Sunday, August 12, 2007

How a Humble Shop Actually Sold Humility--For a Price

When my friend suggested to me that we go to a thrift shop on 79th st. to buy a birthday present for his girlfriend, my first thought was: "wouldn't she want something new?" Having the though embarassed me many times over. I myself, 6 months previous, at a flea-market, had bought 2 sweaters and a tee-shirt--the kind with buttons and a collar--each for two dollars and fifty cents. I wore them each at least once a week, and neither sweater had seen a washing-machine in that time.
So we went downtown by subway, got there, went in, walked past the tacky little candlestick-holders and the CDs and the cash-register and the coats that looked like they'd been donated by call-girls; he started paging through the skirts and I through the phonograph records. I've always loved things other people have no use for any longer. So I picked out six records and three of them had bad defects. He found me a movie we'd like and a copy of a book he'd read.
I wondered how I'd react to a present bought second hand. I decided I'd love it, which made me feel even cheaper for having misgivings still.

It took me a while to coax him towards the cash register. He had wanted a short outing, and I was trying to hold im to it, for the reasons he gave and also so as not any longer to have these nagging little paradoxes growing in the part of the stomach that for some reason registers such feelings. I wondered why the stomach is the organ of misgiving.

I had accrued three perfect dusty records, a book, a movie, and a shirt no self-respecting mammal would wear.
On the way to the register I passed a guy standing by the skirt section, asking the clerk: "can you tell me where the skirt section is? I wanna buy a skirt for my girlfriend." He was standing by the skirt section. He looked like a white-stubbled yellow raisin, and had food or--something--clotted thick in the corners of his mouth. He was standing by the skirt section. I hastened to the cash register.

We stood ready to pay, and my friend's tab was ten dollars more than he had expected. "I don't have enough money for this. I thought it was ten dollars."
"Twenty," Said the cashier. "It's leather, see?"
"I thought it was ten. I can't buy this. I don't think she'd like it anyway. No I don't wanna be a bad boyfriend. But I think she wouldn't like this. What do you think?"
He indicated me; I said: "I think she'd like it." I know. Stupid.
"But I think she'd like this one more, and I can't buy both."
"Ok. Put one back."
"But then I'll find her something else." Then, to the cashier: "Do you think I'm a bad person? Seriously."
We moved away from the cash-register, he, holding his bag of purchases, I, mine, my coat, my knapsack, jealously concealing a laptop and 2 newspapers--one Times, one Onion.
As we passed, a woman asked for the price of one of the call-girl coats. Two-hundred dollars. Two-hundred dollars! I walked faster to nowhere: antsy and soon to be bored or frustrated.

I crossed the floor to him. He was looking at sweaters, asking and answering the same question: "Would she like this? Would she like this? Would she like this?"
"Yes," I answered each time.
"How do you please the girl who's pleased by everything?"
"I dunno."
"I think she'd like she likes muted colors."
A sweater brighter than any other in the store was already sitting on his bag.
"Just get that." I gestured at a skirt.
"I want her to like it."
"She will. She likes everything."
"No I mean I want her to really like it."
It clearly frustrated him that love and an unparalleled good nature mad her standards so apparently low. For anything bought with love, she would have no other standard. So we bought a sweater and a skirt (after a detour to the scarf "section"--there was one scarf) and left.

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