I’m a thrift store junkie. It’s the thrill of the hunt. My heart beats a little faster when I find an Eileen Fisher skirt that appears brand new (retail price over $200) for $4.99. If it’s Monday or Thursday there’s an additional 25 percent off. I’m not exaggerating—I have found things like this recently. Sometimes I’ll buy something for my sister just because my conscience won’t let me leave an incredible bargain like that in the store. And then there is the occasional discovery of pieces of vintage Mexican pottery for $1.99 each. Or maybe 40 pieces of Polish pottery for $40 on a Thursday when I got the extra 25 percent off. I live for those moments. So a lot of my clothes and home furnishings have come from thrift stores. Yes, thrift stores can be disgusting—filthy floors, stinky used vacuum cleaners, whining kids who were kept home from school because they’re sick. Heaven help you if you need to use the bathroom. Toilet paper is a rarity. One of the places where I go doesn’t even have toilet seats. That's why God invented hand sanitizer.
The merchandise is an adventure in itself but I’ve also seen a lot of strange human behavior in thrift stores. Like the woman in the shoe department who was trying on a panty girdle—a panty girdle with enhanced butt pads that I suppose would give you that Brazilian butt lift look. (Yes, they sell used underwear at thrift stores. I do not buy used underwear in case you were wondering.) The woman put on the girdle, decided it did nothing for her derriere, took it off, and left it on a shoe rack. Oh, well . . . guess you just don’t know about these things until you try them on.
I saw a man in a Salvation Army store scanning books with an electronic device. I understand the devices tell you whether a book has any resale value. He culled through the books and selected a couple of grocery bags full of books. Then he walked out of the store with the books with nary a wave to the cashier. Oh, well . . . guess he doesn’t know there’s a special place in hell for people who steal from the Salvation Army. He’s probably the same guy who robbed one local bell-ringer at Christmas.
The thrift store I go to most often does not have fitting rooms. The regulars know to wear leggings and tank tops to try things on. Or they wiggle into the racks of clothes to try to conceal themselves to try on those Lucky jeans. Isn’t it amazing how some women who should be wearing XXXL stretch pants will try to squeeze into a pair of size 4 jeans if the price is right?
My beloved daughter-in-law was here from Seattle over the Christmas break. She’s fearless and loves thrift stores too. So, while they were here, as a twisted rite of passage we took my 7-year-old granddaughter to Unique, the biggest, cheapest, grungiest thrift store in the area. We found wondrous things—a down jacket with a fur collar for my daughter-in-law and lots of clothes for the kids, including a Tin Tin in Vietnam t-shirt that my granddaughter loves. Awesome find! Perhaps even an epic find.
So we’re in the children’s section, intensely searching the racks, barely aware of what’s going on around us. My daughter-in-law looks up, turns her cart to walk in the opposite direction and says, “Too much skin. Way too much skin.”
I hadn’t noticed. There was a man—not a teenager, not an old man, somewhere close to middle-age range—standing bare chested in front of a mirror at the end of a rack in the little girls’ section. Mind you, it was cold outside, kind of a slushy-snowy day, and the man had nothing on above his waist. Apparently he was trying on shirts. We tried to ignore him but he was occupying the one section of the store we had not yet explored. As if the bare chest wasn’t enough, he then stripped down to his underpants to try on pants. Not tasteful, discreet underpants that a man might be wearing in the aisle at say . . . Neiman Marcus . . . but grubby multi-colored jockey underpants. They might even have been bikini briefs—honestly, it wasn’t something I wanted to examine closely. We made our way around him. He had thrown piles of clothes on the floor, like some sort of stoner with Grateful Dead posters on the wall. Except, it wasn’t his bedroom, remember—it was the little girls’ department in a store.
My daughter-in-law asked if we should do something about the nearly naked man. Should we report him? I doubt there is any security in the thrift store. I imagined them making an announcement just like they always do when they announce special sales, first in English, then repeated in Spanish. But I have never heard them say, “Good afternoon. Thank you for shopping at Unique Thrift Store. Would the naked man in the children’s department please put on some pants? And have a nice day.”