Monday, September 13, 2010

Call of the Thrift

It’s fall in Seattle. We got in on Friday and in Indiana it was still summer, so I didn’t feel bad about wearing white capris, even though it was after Labor Day. But then I looked around and people were in jeans. And sweaters. And UGG boots. So summer is over here for sure and I need to try to remember where I packed the woolens.

We’re still in the unpacking stage. Everything other than the CDs is out of boxes, but only about half of the items have told me yet where they’d like to live, so there is some chaos. Last night, some of my books insisted they wanted to live on one shelf and then, just as I settled into another project, they started chattering and insisting I move them to the other side of the room. They are very indecisive and self-involved.

This morning I had to drop off our rental car, where Tor, the manager, always greets me by name and makes me feel special. (I have close personal relationships with at least two of downtown Seattle’s car rental agents. Tor is the more sophisticated of the two. The other is called Johnny and looks and acts like Denis Leary if Denis Leary had jailhouse tattoos on his hands and rings on every finger.) There’s no story here. I share this description only for texture.

Before I took the car back, I stopped at the thrift store to drop off two bags of detritus that we don’t want but that seemed just this side of too good to throw away. When I got there, the store wasn’t open yet, so I pulled into the tiny lot and waited. Next to me was an old Toyota that had a Japanese man and his aged father-in-law in the front seat and the man’s wife in the back with a huge cardboard box. An eager older man with a sporty backpack stood at the door peering in. Periodically, someone would walk up, try the door, read the sign, and then back off sheepishly, as if they’d been tricked. I sat staring at the other sign reminding me that it is illegal to dump items and wondering if it would still be illegal when clearly the thrift workers had already arrived and so I wouldn’t technically be abandoning anything.

I had what I thought was déjà vu until I realized I was simply remembering waiting in line in the wee small hours outside of a Ticketmaster purveyor in the days before online ticket purchasing. Oh, the anxiety that came before those doors would open up. What if they never opened? What if someone tried to butt in line? Or, in the case of the Ticketmaster on my college campus, what if when the shade went up on the window the woman with only one arm was standing behind it? She was remarkably fast, typing with that one hand, but in a world where a single keystroke could make the difference between second or tenth row, we all desperately hoped it would be another two-handed someone taking our orders. The people outside this particular Capitol Hill thrift had that same desperate, slightly crazed look on their faces.

I had no real need to go inside and buy a set of mismatched plates or a globe on which half the countries have been renamed in the forty years since it was sold, but the agitation of the door-watchers led me to believe that something truly amazing had to be going on inside that shop today. When the door was finally unlocked, the ten or so people who had been waiting, rushed inside, including the ancient Japanese man who was propping himself up with a cane in one hand and his daughter’s arm in the other. I walked in and handed over my donation and perused the perimeter of the store, trying to see what everyone was so excited about. It looked exactly like it always does: a whole lot of dusty VHS tapes, banged up furniture circa 1980, some seriously worn out shoes, and a tangle of electronic equipment. Today, there was a table with some unopened bottles of peroxide for some reason, but other than that, nothing unusual. I poked at the handbags and considered one until I thought about how it used to belong to someone else and then I got kind of icked out and started toward the door. The guy at the counter thanked me for the donation and because he seemed friendly, I asked what the hubbub was about. Turns out, every Monday is like that because that’s the day the prices drop. I looked up just in time to see the ancient Japanese man pushing his new (old, dented, and dusty) wheeled walker. He had a massive smile on his face, like that single item had been calling to him earlier through that locked door. I can’t say why, but seeing his joy made me terribly happy.