There are an extravagant, hedonistic few among us who would rather die before spending anything less than a couple of grand for a party — just for the balloons. Their Caligulaesque spending habits would make even a My Super Sweet 16 debutante whine with bitter jealousy. To countless others who live in the actual real world, myself included, nothing says "party" like a 99-cent sauvignon blanc. It requires some creativity, but a rousing party can be assembled with items purchased exclusively from that pinnacle of bargain shopping, the 99¢ Only Stores.
Since dollar stores specialize in home goods, a housewarming is the ideal event. Begin with the basics. Sets of peach-colored Deluxe Imports dinner plates with matching bowls and coffee mugs — the untrained eye might mistake those for Fiesta ware — are festive place settings if paired with orange-stemmed wine glasses. If someone breaks one in a fit of drunken excitement, hey, they're only 99 cents. Depending on your soiree's degree of formality, several bundles of Aspen ultrastrength heavy-duty paper plates in plain or tacky flower print could also do the trick. Where utensils are concerned, the only way to go is a combo pack of Elegant Design's glossy black-plastic forks, spoons and knives. They are "washable and reusable," which thus increases their overall utility: Use them twice and they really only cost 49.5 cents. Thrice, they cost 33 cents. Four times, 24.75 cents, and so on.
The most genteel host or hostess will also provide an assortment of Flexi Straws or Krazy Straws, neither of which should under any circumstances be reused.
For those who find it fun to dress up for parties, a Dangerous Duds pink-and-gray polka-dot tank with matching panties paired with a lavender sequin belt and glittery mesh scarf would dress up any Little Black Dress. Girls tend to fare better at dollar stores. Guys, for the most part, are screwed. If you are a guy and you show up at my party wearing a white Du-Rag Tiger visor rag, prepare to become close personal friends with the velvet rope (although sadly, the 99¢ Only Stores do not sell velvet ropes).
Note to guests: Someone might want to bring me the slightly scuffed Pocket Guide to Istanbul, second edition — spotted at the Sunset Boulevard 99¢ Only location — as a housewarming gift. Absconding to Eurasia will probably sound good when I have to clean up after the party. Or a pack of Indian Spirit "House Blessing" cherry incense sticks. Or one of the mystery house plants in the "Assorted Foliage 4-inch" rack. Or the less subtle but ever-so-much-appreciated "Best wishes on your special day" money holders, die-cut for gift cards (sold in various denominations), suggested retail $2.99, on sale for, you guessed it, 99 cents. Or perhaps a big-button, full-function calculator to tally up my purchases — though you're probably thinking, "How hard is it to add up one dollar plus one dollar plus one dollar?"
Pretty damned hard after several bottles of 99-cent wine. There is an entire contingent of 99-cent-wine fanatics, many of whom can be found raving on Chowhound.com about delectable Australian Shirazes and Argentine malbecs that occasionally pop up at "the 99." Two Buck Chuck (which is closer to three bucks these days) has nothing on one-dollar wine, in their view. These are the same people who have been known to uncork bottles in the parking lot to taste the wine, and who point out that per liter, 99-cent wine is actually cheaper to drink than bottled water (unless you buy the water for 99 cents). One wine predator, known online only as "Bernardo," extols the virtue of a 99-cent red that goes well with beef bourguignon, beef goulash, leg of lamb or prime rib, none of which you will find at a 99 anytime soon, since the stores, which do sell frozen provisions, aren't certified to handle fresh raw meat.
Perhaps it's best to stick with water anyway. Deja Blue is going for half price at two for 99 cents. Or diet Shasta. Or juice. Hawaiian-style punch is available in Juicy Fruit Red flavor. Red is not only a color, it is a flavor. And don't forget the ice: 99 cents for a 7-pound bag.
"Oh, look," says a pretty little hazel-haired girl in a droll voice, as I rifle through the stationery goods on a mission for invitations. "Everything has a puppy on it. And now I know where to get pencils." Invites are a cinch at the 99. And so much more personal than Evites. Pick up Animal Ark cartoon-themed "You Are Invited!" cards, a dozen a pack: Write them. Label them. Stamp them and mail them. Done.