Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Asian Junk

When I was in high school my favorite place to hang out were the thrift stores down McGloughlin Street just down past the Gladstone Bridge over the Willamette heading in to southeast Portland. Value Village. Red, White, and Blue. Goodwill. I slummed there every chance I got in their dusty aisles, slinking down by the book racks reading discarded Erica Jong and Gore Vidal, thumbing old vinyl albums of Creedence Clearwater and Frampton Comes Alive, and saving up for a two dollar pair of brown leather wingtips I would later wear with my rolled up Levis. Two bucks was all I required back then. Two bucks bought me all the style I ever needed.

As a backpacker, I collected enough roadside junk to fill two houses. I most likely became a teacher just to have a classroom to store all these excess vagabond garage sale pieces of eight. Most kids would say my classroom always felt like a living room, a place to hang out and read or dream or just be. I’ve always valued that, but honestly I think it started with all the crap I’ve collected over the years needing a place to rest its weary head.

Things are different now. Now, I try to minimize my life. Everything down to one bag, one key, sort of the Graham from Sex, Lies, and Videotape philosophy (just rent it, okay…) I need simplicity, the open road, need to put the past behind me, move on, hold nothing so nothing holds me back.
I remember once standing in a thrift store in Grant’s Pass, don’t ask me what I was doing there, probably checking out the old Paul Bunyan statue, but there was this woman ahead of me in line buying a painting for 12 dollars. It was of a weeping clown with dripping face paint smearing and running down his hobo’s cheeks. Sort of repulsive, actually, but she saw me eyeing it.
“Mama’s got to have her little pots of gold,” she smiled. “One person’s trinket is another person’s treasure.”
I nodded, put my ruffled tuxedo shirt back on the rack and got out of there, but I’ve always remembered that woman. Even now I think of her, how one person can value something over another, and there is no way of talking them into or out of its value. It just exists outside of you. Like the value of a person. Lately I’ve been realizing how hard it is to believe in anyone. That the only way you can get someone to do something is to pay them. People need money to stay devoted and loyal. There has to be something in it for them. People are often discarded like old piles of junk, just when something loses its luster or level of interest. How sad people can become.
So this last week I was at the Taichung Jade Market and surrounded by all this Asian junk and thinking about how we are all just collecting dust. There’s got to be more. I remember a time when there was more. I don’t want to forget the value that things or people can have in my life. I don’t want to easily discard something I once loved because another shiny model comes along.
I want to believe in the things I once held dear. Because if I do, if just one person does, then maybe another will follow, maybe even the little trinkets of measly beads I hold broken and busted in my pockets will become the treasures of someone’s life because that is all I have to offer them. Then maybe they will do the same for me. Dust me off. Remember the value I once had. Maybe it will surprise them, that I can give them new life too, from an old, just as well.


  1. Wish you come back and teach us again!

  2. This post reminded me of the movie Ghost World. Not sure if you have seen it, it's not a classic or anything, but I pretty much make it a point to see any movie with Steve Buscemi. It features collecting and garage sales and it would not be a total waste of two hours of your life if you decided to rent it.

    As for me, if I owned only one pair of clothing and my entire life was on a hard drive I would be happy as a clam. That's one good thing about living in a 500 square foot NYC shoebox, you don't have space to collect things.