Thrift Store Gratitude, A Story

Taken from my book, The Alchemy of Self Healing, Chapter 3, pages 88-91

Essay: Super Thrift Store

On Saticoy near Woodman in deepest darkest Van Nuys, sits the Super Thrift Store. It is a dismal looking building, but it’s a Hollywood costumer’s secret garden. Due to the scavenger energy required to work through the racks of stuff, low-budget Hollywood usually finds its way here. Now times are tough again, and I’m swerving past the chain link fence into the blacktop parking lot, desperate. I am working on a comedy, I use that term loosely, about two blonde, sexy, large-busted girls who wear string bikinis all day long, every day, looking for Mr. Right. I don’t think I have to worry about divulging any secrets since that could describe any of thousands of low budget films ever made. This one has a twist. But of course you knew that. I’ll spare you the twist.

I have dragged Mimi here; she’s new to film. For the last six years she has costumed a daytime show with label whore divas who need designer shoes even for those scenes in which there is no chance their feet will be shown on camera. I will bet anything she has never shopped at the Super Thrift Store, but Mimi is a sport.

To reach the entrance we must pass the drop-off point which is actually a super drop-off point, meaning that goods from over ten smaller drop-off points wind up here, where they’re sorted, and under some curious hierarchy, which tells me everything has an ego, the best stuff shines under florescent light strips next door at Super Thrift Store. The lesser garments one can only pray for. The proceeds from any purchases go to help families that can’t help themselves. I never before knew exactly what “sundries” described but now I have an understanding of that word because some of these sale items are indescribable. A cane missing a handle? Celine Dion room freshener? Oh, maybe that’s perfume. Still.

Mimi and I race around, filling our cart with finds. Hip hop jeans, check!  Oh, and there are some tangerine-colored Juicy flip flops with fake diamonds streaming from a baby pin–99 cents, check! Oh, and a short black skirt in a size zero–50 cents and fabulous. We can put that on the snooty lead and freak her out when she wants to buy it at the end of filming. That will be fun. Triples of a wrap-around pleated satin halter top–tags still attached. We know we will need triples for the jello scene. I said I would spare you the twists in this extravaganza but there’s one.

Piles and piles of stuff spill over the sides of our cart. Mimi says we have just 500 bucks. I know our stash will cost well under. At checkout the reality of this place sinks in. Ahead of us is a mother with two young sons who want two toys that are out of their packages but still seem new. To these boys the toys spell the Promised Land. They show their mom the shiny water blasters, one lime green, the other slick black. The mom carefully looks them over. I know she is delaying disappointing her boys. She asks the clerk how much. Two dollars. Each. She tells the boys she can get them one. They have to choose. I want to pay this stranger’s entire bill and buy those kids every toy on the shelf. But I know better than to make any grand gesture. What am I going to say? “Hello, idealistic baby boomer here, I have unresolved issues of lack and fairness and I’d like to project that onto your family?”

I have friends who grew up extremely poor but didn’t know until high school that they were poor, and I know, no one has a right to mess with Mom’s word, especially not a middle class white costumer who has 500 bucks to spend on stuff that may never be used. I begin to examine the ceiling tiles until they leave and it’s our turn to tally.


Our haul totals $300. Mimi is impressed. We have covered several principal asses, I hope, and we wend our way back to the car, avoiding a potential trip over a group of kids’ bikes lying on their sides waiting to see if they’ll make the grade for Super Thrift Store or if they’ll have to ride off into lesser sunsets.

We load the car as only professionals can, and discuss a potential Starbucks run. At the exit gate a thin, middle-aged, dark-complexioned man in a washed out beige button down shirt and worn but well pressed trousers, stops us. He is out of breath. He waves delicate arms above his head to get our attention. I am confused. I am in a rush. My internal dialog starts with “What’s the deal, pal?” Out loud I call out the window, “Is there something wrong?”  in the tone I have in the past reserved for that final classic “Officer?”

The man looks intently at me. He runs his thin fingers through thinner hair.  The air around us waits, suspended. Mimi waits. I wait. He looks at my Lexus as if to assure himself that I am the one he wants to speak with. “Excuse me, but you made a large purchase inside, just now, yes?”

“Uh, yeah,” I am ready to floor the gas pedal and get out of there. This hold up has made Starbucks out of the question. I am thinking, Spit it out, man. What on God’s earth do you have to say? Does he think our 100s are counterfeit?

“I am the manager here, of this store…”

My inner smart ass cramps. Speed it up man. What’s the dealio? I am beside myself, hands on the wheel, ready to fly. Mimi gives me a dark look, or am I imagining that?

“Ladies I, well…God Bless You. This sale with us today it means we can help so many this weekend. Ladies, if there’s something…maybe something you had to leave behind today in the store?”

I do not know what to say to this guy. “Wow” comes to mind but that won’t work.

He continues. “I would like to give you each a small thank you, sorry, a gift, yes, for this miracle. An item you wanted, maybe?”

I look at Mimi and feel tears start heating up inside. She is silent. I say, “Thank you so much, but we have to go now. We will be back.” He looks sad so I add, “It’s a generous offer, thank you,” and he brightens.

He says,” Please, just remind me of this day if you come back, okay?”

“I will be back,” I promise. “Thank you so much,” I add, thinking of water blasters.

As we drive toward Burbank I allow the wave I am feeling to slosh up inside. Manager man wanted to give me a gift. Did I leave something behind, he asked. Something I could not afford? Yes, I think, now fully aware of something I cannot afford to lose. A healthy dose of humanity. A paradigm shift I didn’t know I needed.

“Can you believe that just happened, Mimi?”

“Yeah, I know.  Forget Starbucks, huh?”

I can’t tell with her what she’s thinking, exactly.

I decide to keep my present close to my heart for as long as I can.


The Alchemy of Self Healing



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