The Store You Deserve

Saturday, November 26, 2016

For a long time, there was a thrift store in Durham called Thrift World. I don’t remember it when I was in school in the 80s, but I think it was around then. I know it was around in the late 90s when I moved back to the area.

It was on University Drive, and later it moved (I’m not sure when) to the Lakewood Shopping Center, until the air conditioning went out in the middle of summer and the landlord wouldn’t fix it and the store closed. That was the end of Thrift World.

It was a very big store, they had tons of stuff and they had good prices and you could usually find good stuff there. Many people loved Thrift World. But it was also kind of a crappy store — it felt not very clean and kind of run down.

Its (presumably un-ironic) slogan was, “The store you deserve.”

Some people I was friendly with in college enjoyed getting dressed up in crazy clothes when they would go out drinking. Thrift World was one of their favorite places to shop for party clothes.

I continued to be friendly with some of these people after college, when I lived in New Jersey and also when I was in DC, and they didn’t end their dress-up habits when they graduated from college. For a number of years afterwards (possibly continuing to the present day, I haven’t kept up with them so much lately) when they would get together for a party they would pull out the hats and dresses and Mardi Gras beads.

One of these friends worked on the Hill and lived across from Eastern Market during the time when I was living in the DC area.

I remember one winter in the 1994/1995/1996 range when my friend planned a party and told me to come and bring whoever I wanted. When I got to the party and saw that most of the people in the room were dressed in party attire that was not typical for your average Capitol Hill party, I called my friend Sue, who I had previously invited to the party, and who had hung out with these friends a fair amount, both in New Jersey and in DC, so she was used to this kind of behavior, but she was planning on bringing her boyfriend with her and he was not so much the kind of guy who would pull out a sari for the average Saturday night out. I figured I should warn them.

I said, “Okay just letting you know, they’re in costume. You might want to prepare Mike.”

She laughed. “Okay! Duly noted.”

Half an hour or so later, Sue and Mike get to the party and I’m standing on a sofa drinking a beer wearing this huge fake fur coat. Sue sees me and starts laughing. “Look at you!,” she says. “You look like a pimp!”

[Side story: At one point, my friend who worked on the Hill was complaining about how he felt like people didn’t take him seriously. I was telling Sue this and Sue said, “Wait, he doesn’t think people take him seriously? Here’s an idea. Maybe he should stop running around wearing a toga and a pith helmet. Maybe that would help.”]

I moved from DC to Durham in spring 1998. My 10-year college reunion was the following year, and instead of doing the official reunion activity on Saturday night I had a party at my apartment for my friends and whoever else wanted to come.

My dress-up friends came to the party, in full dress-up regalia.

I was complimenting one of them on his outfit and he told me they had gone to Thrift World for the new duds. He quoted the slogan: The store you deserve.

Then he said, “I always thought that was kind of harsh.”

That made me laugh, and forever after, whenever someone would mention Thrift World, the store you deserve, I would think of my friend’s comment.

After the recent election, that phrase came to mind.

I feel like we have ended up with the president we deserve.

We have a country where our leaders act as if the sole purpose of education is to enable people to get a job, as if there were no difference between a university and a trade school. Critical thinking skills? Who needs those.

We have an educational system that is very good for high achievers — our top performing students do as well as kids from any other country, we have the best university system in the world, students from everywhere want to come here to study — but that often leaves average or below average students behind (especially those with low incomes, who aren’t able to supplement their education with enriching extracurricular activities). This dynamic has contributed to income inequality — wealthy educated people (and their kids) do better and better while the less educated (and their kids) fall further and further behind.

We have more free time than ever, but what do with it? We watch movies and binge watch television shows. We watch sports (and bet on sports, and participate in fantasy sports leagues).  We spend hours on Facebook. We play World of Warcraft/Candy Crush/Angry Birds/Pokemon Go.

The average person spends more than 5 hours a day watching television. The highest paid, most envied people in our culture are celebrities. It’s what kids want to be when they grow up — they want to be famous.

Of course we’re going to vote for someone famous who says he’ll solve all of our problems the minute he gets into office over someone who outlines actual policies. Of course we prefer a celebrity to a politician. We don’t like politicians. We don’t trust the media, so we don’t believe what they say when they expose actual corruption (illegal payments to lawmakers, misuse of tax laws and the like) as opposed to false equivalence “corruption,” when media outlets need to report something on the other side, too, so they take things out of context and make legitimate things seem nefarious. We believe all kinds of conspiracy theories regardless of how nonsensical they are. A significant portion of Americans believe not that Hillary Clinton is a typical politician, or even that she is a corrupt politician, but that she is an actual murderer. They think she started with Vince Foster and just kept going.

So no, we don’t like politicians.

But we love celebrities, no matter what kinds of outrageous behavior they exhibit. In fact the more outrageous the better. Rich celebrities, especially. We love them.

And now we have one as our President.

(Who knew that the memorable commercial from decades past, “I’m not a doctor but I play one on TV,” was our future politics.)

How will it turn out?

We’ll all just have to wait and see.

And watch. Very, very closely. Because We are the People, and We the People are the government. We the People created this American democracy and it is up to us, We the People, to keep it from running off the rails.

(I was also thinking recently about Wangari Maathai’s bus metaphor, what do you do when you are on the right bus but it is taken over by a bad bus driver.)

So everyone needs to do their job — stay alert, watch what is happening, contact your representatives and senators in the U.S. Congress to tell them your position on areas of concern to you — and everyone needs to remember that We are the People and democracy depends on us.

And that is your thought for this holiday weekend.

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