(Originally appeared in my essay collection Lake Forest Moments.)
One of the best places not to be seen is the Lake Forest Thrift Shop. Maybe it’s a leftover feeling I have from the days my mother dragged me around to garage sales, but I can’t walk into a thrift shop without a sense of furtiveness. Like if someone sees me in there, they’ll think I’m looking for cheap, used items, which means I must not be able to afford the new item, which means I must be down on my luck, which means I’m a failure, which means… you get the idea.
Perhaps you have to be brought up poor to get this nervous, sweaty-palm feeling whenever you are confronted with other people’s discarded things. (Think Scarlett O’Hara’s impassioned cry, I’ll never go hungry again…) I react the same way when I see used clothing, I’ll never wear my sister’s shoes again…
The flip side of this conundrum is that I know how many fabulous estates there are in Lake Forest, and that eventually nearly everything in those estates will probably end up being donated to the Lake Forest Thrift Shop. Where I could potentially buy it for a bargain price.
And so, I walk slowly by the thrift shop, trying to see through and beyond the front window, without actually going in. Is that a valuable oil painting hanging crookedly on the wall, collecting dust? Could that be a silver tea service, just arrived this morning, waiting to be plucked off the shelf by some savvy shopper in about two minutes? A first edition Michener? A Waterford crystal vase?
Sometimes, just sometimes, I glance around to make sure no one sees me, and I go in to see what I must be missing. And I needn’t worry about being seen among the bargains, because snooping through the shelves and tables are my neighbors.