“The Thriftstore Guy” is a chapter from WIRE MONKEY, the adventures of Bets, a 17-year-old girl from the tough Lower East Side who gets kicked out of her house by her disintergrating mother, The Cellist. Navigating the streets of NY’s 1970’s East Village, Bets crashes on the couch at the cold-water flat of her orgasm-faking childhood friend, Gertie and takes a new job (in an office) that doesn’t just include cleaning people’s private toilets. But setting up a life on borrowed money and other people’s clothes has its pitfalls.
CHAPTER SEVEN: THE THRIFT STORE GUY
With $37 borrowed from the Cellist and a trip to Macy’s bargain basement I got through the first couple of weeks of keypunching with the Girls without anyone realizing that I only had two and a half outfits.I did this with Gertie’s collection of big earrings. Everyone would stare at my ears and not notice the pants I had worn three days in a row. I figured in another month or so I could get some more clothes. But then the Cellist called. She wanted her money back.
“I want my goddamn money back.”
Obviously selling all her L.L. Bean wool skirts to thrift stores hadn’t been as profitable as she had hoped.
With a heavy heart, I reinstated some cleaning jobs on the weekends.
The Guilty West Side Family started leaving a five-dollar tip because they had a country house and I didn’t and I was cleaning while they were away suffering through their upward mobility and really it was only because he gave up his art for commerce that he owned all this empty materialism. Like I looked like someone who gave a shit. And personally, I liked cleaning alone. At the end of everything gleaming for their return from their bourgeoisie burden, I got to fix myself a scotch, sit down in their big West Side living room and look out at the sunset. I didn’t want to live there or even have that living room or even that sunset. I just wanted to visit for a second. Be some place quiet and not beat-up or raggedy or filled with Academy Award winning cries of ecstasy. Just wanted to sit like I used as a kid in Macy’s furniture department. Step over the rope and sit down in one of those fake living rooms until the sales lady yelled at me and sent me to the lost and found.
The Catholic of the Life of Quiet Desperation let me go because he didn’t know what to do with himself while I cleaned. Nobody at the Cow could figure that one out, not even Andy who was Catholic. Then the Catholic of the Life of Quiet Desperation called me one night and told me the truth. He had lost his clerking position at the Wall Street place he had worked at for 32 years and had to take another job for much less money. He didn’t have the $25 a month to keep me on. He called to tell me the truth so that in case he died he wouldn’t go to hell for lying to me.
That left the Guilt free about Everything Upper East Side Couple who hung around while I cleaned which was really weird because their one bedroom apartment wasn’t that big and frankly even silent sex noise travel quite easily through those modern high-rise walls.
But at the end of a month and a half, I had the $37. I rendezvoused with the Cellist on the corner of Second Avenue and 7th Street. The thrift store near McSorley’s had offered to take a look at her knick-knacks. With the $37 I owed her and whatever she got for the ugly Toby Mugs, she had enough for an installment on the back rent since the Old Man stopped paying it and after twenty-eight years the Cellist was suddenly faced with eviction from a home where she had “cleaned the toilet bowl by hand not with one of those brushes the other mothers used they sent their children to camp in the summer just to get rid of them I never did that to you kids.”
No, you didn’t. You kept us home during lonely, lonely summers while you practiced for six hours a day and we wandered around the neighborhood dodging the pedophiles after the city-run day camp let out. And I had no one to play with because all the Jewish kids were either at religious or communist camp and all the Black and Puerto Rican kids, well the camp counselors made them play with me during the hours of 10 and 12. But after 12:05 it was a lost cause.
As soon as I was tall enough to carry a baby on my hip I was out of there doing summer jobs as The Au Pair of Fire Island where I could eat as much as I wanted.
I didn’t say any of this out loud. Just followed the Cellist down 7th street as she spewed at me about how suddenly having to pay rent after twenty-eight years of smelling the Old Man was just another example of being “fucked up the ass” by his “fucking family.”
As usual I kept my head down because I didn’t want to have to look at all the people looking at us when the Cellist screamed in public. If she screamed at me to ANSWER HER GODDAMN IT I would do so but in this very quiet, quiet voice like Gregory Peck in that movie thinking somehow that my faint voice would force her to join the orchestra of PIANISMO DOLCE. The Other Daughter would scream back just as loud thinking that would shut the Cellist up. For the record neither tactic worked. The Cellist would just scream until she was done screaming. Usually two days later or whenever she had to act human, what ever came first.
In this instance it was the acting human that shut her up. She had to sell her stuff to this thrift store guy and if she lost it in front of him he’d kick her out again and refuse to do business until he felt like it.
I hated this guy. He was from Connecticut but he pretended he wasn’t. I hated that. He had this whole bullshit philosophy about how the stolen stuff he bought off the heroin addicts was revolutionary but the stuff the Cellist sold was I don’t know her fault.
Maybe he only liked poverty that was unattractive and dirty and poor looking. The Cellist was beautiful. Lean, tall — well probably not tall, tall but because she was so lean and stood so ramrod straight she looked like that kind of tall you thought only rich people in the New Yorker cartoons were. Her hair was like an enraged flood — these waves pouring out of her scull — breathtaking but you knew they’d kill you in a second. And her eyes — both the real one and the glass one — glittered with a green-gray-blue that wasn’t hazel but wasn’t anything else either. It was the color of pain in a foreign movie that made you weep for mankind and wish you could paint too.
You could tell this Thrift Store Guy thought he was the James Dean of his comfortable family because he took his trust fund dividends and set himself up in business on a dingy street in the East Village to support heroin addiction through resale. You could tell this Thrift Store Guy felt he knew the real hard life of cold tough streets because his hand touched the hands who stole from the old couple on 5th street too poor to move anywhere else or the family on Avenue D that saved up six months for that fucking television set. You could tell this Thrift Store Guy secretly went home to Connecticut, green trees, or snow banks that looked pretty, not yellow with piss and vomit like the ones on Monroe. He went home to a comfortable house and would get into a fight with his older brother the financier about the oppressed and the hungry. He would shout at his brother he knew the real world because of all those other hands he felt so radical and special touching.
In her chinos and sweater the Cellist just looked like some character from some book the Thrift Store Guy had read sophomore year in Contemporary American Lit at his dad’s alma mater. “Oh I’m an artist I’ll move to New York as soon as I graduate college, not become a blankety-blank like Father wants me to be.” But he didn’t want to see that character scrounge for food on other people’s plates headed to the dishwasher or watch her trade in old knick-knacks from the 1930s for rent money.
He didn’t want to put money into the hand of a woman who was as well educated as he, smarter than he knew himself to be, and desperate and poor and broke like he never would be. The Cellist was a screaming indictment that he had lied to himself and everyone he knew that he was anything but a rich kid pretending to be poor.
Which is why he refused to buy the Toby Mugs the Cellist had been given as a wedding present, but took the vase Gramma had bought at Woolworth’s in 1929 the day before the crash. You see his great-uncle collected Toby mugs and the Thrift Store Guy’s knowledge of their British Isle origins might have made him suspect to one of the addicts hanging about that day and then who knows. Maybe his sales team would rob him some night.
I didn’t say any of this out loud.
Just smiled at him like he was Power to the People! incarnate and watched him count out ten singles to the Cellist who laughed nervously and told him she would be back next week with the paintings. You could tell that he dreaded seeing her again. Her desperate rage for food and shelter was enough to shatter his illusion of how far he had stepped away from his real home, the one seen on Christmas Television Specials where the whole family wore plaid pants and white turtlenecks.
The Cellist and I stood outside the thrift store. I could see over her shoulder the Thrift Store Guy glance at us and then make some comment. The addict looked at us too and then laughed. Staring over her shoulder I watched for the billionenth time since my birth, her shatteredness become a joke for some asshole. They saw me looking at them. I broke into my usual shit-eating grin of “oh well. What can you do?” At that moment I wish I was Brutus. His knife wasn’t as sharp and the wound wasn’t as deep.
I kept grinning and shrugging as I turned to look at the light in the air getting cold gray. I watched some guys spill out of McSorley’s, pissing beer and shouting fuck me fuck me fuck me to some girls coming out of the Ukrainian School who just giggled and tittered to one another as they cast longing looks of love and contempt back at their suitors.
The Cellist looked at her $47. The rent was $172 in arrears. She stood there thinking out loud what else might sell.
— Claire Olivia (C.O.) Moed was born on the Lower East Side of New York City when it was still a tough neighborhood. With Masters of Fine Arts in both Dramatic Writing (NYU) and Media Arts / Directing (City College). C.O. was been nominated for a Rockefeller Media Arts Fellowship in 2003. She was one of nineteen participants at the Berlinale Talent Campus 2005 script clinic for her full-length THE YEAR I GREW TITS and made semi-finals at Berlin Today Award Summer Campus 2005 for her short script, AUF WEIDERSEHN. Her short stories and dramatic works have been published in several anthologies and literary reviews. She writes, shoots and works a day job in New York City.