Joy of Thrift
by Larkin Vonalt
Last week, my 18-year-old son was eager to show me this video. He’s often eager to show me a video, it’s usually something to do with Machinima or Minecraft and if I can, I try to weasle out of it. But this time he said something that stopped me: “Mom, this ought to be your theme song.” Well, who could resist that? Who doesn’t wonder what theme song their teenager would ascribe to them?
And? Well, he was on to something. I do love thrift shops. I’ve been a maven of thrift shops for . . . . well, a long time. I started to write that I hardly wear clothes from thrift shops anymore, but that’s not true. At least half of my wardrobe is still second hand. In Montana, you could get better clothes in the thrift shops than you could in the retail establishments downtown, and you didn’t have to pay “resort town” prices for them.
So, yes, it could be my theme song. But I’ve been sick for weeks and sad even longer and I really haven’t felt like dragging myself out to the Happy Heap, our nickname for the Goodwill outlet where goods are piled unsorted on tables and sold by the pound. But this video, even in my fog, made me grin. Especially at 2:57, where the magic is strong.
The song is the work of Macklemore, a 29-year-old Seattle-area rapper named Ben Haggerty. Working in conjunction with producer Ryan Lewis, Macklemore has developed a considerable online fan base without the assistance of any major label support. Rolling Stone called them the “Indie rags to riches story.” (How appropriate that a song about thrift shops would catapult them there.) The key difference between Macklemore’s other successes (like the exquisite “Same Love“) and the phenomenon of “Thrift Shop” is Wanz, a 51-year-old software tester.
Wanz (real name: Michael Wansley) was something of the go-to guy for “hooks” in the Seattle music scene. He charged $25 an hour to sing the hook in what has been described as a “sturdy, soulful voice,” $40 if he had to write the hook too. He got a call late one summer evening. He went to the studio at 1 a.m., wrote and recorded the chorus to this song and was back home in bed within the hour. I sure hope they paid him more than forty bucks.
My son was scandalized when I said it was Wanz that made the song, but truly, it’s that hook that makes it work, and at 2:57 when Wanz appears in his Creamsicle three-piece-suit, underscored by a beautiful bass line, that’s where the song really launches. And 51 years old. That’s so cool.
When I first saw this, last week, it had 73 million views since the end of August. Even for YouTube that’s a lot. Especially for an indy single. In the 6 days since, it’s up to 85 million.
So today, I had twenty dollars in my pocket.
We have a Goodwill outlet here, much like the Seattle Goodwill outlet in the video– same blue bin tables and rows of upholstered chairs. Rag and bone men make it their second home, ransacking the tables for something of value. Metal objects that can be sold for scrap are highly prized, as are certain arcane electronics. When the sheet-covered newly-laden group of tables is wheeled out, they line up obediently to be first into the new stash. When the sheets are removed, all hell breaks loose. They are joined in the elbow-to-elbow frenzy by junk shop dealers, working stiffs, the impoverished, and the curious.
It is a controlled chaos. People grab and reach and rifle through. It used to be that they would toss stuff, but too many things got smashed that way and management put a stop to it. Still, it is not without peril; broken glass, rusty knives, tubs of rancid Avon products, the jagged edge of a shattered resin unicorn lurk. But the place makes me feel oddly serene. My family hates to go there, so I go alone. Though I am a familiar figure, the regulars don’t “recognize” me, so I don’t have to make chit chat. I just methodically work from one bin to the next, scanning for treasure. It may be bedlam around me, but I am alone with my thoughts.
It is my happy place.
Though I’ve been away awhile, the cashier still waves at me when I come in. Because I have been so prickly lately, it takes me awhile to get into the groove. The wares seem junkier, the aisles more crowded, the children more fractious. Why doesn’t she just take that exhausted toddler home? A guy moves my cart to go past it and I very nearly say something, but what would be the point? I just shrug and bit by bit, begin to relax. I find an ancient dime-store Santa Claus doll with a gauze face. An adorable black Labrador puppy toy from FAO Schwarz, with its original tags. Underneath a pile of looseleaf in a sorted-through bin is a pine needle souvenir tray from Marietta, Ohio. I smile.
Three hours later, I emerge with an etched glass from the Chicago Kennel Club, a Vellux queen-sized blanket, a Ralph Lauren bath towel, a brand new ULINE mailing tube, 4 new super-absorbent shamwow-type towels, a Nature Creation hot-and-cold shoulder wrap, Martha Stewart’s Handbook of Hors d’Oeuvres ($35 list price), a Thundershirt, two baskets, an action figure of Merida from Brave, a brown silk lampshade, an enamel ice bucket (or maybe it’s a kitchen compost bin, it’s brand new), a felt Jack o’Lantern, The Contented Poacher (a cookbook for game) a book of John Baeder’s wonderful paintings of Diners, a copy of the newest translation of Gilgamesh (National Book Award winner) a signed copy of Bill O’Reilly’s A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity and a vintage 8 by 10 photo of a black labrador named Mindy. And the pine needle tray, the Santa doll, and the puppy. For $19.30.
Do I skip to the car? Maybe a little.
I’ll wear your granddad’s clothes, I look incredible …