My wife had some old clothes she
no longer wanted so we made a trip to a local thrift store
storeto 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
F. Kennedyand 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 Ryder
Ryder? 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,
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
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
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 Kerry
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.