My girlfriend is a rabid Goodwill bargain hunter, and a fabulous one at that. I often marvel at the stuff she finds. Prada sunglasses. Louis Vuitton wallets. Couture shoes. It's incredible the things she comes home with. I put her batting average somewhere around .987.
Occasionally she does make questionable choices. Like last week, when she told me she needed my car to pick up a fabulous leather chair and ottoman. When she brought the chair home, all I could do was think, "OK. This is not coming into the house."
When I was growing up, my parents never took me to Goodwill. Perhaps it was the fact that they had gone from Depression-era struggle to middle-class comfort. Whatever it was, my childhood belongings came from traditional department stores.
My kids, on the other hand, have become accustomed to Goodwill. When my ex-wife and I split up, I went through tough times financially, and so I had to abandon my inbred retail habits and look for more affordable alternatives.
With a little encouragement from my girlfriend, it was easy. The truth is, kids grow out of things so fast you can often find clothes that have never been worn. I've found Gap Kids items with original price tags on them — some of them costing as much as $40. At Goodwill, they are around $3. But there was still the stigma in my own mind.
"Your kids aren't going to mind," my girlfriend told me. "Tell them it's like an adventure, that you are on a scavenger hunt to find the best things in the store. These things have a back story. Someone bought them. Someone wanted them once. And now they are here waiting for you to give them a new life."
On Sunday, I went to the new one on Brand Boulevard. I found a pair of awesome motorcycle boots for $14, which would have cost me $75 retail. I also got a Belgian waffle iron. A random purchase, I know, but I love waffles, and it just so happened that Trader Joe's was out of waffles that morning, making me think I should be less dependent on frozen food. Voila! Goodwill to the rescue!
But the find of the day was my new Stetson hat. It's like the one worn by the Man With the Yellow Hat in Curious George. Only it wasn't yellow. And I don't own a monkey.
As I approached the hat, another guy was already moving toward it. Not wanting to seem overly excited, I strolled down another aisle, finding a cello priced at $200. It was more than I wanted to spend on this day, but I did get the chance to play the cello for the first time.
I'm not very good.
As soon as the other shopper lost interest, I pounced. Even though I've never had any desire to own a Stetson, I put it on. The thing was brand spanking new — no history to speak of — and too good a deal to pass up. My daughter looked at me in horror.
"You are not getting that hat, are you?"
Realizing I must have looked a bit odd with my oversized cowboy hat accessorizing my seersucker shorts and flip flops, I did what every self-respecting dad would do. I took the opportunity to bring my daughter's worst nightmare to fruition. I broke into a nice little version of the Macarena. I wore the hat during the rest of the shopping trip, much to my daughter's dismay. Although as we were checking out, she got her payback.
"I really like these shoes," she said, holding up a pair of red shoes. "Can I get them?"
I put them in the basket not realizing until we were checking out that I was about to buy my teenage daughter a pair of Penthouse-brand pumps. Sigh.
Like I said, things at Goodwill often have a history. And sometimes that history is better left untold.