I am distrustful of inexpensive things, because it has been constantly reinforced throughout my life that there is always a catch.
I’m standing in the boys’ bathroom in the fourth grade, and one of the big kids runs up to me and shoves seven dollars in my pocket, then runs away. I feel pretty good about my haul until the principal calls me into the office the next day and busts me for stealing the pizza party money.
That same year there’s a guy outside the fence of the school giving out free joints. I don’t know what a joint is, but I take it. It tastes awful—even when I remove the paper and throw some grass in my mouth like it’s a Pixie Stick—so I give it to my friend. I am observed doing this, and am again called to the principal’s office. You cannot fake how clueless I was, so I am let go.
Still, very scary.
Not a month later I’m walking down the street in my Toughskins from K-Mart when I am surrounded by brutes.
“Where’d you get the pants?” they say.
And I know the answer to this one, because I was there when my mother bought them.
“K-Mart,” I say, and they laugh. For weeks after they will ask me if I’ve been “back to K-Mart,” and by then I’ve formed the opinion that free is never free, and inexpensive is suspect.
So why do I go to the 99 Cent Store?
- 35-count packages of dog log bags. One package lasts my dog 11 and 2/3 days
- Incense sticks. So many incense sticks
- Mexican cleaning products that do not kowtow to First World mildness standards
- Tiny carrots for school lunches and dog treats
- Cereal bowls that, when they are accidentally dropped at least twice a week, I don’t miss
My children drop bowls and dishes like they are adorable little stroke victims, and so they will hang around perusing the 99 Cent Store’s remaindered Red Vines Fragments selection while I stock up on carrots, bowls, and incense.
It was at just such a time that I discovered the 59-cent aloe vera juice.
Children do not have it easier than adults, but we do switch our hierarchies of needs. I’ll tell my children: “I don’t care how good that glue tastes; stop overlicking those envelopes.” But they might stagger out of bed at 2 a.m. to find me eating chips and weeping, activities I suppress in them.
Or I might get jealous of their nightly ten hours of sleep, listening to their (and the dog’s) faint snores while I write up invoices, dunning letters, and nuisance lawsuits into the wee hours.
All their basic needs are taken care of, but they are jealous of what they see as adults’ freedom of movement. Meanwhile, we get to stay up late and drink sugary beverages, but never cease to tell them how easy they have it, what with their free rent and three meals a day.
So I bought the aloe vera juice because it looked like a lava lamp and because 59 cents was just the amount of discretionary income I will have for the next three months, so I thought I’d live it up. I took it home, refrigerated it while I walked the dog, and drank it upon my return.
While one should be extremely wary of anything found in the 99 Cent Store that costs 40 cents less, the aloe vera juice was delicious. There were bits of stuff in there that both appealed to my sophisticated palate and spoke directly to my long-suppressed need to one day drink a Yankee Candle.
Aloe Vera Juice tastes like someone is French-kissing a Fla-Vor-Ice into your mouth, and there might be some teeth in it. It’s like gargled Jell-O.
I was suspicious, of course, and looked online to find damning evidence. But other than a solitary study linking drinking aloe vera juice to increased chances of cancer in rats, every other similarly unsubstantiated story said the stuff was great. And I’m no rat.
So I am cautiously optimistic.
I will introduce aloe vera juice to my children as Candle Water and we will drink it together. I will be satisfied that they are getting a healthy-ish snack and they will be pleased to be drinking something that has the consistency and color of the water we dry our paintbrushes in. Everyone will win, and I’ll forget those $20 disintegrating sneakers I bought at Payless.