Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mary,Mary quite contrary....

I am a Goodwill junkie. I frequent at least one store a week, if not multiple stores in a day, and have found ninety percent of my wardrobe there. Los Angeles is a city full of rich,fickle people who shop retail.Their fifteen hundred dollar navy boucle Chanel suit is mine for ten bucks. And no, I am not kidding. I am constantly amazed at what I find, and often mourn my childbearing hips when I come across a pair of skinny black tuxedo jeans with the tags still on them that would have fit me in third grade.
I have been going to Goodwill Stores since 1987, when they used to be the easy choice for people with community service time. While shopping, I heard lots of stories about dui's and general misdemeanor mishaps that landed all sorts of people in jail.Rather than pick up trash on the freeway, they opted to hang up unwanted clothing. There was something surreal about watching Lou Ferrigno,who obviously did something illegal, meander through the blouse section trying to determine if the pink peasant blouse he held should go in the pink section or the multicolored section.
Over time, I became a regular nameless face to the cashiers and managers at every Goodwill within a ten mile radius.My favorite branch is five minutes from my house. I exchange pleasantries with the other junkies as we search the racks, make small talk with Leonard the manager,but there is a clear understanding that no one is going out for coffee afterward.Our relationships exist inside the smudged windowed walls of the store.Anything exclusive of the store would feel way too personal.
The quality of used clothes available has ruined my taste for retail.  Over a long weekend trip, my lovely husband offered to buy me something. I found a perfect black and white plaid lightweight cotton summer shirt for only 189.00.Granted, we were in Santa Barbara, and it was a gesture of his appreciation that I never shop retail, but afterward, I remembered why. Despite the fact that it cost more than our hotel room,the minute we sat down to lunch, Little put a greasy paw on my right sleeve. I recoiled and rushed to the bathroom to wash the sleeve. Had I spent three dollars on the shirt, I may not have cared so much.Easy come easy go with thrift store clothes, but the retail world is just not the same. And, on the rare occasions I do shop retail, I find myself drawn to the thrift store version I already own.
Anyway, just this morning, after ditching hiking plans and hitting my favorite Goodwill, I was part of something kind of amazing. When I arrived, I saw the chick with tattoos and jet black hair.She looks like Keith Richards at about forty, very rock and roll and very cool. I have known her forever.I don't know her name, but she has watched me get pregnant, get married, have two kids, go up three dress sizes- she knows me pretty well for a complete stranger.  There was the heavy set black woman behind the register who is civil at best, if not a little over the daily grind. The only conversation we have had outside of her "that'll be ten seventy six" and my " no bag, thanks" was her proud admission that she personally invented the system of selling the dvd's by cataloging them in a book behind the register  and leaving the empty cases on display. She has been here forever, serving some of the most down trodden people on the planet-the mentally ill, tranny hookers, homeless alcoholics with a lot on their mind, low income families with seven kids allowed to run wild in the housewares department-all mixed in with middle class junkies like me. She doesn't take shit, but is also a very fair person. For the sake of the story, I will call her Mary.
Today, when I came in, around nine twenty, a guy was angrily moving huge armfuls of clothes from one side of the square counter to the other. All I heard was him say,acidly, " I don't need your attitude....can I talk with a manager?". I stopped in my tracks, as this sort of thing rarely happens,especially with Mary. I would know, I am here a lot. Mary said that she was not giving him attitude, and he cut her off and said "whatever, I am not dealing with you.."
He was a grayish gayish thirty something with a cool vintage t-shirt, long black shorts and Doc Martens.
I will call him Bruce. He was with a red haired woman who dressed head to toe in black.She had sort of chunky Cat Woman look going on, oddly accessorized with a mortified expression. She was clearly embarrassed by his outright bitchiness and stood semi facing the counter with her arms crossed awkwardly. Mary was extremely pissed, and smiling angrily, she called the manager on the store microphone.She then continued to take customers. She had a friend there who was shopping, a sauve looking black guy in a suit.He was on his phone. She said something to him and he said something back and Bruce said  loudly "that is what I am talking about.I know what you are doing. You are talking about me with your friend...". Mary stopped her transaction her customer and said, incredulously, "Sir, he is on the phone. I am not talking to him and he is not talking about you. He is on the phone, Sir".
Bruce waved her off as the manger arrived, Fred or Fritz or something. He is a fiftyish Armenian looking fellow with kind eyes and a poker face.He wears a lot of Hawaiian shirts. Bruce insisted that Mary had given him attitude, and he didn't feel like dealing with it. He asked  Fred to ring up his huge pile of clothes and then said " we come here every two weeks and spend like two hundred and fifty dollars on clothes.I don't need this aggravation...". He sounded just like Paul Lynde. Fred said nothing and started counting his items. My first thought was, "I have never seen you before, Bitchy Bitch, but take your two fifty elsewhere." I said nothing and watched, pretending to shop in the general vicinity of the register.
For the next ten minutes Mary stood,slightly hostilely,next to the register assisting Fred in bagging the clothes. She didn't look  Bruce in the face but chose to continue chatting and ringing up customers while he glared at her. I hovered, deciding if I was going to say anything to the Bruce,as did Keith Richards. She was particularly pissed and actually went to Mary to discuss her anger and how to deal with it.Mary assured her that she needed to let it go, but did note that if the incident had occurred on "the streets" the outcome would surely be different. Bruce could hear every word and shook his head while his pile slowly got smaller. I tried to imagine a throwdown with Mary and Bruce.Mary could probably kick some ass, but Bruce struck me as a biter. Not an altercation with a good outcome, I'd bet on that. Just then, the guy on the phone came to the counter and announced good naturedly, in Bruce's general direction, " excuse me, Mary? I would like your service, please, although it was just declined by another customer, I welcome your attitude." He bowed to her and went back to his phone conversation. She smiled,stifling a laugh and kept her back to Bruce,who rolled his eyes. His friend looked a little pained. Fred carefully rang up each item and handed them to Mary to be bagged,while Bruce pursed his lips and occassionally questioned the price of an item. When  he was finally finished and his purchases were all bagged, he had to go behind the counter to pick up the bags and actually pass by Mary, who stood half blocking the entrance. Not only did she make no effort to move aside, but she stood as still as a statue and made no effort to help him get his things. He slung the bags over his shoulders and, as he headed for the door, looked back at us and shook his head in disgust, muttering "unbelieeeeeeevable". We had unknowlingly formed a semi-circle of junkies, a zombie like brigade,who watched the entire exchange in silence.We were all glaring right back at him as he left, and,  when the door closed on his sorry ass, a literal cheer went up.Everyone began to rehash their version of it. We all agreed that he was,as Mary said "straight up asshole".I fantasized about seeing him at Trader Joe's and reminding him of just how much of an asshole he'd been to pick on the cashier at a thrift store.
I leaned in to Fred, who was behind the counter, and said what I had wanted to say to Bruce directly,which was the an uninspired "I've been coming here weekly for fifteen years.In that time, she has never given me attitude,not to mention that in all that time, I have never laid eyes on you", which I am sure would have just killed him. I was actually a little afraid of what he might say back since he really was a mean asshole, so,I waited until he left. Fred smiled at me and said "she gives me attitude every day" and shrugged. Mary beamed from ear to ear.I felt downright jubilant for some reason, and I think it's because, for ten minutes,one of the more depressing places to be was actually the happiest place on earth.There was a sense of community the likes of which I haven't felt, well, ever, really. Here we were,a group of people from all different walks of life and vastly different backgrounds, brought together by our addiction to other people's old shit, and someone came in to our house and tried to mess with our girl, Mary, and we all got her back.We said a collective "Eff off ,dude" to someone really deserving, and it felt great.We can only hope he gets wool moths from one of his purchases.
 Go to Bloomingdale's, Bruce, where they get paid to take your shit. Didn't  you read the sign on the door?
It says GOODWILL, Mother Fucker!!

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