Thursday, September 25, 2008

Thrift Store Life Moment

(Doesn't the title of this post sound like the name of your best friend's older brother's Emo band?)

People really do have prodigious, life changing altercations in public.

One of the most common film staples is the Public Fracas, designed to show the audience a character's commitment the situation. How will anyone know you mean what you say unless it is in front of the highest possible number of people - like at a wedding or at the mall? Movies promote this odd little fib about human behavior: a gush of music, the He and She at the center of the story yelping at each other like howler monkeys, one of them cries, the other caves. Popcorn, popcorn, munch, munch.

Of course, none of that is real. Movies are not built to show us what's real. They might show us a human Truth (capital "T" and that which is common to all men and women, tra la, tra la), but not real. Even the films with a kitchen sink so true you can smell the Palmolive and coffee grounds around the basin, can never be the genuine article.

During our clammy adolescence, when most of us are doughy half-formed mutants just trying to get laid, movies (and TV, it should go without saying) provide a kind of instructional video for how to behave among others - how to win love, how to fight for love, how to break up. I have had more than my share of "suited for celluloid" moments - I wish I could say they all took place before the age of 27 - and at first glance they give the impression of authenticity - REAL feelings, REAL passion. But, after several of these scenes come and go, they ring hollow, like reciting some tired users manual from a 70's electric can opener. It's an act. It's an act until we learn how to do it on our own, and in a way that is less manufactured.

It's a little silly, now, to announce, with the same chest swollen pride of discovering the New World, that movies do not show us how we really ought to act around one another. It's evident, plain as the nose on my face. But how often have we unconsciously allowed film or TV (or internet...since we're making forward progress here) nudge us this way or that, towards a way of communicating? It doesn't have to be some public event, what about in private? It's happened to me plenty of times.

Once I made this observation about film and TV, I simply assumed that participants in these all-access skirmishes were just big fakers, imagining themselves on camera, drumming up some big emotions because it's the only way "They know they're alive, man." I figured it was a myth.

And there's always the portentious, "Until..."

I do a lot of costume shopping in thrift stores. I pull out my little list an go on a massive scavenger hunt for cowboy hats and the perfect white suit. Feelings are mixed going into one of the many Village Discounts (for which the initials V.D. have a grim relevance) or Unique's scattered across the city. I am there to complete an artistic notion. Most of the other people are there to find clothes and goods at a price they can afford (excluding the hipsters who are looking for the ironic "Six Flags Fright Fest '97" tee shirt). I am a tourist, out for the ugliest pink decalled sweatshirt I lay hands on.

The biggest crowds are on the days before school begins, when mothers are loading up on white shirts required of boys and girls in some area schools. $1.00 is a pretty good price to pay for such a thing. On Half Price day (Mondays) it is the Law of the Jungle, everyone scanning the aisles for what they need, snatching it up before anyone else can see, ramming their carts down narrow pathways. It is not friendly. I will normally choose a Tuesday (suck) or Wednesday to complete my errands. I would rather pay the full $3.65 for a pair of pants in relative tranquility, than fight the mobs for $1.82.

Over the past few weeks I made the trip to the Unique on Sheridan. I have spent a considerable amount of time in this place, combing through ripped jeans and unexplained combo sacks of mismatched barbie parts and garlic presses (These items were found in the same grab bag.).

While comparing one tie covered in ambiguous stains with another, I heard a ruckus from behind me:

SHE: Why don't you just get away from me -

HE: I will not get aw- what the hell is you're problem? Fuckin' tell me to get away from you - I don't HAVE to-

SHE: Don't you get close to me - I can tell where you've been!

HE: What? What does that mean?


These two were in the throes, and I mean, in it deep. I believe, from the vapors rising off of them and wafting up my nose, they had been drinking...and early in the day. I tried to get a good look at her face. Her eyes were pink and her nose was red tipped. She carried with her a pile of jeans and a copper bottomed pot. He followed behind, stumbling up on her back. His shirt had splotches of Pepsi brown around the hem of his faded t-shirt.

They trudged up the aisles.

SHE: Don't touch me, don't TOUCH me! You can go cry to her for all I give a shit!

HE: I never touch- I never touched don't even know what happened. (Passing me) excuse me, I'm sorry...

They continued for the whole time I was there, their resentments and condemnations rising with each turned corner. I could glimpse bits and pieces, even from the Ladies section.




She shoved him away from her. He recovered and got back up in her face.

The response from both customers and employees was uncomfortable silence. The workers glanced at each other with an "I'm not going near this and you can't make me" shrug. Finally the manager approached them and told them to leave. They looked at him, almost uniting against a common threat, but the unity was short lived. She threw the pile of clothes and appliances she carried to the floor and the two exited, screaming at each other, escalating the shoving match.

There was nothing fake about this (though the accelerant of alcohol may have fed the outburst). The two were in their own world, shackled together, in an intense and private moment.

This must have been an isolated incident.


In the weeks since, I have been to this Unique several times and one two separate occasions, two DIFFERENT couples have walked the aisles in fervent discussion over the uncertain future of their relationships. Must be something in the water over there.

There is some classism in my story. In these instances, when I have witnessed these tirades, the HE and the SHE are, strictly from my assumption, probably on the lower end of the economic spectrum, and have resided there for some time. Does that make the fight any less real or less valid? In general, I can shrug off outbursts I see on the streets, from my cozy bubble, as the product of low economic status and "they just don't know any better."

These feelings exist regardless of socio-economic status. When I encounter it in the real world, I want to turn away, but as unpredictable as those emotions are (and sometimes as frightening as the people expressing them can appear), there is a swirl of them inside...sometimes canned up inside the heart or the mind.

That's why I watch, or prick up my ears. It's why I pay to see movies that show some dressed up middle class version of it, even with the swell of music and the popcorn munch.

And probably why, on occasion, I have participated in my own public flare ups...I probably will again someday. Anyone want to join me at Unique this weekend?

Any takers?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

>Must be something in the water over there.

Speaking as one who lived 4 blocks from this particular Unique Thrift (for 5 years) - and who spent hours in search of costume, prop and set peices...I never went in that store and didn't come out without at least one person/couple turning up the crazy and stopping store traffic.

I'm not sure how many exist now, but when I lived there (well before the revitalization of Broadway (just north and west of Sheridan) there were at least 7 homeless/women's shelters within am 8 block radius. And one year (2001 or 2002) there was an actual "tent city" of homeless about two blocks from the store (and unfortunately, kitty korner from my building.)

My theory is that particular Unique is the fulcrum which most of those unfortunate folks have to spend at least some time in.


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