David Futrelle reviews 'Thrift Score' by Al Hoff.
I used to think I could live, somehow, outside of consumer culture. A grad student, bereft of funds and only partially cognizant of the exigencies of style, I bought only what was absolutely necessary, taking furniture from dumpsters and replenishing my wardrobe only on those occasions when, once or twice a year, I went to visit my parents and their charge cards. The only shops I spent more than a minute in were used book stores, and I told myself that my book purchases were academic necessities. I could even withstand the annual onslaught of Christmas — often holding out until (quite literally) the night before Christmas before stepping gingerly into the consumer maelstrom to snatch up a few (cheap, crappy) last-minute gifts.
Then I discovered thrift stores, and my latent consumerist cravings emerged with a vengeance. From my first big score (a set of useful mugs and an original oil painting based on the “Love is …” comic strip, all for $1.29) I was hooked. “The smart shopper shops often,” the sign in my local thrift proclaimed, and by this peculiar standard I was a genius. I bought shirts; I bought pants; I bought file cabinets. I bought black velvet paintings of kitties. I bought hideous ceramic figurines. I bought more than 100 novels about nurses.
Al Hoff understands the passion, the sheer irrational thrill of thrifting. Several years back, Hoff began a modest little zine, Thrift Score, to share her experiences with fellow thrift devotees. Soon the pages of Thrift Score were filled with letters from a vast and diverse Thrift Army, responding to her questions and giving all the gory details of their most obscure finds.
Now Hoff has distilled her thrifting wisdom into a book, also called “Thrift Score” — a guide to buying that makes (as they say) a perfect Christmas gift. Though not quite as deliciously eccentric as her zine, the book is an entertaining and practical guide to the lowest rungs of our consumer ladder, with Hoff taking on subjects ranging from the proper care and cleaning of thrifted lambswool sweaters to suggestions on how to furnish a Manly Den. (She suggests starting with an “All-American Cedar Souvenir Plaque.”)
As Hoff understands, the joy of thrifting lies not only in the occasional amazing score, but in the pleasure one can take in examining the raw materials of history firsthand. Thrift stores, after all, are where fads go to die; in a good thrift store, you can find dictionaries of CB slang, Pac Man pajamas, Masters of the Universe bedsheets. You can find almost every bestseller ever published — except, of course, the ones you might actually want to read. Every thrift store in existence seems to have a copy of Gail Sheehy’s “Passages,” John Naisbett’s “Megatrends,” Tom Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities”; very few of them appear to have been read.
And then, of course, there are the Herb Alpert records. Hoff has a theory about Herb Alpert. “Whipped Cream and other Delights” sold 500,000 copies when it first came out — and, as Hoff points out, most devoted thrifters have seen what seems to be “each and every one of these.” Perhaps, Hoff suggests, all the copies of this infernal album have left the hands of their original owners and are now caught in an endless limbo, circulating and recirculating through the thrift stores of America like an especially virulent urban legend.
My own passion for thrifts waxes and wanes. At times, even the thought of entering the squalid disorder of a thrift makes my skin crawl. Other times, I can feel the fever coming over me, and I will gladly spend hours braving the crowded aisles, the screaming babies, the miserable music, the rancid human odors, sorting through pile upon pile of junk in search of the perfect score. I plowed through my copy of “Thrift Score” in an evening, reading like a man possessed. The next day I hit a brand new thrift. The magic was still there — waiting for me like Herb Albert, whipped cream in hand.
David Futrelle, a regular Sneak Peeks contributor, has written for The Nation, Newsday, and Lingua Franca. More David Futrelle.
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Two-for-one for Everyone — West Wind Solano Twin Drive-In, Concord, Calif. This family-friendly attraction with several spots across the U.S. (including California, Nevada and Arizona) prides itself on offering first-run double features (save for premiere events) on the cheap — which is quite the deal, considering their 65-foot screens are among the biggest in the biz. And if you have great car speakers, even better: squawk boxes of old have been replaced with Dolby quality audio piped through your car’s FM stereo.
For the Four-legged Friendly — Warwick Drive-In, Warwick, N.Y. Northeast city slickers looking for a place to watch their favorite movie stars under the stars need only veer six miles east of Vernon, N.J. What began as a family affair in 1950 has since become a seasonal institution offering rural and urban (and pet!) audiences two movies for the price of one on any of its three giant screens.
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See Stars Collide — Ford-Wyoming Drive-In, Dearborn, Mich. Open year-round (unlike many of its surviving contemporaries), this five-screen staple of the Midwest known as the “largest drive-in in the world” plays host for up to 3,000 cars on any given night. And if the double-feature doesn’t hold your attention, relax; you’ve got the best (car)seat in the house for the occasional overhead meteor shower.
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A Hole (Lot of Fun) in One — Wellfleet Drive-In, Wellfleet, Mass.Built in 1957 and still offering original mono sound boxes for those looking for an authentic experience (or not, as FM stereo is available as well), the summer-exclusive theater hosts double features of first-runs on its giant 100’ x 44’ screen. Come for the movies, stay for the mini-golf and flea market (on select days).
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Go Big or Drive Home — Bengies Drive-In, Baltimore, Md. The only thing bigger than Bengies’ prolific history (57 years and going) is its main attraction — boasting the biggest theater screen in the U.S. at 6,240 square feet. That’s 52’ x 120’ of pure anamorphic presentation. Complementing its time capsule of a snack bar (unchanged since ’56), previews old and new occupy the venue’s old-timey intermissions between features.
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Proof That Film is Forever — Shankweilers, Orefield, Pa. While we’re on superlative street, consider stopping at this roadside treasure: America’s oldest drive-in. Operating since 1934, it may not have the frills and pony rides of nearby Becky’s Drive-In, but it’s defied hurricanes and the wear and tear of time. Worth the one-hour drive from Philly.
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The Gritty Hollywood Reboot — Corral Drive-In, Guymon, Okla. Like a slasher movie menace that died (several times) in the ’80s only to be rebooted years after, the long-vacant Corral Drive-In was resurrected and restored in 2009, providing big entertainment at a nominal fee. And if the $6 adult admission doesn’t make you feel like a kid again, the venue’s inflatable bouncers most definitely will.
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Hop the Healthy Highway — Delsea Drive-In, Vineland, N.J. Less than an hour’s trip from Atlantic City, New Jersey’s only drive-in offers the best of both worlds — old school aesthetic outfitted with modern tech and healthier food choices to boot. Open seasonally, with first features beginning around dusk.
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Bring Your Backyard to the Big Screen — Starlight Six Drive-In, Atlanta, Ga. As much a backdoor barbecue as it is a night out at the movies, this six-screen Atlanta drive-in encourages what most in the theater biz forbid: bringing your own food and grilling it. Those looking to add a hip twist of the theatrical to their Labor Day getaway need only stock the cooler and pack some brats or burgers for the Starlight’s annual “Drive-Invasion,” which features a hot-rod show, live music, and B-movies galore.
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And really, what better way is there to cruise the nostalgia highway of old Hollywood than in a MINI Roadster? Allowing all the headroom one needs to see the stars on the screen and those directly above, the 2013 convertible goes the distance where it counts — on the road (obviously), not to mention the discerning driver’s wallet. Never mind that its fun-size frame also makes motoring in and out of tight traffic all the more enjoyable (or parking in even tighter spots for cozy romantics all the more convenient).
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