USELESS ITEMS 'R'US December 21 2002

Essential info:
1 US$ =   7 NOK
1 GB£ = 11 NOK

Dime stores. You can crack all the jokes you want, but when you suddenly realize you have to find your grandaunt a present within the hour, where do you run? That's right.

True, some of the stuff you find is fully usable, but the vast majority of items available in these stores are absolute shit. They break, they fade, and they look cool in the store but are useless when you sit down and think about what you just bought. Today we'll take a look at the absolute worst of these.

Geographically speaking, my search didn't bring me far. Three major bargain chains run five stores in my town, and they are all represented at the local mall. I happened to be in the neighborhood with my camera handy, so I though "Why the hell not?" and jumped into the nearest one: Ergo.

Ergo offers some really cool stuff, and a lot of it is actually well worth the price. On the other hand, you'll find some seriously disturbing items, and these are always gone when you come back to show them to people. Inflatable men, howling ball-shaped ghosts, battery-operated mastrubating statuettes that shout obscenities at bypassers... people are crazy about these things - I can promise you the Back to the Future DVD boxsets will stay on the shelves longer than these critters when UNIVERSAL GET THEIR GODDAMNED THUMBS OUT OF THEIR ASSES AND RELEASE THE DAMNED THINGS!

Walking past a larger-than-life lawn ornament depicting Aphrodite, I discovered the first item worth mentioning:

Yes, it's a cow that flies. But that's not the only feature, just read what the box says:

  • Flaps its wings
  • Flies around and around
  • Suspended continuous flying action
  • Calming and soothing movement

    Marketing departments can be really clever sometimes: here they manage to expand the word 'flies' into three separate functions, and then they throw in a blatant lie to top it off. These things are not calming and soothing. Even if you're the kind of person who finds flying baby cows relaxing, the sound will drive you out of your mind. I turned the demo cow on for a couple of seconds, and suddenly every eye in the store was on me: the idiot with a butterfly cow that goes WURRWURRWURRWURRWURRWURRWURRWURRWURRWURR. Stupid airborn cattle.

    On to the next item: a flashlight that's also a dog. When the live-action 101 Dalmatians hit the silver screens, everyone wanted a piece of Disney's cake. Spotted dogs were all the rage back then - great news for the House of Mouse, terrible news for the dogs that people imported to impress their friends. They need more nursing than your own kids, you know.

    Now, what I would like to see is an unauthorized Glenn Close flashligh. I mean, when you're already scrimping on a major company's turf, why not do it with style? I'm telling you, all those Thai knockoff companies care about is money, money, money. Cynical pseudo-corporate bastards. Anyway, I journeyed eastwards and bumped into the CD shelves.

    Among synthesized classics, pan pipe editions of Bee-Gees's greatest hits, and 60s compilations featuring music noone would be able to identify even in the sixties, I found this: The Best of Limahl! I never thought Limahl produced enough material to justify an entire album, let alone a 'best of' compilation, but then again the one song I ever heard was Never Ending Story. It's not that I liked it very much, it's just that once you've heard it once, there's no chance in hell it's leaving your head again. Apparently, he also wrote Big Apple, Ooh to Be Ah, Rhythm of Love and Lost in Love, just to name a few. The back of the cover features a mini-bio that tells us that the crafty Englishman has not only had a no. 1 hit, he has also had a no. 4 and a no. 16. But what's really interesting about this bio is what's squeezed into the corner below it:

    It's a cover album! Dear lord, this CD was released in 1998, and they still couldn't afford the original versions! This, my friend, is officially the cheapest CD ever produced. It cost 39 NOK, which probably equals the total production costs.

    Let's move on: to the right is a ceramic giraffe cow. To confuse further, it's covered in the same kind of fur Moss Man sported back in 85. What purpose it serves? I think it's just a trinket. I'm pretty sure it's not a paperweight, and it's definitely not a monitor doll.

    Now, just a couple of days ago, I learned that Australian scientists have created a spider/goat hybrid to extract biosteel. Perhaps this statuette is created to sit on our mantelpiece and remind us that if we tamper with nature, it will kick right back at us when the cowraffes grow so tall that we no longer can reach the milk just when we were so close to becoming genetically adapted to it. You might laugh now, but the day you have to moisten your Rice Crispies with water or mutant orange juice, the joke's on you, my friend. Frail as dry leaves, the ecocycle is. Frail as dry leaves.

    Next up: Europris. The name is a clever way to suggest this is a chain covering an entire continent, but the fact that it translates to 'Europinch' in German, 'Eurofrozen' in French and 'Eurohurry' in Spanish kind of narrows down the number of potential countries involved.

    Europris is the kind of store that sells everything: cookies, nudie playing cards, chandeliers, 'Latterman' tools, rice, toys, you name it. My potential brother-in-law and I once found some kick-ass swimcaps inbetween the tins of cat food, and one time I found some liquoricesque rubber penguins so foul even hard liquor couldn't get the after-taste out of your mouth. When I was leaving the store, I took one for myself and gave one to a friend. We instantly regurgitated them into our hands and ran to find a trashcan when the firewalls suddely trapped us inside for ten full minutes. While everyone else was relieved there was no real fire, I was pretty pissed about the fact that the palm of my hand was dyed sickly brown and stayed that way until the next day. The irony is, these gave me weeks of fun handing them out to people, while trick candy that was supposed to make people drink gallons of water to restore all body functions tasted like pure heaven. Don't miss their German white chocolates, though. They're the best.

    I was a little disappointed when I discovered a lot of the cool stuff I've seen here earlier was gone. Just a month ago, you could find knockoff toys in abundance, not to mention Power Rangers party sets. This time around, all I found mentionworthy was this toy oven. It's about three inches wide, which means it's way too big to fit into the Barbie universe, and too small for kids to pretend is a real oven.

    To make the little disk inside rotate and give your make-believe tenderloin an even nut-brown surface, you have to constantly turn the little black wheel on the right side of the oven. I guess this doesn't put all kids off, but since the handle stands no more than two millimetres out from the base, even the limber little fingers of a three-year-old couldn't possibly grasp it.

    The creators of this thing aren't as stupid as you would think, though. They have obviously realized that their average customer is a white-trash mother with no domestic skills whatsoever, so they have provided some helpful instructions:

    The clerk was starting to give that weird look, so I decided to move on to the next store: Nille. All other dime chains must bow before Nille. They're everywhere, and they can ever afford to buy commercial spots on smaller channels. Occasionally. That is, they can probably buy them all, but they just don't need to. When you pass one of their stores, you enter. And you always end up leaving some change. If you had enough dimes, you could buy Italy, you know. And if you owned Italy, you could make more money by exporting pizzas to the Scandinavians, and then world domination suddenly is more than a distant dream. The guys at Nille are brilliant. Let's just pray they're humane dictators.

    AAAAH! Rabbit babies! My grandmother thinks these are the cutest things ever, so a couple of years back she started giving them away at baby showers. I thank the forces of all that is good and pure that I was born before she started doing this, because I think they're ABSOLUTELY TERRIFYING! Seriously, you can deprive me of my sleep for five days, give me nothing but coffee to drink, and then expose me to a Latvian horror movie marathon without seeing me as much as twitch an eye. But these abominations? Put one next to my cold dead body, and the screams will still pop your tympanic membranes. People have tried to convince me they're supposed to be babies in bunny suits, but come on! The suits don't come off! You know why? Because they grow right out from the wretched unholy skin that covers these bundles of pure black evil! They're Lillim, I'm telling you! Little bunny Lillim!

    Speaking of hellspawns: here's a demonic duck. It looks pretty innocent at first, like most ducks sown to velvet purses do. But when you squeeze them? They start quacking like Satan himself were he ever to impersonate Donald Duck! And their eyes! They start flashing an EVIL yellow! If I regret anything in my life, it's not recording an audio sample of this little devil for you to listen to, because there's no way you can fathom the extent of the EVIL this little critter emits without hearing it. I'm pretty sure it's duck speak for "Guess what? Your afterlife roommate is Joe Pesci! And there's baked beans for dinner! Every day of the week and twice on Saturday! Red-frigging-rum, buddy!" These things also come in evil frog and evil baby elephant, but of course they're not half as menacing as a mocking satanic duckling. Nothing is.

    I screwed up when shooting this one, but I guess you can make out the PlayStation controller shape of PlayBrick. In case you live under the sea, let me tell you how things work above the surface: all pocket games that imitate major consoles are Tetris. They may be called Brick Game, Blox or NinjorBlox, but they're always Tetris. What's special about this particular version of the highly addictive Russian classic is the following functions:

  • Angle adjustable screen
  • Realistic sound effect
  • Multi-playing modes
  • Foldable cover

    'Angle adjustable screen' means you can tilt the screen instead of moving your hands or head. As for the realistic sound effects... Well, I've never observed Tetris blocks in their natural habitat, so I can't really argue whether they go *blip* when they obliterate each other or not. Multi-play means you can set the falling velocity of the blocks, and the 'Foldable cover' option is just a way of rephrasing 'Angle adjustable screen'.

    And that's it. If there's a moral to my story or a point to my journey, it's that price slashin' stores sometimes sell you candy made from Tsjernobyl soil, and other times you find chocolates crafted from the albino cocoa dreams are made of. The moral would probably be slightly different if there was any candy in my apartment right now.