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From Necessity to Liberty: the 99¢ Only Store.

December 20, 2011 by brandonjoyce



Food Spiral is overjoyed to find itself once again in the landscape of esculent Los Angeles, California. Naturally, when you think of “food” and “Los Angeles,” one thing universally comes to mind: the 99¢ Only Store. Not just any dollar store, though— and much less those “99¢ and up” chains that guarantee everything to be at least one dollar.  It’s the 99¢ Only Store, by name, that serves as a true beacon for bottom-shelf right-mindedness.

Everything a dollar. Misfit product on the verge of extinction. Single-use screwdrivers. Great design wonk. Democratic mingling with men shopping in flip-flops, punks with baskets full of root beer and gift wrapping, old women reading labels. And it’s not only foodware: the place is dedicated to meeting Necessity of almost any kind, or more precisely, for converting Necessity into Liberty. I need nothing else. This cuts straight to everything that we at Food Spiral so warmly endorse.

What I want is to refuel mid-air and grocery-shop for twelve dollars and eighty-seven cents. What is it that we love so much about it? What do I mean by converting Necessity into Liberty? Okay, I think I can formulate this more earnestly: with this store, I can meet all my needs, surrender all my vanities, and finally focus on the things that matter to me most. That’s it. Instead of eating an omelette elbow to elbow with a bunch of people wearing fedoras, I can pick up breakfast for ten and picnic at the top of Elysian Park, closer to God. The stock may be a bit unrefined, but all resource—all raw materials of a making-do— are inherently unrefined. They also have ties for one dollar.


This is hard for me, in some ways. When I see that gleam in the aisles, the coconut water, the Mexican spicy candies, the incredible bargains on all your household needs, it breaks my heart. I badly miss Los Angeles. Something infuses this city. And whatever that something is, I see it hanging in the air at the 99¢ Only Store. I think because, on all my walks throughout Los Angeles, I always managed to thread my path through this place at least once, and isn’t this is how desire works— by a kind of needlework; a semiological web interweaving matter, event, and the human heart? I’ll go stare at the plastic fly-swatters and pretend that I still live here, or take a few home, as souvenirs for a sunny Christmas spent at seventy degrees, eating Doritos for breakfast. You know what it is? I know I love a city when I am blind to its flaws.

My faux-phone pendants made of parts from you-know-where.

A perfect example: I find its diffuse paranoia charming. Jonny and I were strolling down Vermont and stopped into Chez Wendy for a light dollar-menu snack. As we approached the door, two policemen were yanking some nutcase out of the dining area with his head and face covered in blood— in gashes and sores…It looked like he had licked the underside of a lawnmower. Stepping inside, we look over and see an employee cleaning up a booth and smiling, and realize that it wasn’t blood after all, but a raspberry topping that had been used as a weapon and then smeared all over the seat and table to make a statement. And what a statement it was: if it weren’t for the handcuffs, I’d have signed the guy on as a guest blogger right then and there. Never did figure out what sparked the altercation, but I did hear a cop outside softly asking the guy “but you do understand how he might have considered that remark inflammatory, don’t you?”

Okay, onto product review:



I have to admit that I was disappointed with Simpsons Fruit Snacks. The flavor, I found, was subdued rather than subtle, and the snacks were in the shape of fruit— apples, pineapples, grapes— rather than in the shape of simpsons; making the entire effort seemed phoned in, and lacking in the inspiration of the original television series. Then again, I did eat the entire box while writing this three sentence review; so perhaps there’s a little of the old magic in those snack bags after all.



I think we all understand, on some level, that dental hygiene is inextricably bound up with pondering our own mortality. Teeth are mementi mori. We look in the mirror and smile and see visible pieces of our own skull. A sharp reminder of the soon-to-be remainder: our gleaming white skeletons. Teeth become brittle, pocked, decayed, rotten, and through some modest measures, we can defer their loss while we whiten and brighten, but eventually the fateful day will arrive. This is why I consider dental hygiene a part of the ars moriendo, especially for all you fruit-snackers and soda fiends out there. I remember the day I was first told that I had a cavity— well, I had twenty of them, actually. The dentist was giggling and offered me advice: “Let me guess, you like to drink soda. Yep. Nurse it for hours? Maybe out of a two liter?” Ouch. The man was good. I guess it makes sense that these glorious substances that quicken life— Coca-Cola, coffee, sugar, amphetamines— might also hasten death, or at least put a pretty weird fuzz on your enamel. That was the minute I realized that I was mortal, which sucks.

But I’m not going down easy. Instead I plan on stockpiling some serious anti-death prophylaxes from the 99¢ Only Store. Today I scored a singing toothbrush from Tooth Tunes, that plays “Walking on Sunshine” as I brush my little heart out. Batteries Included. And for the parents out there, it makes the perfect stocking stuffer for your chocoholic sons and daughters— just make sure to include a hand-written note explaining how toothbrushes are really for cleaning your skull.


The interweaving of matter, event, and the human heart.

Playboy has made a bold move by watering down its line of flavored lubes and marketing the results as a “libido enhancing drink.” Gaggy on the whole, but this may only speak to its efficacy. The label reveals a rather rich proprietary blend, which we’ll try to unpack… Okay, let’s see: niacin and zinc I expect. Boron is a bit of a curveball, but I’m intrigued. Caffeine and ginseng, for stamina. The mildly nootropic GABA and Ashwagandha extract, for misdirection. Then a medley of herbal aphrodisiacs: Maca, Damiana, Cnidium, Eurycoma Longifolia, Muira Puama, and so on. After one, I felt nothing. To be fair, I was watching A Christmas Carol; so I’ll try five tomorrow and see if I notice any warmth or sudden needs. Cancel all my appointments. This is the last thing I need.


A rare photozoan found along Sunset. It was on its way to buy cigarettes.


  1. Neuf says:

    Did you notice the vagina on your toothbrush? Nice touch.

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