First In A 34-Part Series
by Robert Smith
Let’s face it: Times are hard for many these days; given rising unemployment and shrinking paychecks, everyone is looking for ways to stretch their hard-earned dollars. Who could have dreamed that a wanton, craven mid-afternoon hankering for a Penrose Firecracker Red Hot Sausage would lead this humbled writer to Family Dollar, which led to a nearly hour-long, soul-creasing awakening that changed my thoughts on this retail giant forever?
In light of harsh times, today’s retailers are trying to offer better brands at lower prices. Target, for example, features clothing and home goods designed by famous fashion and art designers; savvy shoppers often refer to the chain as “Tar-jay.” Who, in his or her most hopeful, dreamy moments could have guessed that sitting next to a pair of marked-down bud headphones in a beautifully appointed Family Dollar store in Queens, New York would sit the piece of pure, inspired art pictured here – marked down to under three dollars, no less? An abstract painting erroneously delivered to a store and not a museum, perhaps? This was a moment more akin to an awakening, an experience that wiped away years of cynicism and doubt and restored one wary customer’s faith in the American way of business, and further, our time-tested way of life. At this moment, I once again became a citizen of the world, and within two hours I was online looking for ways to volunteer at my area’s home for wayward female teens.
This writer was simply browsing when this clock/painting hit the corner of my jaded eye; it was as if one of the cashiers chose to walk up to me and tell me that Queens girls love flat asses like mine. Such was the power and impact of this truly stunning heirloom, which will be as treasured in my art collection as my Elton John “Pinball Wizard” tie. A gold sticker on the back of the packaging claimed the product was an import (“Made In China”), but there was something about this eye-pleasing gift that belied its low price and function, primarily as a clock. It appeared to be hand-painted, but cannily; the fact that the brown paint didn’t seem to remotely cover the Roman numerals on the clock’s face only added to its innovative beauty – it’s not just a clock, it’s also a loving and stunning depiction of every true American’s favorite cooking device, the microwave oven! In addition, the artist – too full of integrity to sign his masterwork – added a true touch of Americana in his version of a hot dog that’s so robust that you can practically smell the smoked meats, perchance hear the delightful bell that says, in the heart and the soul, “hey, hey, it’s two minutes, time to eat this in four bites.” Only adding to this unknown artist’s one-of-a-kind piece are splashes of green around the doggie itself; some say it’s relish, others insist it might be lettuce. We may never know, but regardless, I snatched this baby up as if I had stolen someone’s winning lottery ticket. This now is my personal piece of art to savor and behold in the privacy of my cocoon-like New York City flat. To think it came to me as a wisp in an early Saturday afternoon, lurking on a steel shelf, practically throwing itself into my heart, as a real hot dog’s aromatic mix of turgid meats surely would. Life’s funny that way; blessings can come in a plastic bag.
The discovery of this beautiful artwork led me to comb each and every aisle of this Family Dollar outlet, and with each step, with every gaze, came new delights to stun the senses and blast through this withered sensibility. As the sounds of a black Curtis AM/FM/CD Sound System softly filtered through the store from its expertly placed stool near the exit, the simple act of shopping became a revelation, like a three-year-old discovering that his hands reach his junk so perfectly. As the Gary Puckett classic “Lady Willpower” kissed the air thanks to the Curtis, it became wonderfully apparent that FD provides more than value – it brings real choice. Why stare wistfully at Oreos when cheaper and no doubt just as taste-tempting are the cleverly named “Sandwich Cookies”? Why display the selfish and extravagant act of purchasing boiled ham at an area Key Food when FD, as it now resides as in my humbled heart, offers the delicious, oft-forgotten treat known as Armour Potted Meat?
Extensive research leads me to believe this gourmet delight was once known as “Armour Potted Meat Food Product,” but I can’t prove it, not just yet. However, just a cursory glance at the sumptuous ingredients list (mechanically separated chicken, beef tripe, dextrose, and other flavors too delightful to dare list here, lest you think I’m just pouring it on for effect, as few pre-prepared foods could ever be this wondrous upon ingestion) proves this three-ounce can may be the greatest value in high-end dining – two people could easily enjoy a pre-date, romantic snack break for the measly price of 45 cents. Wishful thinking; who could compare either the sinful act of pre-marriage rutting or the five year couple’s “let’s get this over with, you ball and chain” with Armour Potted Meat on a Vitarroz?
Great day in the morning! Aisle after aisle, product after product, Family Dollar offers a cornucopia of innovation merged with value, fashion merged with the lowest possible prices, HBA merged with the very concept of human enjoyment. Indeed, know that this first in a series of overviews on the cornucopia of FD products is a labor of love; best of all, it’s all true. Anyone of any strata can venture into a local FD and enjoy these values. Republican or Democrat, millionaire or miser, nymphomaniac or Presbyterian, it’s all for you, all for me, all for all of us, near and far, fat or skinny, wise or doofus.
Family Dollar! Family Dollar! Family Dollar! Three cheers for changing the pocked face of American retailing, bringing a newfound respect to the roiling landscape of its home state, spacious North Carolina.
Robert Smith takes prescription blood pressure medication and enjoys Necco Wafers.
© 2009 Robert Smith