Hey Macklemore, Can We Go Thrift Shopping? (an unedited piece of creative nonfiction)
Yellow. Green. Purple.
I’ve repeated these colors in my head more times than I really remember. The colors change, so many variations. Sometimes pink or orange or blue find their way in there. The colors change, dancing around each other week by week, sale day by sale day. The orange and pink tags used to be nearly identical—even the girls working the register couldn’t tell the difference sometimes. A minor inconvenience at best; cheating us out of the half-price sale at worst.
Entering the 2nd Avenue Village Thrift on Sundays became second nature for my mom and I. Items with one of three different tag colors dropped to half-price, and another two colors became a consolation 33% off. What a weird fucking number most people think when they first see the sign announcing this sale. Then they think, oh shit, I need to remember these colors, and the repetition starts—a new mantra for the hour or so you shop.
Green. Blue. Orange.
Of course, it hardly ever matters what the colors are—you’ll buy whatever catches your eye anyway. And the racks are hardly ever actually stocked with the sale colors. The store lures you in with the promise of sale, but everything is priced just cheaply enough that you accept the deception and keep shopping.
I remember the first time Mom brought me with her. She’d built it up for weeks. “You have to come with me, they have so much stuff.” She would pause and then add, “there’s a book section.” That’s what finally lured me in. The first time entering the Village is a surreal experience. The store is vast and filled with racks of clothing that are somewhat organized, but an ever changing floor plan recreates that first disorientation ever few months. Aside from the size of the store, the first thing that truly catches your attention is the sheer amount of people milling about from aisle to aisle.
There are several types of people who frequent the Village. The first are mothers and fathers of small children there seeking out cheap clothing and toys, among whatever else for themselves. They let their children run free or scream or incessantly press buttons on some toy that makes excruciating noise. The wails of tiny, plastic firetrucks travel surprisingly well throughout the store. The second type are people who just don’t care. It’s as though their life’s mission is to be as much of an inconvenient asshole who is completely unaware of their surroundings as possible. They will cut you off in an aisle and then proceed to walk as painfully slowly as they are capable of doing. They will block entire aisles with their cart and give you a dirty look if you say “excuse me” or push it just so slightly to the side so that you might slip around it.
The third type of person is my mom. She’s made a sort of career out of thrift shopping, except the only money she makes is what she saves by not buying these items from retail. “We don’t need that,” I’ve told her on so many occasions. “But it’s on sale!” she insists every time, as if spending money on a discounted item is the same as just literally saving her money.
She circulates the store as if her life depends on finding a Pyrex bowl or Life is Good t-shirt before someone else. Maybe I do the same now, but my priorities are different. Where she starts in the housewares, I head straight for the books and CDs. I scour the shelves looking for specific titles I haven’t yet found anywhere else and other books that just catch my attention. I search the CDs looking for that elusive Fearless: Platinum Edition Taylor Swift CD and albums from other artists I enjoy. While I do this, she searches the housewares for Pyrex or Corelle and then on to towels or shower curtains or sheet sets. We converge in the clothes, and almost like clockwork she asks, “what were today’s colors?”
Pink. Purple. Green.
I repeat them easily enough, most days. Sometimes I have to circle around and crane my neck to glance the television screen hanging from the ceiling and proclaiming the colors.
“Figures. Nothing in the cart is any of those,” Mom says, exasperated as if this is unusual.
“I know,” I answer in sympathy.
We go about our business, searching the clothes for whatever, really. I’m on a 90s kick. She thinks most things I pick up would look good on her. Most of our trips end in a metaphorical tug of war over at least one item. That’s the curse of being the same size as your mother, especially when both of you have an entitled stubbornness that seems to be inherent in our family. I’ve been told all Greek people are stubborn like that; I’m not sure if that makes it better or worse.
I’ve spent so much of my life in thrift stores with my mother. Whether it was Goodwill’s long dead Dollar Days on Wednesdays, or the half price sales at the Village. Saturday mornings were spent driving around neighborhoods for yard sales where we either wouldn’t find anything we wanted or would find ridiculous armfuls of items. It’s become a game for us: who can find the most, the best, the newest, the nicest.
“Where do we want to go?” Mom will ask in the mornings, and I know she’s most likely thinking in terms of thrift shops. “There’s Old Town,” she suggests, referring to the little downtown area of Fredericksburg right next to the University of Mary Washington. Mom always tells me she wishes I had chosen to go there for school, but I’m not sure if it’s because she misses me or she misses thrift shopping with me. At this point, I’m not sure if there’s a distinction between the two—especially since more or less, that’s all we do.
Sometimes it’s tedious. You can only go into the same store so many times in the span of a week or two before you stop seeing new items and finding the excitement in the search. But in the end, I’m glad for it. Thrift shopping is an art if you’re good at it. You have to search through thousands of items to find one good thing, sometimes. After all that searching, that one thing is a reward. Life isn’t simple. You have to search for what you want and persevere until you get it.
#Writing #Nonfiction #CreativeNonfiction #ShortStory #Unedited