Sunday, February 14, 2010
Thrift Store Days
I'm reading David Sedaris' book "When You Are Engulfed in Flames," and like all David Sedaris books, it's hilarious. One of his essays dealt with living in a bizarre rooming house during his college years, with a landlady who liked antiques and wore Bakelite jewelry and veiled hats.
It reminded me of my own college years, when I was a dedicated thrift store shopper. I bought virtually everything from Goodwill or the Salvation Army, including clothing, books, records, huge sets of dishes I assembled from individually purchased stray pieces, and pieces of wiry 1950s or '60s furniture. I would go thrifting with friends and spend entire days driving around West Florida, anywhere from Gainesville to Fort Myers and inland to Orlando. My thrifting territory was immense.
I developed a soft spot for a zooty china pattern called "Cathay" by Taylor, Smith and Taylor (still readily available on eBay). At one point I had enough of this china to serve 16 people, imagining that I might eventually have a big dinner party. Now I know myself better, and know it's unlikely I'd ever serve more than four people at a time!
Because it was the mid-'80s, many of the used books I found were from the '60s and '70s. This is where I first developed a fascination for Jacqueline Susann -- the thrift shops were full of her books, particularly lesser ones like "Dolores." I also found lots of classics, and I even read them. Some of my thrift shopping had actual educational value!
I also had some favorite independent thrift stores. There was a store in South Tampa called McMother's Celestial Junk that was pretty entertaining, though I only remember buying one item there because it was a bit expensive, relative to a Goodwill. (What was that item? An ashtray. I collected ashtrays briefly, even though I never seriously smoked.) There were some vintage stores in Ybor City, the old Latin quarter near downtown Tampa, that were also pretty cool -- LaFrance, which is still there, and Sweet Charity -- but again, they could be pricey.
I suppose young people are drawn to thrift shopping as a way to express individuality, to define and distinguish themselves from their peers. Trying on someone else's old clothes is like trying on different identities. For me, it was also a great way to bond with certain like-minded friends, like Suzanne and Kevin, or Paul and Karl. I spent some of the best days of my youth exploring thrift stores and flea markets with them.
As I've mentioned before, when I went into the Peace Corps, at 25, I boxed up all my accumulated stuff and stored it at my Mom's house. When I came home more than two years later, I began unpacking it and thought, "What IS all this?" I was 28, and by then I didn't feel the same need to hoard other people's old stuff. I began giving nearly everything away, or selling it, a process that could be agonizing at times but eventually came as a huge relief.
I still like thrift stores, and I pick up an odd item now and then. But my thrift shopping days are few and far between -- nothing like the recreation they provided way back when. I'm glad I was shopping at Goodwill rather than the mall. Can you imagine the money I saved, the debt I avoided? Whew!