It was 99-cent day at the thrift store.
I walked in and froze in the aisle somewhere between a dozen or so heavy televisions left over from the '90s and the front counter, where a 20-something brunette – "Aubrey" scrawled on her plastic nametag – was sorting books.
“Have you shopped in thrift before?” asked Aubrey.
“Not like this,” I said, looking around the massive building.
“All non-clothing items that don’t have a blue tag are 99 cents today,” she explained. “We’re trying to get rid of things that have been around for awhile.”
She smiled. “Are you looking for something in particular?”
(Well, since you asked …)
“I’m looking for something slightly used (um, experienced) that has some life left in it. I've got no problem with recycled or rough-around-the-edges. Age is not an issue. Money is not an issue. But I'm not ready for sitting on the porch swing, and I'm done changing diapers, you know what I mean?"
I winked at her.
(Why do so many people look at me like that?!)
She had stopped sorting books, and her right hand was tugging at the front of her red apron nervously. “I think you’ll find a lot of interesting things in here," she said finally, avoiding my eyes.
I laughed, trying to put her at ease.
"Actually, I'm looking for a shovel," I said.
(Suffice it to say that I've got some cleaning up to do.)
She smiled again and pointed to the far southwest corner of the store. "You might try back there," she said. "A lot of the outdoor stuff is kept in the back."
So, easily distracted as usual, I waded through other people’s emotional leftovers all the way to the back. Champagne flutes that looked barely used. Many elaborate (and mostly gaudy) candleholders taken out of wedding and holiday centerpieces. A package of white Save The Date cards. (I have entered an alternate universe!)
Long rows of stuffed animals, beaded bracelets, worn-out shoes, exercise equipment, balls, spatulas, staplers, radios, holiday placemats, computer keyboards, framed copies of Footprints of Jesus, stereo speakers. Chargers for who-knows-what, extension cords, wicker baskets, board games, lamp shades, scorched irons, cameras, best-seller books ("Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution," "Men are from Mars; Women are from Venus," "Jim Fixx: Book of Running"), ceramic clowns.
The evidence of a change in status clung to the hangers. Rows of brightly colored T-shirts, mostly in the men's section, proclaimed: Awana Leader, VBS staff, Upward Coach, World's Best Dad!, Stupid. I'm With Stupid was in the women's section. ;)
I was sifting through the men's T-shirts when I unintentionally made eye contact with a tall, gray-haired man wearing a purple LSU T-shirt and Levi’s.
(Automatic deduction for the T-shirt but points for not wearing jeans with bling on the back pockets.)
“Are you looking for what I’m looking for?” he asked with a wide smile.
“Only if you’re looking for shirts for my son,” I replied.
“I’m new to thrift,” he said, walking toward me. “Can you help me find the men's jeans?"
(Uh oh. Keep in mind that the selection in thrift varies greatly and changes daily.)
"Actually, I have very little experience. You might check with Aubrey,” I said, nodding toward the front counter.
I grabbed two red T-shirts and moved quickly four rows over to the kitchen section, where several deep shelves were devoted to novelty coffee mugs whose clever messages had expired: "Just Wed!" • "50! How'd That Happen?" • "Single and Lovin' It!" • "Jesus was a Vegan!" • "You Had Me at Bacon-Wrapped" • "Bring Back the Fanny Pack."
When I returned to the front counter, my shopping cart of treasures included: a small garden spade, a package of snowmen Christmas cards, three clear flower vases, two T-shirts, and an unusual-looking kitchen utensil.
"Did you find what you were looking for?" Aubrey asked.
"Not exactly. But it’s OK,” I said, holding up the spade. “I’ll keep digging.”