Friday, April 18, 2014

The World's Most Unusual Dollar Store

When I was a teen, I well remember my mom saying once "I am not the kind of person to commit suicide. I am the kind of person to cause others to commit suicide." She was kidding. I think.

Mom is a unique cross between Martha Stewart and a Marine drill sergeant. Ask anyone. They'll tell you I'm right: If they dare. So when we started to plan for Easter, and I mentioned that I wanted to invite another family, she was more than happy to invite them: She loves to entertain. When I asked if we could add another last minute guest, she was happy to do so.

And yet, never being a slouch at using a situation to her advantage, she called me this morning to say imperiously "Because you are adding people to my guest list, you are now my slave. Go find me a tablecloth. It must be 144 inches long and be pale pink or green or something Easter-y. Bed, Bath and Beyond will have it. Do you have a coupon? If you don't, come on over and get it."

Seeing a long trip to the local mall to battle yuppies for the latest in pastel tablecloths the size of a football field, I tried suggesting an alternative: The World's Most Unusual Dollar Store on Ulmerton Road in Largo, Florida. There's a reason it's called that. When you first enter the store, you're hit by a curious mix of mothballs and incense. It's cavernous and slightly dingy, chockfull of "bargains" such as rows of expired food, large and eerie dolls, and huge flags that are likely to shred when the first blast of wind hits them.

It also has a seedy rattan chair that's been spray-painted white. The forbidding handwritten sign warns everyone that they're not allowed to sit on the slightly frayed cushion, but can rent out the chair for a mere $30/day with a $100 deposit:

Apparently they buy things no one else wants in large quantities, and then try to sell them. Sometimes I'm amazed at what they decide to put out on the shelves. This entire shelf held nothing but about 70 copies of a soft porn movie called Erotic Aquatics 2. It appears to have been filmed in the late 80s, which is about the same time a lot of their food seems to have been manufactured. OK, I'm kidding about the food, but I once looked over their food aisle and found that there were items that had expired by years, not months, but years.

Their sheer volume and assortment of plastic tablecloths is astounding. And they can produce the tackiest themed table decorations this side of Jersey Shore: Snookie would be in heaven.

So is it any wonder that I went here in search of tablecloths?

There's always hope.

I found a cloth one. Only one. It was sitting there sadly, thrown in amongst the shower curtains and plastic bed covers. It wasn't 144 inches. It wasn't pastel. And yet I stood there longer than I should have, trying to calculate how I could make it work so that I could avoid the crush at Bed, Bath and Beyond. Giving up, I went once around the store, past the mass produced plastic figurines with paint bleeding haphazardly down their features, past feather boas and cheap lace trim, past the handbags that they import for $5 and sell for $55.

Returning to the sole table cloth, I looked down a nearby aisle and saw an assortment of placemats. Many were plastic with bright gilding, fit for a sit-down dinner with the cast of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Other plastic ones sported Catholic characters in lurid 3D with blazing halos. But among all those exuberant placemats were these demure cloth ones:

Excitedly, I called mom and sent her this photo. Twice. And both times she didn't get it. So I walked resignedly to the front of the store to ask the tired, petite little sales clerk if I could return them if they weren't what my mom wanted. No, I was told. I could only get store credit. Reasoning that I could always spend the store credit on a cheap samurai sword reproduction for one of my young cousins, I bought the placemats.

Once I arrived at Mom and Dad's, Mom looked over the placemats critically. "Here," she said, thrusting one at me, "Take off the top and let's see how these look."  So Mom arranged them about the table and declared them to be satisfactory, as she fretted over the table's finish which wasn't quite perfect and needed to be polished to a warm gloss.

"Well that's taken care of," Mom finally said after a great deal of agonizing. "Now...what shall we do for a centerpiece?"