Travelers Welcome

Travelers Welcome

Monday, October 31, 2011

Incident at the Thrift Store

by Mike Perkins

I love thrift stores although they smell mildly like day old socks with a hint of musty in the bouquet. Most of the stuff is junk or something you are not interested in, and the trick is to be patient. For example, one time I wanted an old style trench coat, and kept looking for months until I found a very nice London Fog that fit me. I require a size 50 regular. I have a system too. I routinely check all the dress shirts, but reject anything that is not like new or requires ironing. I also go through the books and record albums. I particularly keep an eye out for anything by any member of the Rat Pack, or Johnny Cash. If any of my vintage stereo equipment breaks, I replace it from the thrift store offerings since it is much cheaper than having it repaired. We don’t have to make anything new anymore – all we have to do is dig through the trash. That is one of the many signs and portents signifying the decline of Western Civilization.

Despite that decline, I was in an excellent mood since it was a pleasantly crisp, cold, and cheerful, day with the sun shining brightly. Such a day encourages hope. This was my third and last stop, on my thrift store circuit, and so far I had not found anything I liked. I was still looking for a couple of sport coats specifically something in corduroy, and a light summer khaki jacket. This story starts while I was looking in the men’s section of that last thrift store.

Unlike shirts, the size tag on jackets is often missing, or unreadable. I have to try on the ones that I like. There were no corduroy, or khaki jackets, but I did find a very nice western style Pendleton sports coat. It was beautiful, and it still had the tags on it. Such finds are not that uncommon though. I once purchased a $500 dollar suit that had never been worn with the receipt still in the pocket. I thought maybe this Pendleton would be another such find. Besides, I have a weakness for western wear.

I took off my own jacket, and draped it over the clothes bar to try on the Pendleton. A little tight. In my head I already knew that the Pendleton would not fit, but my heart bade me to at least look in the mirror before rejecting it. The mirror was by the dressing room which was a good thirty feet away.

The mirror only confirmed what I already knew. The sport coat was too tight on me, and I looked ridiculous in it. There was nothing for me to do but put it back on the rack for somebody else.

I started walking back to put it away, and saw something that startled me. One of the clerks had my jacket and was putting it on a hanger.

“Excuse me ma’am, that is my jacket.”

I hung the Pendleton up. She ignored me.

“Excuse me ma’am, that is my jacket. I wore it in here.”

She stops and looks at me. She is short, skinny with chemically induced blond hair, very tight blue jeans, and a white shirt with “Best Grandma Ever” written on it. She is in her thirties, a thin hard, almost boyish body, and may have been pretty without the hard edge she had about her. In my opinion she was a little young to be a grandma. Whatever the reason, you could feel the bad attitude coming from her.

“What’s this then?”

“What?” I did not understand. I stepped closer to get a good look, and she backed up a bit as if she was suspicious of my intentions. There it was though. Sure enough, there was a little plastic tag attached at the collar.

She asks again. “What’s this then?” She starts pulling at that little dangly plastic tags that all the thrift stores seem to use to mark their items. Those tags come in many colors, and different colors indicate a different price depending on the pricing scheme of the store. I have a bad habit of biting them off with my teeth, which is pure laziness since I always carry a pocket knife, but evidently not that one.

By then she had the jacket clutched securely in her left hand, and was daintily holding the dangly between the thumb and forefinger on her other hand. I had purchased that jacket months ago, and had not removed the tag. How many people at work had seen that little dangling tag, and said nothing about it? It was just one more item to fuel the rumors of my eccentricities.

”Oh, I see. I can explain. I shop at thrift stores a lot, and I bought that jacket at the Salvation Army a couple of months ago. I must not have taken the tag off.”

“I never saw you in here before.”

“Well, I never saw you either. Besides I bought it someplace else. So here we are.”

“I never saw you in here.”

I ignore that remark and stick with the main issue. “That is my jacket, I forgot to take the tag off when I bought it somewhere else, and I want my jacket back. Please.”


“What do you mean?”

“Nope.” Patronizingly she drags it out as if that will help me understand.

”One of ours.”

“One of yours?”

“This here’s one of our tags.”

“What?” This gives me pause. I was still off guard. I finally get the obvious.

“You mean the tag?”


Meantime she has been edging her way back, walking sort of backwards, to the checkout, which was close by anyway. She gets the counter, and the big cash register, between me and her.

I try to be reasonable. “They make those tags by the millions. Probably made in China. You can’t buy anything American made anymore. Anyway, those tags are all the same. Everybody uses them.”

“I kin tell this here’s one of ours.” With the solid counter between us her confidence was up, and she was no longer in retreat. The checkout station was like her fortress, and she felt secure in it.

“Management to register please.” With one hand she called for help over the intercom, and with the other she kept a tight grip on my jacket.

Then, to me: “We’ll see about this. This ere tag is one of ours.”
Now that both hands were free once again, she took the jacket with both arms to her bosom. It had become some kind of existential struggle where gender, and social status, and who knows what else, were the dividing line in our contest.

It was my jacket, and that woman was trying to make a fool out of me. By then I was starting to get angry. I will not be her pawn. It was at that point that a plan occurred to me. When she turned away briefly to see if the manager was coming, I took advantage of that moment to set my trap.

The manager finally showed up. He seemed like a nice guy. Bit of a belly like me, beard, glasses, and slightly out of breath. No wonder. He smells like fresh cigarette smoke, and was probably out back smoking. I became mildly nostalgic for my own carefree smoking days, but forced myself to concentrate on the contest at hand. I am university educated. I should not be taken lightly.


He looked at her holding the jacket. He looked at me. I can tell he is puzzled, and I can tell he would have liked to have finished that cigarette.

“This feller says this is his here jacket. But, it has our tag on it.”

I put my plan into action.

Looking down, pointing, I said: “Wait.” I feigned surprise.

Then in a wondering tone: “What is this?” I bent down to the trashcan where I had surreptitiously thrown my wallet when she was foolish enough to look away.

I pick the wallet out of the trash and open it. The driver’s license clearly showed my picture on it.

I poured it on: “This is an outrage. My wallet was in that jacket. How did it get in the trash can?”

I have an audience now. A crowd had begun to gather.

The supervisor is one of those people who sensibly handle one thing at a time before going on to the next thing. He ignored me for a moment.

“Nadine, everybody uses the same damn tags.”

At the same time I am going through my wallet and making a show of counting the few dollars I had in it.

“Okay.” Sounding relieved. “It’s all there. No need for this to go any further.”

Nadine has not responded, so the supervisor takes control of the situation. He takes the jacket from Nadine and hands it to me.

“Sorry for your trouble sir.” He gives Nadine a hard look. He looks back at me: “Is everything alright now?”

He still seemed puzzled. He knew something was going on, but does not want to get into it. He just wants to have a good day, without his feet hurting too much, without any trouble.

“Sure. Just a misunderstanding.”

There was a rack of ties within arm’s reach of me. I grab one that looked halfway decent and put it on the counter.

“This is all for me today Nadine.”

She rings me up.

“That will be two dollars please sir.”
The supervisor had already left; probably glad to be rid of the both of us.

I hand her two dollars. She takes it, and puts it into the cash drawer.
Suddenly Nadine had a sparkle in her eye, and looked alive. She began to wait on the next customer.

As I turned to walk away, not looking at me directly, and out of the corner of her mouth, Nadine had the final say.

“I know’d it was yours all along.”

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