To keep up certain habits (i.e. food, shelter), I took a job at a Goodwill store a few months back, which I subsequently quit a few months back.
My home away from home away from homeless.
Now, you’d think that working at Goodwill would be like going to a thousand garage sales a day EVERYDAY where you get to have THE BEST TIME rifling through other people’s stuff and making snap judgments on poor lifestyle choices not made by you…and maybe, also, pick up a little something nice for yourself. Like a hotplate or Robocop on VHS!
God, I thought so too.
At garage sales, people generally try to sell things that they think other people would want to buy, despite a little wear and tear.
Most of the stuff that ends up at Goodwill is the refuse of all that PLUS things that were never good enough to make it to a garage sale (Robocop 2), things that should have been trashed (Robocop 3), and things that just should have never been (Robocop: Prime Directives) but, Jesus, who wants to get another bag?
Hence begins again and anew the cycle of THRIFT!
Thrift, I learned, is one part Abundance, one part Hardship, and one part Crazy. The portions shift now and then and Crazy bonds well with either of its counterparts to help create the supply and demand side of thrift, but the ingredients remain much the same.
Thrift is born from fashion and growth spurts, from broken relationships, pay-raises and pink-slips. From bedrooms without any cushions and bathrooms with too many accents. From living rooms missing furniture and dinning rooms full of nick knacks. From crushing loneliness, immobile desperation, chronic boredom and hipster irony.
And it all rolls downhill, as Things generally do.
Why must you elude me, hotplate? Why can't we just forget the world and be together?
It starts off, say, with a box of musty old books and your aunt Gertie’s Hummels, and maybe a bag of unwashed laundry that your cat had a litter of kittens in a few weeks ago. It ends, for you, with a drop-off box by the 7-11 or a quick stop at a donations door. A courteous hello, maybe a handshake, and you’re suddenly a slightly better citizen with slightly less stuff.
For the stuff, however, turmoil. Because once those things cross that threshold at the donor door, they are ripped open – eviscerated as their contents are spilled onto plastic table tops – and are seized, snatched up and sorted by frantic, ravenous hands on a quota system with a razor thin margin for error.
And that is how I ended up day after day with your tattered, shit-stained underwear dangling from my thumbs and forefingers. It is how I found myself gagging at your discolored, crotchless sweatpants, and it is how I laughed away many a shift upon the discovery of yet another one of your “Wolf Against the Moonlight” shirts.
Wolf, wolf, WHY DO PEOPLE LIKE THESE?
Those, however, were the slow days.
During my tenure at Goodwill, the real “treasures” that came through those doors were many, and included:
- One singed marriage licence (Texas)
- A broken wine rack crawling with sliver, eyeless cherubs
- Three glazed and lacquered alligator heads (large, medium and small)
- A grocery bag full of woodchips
- A small Ziploc baggie heavy with pot
- One Banana GuardTM , which my co-worker thought was a dildo, which evidence suggests quite possibly was used not to guard bananas.
- An assortment of shapeless, mismatched men’s socks with a cat poo in the middle
- A million leotards inside one giant, incomprehensible leotard
- One bag of pristine Boston Pizza dipping sauces. With napkins.
Later, gator. Oh wait.
We had pricing sheets plastered all over the walls near our workstations. Phase Two was to determine the Value of the Things before us in accordance to the listed prices. There was a sliding scale based on, for example, condition of object, original cost, rarity, age, brand name (if any), smell, current status as on object of desire…
It was awful.
To have to focus, really focus, on a pair of ratty-tatty Aldo boots in order to decide if they’re worth $7.99 (base price) or somewhere in the $12.99 range.
Or watching the store manager ignore burgeoning international law just so that she could place a knock-off Gucci bag in the store’s “Special” (read: theft-proof) display case at a whooping $21.99.
Or to have tell some broken-eyed woman that, no, you can’t have that bag of grimy MacDonald’s toys for $1.00 (all she had) because it costs – it is worth – $2.99.
Yet, as traumatizing as all this was, it was the Collections that haunt me so. We got dozens of them; boxes and boxes and boxes of unwanted inheritance, forgotten hobbies and discarded trends. I remember hordes of figurine frogs, beanie babies, salt-and-pepper shakers, elephants great and small, bananas (yes, MORE B-A-N-A-N-A-S) and cows and monkeys and babies and kitty cats and bells and napkin holders and schnauzers and tea pots.
Oh. My. Buddha.
Can you imagine?
These boxes weren’t the result of an intensive citywide canvassing campaign. No. They came from ONE house and most likely from ONE person who was most likely dead, or close to it.
Can you imagine?
Picture, if you will, a small army of anthropomorphic lizards that silently gaze at you as you butter your toast in the morning. Or a chorus of white baby angles that witness your every move in the bathroom. Or an entire troop of monkeys that watch you as you sleep (etc.) in your bed.
Now concentrate that – put all of it into a box for some poor, unsuspecting soul to explode upon themselves as they open it, and combine that with the unenviable task of having to price it all out after the fact AND under the watchful eyes and blunt mind of an upper management convinced that the Vietnamese mart next door was run by “the Chinese mafia.”
It became a second-hand Hell, sorting it all out. Reliving someone else’s bad decisions, bearing witness to other people’s regrets, excising retroactive impulse control on behalf of total strangers, all in order to make a buck or two. Or three. Or $21.99.
CAN YOU IMAGINE?
And I can still see them, those sharp little eyes staring up at me every night in my darkest dreams.
Hey there, Bright Eyes.
One person’s trash is another person’s treasure is another person’s living, waking nightmare.