I’ve learned all types of basic lessons since I started blogging three years ago. Basic sportswriting stuff (don’t cite bad stats), basic accountability stuff (don’t be like most people who start a blog and abandon it after a month), and then just a ton of basic stuff about life (always leave yourself an out, quitting is for losers, tipping 15% is like smacking a waitress in the mouth, snakes are evil, in the Game of Thrones you win or you die, never trust Russia, etc.)
However, if there’s one lesson I’ve learned that’s helped me the most as I strive to entertain and inform my vast readership, it’s that less is almost always more. That is, don’t use 1,000 pages to tell a story when you can say that one perfect word that will make supermodels swoon and grown men weep. It’s something I struggle with on a weekly basis, partly because I’m a wordy writer by nature, but also because sometimes I like to lull my readers into a hypnotic trance so I can then scrawl out a code-laden paragraph that ultimately forces them to Western Union me large sums of cash.
But that’s neither here nor there.
I see creating a good blog post the same way I see getting one’s fat ass in shape. You start with your rough draft, and it’s packed with run-on sentences and pointless paragraphs and seven minute soliloquies about hamburgers. It’s then your job to whittle it down, shave down the fluffy edges, and come away with a product that you aren’t 100% ashamed to stuff into a pair of XL board shorts. And guess what? It’s fucking hard, and just like the hordes of people who show up on January 2 to Planet Fitness asking how to turn on the elliptical, I often fail miserably and end up at home with the lights off, eating finger scoops of port wine cheese.
Like yesterday, when I started this post. In what was supposed to be a brief segue into a delightful tale about shopping, I found myself talking about past girlfriends, the Ninja Turtles, and how I spent the first year of middle school completely unaware that my nostrils were lined with crusty boogers (GODDAMN IT ALL TO HELL). It took me awhile, but I finally realized I was forgetting the cardinal rule, which is that no one likes a fattie.
So, here’s how I SHOULD have started this blog, instead of filibustering about nonsense (and then filibustering again about filibustering about nonsense):
Recently I went to the thrift store and, just like Macklemore promised, I left looking and feeling INCREDIBLE.
But first, some background...
As a resident of Fishtown, Philadelphia, USA, I’m surrounded every day of my life by rowhouse upon rowhouse of smelly hipsters. (Sorry if you’re reading this and you, yourself, are a smelly hipster. Not because I offended you, but moreso just because you smell. Sorry about that.) And for a square dude like myself, being surrounded by extra small Little League t-shirts and nonprescription glasses frames can be kind of intimidating, so I try to blend in. I ride my bike slowly the wrong way down one-way streets. I wear a knit hat to bars in the summer and pull it back real high on my head so it almost falls off. I even tried wearing magenta skinny jeans one time, but they got halfway up my giant soccer legs and started screaming and offering all kinds of intel if I would “just please make it stop.” None of that really caught on though, because at my core I’m a normal, cookie-cutter guy who likes sports and doesn’t particularly enjoy PBR.
However, Fishtown has given me one thing I refuse to ever give back, and that’s my love for cutoff jean shorts.
That’s right you sheep, I wear jorts sometimes, and those times are the very best of times. They’re comfortable, they go with EVERYTHING, and damn if they don’t make my vegan Sunday brunch taste a little more ironic.
Unfortunately, not long ago, my favorite/only pair of jorts was torn asunder by a particularly energetic round of bending over to pick something up. Literally, the whole front of these things ripped in half, like a tree trunk that gets blasted with a giant lightning bolt from Zeus. So, not only did I have to spend the rest of my trip to the organic food co-op poking out the front of my trousers, I also had to make designs on getting a new pair. Ultimately, I made the decision to venture right into the belly of the Fishtown beast. Aka, the Cambodian thrift store down the street.
Now, before I continue, it should be noted that this was not my first thrifting adventure. I went to an arts high school that was basically a training facility for the Green Party, so over those four years I thrifted a ton. It’s where I got my amazing jeans with the patches on them, which served as an all-access pass to some of the better hippy parties on my college campus. It’s also where I got my favorite t-shirt of all-time. It was white and said NEBRASKA WRESTLING across the front in red cursive writing. I wore that thing approximately 780 times before it literally disintegrated into dust, causing me to sneeze uncontrollably. And finally, it’s where I got my tan corduroy blazer with the suede patches on the elbows that I refer to as “The Good Doctor.” (If I’m ever in the mood to play coy, I pop that bad boy on, head to the nearest strip club and whip out a copy of Jane Eyre. Trust me, the ladies can. not. stand it.) In those days, I was at least 75% outfitted in thrift store attire, and cooler than I probably ever will be the rest of my life.
But Sunday was the first time I’d been in awhile, so it took awhile to get into the flow.
I knew my one target was a pair of jeans that wouldn’t be too tight and didn’t look like they were manufactured during World War II, but the pants section in a thrift store is always a total jungle of chaos, so I decided to start slow.
Acquisition 1: Lavender Tie. The racks of old belts and suspenders and all other manner of accessories were just to the left of the entrance. So, being that I wear ties to work everyday and being that no one at work really ever sees me and/or cares if I dress like a blind car salesman, I figured this was a good chance to buy a staple of my wardrobe for under a dollar. Immediately, the purple one stood out because A) I don’t have any purple ties, and B) it didn’t appear to have semen stains on it, which is more than I can say for some of the others. After inspecting thoroughly and making sure it wasn’t one of those deceptive short ties that you don’t realize will make you look like a circus clown until you put them on, I tossed it in my cart and moved on.
Acquisition 2: Lawrence Welk Record Set. FIVE MINUTES IN AND HE’S GOING ROGUE. I wish there were a bunch of descriptives and explanatories I could provide that would somehow justify me buying Lawrence Welk records, but there really aren’t. The truth is, after the tie section, the next thing I saw was a giant display of cassettes, headphones, and broken tape players, and I was as much in awe as I was confused. There were also racks upon racks of CDs, and even though I haven’t listened to a CD since 2005, they were priced at a quarter, so in my head I was like I COULD HAVE THE COMPREHENSIVE SARAH MCLACHLAN CATALOGUE FOR LESS THAN A HAPPY MEAL WHAT DO I DOOOOOOO??? Well, I didn’t end up buying Sarah McLachlan CDs, and I also passed on the Jewel and the Rusted Root. However, that’s only because I was distracted by the bottom shelf, which consisted of a bunch of Better Homes and Gardens magazines and a few boxes of records. Now, I don’t technically own a record player, nor do I own any other records or even a working knowledge of what a record actually is. However, this boxed set of Lawrence Welk joints had an awesome picture on the front of a dude with a baton, and the title was “Champagne Dance Party.” So, being that my whole life is basically a champagne dance party, I decided to pony up the $1.25 and bring the bitch home to roost.
Acquisition 3: Old-timey Brown Pants. By this time, I was feeling pretty confident. Not only had I gotten a tie with zero stains on it, I’d also scored some sick vinyl, so it seemed like it was time to dive in and zero in on my target. Surprisingly, it didn’t take me long to find what seemed to be a suitable pair of denim pants, but that’s when I was confronted with what we’ll refer to as Obstacle One. I don’t know about you, but I’m at that weird gray area in my life where I have absolutely no idea what will fit me and what won’t. I’m like the eighth-grader who has no idea he grew eight inches in one summer, and spends the first few weeks of the school year looking like a transmogrified Ron Weasley. So, I always have to try stuff on - especially pants. It’s a sad, sad state of affairs, but with the help of Jesus and a lot of hard liquor on weeknights, I’ve come to accept it. So when I found this pair of jeans that seemed like they’d look great on my legs, I asked a nearby thrift store attendant where the nearest changing station was. I made sure to say changing “station”, because in my experience stores like these don’t always provide rooms. Sometimes they do, but other times they just offer nooks with a curtain, and then other times they basically just say HEY GO KNEEL DOWN BEHIND THE STUFFED ANIMALS AND DON’T CALL ATTENTION TO YOURSELF. Unfortunately, this young woman delivered some super bad news: they had no changing station of any kind. To me, this seemed like an egregious breach of retail etiquette (if not a full blown violation of the fire code), so I asked if they accepted returns in case I went home and discovered that my purchases were six sizes too small. She proceeded to snicker, give me the “child please” look, and walk away. Luckily for me though, a solution popped up, seemingly out of midair.
No sooner had I bid the condescending retail professional adieu, I realized I was staring right at a pair of pants I’d dropped off a few weeks earlier. I was sure they were mine too, because not only were they the exact style/brand/color of the ones I used to own, but my wife always writes “Reed” on the tags of my pants in black Sharpie, just in case I leave them somewhere or forget my name or get caught in the crosshairs of the zombie apocalypse. So, being the industrious genius I am, I did a few quick mental calculations and decided that as long as the pants I find are roughly two Chalupas bigger than my old ones, I’d probably be in good shape. It was the only option I had besides sneaking through the EMPLOYEE ONLY double doors at the back, which I’m sure led to the bowels of the intake/tagging/pricing operation. Similar to watching a 17 year old squirt special sauce on my Big Mac, I wasn’t too keen on getting a glimpse of that process. So, I proceeded to just carry around my old pants and use them as a measuring stick for my new pants, which seemed pretty weird at first until I realized that most of the other patrons of the store were either 200 year old bag ladies or homeless dudes who looked like they were half werewolf.
Unfortunately, the jeans I’d initially picked out didn’t pass the Chalupa test, but I did end up finding some sweet old brown dress pants. Which, despite having a few little holes in the back, seemed like they’d be perfect for the Marcus Mumford costume I’ve been working on. YOINK.
Acquisition 4: Croquet Set. By this point, I was fully committed to the thrift store experience. Sure, I’d struck out in the denim aisle, but the fact that I had a tie, some records, and some Awake My Soul pants already in my cart had me on a second-hand-shit high that I hadn’t experienced in years. So instead of turning around and heading for the nearest register, I kept rolling, directly into the “outdated by 30 years electronics” corner. This phase didn’t take me long though because let’s face it, I’m 30 years old and reasonably established financially, which means I have no use for black and white TVs, Gateway brand computer keyboards, or telephones that are bigger than a toaster. However, for a split second I considered just saying “GIVE ME ALL OF IT”, and then building a massive supercomputer in our third floor guest room that would allow me to split atoms and talk to Japan. But then I noticed that the next aisle said TOYS/GAMES, which totally distracted/excited me and made me forget all about the supercomputer thing.
That’s when, as I turned the corner, I was confronted with what we’ll refer to as Obstacle Two.
Standing in the middle of the aisle, between me and what appeared to be shelves and shelves of action figures and Tonka trucks, stood a three-foot tall male child pushing around one of those Fisher-Price vacuum cleaners. It was one of the ones with the multi-colored balls that spun around and made all kinds of racket when you push it, so this kid was obviously having a blasty-blast running up and down the aisle and pissing off his nearby mother. Now, normally I’d handle this situation easily. My years of experience in childcare has taught me the best way to subdue an unruly/irritating midget is to stare directly into their eyes and give them one of these. Unfortunately, this kid was completely oblivious to my presence, but his helter-skelter tomfoolery still made it impossible for me to get around him in what was already a very disorganized, narrow thrift store passageway. For a second I considered just leaving and not looking at the toys, but then I was like “F this kid, he doesn’t control my life,” so instead I let out a super impatient “eh-HEMMMMMM” sound. However, instead of just getting out of the way like most housebroken children would, this guy looks up at me, smiles, and steps directly in my path. As if to imply that every toy in the aisle was his and I’d better just deal with it. Naturally, I did a sidestep to my right again and tried to shuffle past him. And of course, being the little firecracker that he was, he deftly stepped back in front of me before I could advance, all the while smiling like a Gremlin. So, at this point I had two options: A) retreat and go home, therefore cutting an awesome shopping day short, or B) lift this kid up by his Phillies shirt and hang him from the ceiling fan. But before I could decide, he blasted me with a question that completely threw me off guard. With a furrowed brow, he said: “Who are YOU???”
In retrospect, it’s pretty clear that the question’s purpose was perfectly illustrated. This was a KID, one who wasn’t even old enough to go to school, which means he probably spends most days being lugged around in a minivan or running around his house bonking into stuff. He probably doesn’t know anyone besides his family, his neighbors, and possibly the mailman. So yeah, I guess his question was legitimate. However, to me, an adult who took at least TWO different philosophy courses in college (I don’t really remember college very well), this kid’s question was a total stumper. I mean yeah I’m REED, I get it, but who else am I? Well, I’m a guy who needs new jean shorts, for one. But I’m also a brother, a son, a husband, a grandson, and a nephew. I’m a lover of burritos. An owner of several outdated sports jerseys. A former novice-level Dungeon Master. You can’t just ask me who I am and expect me not to consider saying ALL of these things. IT’S NOT HOW THE WORLD WORKS KID.
Luckily for me, I didn’t even have time to respond. Like a beautiful, sweet guardian angel, Mason’s mom came to my rescue. And I know now that his name was Mason, because what she said was “DAMMIT MASON COME HEREEEEEEEEEE” as if she’d been saying it throughout our whole steel cage death match and he’d just been ignoring her. Just like that, Mason dropped his stupid plastic vacuum cleaner and ran off, leaving me alone in Toyland, wondering who the F I really am.
As it turned out, I didn’t come away with any toys. Mainly because I’m not technically in the market for Lincoln Logs or battery-powered guitars. But also because, once again, my attention was stolen away by an item on the bottom shelf. It was an old, dinged-up croquet set, and it reminded me of all those previews that are on TV right now of the Great Gatsby movie, even though it seems to be set in modern times which I think is a complete joke. The set was held together tightly by clear packing tape, and the wickets were nothing more than old, bent steel, which is how I knew the whole damn package was legit. Immediately I envisioned garden parties similar to the one in Bridesmaids, where my guests would arrive to fresh lemonade and proceed to jump on ponies, which would lead them to the backyard. Just like in the movie, I’d have massive fountains everywhere, and everyone would dress real nice and compliment me on the giant cookie cake I ordered.
I was all set to buy the thing, but then I remembered my wife and I actually already own a croquet set. We got it as a wedding gift a year and a half ago, and we’ve never used it. I then remembered that we don’t actually own a yard that features grass, and we don’t actually have enough friends to make the whole garden party thing happen, so I decided to pass on that particular opportunity. But then I remembered our friends are getting married in a couple weeks, and for their pictures they’re featuring lawn games as props. They’d asked to use our croquet set, but being that this one seemed antiquey and chic (and being that I had to outmaneuver Chucky to get to it) I decided to pick it up for them. It was priced at $14.71, but I figured that had to be a misprint considering A) I hadn’t seen anything over three dollars since arriving, and B) $14.71 might be the most ridiculously random price for a croquet set ever, even in the wild and wooly world of thrift store pricing matrixes. (It wasn’t a misprint. Them bitches got us for $14.71.)
Final Acquisitions: Jeans, and THE BEST PURCHASE EVER. By this time, I was running out of steam. My cart was starting to fill up, and it occurred to me that I’d just spent the last 45 minutes of my life looking through other people’s trash. Most of me wanted to just check out right there, but the tiny little man inside my soul was screaming for one last shot at jean shorts. So I did the pants thing again. You know, the “walk at 0.000029 miles per hour through the pants aisle checking to see if the size on the hanger is actually the size on the tag and if they’re boot cut or straight cut and OH MY GOD JUST FORGET ITTTTTT.” Surprisingly, I found a pair that, according to all of my available sizing charts, seemed like they may work. And if that weren’t lucky enough, they also had an orange tag, which (if I was to believe the enormous handwritten signs everywhere) meant they were half off that day.
So that was it...or so I thought.
Just as I was packing up all my crap and seeing how many fives of dollars I was about to spend, I noticed a pair of heavy-duty-looking dungarees slung over one of the racks. For some reason, they were calling to me, so I moved closer to investigate. So...OK...I’ll just come out and say it. THEY WERE FLEECE-LINED JEANS PEOPLE. Fleece. Lined. Jeans.
Seriously, my skull almost exploded.
And these weren’t like chintzy K-Mart-brand joints either. They were heavy, thick, and fortified by what could only have been years of blood, sweat and tears. If I had to guess, I’d say they were at one point owned by either Richard N. Cabela, founder of Cabela’s Outdoor Clothier, or Paul Bunyan himself. The fleece was red and warm to the touch, and it immediately made me fantasize about all the times I could have enjoyed it when my wife and I went to pick out a Christmas tree (twice). This, ladies and gentlemen, was one of the most triumphant moments of my entire life; right up there with hitting an over-the-fence homerun as a 12- year-old and successfully pulling a chair out from under the annoying girl in 7th-grade biology.
Not only did I toss those suckers into my cart with a massive smile on my face, I also let out an audible “YEAH!” and attempted to high-five a paranoid-looking old man who stood nearby. All he did was flinch and try to meld into the winter coats, but I didn’t even care. I was totally en fuego.
I have to admit, the remainder of my visit was kind of a blur. I don’t even remember walking from the back of the store all the way up to the checkout counter, even though I’m sure I must have looked like a knight returning from the Crusades with a big bloody dragon’s head. I’d braved the wilderness and emerged victorious, and everyone could totally tell. Especially the checkout clerk, who smiled at me as I piled my goods onto the counter. She said something along the lines of “can’t beat these prices, eh?” and I replied with something like “you bet your ass” and we both had a good chuckle. Then she started putting the big clunky croquet situation into a flimsy plastic bag and I continued to be impressive by holding out my hand, saying “No please, I can carry that”, and then subtly pointing to my biceps.
Her reply, I have to admit, was equally awesome.
She said: “But I don’t want your balls to fall out,” which prompted me to give her a knowing look that said “for a second there, it sounded like you were talking about my testicles.” She giggled for the fourth time in our brief encounter, and just like that I was on my way.
I’m not sure when I’ll go back to my neighborhood thrift store. Honestly, it might not be for awhile. Partly because it smelled like a nursing home cafeteria, but also partly because I don’t want to get addicted. I mean, when you walk into a store and everything costs less than a gallon of gas, your immediate reaction is to just want all of it. Mainly because more is better than less, and if there’s more less stuff, you might want to have some more because if you really like something you’ll want more. Like, if you really like it, you want more.
But that’s ok. I don’t need to go back. Not only did I find an awesome tie which I’ve already worn twice to work, I also got a pair of brown geezer pants and some fleecejeans that may as well just be a sauna for my legs. Pair those with my shiny new pair of jorts, and there’s basically no way I don’t cruise into summer as one of the most talked about hot-rods this side of Girard Avenue. All because I decided to go with my gut. To tap into my roots. To hunt through the wild blue yonder of Super Thrift, looking for a come up.
Well folks, I did it, and everything they say is true.
It. was. f*%^ing. awesome.
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