At the Mall, Miffed? Try Thrift!

I went thrift store shopping on Saturday, and as I was shopping I realized that I know the St. Louis thrift scene like the back of my bony hand. Here are some of the hot spots of the city.

1. Goodwill Industries. You know Goodwill, they're everywhere- 2100 stores! Although technically not a non-profit, this store is a little more concerned with the bottom line than other thrift stores. Think billions of dollars. Their mission is to give jobs to people with problems. The one down the road from me has serious problems, and most of the time I don't even stop in because they have horrible lighting, worse t-shirts and I've never seen artwork that couldn't be done by an 8th grader. Notable finds: a Lite-Brite, a lamp, and a recliner... all overpriced. Check out their online auction site here.
Grade: D

2. Saint Vincent de Paul Society. This is the one where my parents' things go when they're put out to pasture. It's notable for a few reasons- it has 10 times more books than any of the other stores, and you'll find some amazing furniture. The con is that you won't necessarily be able to afford the stuff. On Saturday they had an entire set of office furniture (conference room table, chairs, artwork, desk, etc.), but it cost thousands total. Of course, it had already been sold. One thing is that the t-shirt, and clothing sections in particular, are lacking. In fact I almost couldn't FIND the shirts. Good if you're furnishing an apartment and have some dough.
Grade: B-

3. Salvation Army. Another national institution, if you go here and see some burly thugs outside, it's not because they are going to jump you, it's because they're there getting help. It is tied to the Catholic Church, so if you're really feeling up for it, you can drop money at the doorstep then go a block west and protest at Planned Parenthood. Otherwise, keep your eyes peeled for anything here- I've found suspenders, t shirts, pants, artwork, glasses, a camera, and even an entire living room furniture set here. The place is pretty well organized, and the main benefit is that they tend to have the nicest people working anytime you go. My favorite is this lady with an afro straight out of a 70s movie who likes to crack jokes about my sense of style. Hit this place first.
Grade: A

4. Unique Thrift. I hadn't heard about this one until about a year ago, when I found it mentioned in the Riverfront Times. This store does something better than any other one: they separate their clothes by size. In other words, you can swing by and check out all the clothes in your size in about 15-20 minutes. That's plenty of time left over to browse their impressive video game collection. Other stores have a Genesis game or two, but here you'll find a wide selection. It's in a Latin area of town, so if you plan on flirting at the register with a hottie, make sure you remember high school Spanish.
Grade: A+

5. Value Village. This one is a sentimental choice, for me. It was my first thrift store experience, and for awhile there, I would pick up 5 t-shirts a week. I even have a favorite from high school that I still wear. As it became more busy, the trick became searching the boys rack, as this store had a broad definition of "child." In recent years it's fallen off, mainly due to shopper competition due to word of mouth. The last times I've been in, I noticed that this store has been staked out by the Indian and Asian communities, giving it a nice local flavor. It's not uncommon to see things still in the same spot a month later, as they tend to specialize in sports-related XXL shirts.
Grade: C+

There are a few other thrift stores around.. I'd ask for suggestions, but any serious thrifter wouldn't divulge their bread and butter. And no, I don't consider vintage stores thrift. They smell too good.


More Than Meets the Eyes, Adverts in Disguise

Anyone who reads this with any frequency knows that I have my pet issues, and one is my promotion of corporate responsibility in advertising. I'm also a fan of art, a form of expression that is exclusively human. Sure a computer or a monkey can paint, but not without human aid. Advertising and art have had a long and sweet marriage. You know this union as "product placement".

Reading the article, you'll be reminded of some of the great examples. ET pushing candy. Apple computers popping up in everything, logo to the camera. People never seemed to mind, I know I didn't until a few years back. But a funny thing happened recently. Multiple people mentioned to me that after watching Transformers, they realized it was "just one big commercial."

[Apparent clip from the movie... Note the Micro$oft Xbox 360 and the Mountain Dew]

I started to think to myself that maybe the days of product placement were dwindling. A few years back, no one said anything about placement in "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle." I realized that my friends didn't really mind. They were giving a movie review, not social commentary. But one thing is for sure: some movies are more advertising and less story, more bought and less thought. And hopefully people will find a way to give art back its uniqueness. Because can you imagine if Basquiat were around today?

What a bastardization. But then again, Nike would have paid for his drug habits.


It's Learned Behavior...

I think I'm starting to figure hobos out. A while back I got used to the normal scams, like the old "My car broke down, I need some gas" bit at the station. But after getting asked for my Metro ticket after I got off the train today, I realized that several things make the chance of me getting asked for dollar skyrocket or tumble.

1. Glasses. The logic must go like this. Every person with glasses must know, deep in their heart, some form of rejection by society. Even if it's a fleeting fourth grade yell of "FOUR EYES!" So, obviously, when I wear glasses I look like I can identify. That or I spend too much time looking at a computer, which makes my eyes go bad, and I have to put on glasses to count all my money. Good theory, but glasses are now for cheapasses like me who don't want to buy contacts at their ridiculous prices.

2. Cell Phone. This one is more of an off the beaten path move. The logic is, if I'm carrying a cell phone, interrupting my call results in annoyance, which makes me just want to get rid of a hobo with a buck. It's like a cell phone tax. That, or they know I'm talking to a girl on the phone and of course girls are going to swoon when I throw money around like Uncle Pennybags.

3. Sign Language Shirt. I picked this up at unique thrift awhile back and let me say it comes in handy. Not just because I'll be at a bar and some stranger will start gesturing at me like they're flashing gang signs. Then I'll realize they're signing "HELLO," thinking I'm deaf. Then I have to break it to them, no I can hear, I just like the shirt and try to raise awareness. Lately I've been thinking if a bum comes up to me, I'm going to play deaf. But then again, that's what I always do.

4. B.O. This one is obvious, but I thought I would include it. If I'm already on the train, however, no one can tell because I'm just some more stink lines in a closed space with already too many stink lines.

5. Cassidy (or another person). This happens a lot, really good panhandlers know that if they approach a group, they can play on collective guilt. For example, I saw some 6'-plus lady in a giant cape and black hat talking to a couple women. One was handing over a $5. I thought to myself, of course she's not going to admit to her friend that she doesn't ever give to charity. The way I see it, the lady in the cape was helping the other girl sleep at night for a mere $5. Like a drug company!

Now, I know some of you are thinking "What an asshole, I always give them money." Ok, well that's fine and all but I'm not a fan of cash money. Oftentimes people have drug or alcohol problems, and there are places here that'll take them in and give them whatever they need, not just money but job assistance, rehab, etc. In my nonprofit class, we talked about Larry Rice and how many poor people don't want to pay the price of going to church. Ok, that's fine, but there are other places too, like the Salvation Army and the St. Patrick Center. If you do help them with money, I'm not condemning it, but really, sometimes people need other things just as badly.


I Have It, But It Doesn't Have Me!

When I stopped over at my parent's house last weekend, my extremely literate family handed me the front page of the Wall Street Journal. On the front page was an article talking about how the Epilepsy Foundation, with support from big drug companies, is making laws about doctor control over prescribing brand name drugs.

Now, I read The Truth about Drug Companies, and I know for a fact that generics are the same chemically as brand name counterparts. The only difference is the amount of advertising and various donations and gifts (i.e. bribes) that Big Pharma churns out every year.

Now since my last seizures, in May, I decided I should finally accept my condition, so as to get over it. I signed up for an account on the Epilepsy Foundation and found a group on Facebook that provide support. It's helped me realize I have it pretty good, all things considered. I even picked up Epileptic by David B., a graphic novel (i.e. comic book) that conveys epilepsy in a way no one has before or since. The images of epilepsy as a ghost and a series of mountains to climb both resonate with me.

I even found a blog entitled Cookie Wonton, through it's sending of visitors to my site, written by a mom talking about raising two kids with epilepsy. It's an interesting perspective and has a fresh tone, I'm lucky to have found it.

The WSJ article struck a nerve though. Personally, I feel like neurologists should be able to prescribe whatever. No one should be able to alter it. So I like the move. My doctor was clearly irritated by the quick swap Walgreen's made, switching me to a generic. But he acknowledged, like the doctors in the article, that essentially, chemically, there is no difference in the drugs. It's an interesting topic, and I'm sorry if I'm boring anyone about this, but when something is like a monkey on your back you can't help but try to rationalize it.

Read my post at the Foundation here and my post on the Facebook group here.


Whip It, and by It I Mean My Back

When I was little, I remember hearing the phrase, "Step on a crack, break your mamma's back," the playground variety, not Devo's version. A few years of crack-stepping later, what happened? My mom hurt her back so badly that I remember shifting the car for her when she drove us to school one morning. And my mom is tough, I couldn't believe she was mortal.

Suffice to say, I stopped stepping on cracks, and I still think of this superstition when I walk home along the sidewalk and have to avoid hundreds of cracks. I probably look like a sasquatch, lumbering along deserted streets with differing stride lengths.

Now that my back is a little messed up, I really am glad the rhyme isn't "Smoke on some crack, break Drew Smith's back." Because then everybody who's been a little loco lately would be doing some serious damage.

PS The new banner is a panorama I took off the front porch of my parents' house. My dad can be seen twice (He moves fast).


The Things You Own End Up Owning You

I went to go rent some movies yesterday and on the way back was stuck behind a car with a curious series of bumper stickers. One, the flag of France, which is easily explained as francophilia. This is common in the wine-and-cheese lined streets of Clayton, so I didn't give it a second thought.

The second sticker said (and I'm paraphrasing here), "Educate your children well." Ok, a nice thought that people who read will understand. Then again, like Braille on an ATM, is this really the best way to approach the problems of the American school system? The intended audience is probably poorer, and possibly can't read themselves, right? But, once again, I dismissed it, this time as oversimplification.

The third sticker is what blew my mind and made me question the driver's sanity, however. It read, in clear blue capital letters on white, "Do me a favor and steal this car." What???!?!? Look, I'm all for people ridding themselves of their possessions, but this doesn't even make sense. Maybe on an old POS or if were the cry for help of a bored housewife soccer mom... but this looked like a pretty solid car. However, my mom had one and it was buggy (get it haha), so I started to think maybe this individual had purchased my mom's old lemon. Even if that were the case, there are easier ways to get your car jacked in St. Louis. Trust me, I know neighborhoods where it won't last 5 minutes. I could even just drive it over the the car thieves that live behind me.

Still reeling from that, I was reading about the iPhone today. You've seen the commercials- it's another gizmo that does pretty much what everything else already out does. But I noticed something. People in this blog's comments were either entrenching themselves as Apple people or Microsoft people. Simply put, why? I was just recommended a book, The Rebel Sell, which claims that activism is being bottled and sold, doing harm to the causes they were supposed to help. But that isn't what happens with the old Mac v. PC argument, or a Nintendo v. Sony, and so on. People, when they fight on blogs, throw out sales figures and compete so as to show that they are COMPLETELY NORMAL. It's like a dick size contest where the winner is the person that is most average. Weird.

One last thing- nothing makes you want to own nothing like a trip to Southern Missouri for a float trip. Everything is in danger of being destroyed or stolen. When they are, you say to yourself "Hey, it was a free umbrella and a 99 cent bag of sunflower seeds, who cares?" Now, to get the VW lady to convince the gizmo owners to repent...