Bargain Basement Banter
[ Issue 35 ]

Larick and the Aratronts is one of Emily Bronto’s favourite Bikwil features

Bikwil has a thing about Larick and the Aratronts

Bargain Basement Banter

It's Issue 35, and in Bargain Basement Banter we return to the occasional series where we reveal the words and deeds of Sleepy Jack Hanrahan, as reported by his friend E. Roy Strong.
 

Interior decoration and customer safety aside, however, I dare say such places serve a useful purpose, particularly for the hard-up teenager buying dad a birthday present. Provided of course that the latter doesn’t mind getting a screwdriver that’ll fall apart the second he applies torque to it. And as for Mother’s Day — well, it’s every girl for herself. ('What am I to do with all these doilies?')

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Bargain Basement Banter
[ From Come Spin Us a Yarn, Sleepy Jack ]
 — E. Roy Strong

Copyright

Fifteen years ago they were generically known in parts of Australia as “Dollar Shops”, and they promised untold advantageous and inexpensive purchases for even the most cash-strapped of families. Originally, of course, such establishments didn’t necessarily sell just Korean or Chinese goods as they seem to do today. Indeed, their Aussie forerunners (the older Woolworths and Coles) were modelled on the US "five-and-dime" stores of the 1870s — which prided themselves on locally created goods — and their later manifestations, like the Kress, Mott and Zahn shops . . .

I was holding forth along these lines to Sleepy Jack Hanrahan the other month, and inexorably true to form he had something to add on the subject.



As you know, Roy, inflation has put paid to all that dollar nonsense, and bargain stores are now called “two-dollar shops” in Sydney. Even so, the one near us hasn’t kept up with its macro-economics and blithely announces itself as “Your Hot Dollar Dazzler Discount Dealer”. Not that it restricts its odds and ends to a cost of one dollar the way the Yanks were able to do in the 19th century with “nothing over ten cents”. Far from it — these days there are treasures galore on offer at as much as $39.95. For the affluent poor, presumably. Nor must you shade your eyes against the sizzling, glittering prizes, despite its name. Best if you don’t, really, else you’ll trip over a pile of them in one of its narrow, dimly lit aisles.

Interior decoration and customer safety aside, however, I dare say such places serve a useful purpose, particularly for the hard-up teenager buying dad a birthday present. Provided of course that the latter doesn’t mind getting a screwdriver that’ll fall apart the second he applies torque to it. And as for Mother’s Day — well, it’s every girl for herself. (“What am I to do with all these doilies?”)

The most useful purpose of the two-dollar shop, though, is as an inexhaustible source of dialogue for the budding fiction writer. Talk about verisimilitude! Ask your writer friends the following questions, Roy.

Do they want to soak up the hidden meanings of trivial conversation?

Do they need to learn how to build discourse tension in their masterpiece?

Are they frustrated in their attempts to hear it in their own heads?

Tell them to look no further: dialogue salvation is at hand. Half an hour hanging about with pen and notebook behind the shelves in a store like this and they’ll have enough ordinary language to fill a whole trilogy of novels.

In my professional life as a linguist I myself performed this loitering duty many times, in many locations. I was making an in-depth study of language variants among different people in different situations. As you can imagine, in the same two-dollar shop the well-heeled out slumming it can sound poles apart from shoppers on the breadline making essential purchases. The contrast will be equally sharp between the articulate and those able to communicate but poorly.

And as for articulate children, the mind boggles. I blame it all on the never-ending stream of books that offer advice on child-rearing. They keep suggesting that talking with your child from a very early age is a sure-fire way of forestalling aggressive behaviour and minimising adolescent rebellion. That may well be so, but fluently communicative youngsters have their disadvantages — especially in two-dollar shops. In fact, for what it’s worth, my advice would have to be this: never, if you can possibly avoid it, take small children who’ve been brought up this way into bargain stores. Lurking novelists aside, the whole experience is tempting enough for eloquent kids who can read the cheap price labels. Even more so for those that can’t.

I’ll give you a potent and compelling example of why I say this. The true events I’m about to relate I had occasion to monitor and document one Sunday afternoon in my ever reliable local cut-price emporium.

There are three of them — a most drained and wretched father, a six-year-old girl full of beans and her rather studious looking brother of about nine years. Up and down the aisles the girl squeals, to the ongoing paternal accompaniment of the following sort of thing:

“Put that ridiculous kitsch vase down, Mary . . . Carefully!”

“No, Mary, we’re not buying that useless contraption.”

“Mary, you have no earthly need of those R-rated videos.”

“You heard me, Mary.”

All of sudden her bespectacled brother, who’s been content hitherto to keep a low profile and silently explore the nooks and crannies on his own, makes his strategic move. Fully confident of a foregone happy conclusion, he advances and with an eager smile presents the frazzled parent with the object of his desire.

His hopes are immediately dashed.

“This stuff is false economy, James. You know that.”

“Then why did we come in here in the first place?”

“No, James; that miniature radio is inappropriate. Kindly replace it where you found it.”

“I wouldn’t call a mere $3.95 inappropriate, dad.”

“It will fall apart the moment you try to change stations.”

“I want it. No, I need it.”

“You have heard my final word, James.”

“I have a final word, too. I ask you again, dad. Please buy it for me.”

“Your persistence would be admirable, James, in other circumstances. But that thing is quite worthless.”

“It’s worth something to me. It’s got AM and FM.”

“Come on.”

“And the colour matches the décor in my room.”

“We’re leaving now.”

“It’s essential that I have it. My psychological well-being depends on it.”

“Out now, James.”

As the trio passes from the store, James may be defeated, but he is still adamant. To his sister he explains his position:

“Once I get hold of an idea, I don’t let go of it. Is that clear?”

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