Monday, January 26, 2015

The Junk Man

If you told me at age 10 I would be making regular rounds of thrift stores when I was 43, I would say you've misread my genes. At least four summers of going up to see my aunt and uncle in New England and getting dragged to more antique places than a technically-oriented child should bear should argue against any affinity for collectables. Most other families would go to Disney World.

"But we took you there," the Queen Mother once reminded me when I gently reminded her of some past family vacations, the way kids do when they're quietly scratching some old itches. "And we took you to Williamsburg," she added. All true. But that came after all those voyages into the past, many years before I would dive into history.

When you're young, you're not thinking about that quilt that will look cute in the den, with that chair, or that dry-sink that can go in the dining room, or that pewter mug that will look good on a shelf somewhere. When you have a room, not a home, and your thoughts are on growing up, not growing old, what's past is not a part of your present.

But the antique shop of my youth is nothing like the thrift store of my middle age -- a place where I can score, save, and repurpose. My thesis is people can't tell $100 slacks from a $10 pair from Walmart. Eventually those pricey slacks end up donated to Goodwill or Savers, and that's when they find their way into my hands for five bucks a pair. Nobody knows.

Here is where the Queen Mother cringes at her gainfully-employed son living like he's on welfare.

"I'm going over to Goodwill," I tell her one time while visiting home in California and looking to make my "junk run" as I call it.

"Christopher, if you need clothes," she begins, wary and a bit alarmed.

"The bookstore, mother, the bookstore!" I clarify with authority.

Down the street from Francis Western Command sits a Goodwill bookstore, where yesterday's bestsellers go for pennies on the dollar. But I'm not looking for a cooled hot novel; I'm trying to see if there's any fairly recent volumes on Microsoft Visual Basic.

Old textbooks never die. They just go to the thrift store, and it is where I have picked up several cheap tomes to add to my historical and technical knowledge base. A coursebook that once sold for $50 is going for $4.99, or less if I pick up at Savers on one of their customer appreciation days.

If I need comfortable, broken in shorts, I'm heading for the clothing rack. And I'm always on the lookout for historic garb. After a day of poking around Bisbee and Sierra Vista looking for hidden treasures, I made an outside chance stop at a thrift shop and picked up a Medieval tunic for less than ten bucks. I was looking to put together a Renaissance outfit, and I'd just made the deal of the century. Whoever threw it out probably didn't knew what they had. Doing some Internet research among period clothiers, it has to be worth at least $50.

But the quintessential thrift store is Bookmans -- one of Tucson's treasures. It's the store where you can bring in a stack of magazines and trade up to a DVD. You can sell old stereo equipment for a shelf full of books, trade CD's to your heart's content, and get retro game systems on the cheap. It's the place to go if you need a good used guitar, or if you're looking to invest in a synthesizer without breaking the bank. I once salivated over a Yamaha DX7 someone pawned, only passing on it because I can't play as well as I can dream. It sat in Bookmans for a month, and I'm surprised it lasted that long.

"It's just too expensive anymore," Madame Sherri reassures me when I talk about shopping second-hand, and how others shake their heads at me when I tell them about it. Both of us are used to living frugally.

You won't see me buying wooden candle holders or ceramic trinkets. But I've gotten mileage out of a discarded TV set and wooden hangers.

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