Friday, April 20, 2012

Bargains by the Pound

I don’t like shopping, I like scrounging, and there’s a big difference.  Shopping happens at a store, or worse yet, a mall. It features nice lighting, helpful attendants, piped-in music and shopping bags. Feh. 

Scrounging, a much more adventurous experience, involves heaps and bins and random assortments of what might be crud or might be kinda sorta useful. It takes place in furtive curbside stops, at garage sales and, blessedly, at my new spiritual home, the Goodwill Outlet on University Avenue in St. Paul.  

I don’t know how I managed to survive so many years before uncovering this Shangri-La right in my own city, but from the moment I walked in the door, I knew I had found the Real Deal. The harsh, overhead lighting. The bored security guard leaning against the cement block wall. The diverse customer base that left me, the white lady, in the minority. The heaps of bizarrely unrelated merchandise, with conveyer belts pushing buckets of randomness along. And, the best part -- the fabulous By the Pound pricing system, a truly genius plan. Who could resist an experience in which everything you buy will cost $1.49 a pound? Clearly, not me.

The first time I happened upon this wonderland, I was with Mary Katherine, a vintage-friendly gal, and her overly hygienic friend Olivia. Mary Katherine dove in quickly, searching for treasure in her trademark “pony in here somewhere” style. Olivia stood back, aghast, once again. This was not the first time I’d horrified the poor thing, and would not, I fear, be the last.

But I had bins to sort through, so I got right to work. From the first heap, I pulled out a man’s XXL sweatshirt (I had thought it was a bedspread), followed by a newborn onesie, complete with formula stains. Next, a couple of bedraggled prom dresses that, could they talk, might have some juicy tales to tell. Then a quick succession of regrettable '80s fashion choices – blouses with button covers, holiday-themed vests and a “power suit” (remember those?  I wore them constantly and never attained a smidgen of power), complete with football-worthy shoulder pads.  Finally, one lone espadrille. Now we were getting somewhere, I thought happily, anticipating that the next bin over would surely be the one that yielded a treasure – and yes, I’m aware that this pattern of cogitation is not unlike that of chronic slot machine players, but without the free drinks.

I sensed a shadow crossing my newest heap. Mary Katherine and Olivia were standing across from me, faces tight with that “about to die of boredom” look that teens manage so well. Mary’s pony-somewhere spirit seemed to have soured. Olivia looked like she wanted to go home and take a bath, possibly a Full Silkwood. I begged for five more minutes and then gave in, taking my small pile to the scale … a red cardigan for Mary Katherine, a couple summer tops for Emma (it’s getting hot in Beijing, she tells me) and a pillowcase with cherries on it because, well, I like things with cherries on them. Total sale: $5.25. No bag. Go home.

I’ve been back once already, this time without the teens, wearing comfortable shoes, and with an MP3 player to drown out the execrable music.  I was in heaven, just rooting around and thinking of all the stories that went with all this junk. I suppose I could have spent a nice day at the mall, sipping a smoothie and strolling through the cologne-scented aisles, but really, why would I want to?  There aren’t any stories associated with anything there, and here, I had nothing but questions. What happened to that other pink rain boot? Did the sleeves on that plaid jacket get cut off by a chainsaw, or eaten by a bear? Did someone actually wear this, and how long ago, and how sorry were they afterwards?

Give me stories, and give me bins, and most of all, give me by-the-pound pricing for my scrounging adventures. I'm sure I'll find just what I'm looking for, the next heap over.

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