That's not to say I haven't met my share of nice people at thrift stores. Like the woman who tugged on my sleeve to tell me I dropped my wallet, or the guy at the counter who gave the 1950s bowling shirt for free because it didn't have a sales tag (even though the store's policy was to not let an un-tagged item get out the door).
Then again, I've run across quite a few un-photographable weirdos in my travels. Just last week I had the following conversation:
Me (trying to pass by a guy with prison tats on his face): Excuse me.
Weird Dude (grabbing at the clothing in my hands): You going to wear those clothes? They won't fit you.
Me: I guess not. They'll fit someone.
Weird Dude: Where's the men's underwear section?
Me (uncomfortable): Um, I don't work here.
Weird Dude (icily serious stare): I didn't think you did
Fortunately, the I'm-going-to-get-pummeled-by-some-crazy-ex-con moment doesn't happen all that often (only once or twice a year, I'd say).
But since we are entering my favorite holiday season, I thought it might be nice to feature a few thrift store people I've met.
Did I mention I love this time of year? Every Halloween it seems that so many interesting, colorful faces turn up in the thrifts. It's nice to see that such a diverse mix of characters can get together. Even if many of them are just putting on brave face, a mask if you will, to hide their true selves, it's still swell to see a big turnout even if they are a bunch of bums, artificial people, or clowns.
Of course, you will come across cliques in thrift stores. You know, the walk and talk and dress-alike crowd, with the same-haircuts and all. To me, that's bone dry and dull as graveyard dirt.
I always thought the great thing about thrift stores was that no two things were alike. But hey, I get it, there's a certain safety in numbers and sometimes two or three heads are better than one.
I actually like it when two totally different people can get along. Oh sure, you may have the glaze of the same religious beliefs, the same cultural backgrounds, the same basis way of facing the world. But it's nice to see friends who can rise above differences in color, personality, and the artificial divisions within totemic hierarchies. Maybe I've just been reading too much anthropology texts lately.
There are some unfortunate souls you meet who are somewhat plain, dull, dare I say wooden. Usually, these individuals spend their time at the periphery, less interested in the fantastic variety and adventure of thrift store culture, and just kind of stand there with a stick up their a**es.
Sure, you can dress them up however you want, but these types are just too stiff, too bland, too plastic to spend much time worrying about what's going on in their empty heads.
Scarier still are the types who completely lose their heads when they get inside a thrift store. I guess there's something about the junk, the randomness of the place that makes them lose their minds, check their brains at the door. I know for first-timers the uniqueness of a thrift store can blow their tops and they may start running around like a chicken with its head cut off. But when I see people acting like this I usually just think there's not a lot going on upstairs.
We all know, however, that thrift stores can help you find the real you, and be yourself, no matter how unusual that might be. Sure, that super outfit you just found might give you a feeling of superiority, like you have some sort of special powers, like the laws of physics don't apply. But when it's all said and done, it's fine to let your freak flag fly, even if it scares a few children a long the way.
Then again, sometimes even the kids in thrift stores are a bit creepy, hanging out in back alleys, wearing fedoras and trenchcoats...
Putting tracking devices in their friends backpacks. These kids today, with their stalking and espionage.
Now, after nefarious surveillance by preteens, you might say the company of a precise jogger would be quite welcome. But I'm getting a bad vibe from that runner there on the left.
Yep, just as I thought: Hitler in a track suit. Apparently, it's a fine line between precision jogging and fascist goosestepping.
At least most thrift stores don't allow animals. This one apparently allows hairy, ugly, bearded dogs. Niiiice doggy.
You know how they put those plastic collars on sick dogs so they can't lick certain areas of themselves? Maybe that why this little girl has bubble wrap all over her arms and feet -- so she can't lick them. That or she just digs the look. These kids today with their ridiculous fetishes for "regularly spaced, protruding air-filled hemispheres."
I haven't said anything yet about perverts. Unfortunately there's something about a second hand shop that seems to draw out the creeps. Exhibit A: slightly creepy mustachioed bowling man doing the old "oops, my pants fell down" gag...
Exhibit B: slightly creepy, embedded Mickey with a slightly inappropriate "come hither" look.
Neither one of these characters would be welcome in my home or even my outhouse. Not that I have an outhouse.
Almost as bad (or maybe just as bad) as the perverts, are the hucksters. You haven't been hornswaggled until you've been Bob Proctored. Born rich, huh? Tell that to my crushing debt. I guess its a nature versus nurture thing.
Something about this guys gives me the willies. Is it his bulbous nose? Nah, Jack Klugman and Karl Malden are tops in my book...
The thin lips then? Or the high forehead? The grandpa goggles? No...
It's something in the eyes. Freaky-deaky heebie-jeebies from that one.
Okay, after that parade of psychos, what we need is some law and order. Yeah, some good ol' rubber-clad, neoprene, shocking blue wigged, community policing. From a hot, amputee, hooker cop. You know, ta' clean up the joint, hose the place down, and maybe beat out a confession of two. Yeah. Hmm... haven't I met her sister before?
All I'm saying is there's plenty of thrifty people to be scared of year-round. That's why most of my shutterbugging is strictly of the merchandise and not the customers and clerks.
Maybe I'm wrong, maybe I shouldn't mistake a friendly smile for a ghastly grimace, or a warm hug for death's cold embrace. Maybe I should listen to what the rock-and-roll man says: "Don't fear the reaper." But if he's in the men's underwear section, just maybe go and check out the kid's books instead.