Thanks to fans and foes


My wife had some old clothes she

no longer wanted so we made a trip to a local thrift


to donate them, hoping they would have some use for someone else. We

then went inside the store, not looking for anything in particular but wanting

to see if there was something we wanted.

As recently as a few years ago,

just about everything I owned came from thrift stores. There seemed to be a

never-ending supply of cool old books, knick-knacks and household items from

the 1960s and '70s that looked irresistible. I had a pink alarm clock and AM

radio that might have come from a teenage girl's bedroom circa 1965. I had

plaster busts of John

F. Kennedy

and enough paperback novels to stock a drugstore, all with

original prices of 25 to 75 cents.

But a decade of shows like American Pickers and Antique Roadshow, combined with the

realization by even the dullest among us that old junk may have some value on eBay,

has hit our local thrift stores hard.

Previous generations left us

wonderful items that make for enticing antiques. We have failed our children

and great-grandchildren by bequeathing crappy artifacts

which will be burned or shredded instead of treasured.

What we saw at the store was

depressing. Thrift stores still have the same dust and urine smells I remember

from years ago but the quality of stuff people donate to them has lessened

considerably. With the exception of a souvenir plate from the 1982 World's Fair

in Knoxville, Tenn., and a few lonely vinyl records that have survived,

unwanted, for 50 years, almost all of the other items we saw dated from the

late 1990s and afterward.

As recently as 15 years ago, one

could find box upon box of eight-track tapes, lovingly baked in the heat of the

glove compartments of Volkswagens and Oldsmobiles. Even then, they had no use

except as curiosities but they were fun to examine.

Their direct contemporary

descendants in modern thrift shops are VHS tapes, available by the hundreds,

just as useless and unwanted to us as the eight-tracks. Want 15 copies of the

two-tape set of Titanic? Or any movie

with Winona


? They're yours for the taking, along with dozens of probably hilarious

workout videos with Jane Fonda, long-forgotten Hollywood blockbusters and even

more box-office duds.

They may be a treasure trove to

collectors 20 years hence, but to us, they were depressing relics of a bygone,

pre-9/11 era.

Rivaling the VHS tapes in

thrift-shop popularity and technological obsolescence are the CDs, once valued

and kept under glass at thrift stores to deter shoplifters. Their value has

diminished so quickly that it's no longer cared if you shove a few into your

coat pocket.

Jewel sold 12 million copies of

her debut album, Pieces of You, in

1995. Probably 2 million of those were accidentally scratched or otherwise

destroyed. Another 4 million sit abandoned in boxes or dusty CD racks in homes

across America.

The remaining 6 million are in

thrift shops with a $1.99 price tag, begging your awareness. My wife had long

since lost her copy and was delighted to see so many of them in stock, noting

she received the album when she was 10 years old, which disturbed me for some


The album's subtitle, "What we

call human nature in actuality is human habit," reminded my wife of the

writings of Karl Marx. I'll never look at Jewel the same way again.

All the best sellers of the

golden era of crappy pop music, 1992-2000, were there. Backstreet Boys, Blind

Melon, the Spin Doctors and Amy Grant, all beloved in their time, all discarded

by their owners.

Then there's the graveyard of

vintage software and tech books. Feel an itch to play NBA Live 2001 on your PC

or a tutorial on how to use Netscape Navigator? Your wish is their command.

Have an urgent need to learn the ins and outs of the confusing operating system

Windows 98? There's a 600-page book on the subject just waiting for you.

There are massive,

telephone-directory-sized books on how to do things that nobody needs to do

anymore: write grant proposals in 2002, use Outlook Express 2003, why you

shouldn't vote for John


in 2004.

Let's leave undiscussed the most

depressing artifacts: discarded 1997 Little League trophies, souvenir coffee

mugs from weddings in 1999, handmade clay sculptures made by grade school kids

back when Ronald Reagan was president, the tombstones of outdated TVs and

landline phones. Sourcing them to their roots is a sure route to madness.

If we judge a culture by the things

it leaves behind, our generation is by all standards a failure. We have

committed many sins toward the future but leaving behind 30 years of ugly,

useless antiques is surely among the worst. I hope that future generations will

forgive us all for having such bad taste.


Recommended for you