Saturday, March 5, 2011

Someday I'll write a shorter post, but apparently not today

Little in life makes me happier than a new thrift store. This one isn't so new, but it's a new discovery for me since I've started walking to work.

Cargo, as it's called, has been around for a year, and the cheerful Global Cafe next door is part of the same operation. Both businesses are connected to a detox center that's operated for years, modestly and even mysteriously, out of a pair of storefronts.

A year ago, they put in a community garden in the empty lot next door. They rehabbed what had been their meeting space -- a place where clients could get together behind closed curtains and have a cup of coffee and a chat -- to the public. Now the clients work in the thrift store or the cafe, earning a modest wage as they get back on their feet and build up their portfolios.

Does it surprise you to hear me say I adore this model? (I didn't think so).

I popped into the thrift shop yesterday and encountered who must be the founder of this eponymous facility. He was a lively character, definitely turning on the hard sell for a BCBG dress (I bought it) and some grandmotherly china (I passed). He talked about making a collage of Michael Jackson magazine photos for the wall, then trying to sell it for $25. He led a sweet, pregnant Spanish-speaking woman to a box of onesies, all on sale for $1. He pushed me to buy a $10 spider plant, which will help fund the insurance they need for their community garden, a bureaucratic formality that clearly disgusts him. The pregnant woman's 7-year-old son told him $10 was way too much money for a plant. I'll probably eventually buy the damn thing.

And then a curious thing happened. The guy held up something I've never seen before. It looked like an old pin, but was actually a clasp you attach to a scarf to keep it in place. Sweet, but superfluous, so I told him thanks, but not today.

And then he gave it to me.

"Please take it," he said. "This looks like you and you should have it."

"Thank you," I said. "That's incredibly kind, and I accept it."

Now I hesitate to tell the rest of the story, because it casts a bit of a pall on this moment, and I admit it made me wonder if this was truly a gift or a covenant he was enlisting.

But after talking of the good karma he thought this would bring him, he told me that everything he does is in service to the Creator, and isn't the Creator's will majestic?

You know me by now, so you know I had no answer for this question. I smiled, thanked him again, and headed out the door.

But the whole thing left me wondering. What does it mean to take my tea and gently-used dresses with a side of old-time religion? Will I continue to shop in the store, or will I avoid the place to avoid the conversation? Will I feel too disingenuous to wear my scarf clasp?

I navigate these questions frequently in my work, which revolves largely around faith-based institutions. But I've also started outing myself as a nonbeliever ('atheist' can come off as confrontational in my line of work), and the sky hasn't fallen yet.

I suppose I could handle myself with the same diplomacy with a guy like this. I might just have to buy the Michael Jackson collage to let him know I'm not the devil.


tracy said...

This is a good story, CP!
I find myself in this kind of situation a lot, too, since the majority of thrift stores down here in the Bible belt are...well, in the Bible belt. I think if all the donations and work end up for the good, well I'm okay with wherever the good comes from--as long it's not overtly judging those it's trying to help.

leslie said...

We've been tackling this in its way since our oldest has become a church-goer. He's chosen a nice, progressive church, and we're supporting him in his new community. Like you, I've learned that saying, "Oh, I'm not really a believer myself" goes down much easier. I'm liking this new experience, though. Having been raised in the all-judging, no-charity churches, I am so very pleased to see there are people out there walking the talk. That said, these conversations never stop being uncomfortable.

Christy said...

I think the thing was, I just wasn't expecting it. Trying to sell me a cowboy wallet? Of course. Breaking out into "Let's do the Time Warp"? Sure. But the Jesus thing? It seemed to come out of left field.

In retrospect it all makes perfect sense, and I agree with both of you: if this is directed toward something good, I can't help but applaud it. I'm just left wondering: Where do the atheist addicts go to get help?

tracy said...

I'm with you on that, CP. It's all AA and higher power or a medical inpatient facility. There's got to be a middle ground. As much as I'm annoyed by all the media coverage of Charlie Sheen, I find myself agreeing with his criticism of AA...

Rosemary said...

If you must buy something, make it the spider plant--not the MJ collage. It sounds like you handled the unexpected proselytizing quite gracefully, actually! Perhaps a hearty "And how!" as you headed for the door would've sufficed as a non-answer?