke, sir. Spiderwebs.
These are small, Mylar bags which contain slightly larger Mylar bags which contain… well, as far as I can tell it’s a little baking soda and a third, smaller bag diluted vinegar. You’re supposed to slap the bag, thereby releasing the vinegar, and the reaction with the baking soda causes the largest bag to inflate, which you’ve already figured out by now meaning that I could have ended this sentence after the first comma. The outer bag pops violently open revealing a puffy, not-entirely-inflated balloon version of the same picture. I can’t decide whether these are neat or not.
Sexy, Glow-in-the-Dark Pinup Skeleton.
Actually, none of those words appears on the packaging; it just says “MADE IN CHINA”. Poor guy was sitting on the shelf in pieces when I picked him up. Or her; it’s hard to say because I’m not a forensic expert, and because whoever designed this thing wasn’t too concerned with detail. Anyway, (to the tune of “Dem Dry Bones”:) the leg bone’s connected to the… hip bone. The arm bone’s connected to the… torso bone. You repeat the same process on the… other side and suddenly you have a skeleton which can be posed into all kinds of compromising positions. Be thankful I only bought one.
Ah, the onward march of technology! Back in the ’80s slime came in much bigger tubs, and you got a lot more of it. Presumably the reason these are so small is that technology (or oozology, if you like) has improved to allow slime to be dispensed in less fun quantities, and the wicked awesome packaging of the past has gone the way of car fins and gull-wing doors. Also, this stuff holds its shape surprisingly well, which is a selling point and definitely not the result of being last year’s stock which has been sitting in the back room for eleven months.
Fabulous Glitter Skull with Glowing Eyes.
This thing only warrants a mention because while I was trying to decide whether or not to buy Frankenstein pencil toppers, a middle-aged woman popped up from the other side of the aisle and shouted “BOOGA BOOGA” as she thrust this thing into her husband’s face. The husband ejaculated a loud stream of profanity and blasphemy which will not be reproduced here. Another woman browsing with her young daughter said, “we’re in public. This is… How old are you? Who acts like that in public? In front of my [expletive] daughter?” The middle-aged couple quickly retreated to a different part of the store where the man picked up a couple of toothbrushes and pretended they were antennas or rabbit years or something while the other woman looked at me as if you say, “why didn’t you do something?”
Oh, but what was my point? I didn’t buy the pencil toppers after all. I did buy this thing, and it’s neat that the jaw opens and closes, but it also sheds glitter like a stripper so I can’t recommend it.