This is the kind of stuff you see in films. Indies. Often set in L.A. With millennials. You know. And when you see it, you think, Nah, it’s the movies. That shit doesn’t really happen. That’s magic. And this is real life. Well. I’m here to tell you. Yes. It does. This stuff actually really does happen. In fact, it just happened. Today. To me.
I went to Good Will a little earlier. A pit stop on my way home. A distraction, really. Something softer to follow the epic journeys that are the highway systems I travel for work when I can’t take sideroads the whole way.
When I entered the store I realized they’d changed the whole layout since my last visit, and I wasn’t in the mood for that big a change. Not on this day. On top of having to speed along the turmoil of all the fast traffic, I’ve been out of sorts for reasons I can’t quite explain. I'm still trying to work it out. So I wasn’t in the mood for change. As I wandered the first aisle to the right of the entrance, now women’s sleeveless tops where men’s short sleeved shirts used to be, I was reminded of when I used to joke with my foster mom about her dinner menus written out on a tiny piece of paper, always a reused scrap of paper, that she’d place on the kitchen island in the house in the valley where she moved to so much later in life. Decades before, in summers, us kids used to roam that valley in packs, picking blueberries by the bucket for days and days. Now, decades later, as she made dinner, Mom would consult that piece of paper where she’d written out the night’s dinner items in their cooking order: potatoes, green beans, buns, etc. Teasing, I would move her piece of paper, holding her eyes with a smile, Hey Mom, I’d say, who moved my cheese, quoting the title of a book that deals with change. I knew she knew I was right, but she couldn't help herself--she wanted that piece of paper back in its place. I got it then, and I still do. So, in Good Will earlier today, I coped with change, remembering Mom.
I don’t like carrying things around on hangers, it’s not good for my neck. So I take items off their hangers to drape the garments over my shoulders, and through the straps of the bag that I loop onto my back. Lately, it’s been pretty paltry pickings at my Good Will. I’ve often with left with nothing. But that’s the way it goes. I know that. That’s the deal there. Though, really, that’s the deal anywhere. Everywhere. Sometimes you leave with nothing.
I made my way through the new aisles. Not liking it. I told myself it’s change. Only change. I’ll learn the layout. I’ll know it by the time Don gets here in May. He wants to go to thrift stores. The whole layout here will be new to him, not a change, but kind of. It’s all ok. I’ll find my way. I kept moving through the aisles, and I found a few things to stick through my bag straps: a striped mariner top (like I need another), a dress I think would work if I wear it backwards (which I have on now and does work well worn backwards). Then I came upon this long pink sporty thing. A definite find. I loved it. The dress was too long for my taste, but I’d cut it and hem it shorter. I pulled it through my bag strap along with the mariner top and the dress that would work if I wear it backwards. At the back of the store in home goods, I found four little wooden frames, exactly like a bunch I’ve had forever and that I made into an installation of multiples using eye-hooks and jump hoops to present the underwater tale of a kayaking trip I did in Desolation Sound at least twelve years ago. I’ll make another one, I thought, probably for the piece I'm working on right now about trees. I carried the frames in one hand. A little further on, when I finally found the newly located pants aisle, I scored three distinct possibilities, including a pair with a 60s vibe to their style. The pants were heavy so I carried them all in my arm, in the crook of my elbow up from the four wooden frames. I found another mariner top, in the young fashion section, which I grabbed against all better judgement. When do I wear a turtleneck here? Eventually my interest completely waned, and I went to wait at the dressing rooms.
Once assigned to a changing room, I organized everything by category on the orange plastic chair in the corner: pants over the backrest; tops on the seat; dresses also on the backrest, off to one side. That’s when I discovered that I had only one dress, the one I’d wear backwards. The excellent dress that I would cut shorter and hem was missing. This trip to the Good Will already a half-hearted one, this little loss knocked all the wind out of my sails. I tried things on. But I really didn’t care. I thought about dumping everything, about foregoing the long wait line for the till with my half-hearted finds. But, I remembered the four frames. I really wanted to make something about trees with the four frames. I already had tree images ready--noticing them as I whizzed by in my car, I'd been keeping a list by jotting down the location and a quick sketch to remember for later. I've returned to each one early on quiet mornings and have pictures of them. The series is called, provisionally anyway, Learning from their Limbs.
I left the dressing room and started hunting the floor for the great dress that had slipped away. Then I saw it. Someone had picked it up. It was draped over the end of a long rack. Before I could get to it, a woman began looking at it. She had a stroller and a little girl who looked about two years old. The woman was in deep concentration, focussed and fiddling. I lurked a few aisles away, watching and waiting, hoping she’d reject the find. She continued handling the dress, engrossed in a way you don’t often see in a Good Will store. I began to feel a little desperate--not really desperate, not truly; it felt more anxious, more despairing, a mix of urgent and wretched. I’d chafed my way through the day to that point, and I was ready to be lifted from my slump by this pretty dress. Then I’d lost it. I’d dropped it, unaware. And I was still struck numb. The woman finally slipped the dress through the handle of the stroller. She was taking it. I was forlorn.
I headed to the cashiers, even though I didn’t feel like doing anything but crawl into bed. The dress I’d wear backwards and the 60s pants weren’t really that enticing, not enough for a wait in line, but the four little wooden frames are hard to come by and I was prepared wait for them. The line wasn’t too long, which is pretty unusual. In fact, the whole store was uncommonly quiet, a small mercy I appreciated. I was so miserable that I didn’t even go to the effort of getting out my earbuds and queuing up a playlist to listen to while I waited. So I waited as is.
Soon I noticed the woman with the stroller and child coming up the cordoned maze that herds shoppers toward the cashiers in what is supposed to be one line. The dress was still hanging over the stroller handle. She was dawdling, but she was technically next behind me, even though she was about ten feet away. I continued waiting. I looked at the woman. I looked at the dress, still incredulous. I looked at her child, a little girl who seemed content and playful. I began to wonder if I should plead my case to the woman. I waited. I waited. I decided to try. And I walked those ten feet.
Excuse me, I said to her. I’m going to ask you a hard question. And you can totally say no. That dress is yours, fair and square. Then I went on to explain my saga with the dress. She had an open friendly face. But she didn’t say anything and I wondered if I’d just spoken a bunch of English to someone who speaks another language. Then she replied, lifting up all that long drapey pink from the stroller handle as she said to me, there are two. I looked at her hands and saw there was something long and pink in each one. What?, I asked, and she repeated it: there are two dresses. There was one inside the other. They’re the same dress, but one’s a size S and one’s a XS. They don’t have the same price even though they’re the same dress. She went on to explain the different pricing and her size preference, and that she wanted to show both dresses to the cashier to try to get the lower price on the size she wanted, which was the one priced higher, and she said that the other was mine.
I understood all the words she was stringing together. I understood what she was saying. I was just having a hard time taking it in. Earlier in the day on the phone with a friend who’s feeling frustrated about a project she’s developing, I listened and told her that sometimes there’s enough for everyone. That’s what I said: sometimes there’s enough for everyone. As I was telling my friend this on the phone, I was slightly uncomfortable with my message, all too aware of how flakey and privileged it sounded. Sometimes there’s enough for everyone. How new-agey and manifesty it sounded. Yet there I was, mere hours later, in the Good Will, confronted with exactly that.
Then it occurred to me: What if I hadn’t asked? That too was hard to take in.
Ask outrageous questions, I thought. Sometimes there’s enough for everyone.