Another Man’s Treasure

The faint, pleasant odor of an attic from my childhood filled my head as I stepped into the venue for my latest thrifting treasure hunt. I was armed with five dollars to spend on artsy decorations for my new graphic design studio.

Yes, I said five dollars.

In most retail stores, five dollars is hardly enough dough to take home one of the assorted “impulse buy” items lining the check-out area. At a thrift store, it might be possible to get an item from every aisle in the store for five dollars.

The place was buzzing with other treasure hunters, and although we were kindred in a way, they were also my competition because most items in a thrift store are unique. That is one thing that makes it special and fun for me… the thrill of the hunt.

In the last 20 years, I have thrown away at least an entire thrift store, or so it seems. I didn’t know this because, until just a few months ago, I had never been inside such a store.

I wasn’t necessarily avoiding them on principal. The idea that there was anything in there for me just never occurred to me. I suppose I thought of a thrift store as a place filled with second-hand stuff that I most likely would never have wanted when it was first-hand stuff.

A few months ago, I became affiliated with the thrift business through my work as a graphic artist, and in order to have a better idea of client needs, I started frequenting thrift stores. Now I can’t stop.

On this particular day, members of the staff were busy putting out new items and happily singing along to piped-in music from days gone by. That, with the faint attic smell, gave me the feeling of having stepped back in time rather than into a store.

Although I was looking for decorations, I was easily sidetracked. For thirty-nine cents, I found a well-preserved copy of National Geographic magazine from July 1986. I had the issue when I was 11 years old. It featured photos of the restoration of the Statue of Liberty and it was one of my most prized possessions.

Being a poor kid from Alabama, I never imagined I would visit New York, but my aunt went there a lot on business and she always brought me back a souvenir with Lady Liberty on it. Someone, maybe her, knew of my fascination with the statue and bought me that issue of Geographic. Somewhere over the years and many moves it was lost.

Now my four-year-old son loves the statue as well – he calls her “Statue of Liverty” – and I can’t wait to share the issue with him. Thirty-nine cents well spent.

On to the decorations!

Or so I thought. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a section of neckties. I am a nut about a necktie. For a significant portion of my adult life, I wore a tie every day. After six years in the military and the associated moves around the country, I found myself missing what used to be a massive collection of loud, gaudy ties. Hanging there in front of me for $1.89 was the loudest, most beautifully offensive Tabasco (yes, the pepper sauce) tie I have ever seen.

I realize that Tabasco ties have been off the radar for 15 years, but when I was wearing ties they were THE thing to have, and I was only ever lucky enough to own one of them. I don’t know if it’s going to decorate my studio or my neck, but for a buck eighty-nine, this item was too hot to leave behind.

With my decoration budget now slashed to a paltry $2.72, I was already starting to think that just maybe I had over-estimated the purchase power of a five spot on this particular day.

And that’s where the thrift store magic kicked in. In a small section of dishes, of all places, I found the perfect decorations for my studio.

Cue the fuzzy screen and the backstory music –

There used to be something called a lunchbox, and parents would put potted-meat sandwiches, chips and a thermos of Kool-aid in them and send their kid off to school with a lunch. Those were great days. Some kids (read “kids other than me”) were lucky enough to have the greatest thermos of all – the Crayola crayon thermos. It looked like a giant, fat crayon and the tip of the crayon came off to make a cup.

I begged for one all the way up until taking lunch to school wasn’t cool anymore, and even then I still secretly wanted one.

Back to present – cue the faint attic aroma –

Not one, but TWO big, chunky and bright-colored Crayola crayon thermoses for a next-to-free ninety-nine cents each! To be fair here, these thermoses are still available direct from Crayola, but not in the vintage crayon colors, and they cost 10 times as much.

I can’t think of a better way to start decorating a graphic-design studio than to start with giant crayons, a symbol for the way almost all of us learned to make art.

The best part is that after tax, I left with 43 cents, which means next time I can start with $5.43.

Knowing how much items like this meant to me in the past makes me wonder what stories they hold and how important they might have been to someone who owned them in the past. That is part of the magic of thrifting.

Today, for less than five bucks, I found yesterday. Who knows what I can find tomorrow?


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