In the US, I call it junking. The Aussies call it up-shopping. I like that term. Other references include thrifting, second-handing, and up-cycling among others. This is a highly skilled operation that few appreciate and even fewer master.
I can’t tell you how many times I get a compliment on an item I’m wearing, then when asked where I got it and answer, “I got that while junking,” I hear, “What?? I can never find good stuff at thrift stores.” I came to learn I had a rare gift – a knack for digging through “crap” and finding treasures. At first, it was much like the confusion a rich kid experiences when he finds out that not all kids get driven to school by a personal chauffeur. Then I came to embrace it.
I was at an up-shop in Rosanna, a suburb of Melbourne, today and had a memory of junking back home. One of my favorite stores, which didn’t last more than a year despite my concerted efforts to keep it in business, was just a few miles from my house. See, each junk shop has its own culture, it might be the smell, the general behavior of the clientele, or any other trade mark.
I would arrive at opening time after dropping the kids off at school and head straight for the women’s clothing section chomping at the bit to peruse the selection. It was the only time kids got dropped off at school early. Any more, whenever we’re early to go someplace, they say, “Mum, are you going junking?”
Here I was in my happy place, smiling to myself contentedly. Without fail, as I was sliding the scritching hangers along the racks, not a minute into my shopping escapade, the janitor would walk up to me with a massive mop, headphones in position, smacking chewing gum, and bobbing away to the music.
I understand and appreciate that the store must be mopped, but this bordered on the ridiculous. I could swear that janitor never saw me, though I was the only customer and he had 1,999 other sq. ft. to mop. He would walk right up to me and get to work. I’d courteously step off to the side, my hand marking my place among the hangers, like a finger in a book page, with the sloshing monster afoot.
“Excuse me,” I said to deaf ears, pushing my torso into the clothes, my head now swaying back precariously. He responded off key by belting the refrain of the Spanish music he was listening to, holding the handle like a mic, then returned to mop when he no longer knew the words. I tried waving him down. I leaned my head this way and that, like an owl, to meet his eyes – to no avail. I sighed heavily, waved again and mustered a brave, “Hola amigo,” and it was time for the refrain again. I could hear the accordion in his headphones and knew I stood no chance of being heard. Oh dear!
He turned his back to me, mopping a different section and I instantly dropped my foot on the floor to save my life, only to have the mop swing around like a mad Brontosaurus grabbing for an elusive meal. I skittered back onto the rack.
Every time I went to put my foot down, like lightning, the evil mop head came at me again and like a flash, I lifted my threatened foot into the air. Then greedy mop swished its gross saliva and lunged at my other foot on the ground. My footwork got fancier and fancier, pulling me further and further away from THE hanger. Determined not to lose my place, I had no choice but to scramble onto the bottom rung of the clothes rack. I had an epiphany and came to fully understand how a drunk falls on his face and busts his teeth without spilling a drop of his booze. I would jump on the very top of this clothes rack if I needed to!
My anxiety mounting, my heart skipped a beat as the round rack heaved towards me. One of its wheels was missing and it certainly wasn’t designed for this task in the first place. It leaned heavily towards me like a sail on a boat and I hung on for dear life. It stopped suddenly, one leg in the air like a dog at a fire hydrant.
It seemed, at the time, that the mop handle was twenty feet long and growing. Even as he moved away from me, the mop head still hurtled at me as he moved it back and forth. Try as I might, I couldn’t get the janitor’s attention. Flinging my purse back up to my shoulder I wiped the sweat off my brow. I hollered and waved frantically with my one available hand. Wide-eyed, I tried to take a deep breath and centered myself. I was now leaning perilously as well as trying to balance the rickety clothes rack. I started to feel dizzy and the room slowly spun a half circle. Then I realized that under my weight and with all the gyrations, the rack had come alive. It groaned and started to roll, squeaking maniacally and limped a wild wobble as it took off for the dishes aisle with all the mismatched glassware!
“Help!” I hollered, catching speed. I fluttered my hands deliriously then clutched back at the rack that now threatened to buck me. Closing my eyes tightly I braced myself for the inevitable crash.
“Are you okay?” asked a worried Aussie lady at the up-shop, peering at me quizzically over her glasses as I hung onto the clothes rack for dear life. I barely heard her above the thunderous drumming of my heart and I opened my eyes. I slowly turned to look at her, my wild eyes darting back and forth in the bright lights. I noticed 2 other women glancing at me cautiously from around the corner. Their heads quickly disappeared when our eyes met.
“Yes. Yes, I’m okay,” I said confused and embarrassed, and peeled my pale knuckles off the rack. Very slowly, I planted my wobbly feet safely on the floor and stood a long minute to catch my bearings.
“I’m good… sorry… thank you,” I muttered foolishly and headed for the door, flushed. I could feel her scratching her head behind me and shrugging her shoulders in bewilderment.
And that, my friends, is why normal women shop at Nordstrom’s!
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