Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Neighborhood Thrift-Store Adventures
by Jessica Delfino

On the upper east side, where I share a tiny non-air conditioned apartment in sin with a man, a thrift store lives in the basement of a giant church, just a block away from me. In this thrift store, there is super shit for cheap because it is owned and operated by the church, and just in case you're wondering, the church doesn't need your money. It's independently wealthy. God owns it, and God's rich. The store is supplied by the good people (also rich, but not as rich as God) who attend the church. They drop off their old Gap, Members Only, Levi, Bandolino, Sassoon, Banana Republic (with that old red label) and Anne Klein skorts, denim blouses, pleather belts, kimonos, one piece bathing suits and cooking aprons in plastic bags, outside the door late at night, tied tightly so the homeless people can't break into them. Sometimes, they'll even slip a secret treasure in there - a pair of vintage Showoffs heels, Gucci sunglasses, an Adrien Vittadini skirt, navy and white striped, for some nice girl who they hope will change their ways to fancy and cleanly when they find God through their gently used hand-me-downs.

Though it sounds like heaven under church on Earth, it has a gripping similarity to hell, based on more than location alone.

I hate to nitpick, actually I don't, but the thrift shop sign lies. The sign says they open at 12, but they have not once been open at 12. The sign says they close at 6, at 4:45 they're ushering you out the door, like this: "OK, we're closing! Everyone has to get out now!" Even though the sales clerk did let me slide a quarter on my $4 purchase when I told him I only had $3.75, he didn't do it happily. I guess even God gets pissed when the till is short.

A lot of the clothes are not washed when they are handed in. They are stained with God knows what, not buyer knows what. Though you can get a good deal in the dingy, air conditioned, musty-odored thrift store, you don't just stumble upon it. You have to dig. With a shovel. You have to cram yourself in between old ladies and fight for a glimpse at a blouse that you wouldn't even want to look at if they weren't making such a big deal over it. You have to smile and wait while an enormous lady takes her time poring over skirts her size 15 years ago. You either have to go in with an idea in mind of what you are looking for, or absolutely no idea at all. You can't go with an in-between! It's hopeless that way.

One time, an asian lady and myself were racing through the shoes to find the best pairs, then shuffling maybe's away into our coats to protect them from eachother. To the other, we were vultures who eyed eachother's merchandise and waited for the other to drop one shoe. It only took me 45 minutes of intensive archaeological digging to unearth THE PAIR from piles of the ancient ruins of second hand clothing that'd been there so long they were practically small mountains of dust. The shoes I found were so Godly, so lady like, if God were a woman, he would wear these shoes. They were as fine as the church, if not, finer. I held them up to the light. I bit the heel to check if it was real. I sniffed the leather, I don't know why. I was sure. These shoes were going to change my life. I was glad I'd saved them from some other foot, rescuing them from the shoe pound where they would surely have gotten old and died alone. As I got to the counter, I decided I didn't even want them, anyway.

That's the thing with shopping a lot of times. I only want what other people want more.

As I left the thrift store, I felt really good about not purchasing the shoes. I thought about all the other things I could buy with that $4 - a cool glass of iced tea to chill my tongue and teeth on that stuffy summer day; a Time Out NY magazine, brimming with fun activities and events all over the city; a fine cuppette of Tasty-D, swirled even, if I so decided; but in the end, I walked to this other thrift store that isn't below a church and splurged every penny of the $4 on a pair of fire engine red heels, circa 1986.

Sometimes money is meant to be wasted.

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