Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 05.31.06
Stanstead, Quebec


The One-dollar Circle of Hell

If you find yourself in a mall and you pass by a dollar store, you may see a man hovering near the entrance. He will be slumped, looking not just bored but utterly defeated, like someone whose soul has been pulverized by the despair of ever seeing his family emerge from the shelves of useless trinkets and tinned meats.

That man will be me. Please say 'hi'.

When I enter a dollar store, I feel my will to live being sucked out of me. There are few other places where this occurs. An out-patient waiting room is one. Another is sitting through any film starring David Spade.

My kids, on the other hand, love it. They have dollar store radar. They can detect a dollar store at 100 paces. I think this may have to do with the smell.

While my kids run the aisles looking for something - anything! - to spend their $1.15 on (don't forget the taxes, kiddies!), I try to make the best of it. I look through the $1 music CDs for rare gems, such as a musical tribute to Robert DeNiro (I'm not kidding) or browse the magazine rack to see if there's a copy of the France version of Rolling Stone (not, by the way, La pierre qui roule).

But soon the walls and shelves of easily breakable stemware start closing in on me. The low-ceilinged, possibly radioactive lighting sets off a throbbing in my head. Then I have to go out and sit on a bench with the other sad men.

I could take the political high road to explain my dislike for dollar stores. For example, take this happy-face fly-swatter that sells for $1: once you figure in manufacturing costs, packaging, shipping and profit, you realize that the person in China who made this was paid less than a penny per item. Very possibly that person paid the employer for the privilege of a job.

"Well," the worker might say to herself, "it's this or sit at home watching the official state soap opera of the People's Republic, 'That's What I Like About Hu.'"

I can even take the higher road and preach about sustainable development and how dollar store's prey on western culture's insatiable need to buy for buying's sake.

Because, really, no one needs this stuff.

For instance, I found this ceramic turtle sitting on a shelf otherwise filled with battery-operated travel alarm clocks. Besides being a gawdawful shade of green and wearing a wall-eyed expression on its face, it was holding a tiny metal scythe. It looked like the turtle grim reaper.

Who would want this?

Except for people who collect turtle-related bric-a-brac - and those people should be stopped immediately - who would want this in their home?

The answer is no one. But at some point in your life, someone, possibly your own child, will give you just such a figurine, or perhaps a pouting dog holding a sign that says "I wuvs you," perhaps a toilet-shaped ashtray. Why? Because they can't resist the urge to buy.

These are all good reasons to dislike dollar stores (as if you need a reason). In my heart, though, I know that the real reason I dislike them is because I'm a snob.

Dollar stores seem to draw people who either a) can only afford household items that cost a dollar, which is sad and depressing or b) can't see that anything that costs a dollar is by definition junk, which is, well, also sad and depressing.

Dollar stores also attract an over-representation of the mullet-and-sweatpant crowd along with women who appear to have dyed their hair with milk leftover from their Frankenberry cereal. And everyone looks sallow and cranky.

There is, of course, the possibility that they didn't look that way when they went into the store…