And The Győztes Is…. (that’s Hungarian for “winner”, btw)


Some of us recently had a contest to see who could find the very best thing in a thrift store, and by “best,” I mean “worst.”  For a while, everyone seemed to be neck and neck until Erica pulled a neat little trick and produced THIS:

thrift store win erica webAt that point, it was obviously GAME OVER, especially because Erica found it in Hungary on a work trip (although I still don’t really understand how marine biologists “need” to meet in Hungary), and it has all the horror of the creepy discarded American  knick-knack combined with the international mystique of stories about evil trolls in the hills of Europe.

Here are some of the Facebook comments that this thing produced:

“WTF is up with that thing’s ears? OMG.”

“It would seriously kill you while you were sleeping if you ever had in it your house.”

“What’s written on the note?? I have to know. Did you read it? Buy it?”

Unfortunately, Erica neither read the note nor bought it, although we are encouraging her to go back again so we can answer the burning question of “what could that note POSSIBLY say?”  Erica did tell us this:  “All the guys thought I was insane for getting so excited about seeing this in the window. Meanwhile, I was laughing so hard that the scary looking owner of the shop came out and looked like she was going to jump me.”

So as I said, all of the participants in the Thrift Store Contest (me, Maria, Erica, and Kris) were all in agreement that Erica had won.

But after a few days, I started to reconsider. Were we all just caught up in the hype of its Euro-glam outfit?  Maybe we were stunned into submission by its open mouth, which was clearly issuing silent commands? I decided that some market research was needed, some unscientific but still illuminating consumer feedback, and that is why I printed out this:

thrift store winners 1 webI included a few of the other more spectacular finds that had been submitted to the contest pre-CHG (CHG, for future reference, = Creepy Hungarian Doll). And then I took the sheet with me to the MIC gym at my next workout.

I waited patiently until a few gym members had finished talking to Oscar and Caterina about WOD times, appropriate workout gloves, and Paleo eating. Then I asked my own extremely critical question:  “So, guys, which of these things is the more horrible, do you think? I mean, the most awful, creepy, frightful, gross thing? The one you’d LEAST like to have in your home?”

It only took a few seconds for them to chose, and it was #3, CHG. I was happy. “Yes!” I told them.  “That’s the one my sister found in Hungary. Isn’t it just horrible?”

I asked a few more gym members.  At least 10 more people picked CHG.  A few wavered between Gruesome Clown Combo and Insane Leprechaun, but eventually they decided that yes, CHG was truly the most awful.  One person picked #1, and one person picked #3.  Later, a close friend picked #3.

This was helpful, but still not definitive. I mean, the people at the gym know me, and maybe I was doing a “Mr. Ed” kind of thing by nodding my head or making a noise when friends looked at #3. And some of them had already seen CHG on my Facebook page and enjoyed its fame and glory, which might have influenced their vote. So I figured I needed to expand my research to include strangers.

The next day, at the Chandler Whole Foods, I was ready.  As I picked up my Green Giant juice from the juice bar, I casually asked the young man behind the counter, “Can I ask for your help really quick with something?”

I pulled out the paper and unfolded it.  “My sisters and I are having a competition,” I explained, “to see who can find the most awful thing in a thrift shop.  Can you help us determine the true winner? Which of these is the most horrible?”

All three of the workers crowded up to the counter with interest.  “This one, DEFINITELY,” said the young man with the funky hat, pointing at CHG.  “There’s something about its mouth – it’s just wrong.”

“Yes,” agreed an attractive young woman, “I really hate that one. It gives me a very bad vibe.”

“Yup,” agreed the other cool young man (everyone who works at Whole Foods is cool), “that one for sure.”

“That one’s from Hungary!” I explained proudly, as if I had something to do with the fact that my sister is a) A Marine Biologist, b) traveling to exotic places, c) capable of finding winning statues in small shops.

This was good – I was getting more feedback!  And later on, I decided to check the opinion of the checkout lady at Barnes and Noble. After I’d paid for my book, I asked her – because she seemed so friendly and kind – “Can I ask you a quick question?”

I pulled out my now-battered piece of paper and showed it to her, along with my explanation, and waited with a pleasant smile for her answer.

“Oof!” she said with her mild exotic accent.  “These are quite – em – they are really very all horrible, I think.”

She perused the sheet and wrinkled her mouth and brow.

“I am not liking this one at all,” she said, pointing to the clowns, “But the box — this one here in its box — something about the box around it is just really bad.”

She thought some more. “I will have to pick #3,” she said firmly, “because of the box.”

I was excited. Again, CHG was proving victorious!  “It’s from Hungary!” I explained.

“Oh, really?” she said, “I’m Hungarian!”

“Aha,” I said, suddenly feeling the panicked need to explain more.  I smiled in what I sincerely hoped was a “please understand that I am not mocking Hungary in any way by letting you know that the most horrible thing on that paper is from Hungary. Hungary is full of amazing culture, learned people, and historical treasures that delight millions of people world-wide. My father was born in Hungary, and I love and appreciate Hungary. The fact that this doll is from Hungary only proves how totally awesome Hungary is!”

I probably wasn’t that eloquent, but I did say that my father was there to visit his birth-town, and that he and my sister and brother got to see many wonderful places, and that the doll was maybe kind of the crowning glory of the trip for my sister, but only because my family is very “special” in many ways, and that Hungary is amazing.

She smiled back, so I think  she understood.

You might think that was enough research, but I am nothing if not thorough. I wanted at least one or two more opinions to ensure that I was getting a diverse cross-section of opinions from around town.

As I was leaving Target this morning, I noticed a few constructions workers in the new cement  pad next door. They were digging a hole that was shoulder deep, and they were inside the hole. One of them was squirting a muddy water mixture out of the hole using something that looked like a Nerf water gun, except it was made from a PVC pipe.

“Hmmmm,” I thought to myself. “I wonder what THOSE guys would think about CHG?  And what would be the best way to approach them?”

I figured that the guys were a)busy, and b)thirsty and c)possibly hungry, because it was lunchtime. A Wendy’s was just up the street.

“I will buy them cold waters and chicken wraps from Wendy’s,” I decided, “and then will ask them about the thrift store contest.”

It seemed to me a fine plan, and so with Wendy’s in hand, I approached the hole. One of the men looked up at me. The other man, busy digging, did not.

“Hi, excuse me!” I said, feeling VERY awkward.  Instead of helpful and kind-hearted, I suddenly felt very weird and creepy.  Buying lunch for strangers? Who DOES that?  Would they think I was insane? Would they think the food was poisoned? (**See Footnote below)

But there I was, and I had to continue:  “Um, I was just wanting to do something nice for someone today, so I thought I’d, uh, get you guys some cold waters and lunch. From Wendy’s, right there,” (and I pointed, hoping that they’d notice it was a very non-toxic Wendy’s). “So, ah, here you go!”

The men looked at me strangely.  I smiled and handed over the waters and the bags.

“Thank you?” said the first man sort of cautiously. The other man was listening, but still digging.

“You’re welcome!” I said brightly. “And by the way, since I’m here, can I ask you a quick question?”

I unfolded the trusty sheet. “My sisters and friend and I are trying to find the ugliest thing we can at a thrift store. Can you tell me which one YOU think is the ugliest?”

The man looked at the sheet for about 2 seconds, then pointed firmly at CHG. “That one,” he said without hesitation. The other man did not look at the paper. He was still digging.
“Thank you!” I said happily.  “That’s what everyone says. No matter WHO I ask, they all pick that one! It’s from Hungary, by the way. Ok, thanks! And I hope you enjoy the waters. And the lunch. Ok, bye!”

And I walked fast back to my car and was red for about ten minutes. But I was thrilled.  I had been brave! I had been bold! I had asked the opinion of MANY different people, and although it was an unstatistically correct survey, still — the majority of people picked CHG!  And I bet I gave at least one person something funny to tell a friend later. ( “You’ll never believe what this lady asked me today…”)  And isn’t that what life is about sometimes? Helping bring interest, variety and fun to other people’s lives as well as your own?

So, Erica, I must congratulate you once again on finding the winning object and giving me the chance to talk to people I would otherwise not have approached for a conversation.

I still really want to know that its scroll says, but I suppose that will have to remain one of life’s big mysteries.


Footnote Followup: ** Poisoned food, you ask? Perhaps you should read this entry about non-poisoned cookies!






The Purple Pig Of Pleasure And Other Delights

My sister Maria likes to take pictures of special finds in the second hand store and text them to me with little messages. One day she sent me this little gem, practically guaranteeing me a night full of bad dreams:

leprechaun from maria

I try to respond with special thrifty pictures of my own, like this special doll:

special doll

I could have texted something like, “I’m watching you!”  or, “Can I wear a pair of YOUR undies?” but some things are so firmly implied that there is no need for redundance.

When I was a child, most of my clothes were purchased from  thrift stores.  And I still remember the joy of being told as a kid  that I could pick out any books I wanted! — pretty much as many books as I wanted! – when I went with mom to the various thrift stores in Chicago. For a family on a budget, those are magical words.

The thrift stores have provided me with serious  joy as an adult, too.  One summer when I was working as an engineering intern, I bought a large stuffed purple pig and a blow-up reindeer at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift shop, and the pig became The Mascot of that summer.  Lisa, Erica and I took turns hiding it and doing funny things with it (often at work it would show up in somebody’s cube), and at the pinnacle of the pig’s popularity, Lisa erected a faux spit and bonfire on the front lawn of our rental and hung the pig over it, upside down, as if it were roasting.

I wish I had a picture to share, but I can’t find it – so please imagine us holding a stuffed pig as large as a real pig, except it’s purple, and we are  laughing like hyenas. Also, we might be drunk.

My sister Erica bags some real winners at her thrift stores, too. She once found — in the children’s book section — a board book with a hole in it. The hole was  for your penis, and the book was something about penises and what they could do.  Nice!  I think that might be even more special than the leprechaun or the most enchantingly evil doll.

But the pièce de résistance of a lifetime of thrifting is my husband’s award-winning Ugly Sweater. We found the sweater in the first 3 minutes after entering Chicago’s Unique Thrift Store. Amado wore it to the Ugly Sweater Run and WON A PRIZE for ugliest sweater! He shared the prize with a handful of others, but the fact that he was up there was enough to make the rest of us scream in pleasure and then head right to the beer tent to use our beer tickets (this Ugly Sweater Run was sponsored by Samuel Adams.)  Maria’s and her family’s sweaters were also from Unique; mine and AJ’s were from a Goodwill in Phoenix, AZ.  Only a thrift store could provide such true ugliness and joy, because that run was a particularly fun activity to do with family. Thanks, thrift stores!

ugly sweater1 web ugly sweater2 web ugly sweater3

Seriously, though, thrift stores have given me so much more than clothes!  Providing laughter is such a generous act, and by making things like stuffed pigs, Ugly Sweaters and leering leprechauns available, thrift stores have increased my overall mirth percentage significantly.  That’s  the reason I like to donate my old stuff to Goodwill or other second hand stores — maybe my clothes will come in handy for someone else, and maybe my cast-off trinkets and/or sweaters can give somebody else a good guffaw.

Brilliant Idea Alert:  —> And now I have a brilliant idea. Maria and Erica — want to have a competition?  Let’s see who can find the BEST  thing at a thrift store.  We can pick a time frame (the next 3 weeks?) and send in pictures of our top two things to enter.  Other people are welcome to enter, too!  Totally impartial people, like Muz, Papa and AJ can be our judges if they want. What do you say? Are you and your city up for it? Game on!

P.S. – Isabel and I went to the Goodwill today, where I found a shirt for me and two books for her. I also found the following splendid treasures for Maria.

thrift 1



P.P.S. – I found old pictures of the purple pig! Here it is, featured with young me and young Amado.

purple pig web