Thrifting Toward Romance
or, The Joys of Second-Hand Booty
by Amy Halloran
Spring cleaning leads to spring purging and that puts garage sale season upon
us. Like flu season, there are things you can do to steer clear of catching
the hard-to-kick bug, but if you're at all susceptible to the habit of acquisition
-- and of used goods in particular -- you might as well let the plague have
its way with you while the merchandise is fresh. But bear in mind that possessions
are not all you have to gain on your Saturday morning tour.
on this. Used goods are a great route to being a great couple. I ran a thrift
store for two years and I got to watch the sparks fly. I never saw anybody get
married in the aisle, but I've seen people swoon over Sinatra
collections and mingle over mattress pads. And I've sold a few wedding dresses
and tuxedoes. People are passionate about possessions. And nothing is as raw
as a seasoned shopper on the prowl. (First-run shopping cannot compare. Brand
new things don't have stories; they don't have souls.)
I've met and made some of my best friends while thrifting at stores, yard
sales, and flea markets. One pal became more than a friend when we hung
out for a while as divorce buddies. Saturday nights we watched movies and Sunday
mornings we went to the swap meet. He wanted tools and I wanted books, so there
was no sense walking together; we'd only slow each other down. We met at the
end of our loops and compared our loot. Telling about the hunt is almost better
than finding a treasure is: where it was when you first saw it, how little you
paid for how much. Nothing beats an appreciative cohort at the end of a crap-hounding
Your Place(mats) or Mine?
To begin adding to your personal collection (of people and things), there are
simple principles to follow. Look at what people have in their hands before
you look at them. You'll be able to tell so much by their desires. Who wants
Fiesta milk pitcher? Do they really plan to use it? Should you warn
them about lead in the glaze? Who could go for that torn up bible? What
about that chenille bedspread?
Next, move your eyes from the shopping to the shopper. Regard his or her stance.
Does he want the plastic flower collection for its kitsch value or to give as
a non-ironic Mother's Day gift? Maybe she's going to buy those rhinestone cowboy
sunglasses... and maybe you want them. Better yet, maybe she looks like someone
you'd like to talk to. Remember at all times that you are on the market for
both people and things. Just open your trap and say, "Damn, I like those glasses.
Are you sure you want them?"
in looking for friends while thrifting is to find people whose tastes you admire,
but don't covet. You want to start conversations, not fisticuffs. This is not
to say that mild disgust should keep you from pursuing possibilities. For example,
don't skip the tables of salt-and-pepper shakers -- and the cutest thing on
Earth looking at them -- just because you think the hobby of collecting them
has a certain lameness. Rather, think of it as "eclectic" and follow this rule:
do not limit yourself to your tastes. (The world would be a sadder place if
we were all the same. Make this your mantra.) There might be something you can
appreciate in a pair of Campbell Soup Kids shakers. Maybe your mom made tomato
soup cake with raisins. Maybe his did, too.
Nostalgia is a great breeding ground for companionship. Saying "I had that
when I was a kid!" could be a quick way to round out a morning with a cup of
coffee at the nearest diner. There's enough
stuff circulating in the world that you're bound to find at least one object
per outing to remind you of your childhood. A Polly Pocket, Betsey Wetsey, or
GI Joe could easily lead you down memory lane, hand-in-mental-hand, with another
Here's another example. Thrift sale vendors are always unloading Lincoln
Logs and Tinker Toys. Use this. Think bonding. A phrase like "My brother
used to beat me up with Tinker Toys!" could turn someone who did the same into
a pile of apologetic putty. Even modern kiddie goodies are great openers. Spy
a purple dinosaur on the lawn and see who else is looking at it aghast. You
could find someone ready to reminisce about the simpler charms of Sesame Street
and the Six Million Dollar
Man. The glue of mutual aversion could seal your fate... or at least your
Vintage retailing has brought the best qualities of recycled commodities to
light. But don't be tricked into letting someone do your scouting for you. Go
to the source. Spend your spare time at estate and rummage sales and you will
be rewarded with a house full of stuff and a handful of friends... and friends
who might be more than friends. You know, those who do more than you expect,
like a set of Ronco knives.
Then, once you've accumulated your kingdom of must-haves, you can turn the
wheel again. Host your own sale. Make it a building- or block-wide event. Meet
those dog-walkers you always greet in passing and invite a herd of other "maybes"
to peruse from the safety and comfort of your lawn chair. There will be an opportunity
for physical contact in the exchange of change from finger to palm. And if that
careful shopper can't manage to ask you to the
movies right there and then, at least she'll know where you live.
I'll give you one last piece of advice, something you've heard before because
truth is redundant. Don't go out with a shopping list. Don't expect to find
a fountain pen,
a tea set, and a mate for life unless you want to be disappointed. People don't
have specific goals when they go looking second-hand. If they do, they don't
have luck. Beware of your intentions and be open. After all, nobody's looking
for what they find. The world is overflowing with people and things. Keep looking,
and you'll find yours, in time.
Amy Halloran lives in upstate New York with her husband and her son, prized
possessions in themselves.
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