For Steve’s birthday, it was decided that no one could give him a gift that cost over a dollar. Not that we don’t like Steve, or that he isn’t worth more than a dollar, or that we’re extremely cheap (well, it could be that). It’s just that as grown-ups, who needs more stuff?
I run into more and more people who say they are “downsizing.” They’re tired of dusting and polishing. They would rather put their feet up and watch something on Netflix. If they don’t want to buy new things, giving them new things is not what they want, either. Plus, expensive gifts can actually create unhappiness. Who hasn’t gotten some hideous geegaw from a close friend that you have to put on display so you won’t offend the gift-giver? How many times have we all said “Oh, you shouldn’t have,” and meant it — but not as a compliment? I’m starting to think that it won’t be long before guests at adults’ birthday parties will be asked not to bring anything, and also to take something home with them when they leave.
They say you can’t buy happiness, but by limiting every gift to a single dollar, we did buy ourselves a good time, even if we didn’t reach total and complete oneness with the universe. Steve, who camouflages his baldness by shaving his head, laughed large when Kelly gave him a gift set of 10 different combs. Jane gave him one of those dollar picture frames that comes with a creepy, dated family portrait which you are supposed to remove and replace with your own creepy, dated family portrait. She’d taken out the store’s picture and wrote, “Happy Birthday Steve, from your secret other family” and put it back in the frame. He said “Oh, you shouldn’t have,” and we could all tell he really meant it.
Most of the presents came from one of those stores that sell everything for a dollar. If they’re making money by selling stuff for a dollar, can you imagine how much they’re paying for it -- 50 cents? A quarter? A penny? Imagine how much money the stores that sell similar stuff for $5 and $7 are making.
After Steve had opened all his presents — A Darth Vader Pez dispenser, a Justin Bieber bobble-head doll, way out-of-date candy, a “Duck Dynasty” chia plant — and things got seriously cakey, someone asked, “Why doesn’t everyone shop at a dollar store?” Why would you ever pay 5 or 10 dollars for something they were selling for a dollar? When I was shopping for Steve, the dollar store was selling 80 envelopes for one dollar, when I had just bought a box of 100 envelopes at an office supply store for $7.99. Do the math — multiply by 7, take the square root of 3, divide by 4, change to base 8, carry the 6 and — oh yeah, I could pay almost $64 for 800 envelopes or I could pay $10 dollars for 800 of the same envelopes. Decisions, decisions. And yet you’d think that the office supply place would offer the better deal, seeing as that’s their business. They buy in volume so they can pass the gouging along to you, the envelope-buying sucker.
Steve said that some people would rather spend more on everyday products because it’s classier. That was when we came up with the most brilliant idea in the history of capitalism. We would open a chain of Two Dollar Stores right next door to every dollar store. We would sell almost the same stuff as a dollar store, but everything would cost twice as much and therefore have twice the class and we’d make twice as much money.
We’d make a fortune. Until someone opened a Three Dollar Store next to us.
Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life,” “Baby’s First Tattoo” and “Now in Paperback.” He can be reached at email@example.com.