Junker’s Blues

It's been a while since there's been a "Junker's Blues" in the Xpress. I'll forego the editorial and personal details of its hiatus (basically, it comes down to your humble correspondent being a lazy good-for-little), but I thought we'd take the opportunity to reintroduce the column with a little junker aesthetic theory. We'll get back to what seems to be the most popular aspect of this column, the "Tales from the Thrift," next time.

This week it's about "why we junk."

A fellow junker recently showed me a pair of rubber dolls she'd found. These guys were weird — they were like Kewpie dolls, but these Kewpies had grown up in the late '60s, wearing different-colored overalls. And their parents had let that little tuft of Kewpie hair row out into gigantic post-"troll-doll" afros. Framed by these modern accoutrements and given a subtle, Margaret Keane-style facial update, their Kewpie expressions shifted from blissful innocence into a too-knowing smirk. You just didn't want to know what was going on behind those oversized eyes. Truly, they were the Kewpies of the damned.

It was difficult to understand how these disturbing things were ever designed, approved, manufactured, marketed and sold. And to add to their mystery, there was no tell-tale copyright, company name or country-of-origin impression on them anywhere.

It somehow seemed logical that these sinister little creatures had manifested themselves in a box that was ready to go to the flea market, that the dealer just put them out on the table, maybe thinking "Huh, don't remember these weird things," and then sold them for 50 cents. They had to occur naturally (or, I suppose, given my stated theory, supernaturally); there was no way, I said to my friend, they could have ever come from a store.

This reminded her of one of her friend's criterion for deciding whether or not she was going to make a purchase "in the field." If you junk a lot, you have to have certain rules for deciding to grab something unfamiliar, and you have to stick to them. Stuff rarely looks better than it does in the yard; you have moments to decide if it will curdle into clutter when you get it home. I've got friends who will make decisions about records based on if they're published by BMI or ASCAP. I know folks who buy thrift-store paintings only if they're unsigned. Her friend's cardinal rule: she would not pick something up if it seemed "too store."

This is such a marvelous distillation of junker mentality that it barely needs to be unpacked, but, hey, I'm a columnist, so please allow me to belabor the point. (I'd also like to point out that the adverbial "too store" is different than the infinitive "to store," another aspect of junkdom entirely.) 

If something is "too store," it looks like you actually bothered to go out and buy it. If something is the opposite of "too store," it should look, I suppose, like it just popped out of your head and landed next to you, or on you, some kind of natural outgrowth of your very being. A personal lifestyle based not on consumer reports and identification with advertising, but on the luck of the draw, the eye of the beholder and a touch of strange.

The "too store" concept certainly begs a lot of questions. What is its opposite, anyway? Home-grown? Hand-cranked? From Kewpie Town? Do I have to buy for relatives who think my junking habits are "weird" gifts that are "just store enough," in order to simultaneously maintain solid family relationships and personal integrity? These dilemmas and many others present themselves as I consider the ramifications of moving my own junker criteria over to the "too store" standard.

And even if I keep my own rules intact, I figure this "too store" question is worth asking in just about any context, before any transaction. 

We live in a culture where we're expected to allow our purchases to define us. Are you a Mac or are you a PC? Vinyl, CD or download? Processed or organic? This stuff really can define who we are, whether we want it to or not. Taking a moment before buying just about anything to ask yourself, "Is this too store?" can go a long way to keeping ugly, lifeless, plastic and personality-free nonsense from cluttering your home and mind. 

There are a number of intellectual justifications for junking, e.g. the potential for profit, the saving of money, the reuse of goods that would otherwise be landfill, etc., but ultimately something in the junker's brain is just happier around a bunch of junk than it is around the shiny and new. And that is not, necessarily, superior to any other consumerist lifestyle. We're still talking about "purchases as personality." But hey, in junkland, at least everything is on the dollar menu.

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