A first person account of a day spent thrift shopping–written probably ten years ago. I’m putting it up because, aside from being alone as much as i want these days, it’s still that same feeling to go to a thrift store.
I’ve spent today doing what I like to, instead of what I have to. This is because I am alone. Me, alone. I am never alone. Imagine me, alone. Just imagine you’re me, and you wake up and you know you’re going to be alone.
I start the day by dropping off Oldest at a long rehearsal, and then get myself some coffee and go to the Union Gospel Thrift Store. It’s always been a waste of time to go to Union Gospel. They have the worst crap ever. I go for sociological reasons, I tell myself, I go to see the abandoned detritus of every pointless garage sale in my neighborhood, arranged and priced as if anyone anywhere would ever buy it, and the secret hope that any thrifter has, which is that she will find treasure.
First, there’s the building. I believe at one point this was a waterbed store. Do any of you remember waterbed stores? Well, I do, I remember the waterbed as you will all remember the futon when everyone abandons those. At least waterbeds were comfortable. The building is concrete-floored and hangar-sized, with high, bright florescent lights that buzz unmercifully and a back loft reached by two staircases made out of what looks like heavily bolted waterbed wood. This is one sturdy building, which makes sense when you think that at one point they probably had a hundred full waterbeds on display.
I love to think of those days, the heyday of the waterbed, all burnt-edged and mirror-hutched. I spent them drinking too much and finishing high school, completely unaware of what my life was going to be. I lived in the moment. But those days are over, along with feathered hair and perms and aviator-shaped wire rim glasses and A Smile and Gelato pants and disco dancing. We are back to the present, we are not in a waterbed emporium, we are at the Union Gospel Thrift Store, facing life after the End of Waterbeds. And I am the only customer in this enormous building.
Contemporary Christian music blares out over the junk, and the walls are hung with Praise banners. There is also a big sign telling me that there is a sale going on, in which everything over the price of five dollars is half price. Wow. I look around, and realize it won’t make a lick of difference. No one is going to buy anything. Union Gospel is one of the few thrift stores that will take old sofas, and so they always have lots of those, sagging, flattened, faded, filthy sofas with price signs that say “10.00 Flat!” on them. What is “flat”? Even the books are bad, because they won’t sell anything supernatural or racy, due to the overwhelming religious sensibilities of the Union Gospel Mission. For this same reason they will not sell anything Halloween-related.
I carefully, slowly, langorously inspect the offerings, which are too pathetic to describe in any detail. It is a graveyard of ugly clothing, spotted mattresses, rejected dinettes, early American wood veneer hutches, and wall art that is too dated to grace the bathroom wall of a Grocery Outlet. But I look at it, because, you know, there might be treasure. I inspect the television cabinets, hoping one will be right for my personal papers, but of course they are all wretched. I even look at the luggage, looking for an old piece of Samsonite, you know the kind, with the satin pouches and grogain ties inside. But no luck. No treasure.
Under one set of stairs, I see a painted booth erected for trying on clothes. It has a latch and a mirror and a sign about not bringing merchandise other than clothing in, while trying on. Since the stairs are just treads, not risers, it has a ceiling on it. I cannot imagine trying on clothing in it, even on the off chance that I found something worth trying on in the racks. It looks like an outhouse. But I never look at clothes at thrift stores, so it’s only an object of passing interest.
I walk up one of the wide, sturdy waterbed furniture staircases, and I look at the books, which are as bad as usual, though I note with interest that they have separated the “Man authors” from the “Woman authors” and alphabetized accordingly. Is this a new thing, the sexual segregation of reading material? Whose idea was this, I want to ask? But the ragged man slamming videos into the table that is already stuffed with videos (Uncle Buck, Curly Sue) doesn’t invite conversation about the sorting methods utilized there at the Union Gospel Mission Thrift Store.
I can’t even find the housewares, which I am only trying to find because I’m hoping there will be a super-heavy vintage Revere soup pot, the big size. Oldest ruined mine a couple of years ago and I still haven’t gotten over it. I finally find what appears to be the kitchenwares corner, but it’s predominantly filled with airpots for hot beverages. I count 14 of them there in the corner. 14 airpots, and not one vintage Revere soup pot.
I go back down the other massive wooden stairs, and make my way to the front of the store, where the woman who works the cashier desk is making the popcorn while singing along to the song on the PA system, which I have never heard before. This music is as meaningless to me as the buzzing of the lighting. “Bye,” I say to her, and “Have a good day,” she replies. Which she seems to mean, so it makes me smile.
I make my way down the highway to Value Village, because I have no treasure. None. And perhaps I’ll find some there.
Value Village used to be a Safeway, and it is large, clean, well-lit, with nice booths for trying on clothing and a clean bathroom. They used to sell popcorn, but they don’t anymore, which is fine. Popcorn breaks my teeth. I have a definite circuit in Value Village, which is: dishes, housewares, furniture, books. They never have any books. Value Village (or “Savers,” if you live in another state) buys their stuff by the ton from Goodwill, and I think Goodwill is not letting them buy books anymore, so I never find anything there. But I find two glasses that match my glasses, which is great because my glasses are always disappearing, so I snag those, and then I find a pretty throw pillow for my pretty bed (my bed is really pretty, if I haven’t already mentioned this ten times, it’s very pretty), so I snag that.
And then while perusing lamps, I see a vintage typewriter and it’s really cool, and it makes me think about a lovely chat friend turned blog friend who adores typewriters, but the truth is it weighs a ton and I have nowhere to put it and if I move this fall, I’ll have to move this. But it’s a good price, and a cool thing, so I make myself a deal. I will advance it until I have to use the return lever, and if it dings, I’ll buy it. The dinger does not ding. So I leave it there for someone like my friend to find, someone who really loves it and wants it and will know how to fix the dinger, as opposed to someone like me who recognizes that it’s wonderful but does not really want to own it.
And then I cruise past the luggage, always hoping because well, you never know, and yes, there it is. The treasure. It’s a large mottled ivory piece of real Samsonite. I set down my glasses and my throw pillow and I swing the suitcase up on a pile of mattresses to pop the shiny brass latches, you know the kind, they are pointed at each end and you pull the lower point towards you and they pop out and up, and they both work. There is a Samsonite shield near the lock, and the initials of the original owner, AFC, as well. The interior is intact, all the taffeta lining, the ruched divider, the side pockets with their ruffles and elastic, the plastic bar to hold things down. It’s perfect and lovely and it’s marked at 6.99.
SIX NINETY NINE!!!!
A find like this can keep a woman thrifting for hours. A find like this is what drew me out to the thrift stores, to be honest, because I’d stopped by the Salvation Army “Boutique” after work last night, hoping to find a vintage jewelry box for my sister. I didn’t, but I found an old frame for an old photo I already have of a towheaded child with a Prince Valiant haircut dressed in white lawn and kid maryjanes (the first name is written across the bottom of the photo–“Cleo” something–I still can’t tell if Cleo is a boy or a girl, but I love the photo), and then I found another framed sepia photo of a small graduating class in 1920-something, three rows of somber boys and girls holding rolled (I think grade school) diplomas, and then I found three old wind-up alarm clocks, three, all ivory painted metal and faded brown dials with a million keys and levers on the backs, for 3.99 each, and I bought all three and brought them home and it’s the lingering memory of last night’s finds that has brought me out today, and it could keep me thrifting all day, it’s what keeps the slots-player plugging in the coins after the jackpot has been hit, the card player meeting the ante after a spectacular hand, it’s the desire for another hit, and I could circle thrift stores all day hoping for another find like this suitcase or that Big Ben and its two lovely wind-up companions, and never find one more thing worth buying.
But I am saved from this fruitlessness by a call from Youngest. She’s awake and where am I and would I please bring her a biscuit? Of course. And so I leave the treasure hunting for the day, and return home to give her a hug and a biscuit, and listen to her make fun of her hair and hear about a very lame party she went to the night before, and then I watch her leave, leaving me alone in my home, alone, alone. I am blissfully alone to listen to music, sort out my jewelry box, work some more on my new short story, listen to CDs at any volume I like, eat Brussells sprouts for lunch, mend the broken legs on a horse netsuke, and prepare two big quiche for Sunday dinner tomorrow.
Oh, it’s a nice day. When it rains I feel cozy, and then the sun breaks through, I feel euphoric. I have listened to Brandi Carlile, and William Topley, and Mindy Smith’s newest, and now with the Ryan Adams. And you should see the suitcase.
It’s treasure, I tell you, treasure.