The Housing Works in mysterious waysFebruary 11, 2010
Again, I must apologize for my lax attitude in updating this blog. I have still been restricting my thrift store visits in expectation of large expenditures, plus my job’s hours have been changed, which may curtail how much overtime I can get. Also, as I wrote in the previous entry, I’ve become more aware that in order to justify this blog, it must go beyond a mere laundry list of acquisitions and how much I paid and saved on them, and instead find the story in the hunt and those inherent in the items themselves.
But, as the saying goes, if you don’t play, you can’t win, and likewise, if I don’t engage with Thrift Fu, it won’t speak to me. But you won’t necessarily win every time you play. In the past month I’ve visited my local Salvation Army and, with a will you wouldn’t believe, I forced myself to put back a stack of CDs, including music collection essentials like The Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique and Björk’s Debut. Likewise, on a trip to my local Goodwill I decided against the soundtrack of Hedwig & The Angry Inch and an XL short-sleeved button-down shirt emblazoned with an anime-style samurai type.
If you look at those two examples, you’ll notice a commonality. No, not CDs, you boobies. They were both LOCAL. These are the thrift stores I ALWAYS hit. I’ve been lapping myself.
A week ago Friday I was picking my nephew up from school with the intent of taking him to a movie after his tai kwon do class, all on the Upper West Side, which is outside my normal path of travel. My nephew was asserting his tastes and plans in movies which, being not yet 10, are at times questionable. (I am willing to sit through a lot of crap to hang out with my nephew. The Tooth Fairy wasn’t one of them.) Upon arrival at his class, he realized that he’d left his gloves at school, and granted me permission to go retrieve them on his behalf; how gracious of him. His school, when I returned, had already locked up the room from which I’d picked him up, and the room in which the lost & found was located currently hosted an afterschool class until 5.
My compounded annoyance led me to not return immediately to my nephew’s tai kwon do class, but instead visit the Columbus Ave. & 73rd St. location of my favorite New York thrift store chain: Housing Works, the upscale AIDS, homeless and now Haiti relief charity. I am constantly amazed by the quality of goods that Housing Works carries, though I figured out the sad truth behind its advantage years ago: aside from being a cause célèbré in upscale neighborhoods, they were inheriting the estates of gay men who died of AIDS. More than a little morbid, I grant you, but such music! Such books! Such clothes! I’m plotzing!
This was obviously a visit with a time limit, so I set right to work delving into the CD and book shelves. Though a DVD box set of The Beatles Anthology was very tempting, to the extent that I still regret not buying it, I ended up purchasing only four items: 2 DVDs (The Lawnmower Man and The Work of Director Chris Cunningham) and 2 CDs (Hayseed Dixie’s A Hillbilly Tribute to Mountain Love and Audiovent’s Dirty Sexy Knights in Paris).
As I waited on line to pay, my time before needing to pick up my nephew running short, an older man of flamboyant tastes had left a veritable mountain of clothes on the counter and scampered off to find the cherry for the top of his linen sundae. This apparently flummoxed the clerk so much that he couldn’t consider the idea of ringing me and my four items up while this cat was away, which would have saved me no less than five minutes.
But while I waited and fumed, a wordless howl went up from the back area of the store. Apparently some mentally-challenged sort was out with family and had chosen that moment to get vocal without the use of speech. This is not the first such type I’ve encountered in the circles I travel of late, so I was good enough to not gawp as though he was The Elephant Man. But it seemed as though I was there to witness this, since I was at that moment saddled with a family member who, while at times frustrating, was nowhere as taxing as this unfortunate spastic. Lesson received, Thrift Fu. Tithe for it: $11.
When I got back to my nephew’s tai kwon do school, he had discovered he’d remembered his gloves after all.
Just last night, I had just started my new schedule at work, and was feeling restless and frustrated as I left due to certain ongoing personality clashes. I decided I would make a Thrift Fu pilgrimage to the Goodwill on 88th and 2nd Ave. It had snowed somewhat heavily all day, and icy slush seeped into my splitting duck boots as I crossed the avenues; I thanked myself of 9+ hours earlier for the foresight of wearing thermal socks over my normal ones. Not even 6 pm as I approached, I saw a middle-aged worker pulling down the grate on the storefront. “Are you closing already?” I asked him.
Peering at me through coke bottle glasses, he said, “Are we not good Christians? Some of us are even Jews!”
I took a moment to take this in, then replied, “…what the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Everybody else gets to close up early today. Why should we have to stay open any later?”
“Uh, you’re talking to someone who just worked a full eight hour day on his feet; nobody let me go home early.” So, you know, fuck ‘im. I wasn’t going to have trudged through brown sno-cones for naught; I took the chance that the Housing Works on 90th and 2nd was still open.
They were, and furthermore, they were having a 25% off everything sale, fully aware that they should be grateful for any business they were going to get on such a miserable day. The first thing I spotted was a good pair of black leather shoes, which I considered, since the ones that my job issues are only just tolerable to stand in all day, but the $20 pricetag, even marked down to $15, gave me pause. I proceeded to the back and rooted through the unusually paltry CD and DVD sections (which I’d also noticed at their 77th St. store when I was last there), and moved onto the books.
The first one I found was a novel telling an alternate life story of the famed Italian anarchists called Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die! by Mark Binelli. But the next I found was a novel called The Last Universe by one of my favorite Young Adults author, William Sleator, author of such classic titles as Interstellar Pig, The Green Futures of Tycho and Singularity. Along with John Bellairs, he’s written some of the creepiest stories still developing minds were ever allowed to view. I considered for some time whether he was appropriate for my nephew.
Meanwhile, I’d also found two non-fiction books: Scrolling Forward by David M. Levy and Dungeons & Dreamers by Brad King & John Borland. I was just about ready when my eyes alit onto a pocket paperback edition of Orson Scott Card’s Children of the Mind. I’ve long kept a holding pattern around Card’s works, which I’m to understand are masterful in and of themselves, but the man’s social politics, particularly his unabashed homophobia, have made me reluctant to contribute, either financially or psychically, to his success, which I’m sure needs no support from me. Beyond my personal distaste of homophobia, as a writer with interest in sci-fi, I believe a writer without the imagination to conceive of why two adults ought to be allowed to love one another has no right to dabble in the genre. In fact, in a store which was largely staffed by gays and was benefitting AIDS charity it seemed like a country bumpkin hollering for the jelly at an upper class brunch. I’d recently picked up three of the books in his Ender quartet at Goodwill, and this seemed like an opportunity to complete the set. Perhaps this was a message from Thrift Fu telling me to keep my aesthetic and political tastes apart? After all, on some level it must burn Card’s buns for his book’s resale to support that which he despises.
In the end I put back the Sleator novel, as my cultural offerings to my nephew seem to have gone unappreciated lately, and chose the Card book. The four books when rung up by the gender-indeterminate clerk at the counter, came to an $11.43 tithe, a savings of about $3 over the usual price there and a savings of over $50 off the original price.
Here, of course, is the true lesson from Thrift Fu: when I got home, I realized that the Card book was actually one of the three I’d already got from Goodwill. Sometimes Thrift Fu has something to say; sometimes it just lets you make an ass of yourself. At least it was a lesson that only cost me 75¢ to learn.
Appropros of little else, the computer on which I’ve been composing these entries is a last generation Apple iMac I got from Housing Works’ off-Houston St. store in November for a $350 + tax tithe (minus a $150 dedicated Hannukkah gift from my dad). While it is gee-whiz slick (especially compared to the MacBook it replaced), it did not come with a word processor installed other than the bare bones TextEdit. I’ve made do with that, but it is dull as dishwater. Luckily, I just found online a free beta of a slightly better text editor called Ommwriter, which has managed to keep even my ferret-like attention by being a floating field of text, clicking softly with every keystroke, playing ambient music and nature sounds over a tranquil winter landscape. I hope the full version will include a little more variety and tools, but as it is, I’m glad for the focus it’s afforded me at such reasonable terms.