There’s something singularly depressing about listening to Gene Autry croon “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” from a tinny overhead speaker in a thrift store. A sequined wedding dress hangs limply from a baby-blue plastic coat hanger, and I’m wondering if the petite woman who donated it ever walked down the aisle.
Bern became a loyal customer here ever since she stumbled upon a pair of brand new tweed pants from Soft Surroundings for $8. I’m told that’s a phenomenal deal; in fact, she tells me it’s a phenomenal deal every time we come here. One evening, she even found a photograph of the pants in the Soft Surroundings catalog, and stuck it under my nose to prove the enormity of her coup. Perhaps she thought I doubted her, but I never did. The thing is I’ve done better: I once paid $2.99 sent for a tuxedo jacket. Now granted, wearing it made me look like Cesar Romero from the old Batman TV show, but a bargain’s a bargain.
Before scampering off in search of, say, a Boden dress for $4.87, she suggests I wander about the store in case there’s anything I wish to add to my Christmas list. Walking around, I’m amazed at the unusual selection. Plates shaped like pizza slices (because, you know, it’s so hard to keep a slice of pizza on a round plate). A small plastic case with a gold label that reads “1930 Cadillac.” The Cadillac is missing, but then again, this is a dodgy neighborhood, and it’s possible the car was boosted for the parts. There’s a batless Placido Polanco bobble head poised in a batter’s box with a “Sugar House Casino” logo sitting about where home plate should be. I feel like I’ve just parachuted onto The Island of Misfit Toys.
Some items are rather curious. There’s a beer pitcher that reads “Cannstatter Volk Fest Verein, Philadelphia USA” which I later learn is one of the oldest German/American cultural organizations in Philadelphia whose founders include brewer Christian Schmidt and elfin-magic biscuit-guy Geoffrey Keebler.
But not until I wander to the back of the store do I hit the motherlode: racks of vinyl records that are so bad they’re good. Or, to paraphrase a line from the film “Ghost World,” they’re so bad, they go past good and back to bad again.” I flip past “Organ Omnibus — Accordian Boogie” and “Jimmy Nelson’s Instant Ventriloquism,” and stop at The Fireballs, a 1960s quartet I vaguely recall. This appears to be one of their last albums and with lyrics like “You’ve got your bag, and I’ve got mine/Maybe we can get together sometime and/think it over,” it’s not hard to understand why. Naturally, later that day, I’ll find the song on Youtube, and walk around the house singing “You’ve got your bag, and I’ve got mine” every time my wife asks for my opinion. Not surprisingly, it gets really old really fast.
I flip through albums until I find “Liberace — Songs My Mother Taught Me” with the pianist in a red tuxedo with a framed photograph of his Mom perched atop the piano. I close my eyes and just imagine young Wladzui Valentino Liberace banging away on “O Solo Mio” with a beaming Mrs. Liberace standing behind his shoulder. I think about how this and several other album covers would look on the family-room wall. Then I see Bern a few aisles over and slide the record in front of “TV Favorites As Played on the Lawrence Welk Show Featuring Jo-Ann Castle” and secretly wish I could hear her 1960s rendition of the Spanish-American War favorite “Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.”
As we’re exiting the store, I spy with my little eye an “Elvis Presley 35th Anniversary” coffee mug. Elvis is pictured in full Vegas jumpsuit and cape, arms spread wide like a Crucifixion victim. I think: Damn, that would look sweet on my desk at the art museum. (I work on site there twice a week.) People will think I’m either an eclectic genius or the white man’s Fred G. Sanford. Either way, I can live with the comparison.
Unfortunately, it’s a package deal wrapped with a “Snuffy Hollow 20th Anniversary Mug” with a logo of a hillbilly clutching a shotgun. The hillbilly looks like he hates rock ‘n roll and is about to blow a hole through The King so I balk.
Still, as I’m exiting the store I consider how the cliche “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure” holds a kernel of truth. After all, even the toys on The Island of Misfit Toys found a home.