In the late ‘90s, many years after working as a farmworker, dishwasher, and ice cream peddler, I finally developed the kind of work experience and self-esteem that pushed me to apply for my dream job: Assistant Manager at the local Goodwill. “It’s the perfect job,” I used to think, since the store could easily provide a never ending supply of records, films, clothes, bad art, and a little bit of money — basically all of the essential goods a restless, anxious teenager needs in order to survive the boredom of American suburbs.
Cristina, a good friend of mine, actually held the position I was applying for. She was getting ready to move away for college, but homegirl put in a good word for me before she left. After lighting quite a few veladoras (Catholic Mexican candles) to La Santa Virgen de las Tres Marias de Thalia Sodi (a saint to many, but a horrible fictional character to most), I got the gig. I still remember the first day I stood in front of the Goodwill with keys to the store in my pocket. It was like standing in front of the gates of heaven, except my Saint Peter was not a bearded apostle in a luxurious silk robe, but mildly drunk homeless man who wanted to purchase “a cheap sweater” and needed me to “hurry the fuck up and open the store.”
Gutter punks, theater geeks, older hippies, and low-income families made up most of our clientele. The average shopper was polite, but the occasional eccentric, such as one middle-aged woman whose dark, runny, evil urges led her to take dump in the dressing room floor before wiping her ass with an old Garth Brooks shirt — the latter being totally understandable — kept us on our toes (or knees, scrubbing).
Even more delightful than our clientele was our own staff: a volatile concoction of backgrounds, age groups, and creeds. I met a lot of characters while working there, but the most intriguing was Jeff, our sixty-something-year-old garbage man. All my coworkers hated dealing with Jeff because he was incredibly mean, angry, and foul-mouthed. I, however, never took offense to his disposition because he used to come up with hilarious insults. Once, as I opened the rear door of the building so he could access our trash, Jeff gawked at my outfit from head to toe and quipped: “Oh, God — does a color-blind, mentally-challenged clown stock your wardrobe!?”
Oh, Jeff. You did a great job at getting rid of our garbage, but you really should have been a drag queen.
Although working at that particular Goodwill was great, it was still located in Dixon, a humble, mundane cowtown (or lambtown) in northern California. By then, I used to regularly hang around the Bay Area — I loved getting my counterculture fix straight from the source — but eventually moved to midtown Sacramento. Dixon is close enough to Sacramento, but commuting back to the Goodwill for work became a nightmare, so I quit.
I moved to Manhattan in 2006 and still live in New York, but I go back to Dixon every other year, give or take, to visit friends and family. Stopping by the Goodwill whenever I go back was always a must, until the store was shut down around three years ago. I hardly knew the staff by then, but last time I shopped in my beloved store I bought a pair of shoes, which I paid with my credit card. Even though the shoes cost less than five dollars, the cashier, an older woman, asked for my identification card (California employees always card).
“New York! Well, aren’t you a long way from home, young man,” exclaimed the well-mannered lady after she suspiciously examined my ID. I smiled but didn’t mention that I was home right that second. No biggie; I’m assuming she figured it out after I inquired about an old pal: “Does Jeff still work here?” While she was bagging my shoes, the slightly flabbergasted employee replied: “Jeff… the garbage man? Well, uh, yes.”
I asked the woman for a favor before walking out of the Goodwill: “Please tell that bitter asshole that a color-blind, mentally-challenged clown misses him dearly.”