I generally avoid the 99 Cent Store because of its strong association with loserdom, and because I’m fine with paying an extra ten cents for a bag of carrots without wondering how the 99 Cent Store brokered a deal for them. This is the same establishment that occasionally just happens upon a surplus of socks featuring the CSI Miami logo, a show that was cancelled five years ago, and was not good, but even if it was, should never have had its own sock.
Once, however, I was in Rite Aid buying cleaning supplies when I ran into an old friend, the great comedian Michael Gelbart, who looked in my basket and shook his head. I had the usual stuff, dish soap, bleach, windex, sponges, rubber gloves (to protect my eczema prone hands), and a dart gun.
Michael shook his head. This is Hollywood, where prices are generally inflated and a jug of bleach at Rite Aid usually costs around four dollars. I never gave much thought to it, kind of like gas prices. Gas went up fifty cents a gallon. Ok, so what? Am I not going to drive now? This gas station has gas for ten cents less per gallon! Who fucking cares. That’s a dollar. Would you drive across town for a dollar?
Anyway, so I can tell something is on the tip of Michael’s tongue, and finally he says, look, I have to say something, you’re an idiot for buying cleaning supplies here.
Where else would I buy them?
Michael does some quick calculating, and explains to me that, over the course of a few years, if I bought these same products at the 99 Cent Store, I would save like a thousand dollars or something insane, and that I could use that money on something else, which I was thinking jet ski rentals.
So, we drop everything and go. I was blown away. The same products for a quarter of the price.
And so now I go to the 99 Cent Store anytime I need to stock up on household essentials like bleach or ziplock bags or irregularly shaped jelly beans.
There are no free lunches in nature. Unless you have unbelievable tits.
Getting my products at a reasonable rate does come with its own set of potential drawbacks. When you visit the 99 Cent Store you’re sacrificing your shopping experience to some degree. Meaning, the 99 Cent Store on La Brea and Willoughby is filled with potential rapists. The Rite Aid likewise is generally packed with morbidly obese homeless guys going commando and Russians appraising vape pens, but it’s undeniably a more pleasant shopping experience for a multitude of reasons, and to some degree you’re likely paying for these attributes.
One of them being that the Rite Aid is much more spacious. The aisles are much wider. Comparatively, it’s like being in a museum.
The 99 Cent Store’s aisles are crammed together, products overflowing and thrown together in piles, the hair scrunchies mingling comfortably with the canned salmon.
The checkout line is worse. It’s incredibly confined, as if they squeezed in an extra aisle at some point the way they do on airplanes, since everything sucks now. There isn’t much space to accommodate a line either, as there are sad party supplies and cumbersome racks of Robin Thicke CDs crowding the area, which also doubles as the only arterial route to the inside of the store, which means patrons are forced to crowd in on each other while waiting to check out, like we’re trying to get into a fucking The Who concert in Cincinnati.
This is uncomfortable and constitutes a violation of personal space, but it is 99 cent bleach, so you suffer through it and triumph successfully until you’re mugged by a ravenous clown in the parking lot.
You get too close to people in these instances, having to watch in front of you for a potential hatchet wielder, and behind you for obvious reasons.
Luckily, in this scenario, the person behind me was a 42 inch octogenarian and the person in front of me a rain thin late 40’s Orthodox Jewish woman, so I was fairly at ease.
This is when the Orthodox Jewish woman started to, I believe, begin exhibiting her thrill seeking behavior.
We were packed in like sardines. She sets her basket down, apparently having forgotten an item.
With the grace of a gazelle and the fluidity of a kabuki dancer, she, in one svelte motion, maneuvers her way around me and several other patrons with the precision of a dude piloting a Lambo between cones on a course. It’s as if time is frozen, and we’re no longer in the 99 Cent Store, we’re in the Matrix, and I can even feel the air cut across my cheek as she whips her way out of the line and then back in.
This is when it occurs to me. Orthodox Jewish people are not allowed to touch people of the opposite sex in public, or else, I’m not sure what will happen.
When you’re in confined quarters, you do a lot of touching that you may not even notice. People lightly bump into each other, you may lay a hand on someone’s shoulder to get by, you might rub elbows.
Apparently in this religious sect, if a dude introduces his wife to you and you go to shake her hand, it’s basically the same thing as pulling a gun on her.
The woman returned with a tin of pepper, and again left, rather hastily, missing contact with me by, without exaggerating, a hundredth of a millimeter. We may now share mitochondrial DNA, it was that close.
She then appeared in front of me again, popping up with a boioioinnnng sound with no prior trace, and resumed paying for her stuff. This constituted a minor athletic feat, equivalent to perfectly executing the Fosbury Flop.
Orthodox Judaism, like Christianity and Islam and many other religions, is clearly incredibly repressive. These women have to cover their hair, are generally discouraged from holding jobs, and I presume were never able to back that ass up on the dance floor.
I think the woman was acting out. Amusing herself. Living dangerously at the 99 Cent Store. I would have been uncomfortable pulling her same maneuvers, and I am not forbidden to touch strangers.
Were this a game of Operation she wouldn’t have sounded the buzzer once, but you can only have so many close calls when you’re out there on the edge.
There are plenty of studies showing how people need to be touched a certain amount of times per day in order to maintain their psychological health. This is in part why solitary confinement is so devastating.
Now, I am not trying to be presumptuous, and this woman probably has physical contact with her family and friends, but maybe she’s always wondered what it would be like to tango with the gentile she had a crush on back in hebrew school, the guy who delivered the water maybe.
Maybe as she nears menopause she wonders about her choices, as anyone who has been indoctrinated into a rigorously restrictive religious sect might.
Maybe she thinks about these things, and the most exciting part of her day are the narrow misses in the aisle at the 99 Cent Store, going back to get the items she pretended to forget.