When you grow up as Catholic as I was, chances are you’ve done a fair amount of service work. In my life, I’ve done community service for a number of organizations and some wasn’t even court ordered. Some of it was required as a condition of completion of an academic course, probation or my residence. I’ve volunteered at a soup kitchen, a half-way house, Habitat for Humanity, another soup kitchen, you name it.
The latest round was at a Goodwill. It started as going to a store and explaining that I live in a sober-living house and as a condition of living in the house I wanted to do some work there. The store manager told me I had to call the central office. So I called the central office, who told me if the service wasn’t a condition of probation, I had to contact the store. When I contacted the store, the very unhelpful woman I spoke said I had to speak to the central office. Apparently you can’t even be of service to others in our culture until you’ve at least been convicted. Patience of a statue and all that.
So finally I just went down to the big Goodwill, the one with the warehouse attached. The one that doesn’t even have clothes, just furniture, household wares, toys and some flat screen TV’s for sale (Yes, even Goodwill will not accept regular tube televisions anymore. Because as we all know, even the disadvantaged in America won’t watch The Price is Right unless it’s on a swank Magnavox they can mount on their wall.
Upon walking in, the manager on duty informed me that I couldn’t work in the warehouse itself because, I kid you not, there had been some problems with volunteers orchestrating some thefts from the warehouse. So volunteers couldn’t go back there anymore. I’ll repeat that. People were stealing from the Goodwill. I tell ya, that’s “special plane of Hell” material right there. Anyway, what I could do was remain out in the store and sweep floors, wash the front windows and fish merchandise up off the floor. The reason it’s down there in the first place is really very simple. Every hour, the employees wheel these enormous blue bins the size of a Ford F-350 into the warehouse and back out again with a fresh supply of housewares, toys, books and all manner of brickabrack overflowing from the bins. They then line up these bins in a row and (again, I kid you not), get on the public address system to effectively bellow “Go!” to the customers, also in a line, salivating and crazed, who then converge on the bins like a gaggle of hungry jackals and literally rifle through the merchandise, casting aside that which they don’t want onto the floor. So in the process of picking up the floor, I got a brief glimpse into the sprawling waste land of American consumerism. Let’s start with the bears.
A-freakin-dorable, right? There was a multitude of this very type of bear in the bins and I would have been gleeful to give one of them to either my niece or nephew were they not past the age of appreciating them. They’re older now and I’m pretty sure Jake is coming up on the age where he gets his learner’s permit and Izzy is probably reading Seventeen or Kiddy Cosmo or whatever is appropriate for her age right now.
Another one I’d love to give me nephew, the budding bookworm. He’s into Harry Potter right now. I plan to introduce him to Thoreau or Emerson in 6-8 months. But then the bears started to get a little weird.
Okay, still good, but a little disturbing given the look of uncertain joy on its face.
Now we’re getting into creepier territory. This one is a little too Bride of Chucky for my tastes and I’m pretty sure would have a good number of tots crying for no discernable reason.
This one is just wrong. Wrong, wrong wrong in so many ways wrong. Imagine waking up on Christmas morning with this freaky thing at your bed side. Scarring. At this point, let’s shift gears for a moment and address some of the more adult items that at first glance seem fine, until you really consider them. In no particular order we have the long sought after Fountain of Youth. Wouldn’t you know it, it’s in a bin at Goodwill.
Of course, if one is a Christian and draws faith not from Ponce de Leone’s fools gold but more sanctinoius sources, one can find eternal salvation in the Gospel according to Mel Gibson.
Then we have the copious amounts of literature and products devoted to defecation. Here’s a couple of the dozens I found. One can only discern that once the kid gets his first pair of Pull-Ups, mothers across the country cast various potty training products out their windows in droves:
Moving on, there’s many items of family entertainment that I believe were simply the product of a slightly frustrated brain storm at Hasbro or Milton Bradley at 4 in the morning that somehow found their way into the purchase orders at the production plant.
Now, for those shoppers who simply shudder at the mere thought of having children, there’s a few items to heed and heed well. For those mindful of the personal and professional gambit of procreation …
For those more discreet …
And those who, in their haste, literally threw the baby out with the bathwater (well, the wrapper anyway).
So, one is left asking, what can be learned from this brief tour through those blue bins at the Goodwill warehouse? Just that you can probably find everything, something, or nothing in these bins. I’m not going espouse on the disposable nature of our consumer culture and I’m certainly not going to subject you, dear reader, to a diatribe about how we’re the richest society in the world and if you took all the food we throw away every day we could feed the world’s hungry 50 times over and etcetera. In fact, it bears consideration that every man hour that went into producing this tripe probably, at least partly, contributed to one or a thousand men’s ability to feed their family. No, this is simply a snapshot into our culture’s second-hand lives. And I still can’t find a decent used TV.