Thursday, November 08, 2007

my new old favorite

The thing I love about thrifting, the reason I get itchy to get into a secondhand store if it's been too long (you know, like a week), is that I might find my new favorite fill-in-the-blank. I like things old and soft and full of stories. Sometimes the stories are my own. Years of use and close proximity make an item more dear to me. But this takes time. It takes a whole lot of turns through the washing machine before a new set of sheets are quite as smooth and fine as an old set. So sometimes the stories belong to someone else. I don't have to do the work to make it just right, it just is. Someone else kept it alive long enough for me to find it and appreciate it and I get to pick up the story from there. I might lead a dull enough life to admit that I find that part a fantastic mystery. I have lots of favorite things that became my favorite even before I picked them off a thrift store shelf, pulled them off a clothes rack. I spy the certain glint of color, a particular pattern, something that lets me know that whatever it is needs to live with me. Last week it was my new favorite shirt. Vintage polyester. Fits like I had it tailored especially, in that way old clothes always fit me better (long sleeves are too long for short arms these days). I got that thrilling buzz when I saw the pattern and the buttons and I held it up and knew it would fit just right. And it does.

new old shirt

And I can't touch on the subject of your grandma's polyester button-down without telling you about Rosa's Ropa Usada. It's late, though, and I'm tired and I'll have to settle with dredging up an excerpt from something I wrote years ago about the clothes-by-the-pound place where I went for a spell as an older teenager. I generally don't like to re-read things I've written. This is no exception. But it's been long enough that I can just pretend now that I was fulfilling a secret writing assignment to showcase the mighty Adjective. okay, then. from the archives:

If you've ever been to El Paso, TX (and if not this example will not require an undue amount of imagination. the city basically lives up to its dead end reputation) you will know that downtown, yards from the mighty Rio Grande and hollering distance to Mexico, is not a vibrant, happening place. I have been gone for many years, so perhaps there has since been revitalization or effort into validating the lives of those people and places, but at the time it was dark and dirty and forgotten. Rosa's inhabited the back end of one old warehouse. The building, like a sepia photograph in all its concrete grays and washed out rusty metals, appeared abandoned and lost. The entrance was, had it been a working warehouse, the loading dock. I would park my car near the steep concrete embankment and scramble up the the ledge. The overhead door would be open, for light and air circulation, and on hot days a huge commercial fan would sit there, aiming its powerful blow at the shadows inside. It was dark inside: I cannot say if it's dramatic recollection or if there truly were no lights inside, but I remember everything was dark. A swath of dust-infested sunbeams, filtering in from the sunny texan day outside, would only infiltrate the first several feet of that warehouse. I would walk in and blink, wait for my eyes to adjust to the dim. The sound from the loud fan would reverberate through the room, a cavernous space with concrete floors and impossibly high ceilings, and sometimes I'd also hear indistinct drippings, moist plips and plops that would invariably fall on me later. The entire interior was full of mounds of clothes. Giant piles, taller than me, some heaps balancing up near the top of the room, of old clothes. This was my first 'thrift store' experience. There were no sections, no racks, no standard of usability or cleanliness. Just a literal wasteland of old clothes, ripe for the picking at 25 cents a pound. I went often with my sister, we'd bond over shared guesses about the previous lives certain garments may have led. We'd climb to the top of a mound together, sit right down, and dig through as much as we could in arm's reach, and then crawl over a few feet and dig some more. We'd offer sympathy when one would stick a hand, unknowingly, into something wet or sticky. It was addictive, and since there was no hope of ever digging through all of it, we'd have to set time limits on our visits. I found myself going alone, while she was in school. I discovered an affinity for small men's polyester pullovers, and would keep my eye out for the snug, vintage t-shirts my sister favored. At the end of each hunt, we'd load our finds onto a big commercial scale near the door, watch the needle waiver and then settle on a number, and then fork over the final cost of our scores, usually a few bucks. We'd stuff my hatchback full of the clothes, and would drive home with the windows open, encouraging the bulk of the musky stink to dissipate. Everything was washed in hot, hot water once home. Sometimes there were casualties: polyester dresses that exited the wash, a broken, brittle mess. But, most things were fine, with a few good spins through the washer, and my wardrobe expanded exponentially. Ah, good times. I still thrift shop. I value discovering someone else's discarded thing as my new treasure, love knowing that the things I appreciate can rarely be purchased new. But, the asceptic, almost sterile environment (comparably, you know) of the Goodwills and Value Villages seem much more on par with mall shopping, their carts and fluorescent lights and lines at the check-out counter.


Lisa said...

Okay. I've got a question. What kind of hatchback did you have?

april. said...

ford escort!

Lisa said...

Mine was a Honda Accord. It was going to be way too weird if we had the same hatchback too!

Holland Elli said...

That made me go back... What I would do to climb on top of another moist pile of clothes!It makes me sad that I think I only have one item that is still around.