For as long as I've lived out here in Southern California, I've frequented a retail chain called the 99¢ Stores. They proudly advertise that nothing in the store ever costs more than 99¢. Ever. In fact, one of the things I always found most comforting about the 99¢ Store was its consistency. Most items were indeed 99¢, the remaining items were sold in increments that added up to 99¢. So a dozen eggs, for example, was 99¢. So was a six-pack of Shasta Cola. Bottles of Hydrogen Peroxide were two for 99¢, a vast assortment of candy bars were three for 99¢, and so on.
Some of my fondest afternoons have been spent cruising up and down the myriad aisles of the 99¢ Store with my bosom buddy Harlan Ellison, picking up various items from the shelves and loudly querying one another as to what the price of such items might be and constantly being astonished by the inevitable answer. (Well, Harlan finds it funny. But then Harlan is also fascinated by bright, shiny baubles and cheese.)
So imagine my horror when I dropped into the store this week to discover that this country's undeclared recession has finally reached my beloved 99¢ Store as well. Suddenly, it's now a half-dozen eggs for 99¢. Four cans of Shasta Cola for 99¢. Bottles of Hydrogen Peroxide are now 59¢ apiece. And candy bars are now 39¢ each. Granted, much of the merchandise available in the store remains unchanged. A big box of Sun-maid Raisins or smaller six-pack of Sun-maid Raisins are still 99¢, for instance. Most of the plates and glasses and tools and generic drugs and socks and toys and whatever are still 99¢ but the automatic comfort level is gone. No longer can I just pop into the store and pick up a six-pack of soda and three candy bars and a roll of duct tape and a dish towel and a new dog food bowl and think to myself, "Well, that's a quick five dollars plus tax." Now I actually have to do math.
Did I ever happen to mention just how much I hate math? Thanks a bundle, George W. Bush!