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Goodwill Hunting

Goodwill Hunting

Love or hate it, Goodwill (GW) is a fascinating shopping experience. It is full of “trash” or “treasures” depending on your perspective. Either you can’t wait till discount day (Mondays, usually) or you consider shopping there, something equal to a harsh prison camp punishment.

Note to non-U.S. citizens: For those of you who do not live in the United States (I don’t think that Goodwill is international yet,) let me explain. Goodwill is a not-for-profit organization in the U.S. that takes donations of household goods (really anything they deem resalable) and sells the used goods in their stores. The processing of these goods is done by people who have handicaps and the profit of sales goes to programs that help people with handicaps or disabilities. It is a great concept and does a great work in helping people in the U.S.

When you go into a Goodwill Store, you are first greeted by a familiar odor. It’s the smell of old things, old clothes, old books, old furnishings, scientifically termed “Grandmais smellis.” You know it when you inhale it. It’s like your great grandmother’s linen closet where old quilts have lived folded on painted shelves for decades, mixed with the fragrance of your grandfather’s tool shed, with just a touch of floor cleaner, accented by the spice of b.o. (body odor.) It makes you feel a little lucky to pass by an old scented candle that is half burnt. It is not an overly disgusting smell, but it makes you sneak your nose down to your underarm, when no one is looking, just to make sure it is not you. It is familiar to us GW shoppers, we think it smells like savings. It is very different from the smell of the stores at the mall, partly because of the merchandise, and partly because of the people you are shopping close to.

I am a GW fan. I like thrift stores. I am a stout advocate of “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” (Much to the dismay of my wife.) So this writing will come from that prospective. Yes, after I leave the store, I can’t wait to get in the shower or at least to a half-gallon pump bottle of hand sanitizer, but I still love shopping there. I love thinking that maybe I am doing something that helps others, doing my part to help those less fortunate. Even though I only spend on an average of 37 cents; usually on something like a ball of hopelessly tangled yarn or a broken paper weight, dropped off by someone who visited Italy in 1954. (I am supposing that is what it was, since it said, “Italy 1954” and had a picture of some place in Italy. Well… I liked it.)

I love surprises and Goodwill has them galore. Every isle is a new surprise, every shelf an adventure. You could never guess what is waiting on those shelves for you before you go in. Some of the things you see there will surprise you because you thought you had seen every gadget known to man, but here is some strange new contraption. Perhaps it is some lost alien technology that just didn’t do the job. Who knows? There is no packaging, no signs, no explanation. Just the small voice inside your head saying, “I think I will buy that.”

Since these are donations, there is no connection with most of the items on the shelves. You might find a picture of Elvis made of sea shells next to a stack of communion cups from the local Baptist church that were not use because they accidentally printed with the word, “Party!”. You might spot a candle holder made from a cheese grater, that has fallen from its place on to a radiator hose for a 1963 Buick, which your return to it rightful standing position and then notice it was hiding a nearly full bag of old gum-balls. (It was gum-balls or marbles. Not sure. But I wasn’t going to taste and see.) And then next week… all new surprises. What ever you can think of, the rule of the universe says it will eventually be there.

There are somethings I won’t buy at Goodwill, and they will still most likely still be there in the 22nd century. These are things like hats. I am already losing my hair and don’t want to take the chance of buying Dwanye Johnsons old hat, never know what caused him to go bald. I never buy used bed sheets. I don’t believe I need to explain this decision. I just know that no amount of scalding hot, bleach fortified, Oxiclean powered, professional scrubbing process will wash all the thoughts I could imagine about these sheets out of my head. Undergarments of any kind are taboo. If I see someone purchasing old used underwear, I immediately rip them out of their hands, give them a five dollar bill and directions to the nearest Walmart. I feel sorry for the people working in the back but this guy needs my money more than they do. And… I don’t buy shoes there. Of all the incurable diseases known to man, I know that a large percentage of them live in GW shoes. If I see a person who is missing a leg, I am tempted to ask them if they bought the shoes. (I don’t do that!)

There is another big surprise waiting for you at the local GW too, the prices. I am not sure how their system works or if they have a system at all. Pricing might be done by Coco the amazing chimp who knows sign language, who is given a pricing gun just to see what happens. Could be. You might find the Holy Grail, yes, the very chalice held by Christ Himself, made of 10 pounds of pure gold, for $1.37. And, on the same shelf, you will find a broken goldfish bowl with a hole that someone covered with masking tape for $24.83. That doesn’t include the half bag of aquarium rocks that are spilling out onto the floor for $12.67 (clean up in isle 7) or the fake ceramic fish castle that has one turret missing and the other one glued on with some kind of glue that looks like a large fish sneeze on it, that was applied by the gallons. Surprise! Maybe they have a giant wheel in the back that they just spin for pricing, kind of like “The Price is Right” television show. Maybe Drew Carrey helps? Half of the wheel is random prices from 12 cents to $2.93 and the other half starts at $21.67 and goes to something like … $200,000. Here is a donated toaster with no electrical cord, just a little frayed tail about 3 inches long and seems to have been dropped off the Sears tower. What price do we put on it? Time to spin the wheel. Price? $126.73. Surprise! As luck might have it, you might find a matching salt and pepper shaker. Of course they are sold separately. Salt shaker: 63 cents. Pepper shaker: $8.97. Thank you wheel of prices or Coco!

For some reason they don’t like nice round numbers for their prices, they all end in 3 or 7. Maybe because they ask you to donate your change. Maybe some company donated a large quantity of old pricing guns that were missing all their even numbers. I do think I would be less likely to buy an item I wanted even if it was 60 cents, instead of 57. But, I don’t know marketing.

You can find those deals of a life-time occasionally at GW. (I emphasize “occasionally.”) I got a very expensive waffle iron for $3.63. I found it online for over $60. For a Goodwiller this is Nirvana. Of course most Goodwillers will do two things during their Goodwill life. One, think they have died and gone to heaven when they save anything over 13 cents of what they suppose the true value to be. Two, they will complain about the prices. Even if they found a new BMW for a buck-fifty, they would take it to the register and say something like, “This BMW has a small scratch on the Corinthian leather seat. Don’t you think a $1.50 is a little much. Can I give you seventy-five cents for it?” It is always a gamble as to which day you will hit the jackpot. But, the surprises, sometimes good, sometimes bad, continue.

I usually go in for one of two reasons. The first reason is for the “unique factor.” Don’t really need anything but when I see a broken slide projector from 1939, I think, “I like that. That is unique. No one else has one of these. It is cool. It will be the envy of all my friends.” (Friends that like old junk like me.) Yes, unique should be Goodwill’s middle name. If you like unique, they will never disappoint. Oh yes… also, I say to myself, “Some day this is going to be worth a mint.”

The other reason I love to go to GW is the opportunity of finding art supplies. They often have some awful oil paintings, done that one time by someone who gave up after that one time. It seems to be a landscape or a picture of someones golden retriever, not sure which, but it is on real canvas and on a stretcher, both of which can be recycled. Score!!! Surprise! (What a deal, unless Coco was working that day.) Then there is that frame with a senior picture of an overweight girl with the 1980’s big hair. You know, the one where she is seated with hands folder neatly, looking up, off camera, at a superimposed silhouette of her own face. That frame is a nice one, 16x20 with pristine glass, I can use that for that drawing I was commissioned to do of my co-workers pet raccoon. Where else can you find a frame like that for $3.27. The glass alone would cost me $25.00 at the framing shop. Got to get that!

When I would do 3D projects for school, (I know you can’t tell by my writing but I did go to school) there was always something to be found at the GW. Many times I have circled the city, hitting all the thrift stores, searching for some obscure item to make a diorama or a sculpture for art school. Goodwill was there for me and kept me from eating Ramen that night.

I don’t much care what happens to my body after I die. Put it in a post hole or my ashes in an urn, or spread them for the wind to be carried across the GW parking lot. I will never know. But I do know that the local GW will think they have hit the mother load when my wife hauls back all those treasures (or “junk”) I have collected from them in past decades. That is, of course, if she doesn’t decide to just burn the house with everything in it. (There is a good chance she will do that before my demise. Maybe with me in it. Smile!)

So, here’s to Goodwill and all those thrift stores who helped put me through college. I will continue to seek out your treasures and continue to be surprised by what you offer me. Thank you!

Disclaimer: I do think that GW is a wonderful organization, so I am in no way meaning to make light of the wonderful and serious work that they do. So, bear in mind that this is written as a humorous, tongue-in-cheek article, slightly sprinkled with small doses of powdered truth. And if you can’t find me on Monday, check the local GW.

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