Tuesday, October 6, 2009

99 Cents and Up

"Hey Miss..."
"Yo, white girl."
Looking around, this is me. Althusser, eat your heart out.
A bunch of schoolkids are shouting across the crossing at me. I haven't dropped anything. They don't seem to be lost. I give that embarrassed half smile you never want to see captured on camera and head into the 99 Cent store. In my work-from-home uniform - blue knee socks, green t-shirt, orangey-red wrap - I'm not dressed to banter, and, in any case, it's a tiring sport over here, where the accent means you have to say things slowly and twice.

But inside, things are different. The shop planners of this store are geniuses of manipulation. I lose a good five minutes of my life staring at the display of Pedi-Eggs near the doorway, priced at a tempting $2.99 (everything is, as promised, 99 cents and up). It's only when I read the packaging more carefully, about how the egg is cunningly designed to hold your "skin gratings", I regretfully put it back on the shelf.

Likewise, customers standing in line are subjected to a blast of cheap mind-gamery. Below the counter is a wall of sweets more various and enticing than anything I've seen outside of Harrod's food store. There are Scooby-doo lollys, pixie stix and "internationally flavoured" fat-free coffee candy. Along the back wall, as high as a guilty parent can reach, are party favours and knick-knacks, plastic sunglasses and miniature pool tables, streamers and gee-jaws. And all 99 cents and up.

As I leave the shop, clutching my green tea and Tupperware, a middle-aged woman in front of me half-shouts
"Hey you!"
I brace for crazy, but she just pats the startled woman in front of her apologetically.
"Sorry. Thought you were someone I knew. Look just like her."
The woman nods, and the three of us leave the 99 Cent Store, and the ergonomic Pedi-Eggs, behind us.

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