They all smell the same. Ghosts of a thousand casseroles. You may be on a road trip, but the proprietor will never let you use the bathroom. Even if you spend a century note. You will forge on, nonetheless. Magpie, you can spot the sparkle from twenty yards. These are the thrift stores of the Pacific Northwest, and you stop at every one of them: Paradise, Montana. Moody Creek, Idaho. Humptulips, Washington. Bonanza, Oregon. Bonanza is truly the word; you are the type of person who feels it is bad luck to pass up a bargain. You have tried to pass on by, late for an engagement, but you will always flip a U-turn on the back street of a tiny town. You are a pirate, and you will change course at the very thought of buried treasure.
Always, you tell yourself the same thing: These people don’t know what they have. These people will never know what they have, how much it is worth. Isn’t that how life is?
Once, you bought a chainsaw. You will never use a chainsaw, but you know you must have it. The colors are extraordinary! The Husqvarna will end up jammed in the brass umbrella stand you found at another thrift store, and it will take you months until you realize it is slowly leaking oil. But you are the type of person who can justify any purchase: bowling balls, stethoscopes, a set of Gerald Ford commemorative dishes. You will enjoy serving appetizers on his face.
A pilgrimage. You are drawn to these places. Your home has become a cacophony, a shrieking museum, vintage has become a dirty word to your friends and family. This is your religion—your higher power builds the house for your soul, but lets you decorate.
A pair of Lilly Pulitzer resort pants, gold filigree and baby blue polar bears. These should be in a frame, behind glass, not draped over a pile of crutches and bedpans. A Farrah Fawcett doll, 1978, burgundy strapless dress and a lazy eye. Perhaps lazy eyes were fashionable. Rosaries, there is always a rosary hung on a plastic thumbtack behind the counter. Rosary beads of pearl, compressed rose petals, yellow animal teeth. In thrift stores, there is a new Hollywood—Victoria Principal. The Bay City Rollers. Kristy McNichol.
You would gladly live in a universe where Richard Simmons is the most famous person on earth. Sometimes, you buy these things because you are convinced they are worth a lot of money. You clap your hands with delight when you unearth a whole crate of New Kids On The Block dolls, factory sealed, multiple Danny, and you always hated Danny. You return home to discover they are worth nothing, but they make for startling garden gnomes.
How did these things get here? There is a story, always a story. This is why you became a writer.
You discover the short distance between cowboy shirts and Liberace, imagine stoic men on stoic horses bedecked in florid colors and ropes of rhinestones. A portable Electrolux hair dryer, pistachio colored, even though you are a slightly balding gay man. Oh, the books! Those paperbacks that smell like standing water. “Spinsters In Jeopardy.” “If Jesus Loves Me, Why Can’t I Get My Locker Open?”
You buy things you don’t need because it makes you feel better. You buy things that are one of a kind because you can’t bear the thought of anybody else having them. Maybe you have spent your life feeling unappreciated. In the thrift store, you can relish your martyrdom. And when your nieces and nephews unload your house after you die, they can finally confirm you were crazy. They will bring these boxes to the thrift store, return them to circulation. There will always be a buyer, there will always be a magpie. This is how you will live on forever.
Richard Fifield was born and raised in Troy, Montana. He is the author of The Flood Girls, published by Simon & Schuster and available at independent bookstores everywhere. His debut novel is a tribute to the thrift stores of the Pacific Northwest, and the people who find salvation there. At this very moment, he is most likely thumbing through a rack of polyester prom ensembles. One day, he will find the tangerine suit that has always eluded him.
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