Once I pass through this entrance I’ll have crossed a threshold into a realm devoid of practicality, human decency, and full-priced merchandise. No two adventures here are ever the same. Sure, the standard archetypes are always present in some capacity, like rats in a subway or crying children at the hardware store, but every trip to said frugal temple will have its own distinct laughs, likely at the expense of others’ sassiness, despair, or wonky eyes.
I’m ultra-giddy; it’s the same antsy itching I get when waiting to take in the sights, and smells aboard public transit. I know I’ll soon be witnessing hilarity right beside horrors that will surely offend all five of my senses. I can’t wait. I throw open the front door; speculating and nancying around out here in the parking lot isn’t going to help me find a new gently-used, possibly-stained, appropriately-priced bathrobe.
Swarming in droves, they buzz around the store, clamoring over whether or not particular articles of clothing are “pretentiously-Dylan,” “bolo-tie-worthy,” or “not windbreaker-enough.” They’re everywhere, but it seems that the largest number of flocking hipsters (1) are fiercely concentrated in an area store management has dubbed the “Dad Zone.” Once, these eclectic types with their tight jeans and non-stop banter about Dave Eggers would have been an annoyance to me, but, these days, I don’t mind their chatter or even the squeals of delighted they emit upon discovering a second rack of corduroy shorts. As a thrift-ing veteran, I’ve seen dozens of hipsters fawn over affordable garbage before, so, now thoroughly-desensitized, I can just kept right on walking right past their high-energy browsing with the nonchalance of a cool detective.
Away from Dad Zone and the hipster epicenter, there’s another less-serious group sporting an un-ironic lack of sleeves while freely giggling. For them, selections are made out of shear ridiculousness; yes, these are textbook theme-party guests (2). None of them need anything here, but came today to buy some cheap, funny, I-don’t-care-if-I-barf-on-it clothes. Nothing is out of their price range and undoubtedly the ill-fitting, bright-colored, gaudy-ness they’ve picked out will be perfect for attending tonight’s 80’s Party, Neon Festival, or just Drunk Whores in Pseudo-Costumes Night.
A cold hand brushes against the back of my arm; I quite certain I’ve just been touched by death. I spin around quickly see a decrepit old man, essentially just a weathered husk of a person, muttering to himself while rifling through the rack. So, technically, I was only touched by almost-death. He’s running numbers in his head and, as I gaze into what I can only assume is the face of pure insanity, I can connect the dots and accurately identify him as an aspiring American Picker (3). Nomadically, he’ll scour thrift store after thrift store for valuables, intending to sell his bounty at antique markets or vintage shops and reap the profits. In reality, it’s all just garbage that his family will have to clean out of his cluttered house once he dies in six months.
I step ahead of the old, nimble man, worried he’ll find my perfectly-flawed bathrobe before I do. He’s quick, but notably frail and crazy, so I like my odds. Three rows of outpacing him later, I find her; she’s super soft and perfectly functional. Sure, she’s sporting some stains and noticeable wear, truly exemplifying her title of “damaged goods,” but, hey, that’s the type I go for. I grab her and head for the register.
I toss my new robe on the counter and Impossibly Stoic Cashier (4) rings me up. There’s no emotion, judgment, or excitement in her face. Honestly, it’s impressive to see such dedication to neutral professionalism amidst this minimum-wage-paying storm of nagging and disgust. I lean in to ask her what he secret is and it hits me, both the realization as well as the strong smell of drugs on her jacket.