Dollar stores are fairly new to me. I’ve seen them, have heard their praise, but it wasn’t until this last year that I finally stepped into one. Just like I expected. A giant room full of crazies. Aisles and aisles of stupid shit: Chips. Balloons. Shampoo. Towels. Tools. The signs didn’t lie. Everything was a dollar. Three frozen tacos: One buck. A pack of green candles: One dollar.

What a wonderful world.

I was in the candy aisle loading up on chocolate when I noticed some dude looking at me. I thought nothing of it. Just people watching. I got a handful of Toblerone bars and went to the toy section to shop for my nephew. Not that he didn’t have enough cars and trucks and motorcycles and other bullshit scattered all over the house. But, whatever. I’m his uncle. It’s my job to buy him things he doesn’t need. Look, Cole! It’s a giant rubber gorilla! Who does it resemble, boy? Your father! You’re good! Hey, Cole, check out this witch mask I bought you! Awesome! Doesn’t it look like your mom? You bet it does! Hey, Cole! Look at all these markers your bitchin’ ass-kickin’ uncle got you! Tag the walls, son! Who’s the coolest uncle ever!

I was dicking off in ShenaniganLand when I heard:


I looked over and it was the dude who was looking at me slobbering in the candy aisle. I looked at his face, his perfectly clipped goatee, his neatly pressed clothes. He was gay. I knew the dude. But what was his name?

“It’s me, Matt. Remember me? We used to wait tables together at O’Aces.”

Matt. Son of a bitch. I hadn’t seen him in over ten years. We were old drinking buddies. He was a local Las Vegan, born and raised, and was a full-blown lush when I met him. His boyfriend at the time sold speed so Matt lugged around two monkeys and would come to work speeding like a motherfucker all the time.

“I’m a spun little cookie,” he would say with big tweaked-out eyes and prance out on the floor.

We were good friends, like a couple of kids always terrorizing each other. We’d call each other horrible names. We’d leave foul notes in each other’s aprons, on the dry erase board. He knew I hated the sound of burps and would burp around me all the time. I’d threaten to fart in his station.

“You better not you nasty bastard!”

We’d do this bit where he’d tell me that girls were dirty and that their parts were gross and reeked of dead lettuce. I’d tell him that most men were arrogant pricks and the last thing on earth I’d want to do was fondle and suck their boners. Or listen to them talk. Vote. Or hear them snore. Or watch them walk around in those stupid fucking shoes they love so fucking much. He’d bust up.

“You’re a man. What’s that saying about you then?”

“I’m just speaking the truth, man. I’m giving you pearls. So pay attention and quit staring at my crotch!”

“Kiss my ass, Reno!”

“Just stop. Please. I’m getting sick over here.”

“You’re such an asshole!”

We worked with each other for a couple of years before he got fired. The story was that he showed up to work drunk off his ass and cussed out one of the managers. We kept in touch for a couple of years and then we lost contact. He looked great. His blue eyes, pretty as ever. He had a boyfriend, were going on eight years. He put away the dope, the crazy, and worked for the city pushing a pencil. It was great to see him.

“So what are you buying?” he asked, looking in my cart.

“Oh, just shopping. Looking for some stuff I don’t really need,” I said, remembering the time we got all coked out and danced all night at Drais. I looked up and saw a bloody rubber severed hand hanging behind him. I grabbed one.

“Want a severed hand, Matt? I’ll buy you one. You know, just in case you get lonely. Eight years is a long time.”

“Oh, my god! You jerk! You haven’t changed one bit!”



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RENO J. ROMERO was born in the badlands of El Sereno, California. A bona fide Las Vegan, he also lived in the dirty South for three miserable years, where he was introduced to depression, grits, humidity, and sweet tea. A graduate of UNLV, the Southern Nevada Writing Project, and seedy bars, he enjoys Chinese food, Tamron Hall, the Trickster, and football. He currently writes poetry, short fiction, and creative nonfiction from the California desert, living among rattlesnakes, old bones, and biker speed. He's been published in various publications including Falling From the Sky (short story anthology), Celebrity Poets, and Central Speak. He can be reached at [email protected]

29 responses to “It’s Been So Long, Matt (How About a Severed Hand?)”

  1. New Orleans Lady says:

    So funny.
    It’s so easy for me to picture this. All of this.
    It makes me laugh.

    So…did you buy the hand? YOU may need it out there in those cold desert nights…

    Down, set, hut!

  2. Don Mitchell says:

    Spot-on description, Reno. My third wife loved the Dollar Store. I usually escaped having to go in but the times I did what I saw was precisely what you describe.

    Minus the funny gay guy.

    I always wondered about those chocolate bars. Were they counterfeit? How could the Dollar Store sell them, several for a dollar, and nobody else could? I ate them anyway but I did wonder which factory they came from — maybe not the one the labels claimed.

    Choke ’em down, Reno! You can use the severed hand as a gagging aid.

    I’ll be in Hilo for most of the season. I don’t know if I can watch the Bills at 8 or 9 AM, speaking of keepings things down.

    • Reno Romero says:


      hello, sir. i love dollar stores. i’m in one at least once a week. it’s yet another one of my addictions. anyhow, yes, the Toblerone bars. i hope they’re the real deal, but it doesn’t matter because they’re good anyhow (i have one sitting right here in front of me). this store up the road sells these mini cookies n’ creme candies. they are delicious. simply.

      hey, well you know i’ll be watching football. the bills lost some close ones. man! maybe this year they’ll turn the corner and win a few of them. that would be cool. i’ve said it a trillion times and i’ll say it again: i love football more than any one team. i want solid competition. tampa makes a december run with a young QB? great. the lions take the ol’ black and blue? fandamntastic.

      hold it down, don. and keep taking notes. i like your stories. here’s to Dolphin shorts and, uh, colorful rubbers.

  3. Reno!

    I hope you bought the hand, too. You never know when you’re going to need a hand with something.


    I loved the Dollar stores in Los Angeles. Phoenix Dollar stores have cool stuff too. Midwestern Dollar stores are really generic and boring, did you know that? They suck here. I don’t even bother. If I want crazy-cheap prices with a side of toothless carnie goodness, I go to Wal-Mart.

    In a Phoenix Dollar store, my sister once found a life-sized ceramic statue of a rooster having sex with a hen. Like, boy chicken permanently mounted on the girl chicken’s back. She gave it to my parents as a gift. My family has a weird sense of humor.

    Glad your old friend looked like he was doing well.


  4. Reno Romero says:


    thanks for reading. unfortunately, i didn’t buy the hand. but have no worries they’re still there. if i ever need, uh, a hand, i know where to go. times are lean, ash. you have to take what you can get.

    until then don’t forget that you were given a Mulligan and we’re four weeks away from gridiron heaven. see you in the stadium.

  5. Reno Romero says:


    i’m the late freight when it comes to these fuckers. but every chance i get i stroll into one. and they are different. there’s one up the street in Apple Valley (actually a ninety-nine store) that is beautiful. the lighting is perfect, shines softly on the cheap b-products. i went to one in San Bernardino. it was nasty, nothing but dust and tampons on the shelves.

    i want one of those rooster humping hen things. that’s my kinda stuff. really.

    ok, tawni, thanks for reading. you and your nipple-showing husband have a great sunday night. UFC on Verses. put the rock down and get your jock on. or sumpin’ like that. bye.

    ps: nope, no hand. going now.

  6. jmblaine says:

    Reno, sir,
    you are a
    beautiful beautiful

    One day you’re gonna
    be shopping some
    Dollar Store Aqua Net
    or playing Galaga
    in some all-night Grocery store

    and you’re gonna hear:

    Hey Reno

    & it’s gonna be me.

    • Reno Romero says:


      I love Galaga. Not a hairspray guy (yes, even in those hairspray days). But I’m a dollar store guy. There’s no doubt. A bachelor’s stop. Hey, can you believe that we’ve been at this writing biz for 5 years on this site? What the hell, 11? What happened?

      Your Titans got Hasselbeck. He’s good, but I don’t believe the Titans colors will fit him well. Yes, you heard right: the colors. These things are REAL, 11. Kinda like the soulful musings of Shawn Smith.

      Thanks for reading ol’ pal. What a run.


  7. Irene Zion says:

    We have a foot with a partial leg complete with partial chinos in the house someplace. Victor moves it around to different places so you forget about it and then you look for a candle or a corkscrew and ACK! there’s a human foot! Works every time.

  8. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    Hah! I’m always amazed at how you manage a larger story out of offhand moments like this. It’s some kind of uncatalogued skill.

    I’d spend dollar after dollar if they renamed a place ShenaniganLand. All the stores I end up wandering into are sorely lacking in even a single shenanigan.

    • Reno Romero says:

      Thanks, sir. I really appreciate you reading my stuff. It was a really interesting time. Say, Nathaniel, you ready for the 2011-2012 NFL football season?

      • Nathaniel Missildine says:

        I gotta say unless the Browns explode in the first few weeks I only tune in at playoff time. What I’m really ready for are your NFL roundups.

        • Reno Romero says:

          Brownies! Ha! One day I’ll write the Browns fans I knew in Vegas. Oh, yes, Nathaniel, they’re out here in the west. Must be the weather. Or the Mesicun food. Anyhow, my man, cheers.

  9. Amanda says:

    Who wants to listen to them talk, vote, or snore. Heh.

    When I worked at the mall in high school, my teenaged co-workers and I would play a game with the dollar store: you’d go there on your break and bring back something to wear, something to eat and something miscellaneous. Then, your co-worker had to put on the wearable thing (usually creepy mesh underwear or a nasty brooch), eat the “food” thing (usually knock-off brand marshmallow “treats”) and then do something unexpected with the third item–plant it on another co-worker, drop it into a customer’s bag, etc.

    Dollar stores seemed to pop up from nowhere, and quickly, creepily, became an unnecessary and central part of North American culture. Definitely the perfect backdrop to a reunion with Matt. : )

  10. Reno Romero says:

    amanda: good morning. i love the work game. genius. marshmallow knock-offs…

    now, i’m used to all these cheap odd companies making butter donuts, pork rinds. it’s wild and i wouldn’t have it any other way. yes, amanda, the dollar stores are here to stay. they’re our everything.

    ok, remember to keep an eye on your window (s). those babies don’t fuck around and have the right to all your goodies. if they steal: not cool. but, if they “come upon” some deliciousness then, hey. what do you do when you come across deliciousness? see. that story is too funny.


    hey, we need to talk about that snake thing i owe you. some kind of story i was going to give to you like four yrs ago. anyhow, i’m gonna remind you on fb just in case you don’t get this. bye, miss amanda.


  11. Joe Daly says:

    If you ever meet JMB
    in a dollar store.
    I expect a very long and flowery
    piece about the whole

    I entered my first dollar store last year. I was meeting up with a bunch of friends for a bonfire or something, and I had to pick up pizzas and soda. The Dollar Store was across from the pizza joint, so off I went, expecting to find some cheap case of generic cola for a couple of bucks.


    No cases of anything. Just single cans of warm “Fred’s Cola” or some shit like that. Oh well.

    As I turned to leave, I finally noticed all the people around me. They seemed really angry- like everybody was wearing a game face for the dollar store. I still don’t know why, but that’s what was going down. Intimidated, I ran my ass out of there, retrieved the pizzas across the way, and stopped off at Rite Aid for the liquid crack.

    I don’t think I’ll ever go in a dollar store again. Thanks for saving me the trouble.

    Oh, and I’ll take that severed hand, if no one else does.

    • Reno Romero says:


      jesus, you must have found one of the shittiest dollar stores ever. they do vary. even though i’m late into the dollar store game i step in these fuckers to see what’s doing. i was in riverside the other day and found one just like yours. the only thing that i saw in the store that was interesting (well, kinda) was some woman with giant melons carrying a baby chihuahua. on the other hand there’s one right up the street from my pad and it’s awesome. it’s clean. they have delicious cookies and candy. i love it.

      if i ever run into 11 (and i sure hope one day that i do) i will definitely write about it. that’s after we have an air band jam. that fucker needs to hear my pipes…

  12. Jim Lyons says:

    Reno, I dig the dollar store, too. A guy I worked with bought a fake video camera for a buck. We hung it over our cash register. Guess what? No more $5 or $10 missi.g after each shift.
    You ready for some football, my brother? Hell yeah!!

    • Reno Romero says:

      Ha! Those fuckers fell for the ol’ fake camera trip, eh? Bunch of saps! Boneheads! Cheap chicken suckers! Dude, I’m football CRAZY. I fucking love it and I love you you dirty Michigan dawg! Lions right behind the Pack looking at the playoffs? Keep that QB on the field and on never knows. Ok, peace, bro. Miss you, man.

  13. Paula Austin says:

    Desert Boy:

    I shall borrow a quote from one of your previous stories. One that touched my heart.

    It’s the small things.

    It’s always the small things.

    Yet how easy it is to gloss over them and simply not see. To turn away. To try ‘not to sweat the small stuff’ and so to miss it altogether. The small stuff in: “This wonderful world.”

    The dollar store holds the small stuff. My small stuff. I grew up in a small town in the Appalachian hills of Eastern Kentucky. Not much of a town…with few stores. These consisted of a grocery, hardware, florist and pharmacy, or as we called it the drug store. But mind you, we had three dollar stores. The Family. The General. The Southern. What stores they were for a soul with a touch of creativity and less money than that touch allowed to create. So in an effort to push my design potential, (an inherent craving) and push creative methodologies I hacked dollar store items, designing, and building a variety of personal and home goods. All my purchased materials were acquired at the dollar store. What finds they were, a rich source for creativity….and I loved it. Especially the 99 cent a yard fabric that allowed for a great majority of my super cool trendy clothes.

    So in short I had a self taught course about creative design problem solving with a series of parameters uniquely presented by the Dollar Store finds. This mad place allowed the exploring of my ability for innovation to elevate the common to a bright and poetic place. I was able to employ a conscious awareness of such consumer goods, their value, and their potential. All from the unique so called Dollar Store offerings.

    So today being aware of the potential for and blessings offered from this source. I will be aware of and not miss out on the power of gratitude. The small things, the little things that brought wonderment to my life. That when we notice what we have to be thankful for in life – however small those things might be – we get closer to “flourishing.”

    So…it’s kind of like feeling the pulse of the everyday and how it can quicken your own pulse a bit. Seeing what’s going right. Getting up close to the small stuff that could otherwise slip by unnoticed and to really see it – embrace it – as the string of impossible mysteries that your life is made up of, moment to moment. To be awake and alive to it all. And then to allow the accompanying sense of gratitude or wonder of divinity, infuse right through you. To let it steep you like tea…

    Reno: What a rare soul you are. Talented. Creative. Heart felt. One who has eyes and love in his heart for the small things, the little things. The Matt’s..the severed arms…the pain…the brokenness…the Dollar Stores.

    So today, I’m grateful for the shadows in life.
    For finding wings in unexpected places.
    For sharing moments of divinity with a fellow traveller.
    And for the rare and divine offerings of the Dollar Store.

    Much love and admiration

    • Paula Austin says:

      …oh’, and

      If I ever meet JMB
      in a Dollar Store
      although I’ve
      never met him
      never seen him
      I’m sure..
      I would
      recognize him
      smell him
      his quill
      his ink
      his words
      would be
      floating through
      the place…

      Reno, sir,
      you are a
      beautiful beautiful

      • Reno Romero says:

        Wow, Paula. Well again your comment is better than the post itself. You know I’m really pleased my stuff appeals to you. I haven’t quite figured out why, but I’m just gonna go with it. It may sound cliche, but I’ve always found that the small things end up being the heavy things. They end up being the glue that keeps things together. At least that’s my experience. That’s why I listen a little longer, stay at the store a little longer. Don’t leave before the proverbial miracle happens. I’ve been doing this for years. No need to stop now. Can’t. Thanks for sharing your history. Amazing how our lives are shaped by our experiences. This is a good thing. A good small thing. Thanks again, Kentucky. Desert Boy is craving some ice cream. And solidude.

  14. SAA says:

    I miss having friends like this. We used to say the rudest things to each other and then everyone would just laugh about it. The more I like someone the ruder I behave towards them, for some weird reason.

    • Reno Romero says:

      Hey, I’m with you. If I like you then I say some stupid rude shit. I don’t know why. It’s a flaw. But I don’t care. Of course, you need a team player because not anyone can handle this type of talk.


      Matt used to say things like:

      “Reno how do you know you won’t like it? Don’t know if you don’t try it.”

      “Fine, Matt. Take me. But then it’s MY turn and it’s GONNA hurt. Ok? Because once I get on I don’t come off until I’m good and ready. Buckle yourself in fuckface.”

      See? Damn.

      Thanks for reading.

  15. Dollar stores… You’d think that after all my bullshit with Poundland I’d have actually visited a dollar store in America. But no, I didn’t. I guess I was too traumatized. I’m trying to think of the worst things we sold, or anything close to a severed hand. Hmm… Not deliberately, but with the safety standards in back of the store we probably had a severed finger or two floating around.

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