Full Thrift Fu JacketJanuary 8, 2010
I’ve stayed out of the thrift shops so far this week, mulling over a large, unnecessary but incredible expense, yet Thrift Fu stalks me nevertheless. As I walked from the train to my apartment Monday evening I found an item I needed: a two-shelf glass display case simply dropped at the corner of Fulton and Spencer. It needs to be cleaned like you wouldn’t believe & the side is cracked, held together with duct tape, but neither matters: it’s now a key component in my toy robot shrine. I’ll be putting more delicate & valuable items inside (some of them Thrift Fu finds themselves), and I’ve replaced a missing door with a grate from the extant shrine scaffolding to keep my young, curious, destructive cat out. I may install the blacklight tube I’ve had long dormant inside for a cool effect, and it adds two shelves to the entire affair, not to mention a more formal air. Pictures when it’s worth sharing.
I should at this early stage in the game detail exactly how it is that Thrift Fu made itself aware to me. As I said before, it was in the summer of 1999. I was still living in my little college town in Wisconsin that was at one point both an industrial hub and a daytrip destination, but by the time I got there it was neither any longer. What is was, according to scuttlebutt, was the axis of regional illegal narcotics trade. Better by far than the next major town north, which had the dubious reputation as the Midwestern capitol of the KKK. I had been working since that February as a telephone bill collector, a nasty business for which I showed surprising aptitude, and had just finished up co-professoring a course in comic & animation semiotics. (I should note that I was not the TA, as I was indeed under contract to the college for the semester; I did in fact teach the bulk of the classes, having greater fluency in the topic than the tenured professor in charge.) I lived across the street from my office in a chilly, ramshackle railroad apartment directly over a redneck poolhall, which later became a disappointingly tepid crafting store.
During the school year, my girlfriend more or less lived with me, but she had gone home to her native land of Finland for the summer. We’d shared a ratty single bed for that whole year, & I was determined to make my piss-poor surroundings more amenable to her company, so I decided to buy a queen sized bed. I checked the Salvation Army Thrift Store near the supermarket I frequented, but their prices were unusually sky high, or perhaps they had none in stock; I forget which.
(A detour: it was at that Sally Ann that I found my “costume” two years before for an annual event known as “Dress To Get Laid.” It was a navy blue, corduroy, bell-bottomed, snug-fitting, wide-lapelled, zippered from the neck to the crotch jumpsuit. I wore it mostly open with a coupla faux gold chains & a medallion across my hairy chest and told people I was the Lost Bee-Gee. It was the one time that party lived up to its billing for me. Down the road, it looked even better when my girlfriend rocked it, hugging her curves and opened just enough to showcase her impressive cleavage. Perhaps that was the true first manifestation of Thrift Fu, but I was unaware of it at that time.)
Foiled at my usual haunts, my one co-worker of equally outré tastes, if not more so, drove me to a smaller thrift shop on the opposite side of the river that ran through town. There were plenty of cheap mattresses to be had, and though I’m only slightly less squeamish about sleeping on another’s bed than I am in wearing someone else’s underwear, my ardor for my girlfriend trumped any concern, real or imagined. I’d found one that looked sufficiently unsullied, and was getting ready to pay, when it caught my eye. I quite visibly froze and drooled.
To be more specific, a Berman’s leather motorcycle jacket. I have never owned a motorcycle, and though the image of shooting through late night Manhattan atop a sleek, growling two-wheeler is fucking badass and sexy, I very much doubt I ever will own one. Hell, I’ve barely ever rode one. But this jacket was the next best thing. Both retro and futuristic, with a side-zipper, buckles, ribbed padding, the works. The shop owner reckoned it was worth up to $500, but he was asking a measly $20. Best of all, at a size 42, it fit me to a T, and was sooo warm. I was in love.
And yet, I had a mission at this store, and after the $40 I was spending on the mattress, I couldn’t eat another $20 on top of it. I sadly, reluctantly took it off and hung it back up, concluded my business, and hauled my mattress back to my warren. At least I had the greater surface area of my bed to console me, and soon enough I’d have a happy girlfriend to go with it.
Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about the jacket. It preoccupied me while I strong-armed money out of poor area bastards all day. Thus it should come as no surprise that as soon as I got my next paycheck, I booked it across the river to that same thrift shop. I exploded through the door, sought out the rack I’d seen it on…
…and it wasn’t there.
Of course it wasn’t there. It had been two weeks, and a jacket that shit-hot wasn’t going to wait patiently for me to return to claim it; some other lucky bastard snatched it up and was looking quite the dashing sort rather than me. Deflated, I began slinking towards the door, next to which was the counter where the same owner sat in front of a “20% Off Everything Today!” sign.
Clinging to a shred of hope, I looked up at him. “Hi. I don’t know if you recall, but I was in a couple weeks ago buying a mattress.”
“Yep, I remember you,” he replied, sensing a question.
“Oh, cool. Well, there was this brown leather motorcycle jacket hanging over there that I was really into. It’s not there now, so I’m guessing you’ve sold it by now…”
“Nope.” His eyes twinkled.
“I said, nope. I didn’t sell it.” He stood up, got a step stool and reached up over the cabinets above the counter. “I saw that you wanted it, and I knew that you’d be coming back for it, so I put it aside for you.” And with that, he pulled the jacket off the cabinet.
I was stunned. My entire sense of reality collapsed. I couldn’t speak; whenever I tried, I sputtered random syllables, so bad was my cognitive dissonance. “B… but, but you couldn’t have known I’d be back for it!” I finally choked out. “You could’ve SOLD this!”
“I knew, and I am selling it. To you.”
The price tag I’d seen was gone. I remembered it said $20, but did he? “Um, um, okay. So, uh, how much is this gonna be?”
He remembered. “It’s $15.” He remembered, and cited me an even lower price than it had been priced at before.
Just how far could I push this? I pointed to the sign behind him. “Does that apply?”
He made a show of looking behind him, though he knew full well what it read. He understood that this was a ritualistic dance, and he needed to give me every thrill of victory. “Of course.”
I walked out of that shop with the baddest fucking $500 motorcycle jacket, saved just for me without any conscious intent on my behalf, for a mere $12.
That summer, I sensed something was different; machinery was in motion and forces were at work on me. I began visiting thrift stores and yard sales more often when finances allowed (and sometimes even when not). At one yard sale, I managed to charm a family into selling me a functional Atari 2600, with two extra controllers and a 25 game library, for $15. This was mere months before the retro videogaming boom exploded, and nowadays the system itself would go for no less than $80. I still have it.
In August, my girlfriend returned from Finland and promptly broke up with me. By April 2000 I’d found a job back in New York; when I moved, I abandoned the mattress on which I’d never got to sleep with her, along with the rest of my hopes and dreams where she was concerned. The item I’d specifically sought out was the one which turned out to be the most disposable, while those that Fate had delivered into my hands were the ones that are still with me over a decade later. The jacket’s potency is no diminished; while moving several years back, a carload of teens pulled up just to ask me how much pussy the jacket had got me and whether they could buy it off me. They could not.
All praise be to Thrift Fu. Let go and trust it, and it will provide.