MIFA

Last week I swung by one of my favorite local haunts, the MIFA store on the corner of Vance Ave + East St here in beautiful sunny Memphis TN. It looks rather imposing from the outside, but inside is a wealth of goodies. Such as…

This saucy little divan, which had unfortunately already been snapped up by some enterprising consumer. Actually I wasn’t in the market for a couch anyway, so I guess it’s not that much of a disaster. But it still sort of sucks. But I don’t care. WHATEVER FORGET YOU MAN

And these solidly built (if a little chintzy) book cases, for the fairly reasonable price of like 40 bucks each I believe. I used to gripe about how much your average book case costs at your average thrift store (not that either one of those things exists, you see…) but I’ve come to a powerful epiphany, after opting to go to Big Lots and get some cheap particle board book shelf kits and put them together myself:

Cheap particle board book shelf kits suck a giant wiener. They’re cheap for a reason. They belong in dorm rooms and unnecessarily carpeted efficiency apartments, where mushroom shaped candles will be burned upon them, the wax forever staining their shitty fake wood finish. Their shelves will bow in the middle and eventually give way under the unrelenting weight and pressure of unread copies of “On The Road” and “Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and all the Bob Marley and Dave Matthews Band posters will only be able to stare on in mute silence (as opposed to screaming silence, you see) as their owners eventually grow tired of their useless ugliness and throw them out in a giant broken pile on the sidewalk, where even the most desperate of junk pickers won’t cast a second scoff in their direction as they trundle by in their beat up Chevy pickup trucks with giant pieces of plywood nailed up on the sides. And then someone kicks a puppy.

So what I’m basically saying is 40 bucks isn’t really too much to ask for a good sized, sturdy, wooden book case. These two might not have been the most attractive specimens anyone’s ever encountered, but as I look over at the crapsicles on ice that I shelled out almost that much for (and had to waste 20 perfectly good minutes of my time putting together), and which are about to snap in two pieces under the relatively meager weight of the remnants of my book collection, I find myself wondering why I didn’t buy these things when I was done taking pictures of them like the twitchy geek that I am. O well.

I’ve been informed that apparently I have something of a lamp fetish. Whatever. I don’t see anything wrong with stopping and being impressed by this classy assortment of brass shell floor lamps, for ten bucks a pop no less. Look at these things. Ten bucks, I tell you! Why I didn’t snap them up is beyond me. Maybe it’s because I already have like 14 lamps. I don’t know.

This damn thing has been here for at least my last two visits. Why hasn’t anyone bought it? Why haven’t I? It is, for those of you who can’t just TELL by looking at it (ok, I couldn’t either), a “Planter’s Clock.” As you might be able to see, it’s got a multicolored wheel at the bottom with different calendar months running along the outside of the wheel. Each color on the wheel represents a different fruit or vegetable. The idea being (I think), you set it, calibrate it for whatever date it is, and then follow along and seed and plant accordingly as each month passes and the wheel on the bottom turns.

Isn’t that cool? So, my two hypotheses (not necessarily contradictory, mind you) for why no one’s bought this thing yet:

1. I neglected to photograph this, but there’s only one wheel on the back, and it sets the clock, but I didn’t see any way to set the calendar. I’m doing a little searching online as I write this, and it looks like you might just take the whole back panel off to set the thing, but I’m betting your average thrift store customer isn’t going to be thinking that deeply about it. I wasn’t.

2. It’s 20 bucks. I’m getting to the point where I don’t really gripe about the pricing schemes at secondhand shops any more – it seems pointless – but that’s enough to even give me pause. Of course knowing MIFA it was probably half off. Most of the stuff in the store is, on any given day.

I will confess to not being 100% sure what these are, exactly. They look like the tops from the old kerosene lamps my parents and I used to use when we’d spend the summers out in our cabin in the middle of the woods in Wisconsin – that was a trip. Every summer we’d pack up the car, head out from New York and a day and a half later we’d be in the middle of nowhere in west central Wisconsin, no electricity, no hot running water, no phones, no nothing to connect us to the outside world, just a well for water and a bunch of cabins. I’m not making this up, I swear. It sounds insane but we did it every summer. And when the sun would go down my mother would usually go to bed, and my father and I would sit up and play cards and listen to these old radio shows he’d taped during the year, all by the light of a kerosene lamp.

God, it’s so bucolic it’s making me sick to write it all out. Anyway, these things looked like the tops of those lamps, except they were big enough to put my arm through. Imagine the size of THAT lamp [snort]! Or, don’t, because this is probably boring you to tears. Moving on.

Here’s something you don’t see very often: a folding rocking chair. I played with it for a second, and basically the seat folds backwards up to the back of the chair, so the whole thing lays flat. Pretty interesting. I would have tried it out but it looked like it would have turned to kindling under the weight of my bulk, and most thrift stores have a pretty strict “you smash it into a million tiny bits with your big fat ass, you buy it” policy, and seeing as it was marked at $110 or so, I didn’t want to risk it. What a puss puss, I know.

There were some rather intriguing LP finds – anyone considering any kind of a serious foray into the secondhand world would do well to arm themselves with a turntable first. You would and will be astonished by the random-ass records you can scare up. Don’t bother with an 8-track player – as funny (and cheap) as they are, they were never designed to stand the test of time, and will usually snap and become completely useless after one or two playthroughs. Plus they sound like shit.

This, on the other hand, was kind of a find. I’d never heard of the band Ambrosia before, but the Ralph Steadman cover got my attention, and although this particular album isn’t going to be topping my playlist any time soon, I checked it out (side 1 anyway) and was sort of impressed with the weird blend of bluesy, proggy ambition coupled with weirdly intense yacht-rock tendencies. The kind of album you wouldn’t probably encounter anywhere else, and certainly wouldn’t blindly pay more than a dollar or two for, but I’m pretty glad I own it now.

TARKUS. Okay, so I didn’t buy this – it wasn’t the first time I’d seen it for sale at MIFA, and it was sadly pretty scratched up – but I have nothing but love and respect for what is indisputably the most ridiculous prog-rock album cover of all time. For people of a certain generation (myself very much included), discovering albums like this, in all its bizarre pretension and indescribable sonic hubris, was a crucial key to understanding exactly what the cultural moment that my parents’ generation had experienced was all about. If that sounds as hilariously overblown and silly as the cover art pictured above, then so be it, I guess it’s on purpose. All I can say is crawling around in my parents’ attic and rooting around in the remnants of their old record collections and coming across things like this at the tender age of 12 gave me a really solid concept of the depth and strangeness and fluidity of the movement of people through time, and trying to connect the two basically stable, borderline-boring people who raised me with the clattering cacophony that came through the speakers when I put this album on, not to even mention the ridiculously awful cover art, was more than my developing brain could manage at the time. It still sort of is. Musically, I was bowled over by what I heard – just as much as the first time I put on “Are You Experienced” or “Over-Nite Sensation,” both of which I also found in those stacks of dusty vinyl – but more than anything else I was struck, and still am, by how fundamentally unbridgeable the gap is between moments that occur where people really feel compelled to put out albums with giant armadillo tanks on the cover, and moments where they don’t. You can hear the notes, you can try to understand – I have – but unless you were there you’ll probably never get it. Lord knows I don’t.

AAAGH JESUS oh wait okay that’s not actually blood. Lord, it looks like blood. I’ve used this joke before, but I can see the ebay listing now: “L@@K SHAUN CASSIDY ALBUM SIGNED IN BLOOD BY SUICIDAL FAN – NR” in fact DAMMIT I should have bought this damn thing, I could be making a fortune on ebay right now.

I bought this, sight unseen, just because it looked money and it was from motown circa like 1982. I haven’t even listened to it yet. I don’t need to. I just know it’s there, and I know it’s good, and I sleep a little easier because of it.

And then of course I sleep a little LESS easier knowing that this particular brand of insanity is just floating around out there, ready for unwitting people’s eager consumption. I know it’s a little old hat, culturally speaking, but every time I hear this woman’s voice (not often any more, thank god) or see her face, I’m struck with how doomed we all are, how we’re a dying breed of parasites floating around on a dead rock, hurtling meaninglessly through space to nowhere special in particular, screwing and killing each other in equal measure, while we rot away from the inside out, slower than we can see and faster than we could ever conceive of.

And then I see naked pictures of her ass and boobs and vajayjay and stuff and I start to think that even the worst people among us were free, alive, attractive, sexually unhinged and morally untroubled people at one point, and it gives me faith again, that even despite our potentially doomed nature, we might figure out a way to hump and laugh ourselves through this madness and come out unscathed on the other side, even if regrettable haints like her didn’t quite make the transition. That might be asking a lot from a board game, but what can I say. I find a lot of value in dismissible junk. Some of you may be catching on to that by now.

So these are the kind of bargains that the MIFA store regularly affords you. 50% off basically all the clothes, pictures, books, and furniture. $2 CDs and DVDs. Bargain basement prices on books. It’s pretty ridiculous. Not to mention…

There’s usually a tub of free crap next to the door, which you’re invited to scoop up heartily on your way out, after you’ve made your purchase. Only I’m an easily distracted tool and I totally forgot to snatch any sweet footpads as I was leaving. Which is a damn shame, considering I work on my feet, and have for my entire working life, so I’m pretty much the ideal candidate for a huge stack of free footpads, but whatever. I could go back tomorrow and buy a 50 cent paperback book and fill my pockets with deliciously free footpad swag on the way out and I’d be all good. Even if they weren’t there any more, there’d probably be something else equally cool and hilarious available in a large barrel as you exit the store. That’s just how they roll at MIFA.

I saw this shirt and started kind of fantasizing about buying up every single “-thon” or “-thlon” shirt I found at thrift stores, and just amassing an entire wardrobe of shirts that did nothing but testify to my unbelievable athletic prowess and endurance. It seems oddly telling though that these shirts clog the racks of every single thrift store I’ve ever been to. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing but respect and admiration for any and all bi-, tri-, or deca-theletes – even LOOKING at the statistics printed on the front of this shirt makes me a little woozy (18 MILES on a bike?) – but if I actually FINISHED one of these nightmare competitions, I assure you I would keep that damn shirt for the rest of my life, hell, I’d probably frame the thing. Maybe all the shirts I’ve seen were donated posthumously after the people who actually engaged in these insane competitions’ bodies caught up with them later and spontaneously combusted themselves as payback for the torture they’d been put through. That would be kind of rad.

Somebody want to explain to me what an “Original Original” is?

This awesome little Audubon print was 5 bucks (2.50 after the discount, because everything is always on sale at MIFA forever and ever) and even though the framing job was kind of chintzy and I can’t hang any framed stuff in my apartment anyway because all the walls are plaster, I bought it and took it out of the frame and it’s now proudly up on my living room wall, next to a John Coltrane album cover and the amazing flyer one of my coworkers made for my book sale. I know this picture affords precious little detail but you’re looking at the Tyrant Fly-catcher which is one of the coolest god damn names for a bird I’ve ever heard in my life.

Welcome to “Odd Moments In Contrast…”

The people on the left obviously came with the frame. Professional models, no personal connection whatsoever, but they look really good and they certainly know how to pose for a picture.

The people on the right… this is obviously one of their real actual wedding pictures. A snapshot of what was supposed to be the happiest day of their lives, at the moment, anyway. And now it’s gathering dust on the shelf of a thrift store. Regardless of the inherently unknowable backstory, here’s the question: does this affect your purchase at all? Assuming that you’re probably only interested in the frame (completely sidestepping the slightly ghoulish pastime of collecting other people’s personal photographs from thrift stores, which I know a thing or two about, and is definitely a topic for another occasion), could you, say, buy the second picture and just casually throw this seemingly happy nice young couple’s photograph in the garbage without a second thought? Is the moment that the people in the first picture were having any less real or valid or worth photographing than the moment that the people in the second picture were having? Aren’t they both just essentially meaningless snapshots, since all four of these people are strangers, and always will be? Have I wasted enough of your time firing off unanswerable questions about people you could probably give two shits about, at the end of the day? The cheez-whiz equivalent of “food for thought.”

And then there’s this, which should be hanging in the Louvre, as far as I’m concerned.

Ok, almost there. Let’s see… I saw this plate and was seized with the urge to track down the kid who made it and shove it in their face and go GUESS WHAT KID YOUR “GRAM” HATED THIS PLATE SO MUCH SHE GAVE IT TO A THRIFT STORE or alternately, and probably more likely HA HA HA GUESS WHAT KID YOUR “GRAM” IS DEAD AND NOW YOUR PLATE IS BEING SOLD TO STRANGERS BECAUSE NO ONE WANTED IT.

I’m probably not a very good person, when you get right down to it. Oh well.

I already have real, restaurant-grade storage containers for my flour and sugar and various other whatnots (Bisquick, rice… I could go on) but these sweet little retro logos for each item kind of made me wish I didn’t.

Even for its relatively small size, the MIFA store has a really good book selection, and for fairly cheap prices, too. Case in point, I snagged:

The only Spalding Gray novel – if you’ve never read any of his work or seen his monologues, go rent a copy of Swimming To Cambodia and tell me you’re not moved. Another suicidal genius.

One of my favorite books as a child. A lot of people don’t know that “The Simpsons Guy” had a long and prodigious career as a cartoonist before creating possibly the most important television show of the last part of the 20th century (even if it should have gone off the air a few years ago). The entire “Life Is Hell” series is worth a read at one point or another, but “School Is Hell” is just about my favorite of his early works.

So. That’s a framed Audubon print, three albums, and two books (I didn’t buy the desk they’re sitting on, but I did think about it) for… drumroll…

Six dollars and ninety seven cents.

I meant what I said before: MIFA is literally giving away the god damn store. If you’re anywhere in or around down- or midtown Memphis and you’re not swinging through this place on a regular basis, then I promise you’re missing out. It deserves weekly (if not more frequently than that) attention and, (and I hate to be a buzzkill here) like many things that are all around you, if it doesn’t get the attention it needs, it might just go away eventually, and I’d hate to see that happen.

So get up, get out, to this thrift store or any other ones that you might feel inspired to visit. Come on, people. Seriously. They’re all over the damn place. I made a map, I’ve written about every single one that’s ever caught my eye (good and bad), the least you can do is spare a couple hours a week to go explore, and feel like a kid again. I’m watching too many of my favorite spots shut down for lack of interest (Goodwill on Chelsea, Salvation Army on Danny Thomas, and just last week, THRIFT TOWN on Winchester, my favorite store in town… all gone) to be able to keep my mouth shut any more. If and when these stores close up, they’re not likely to reopen again, or if they do they’re going to keep retreating into the suburbs, and becoming watered-down bullshit contrivances like ninety percent of the other nonsense that opens up out there. Do you really want to have to drive to Cordova just to look through some stupid rich people’s junk? I don’t. If I can get anything across as a function of this project (or my last one), it’s some sense of awe at the depth and complexity of the remnants of other people’s lives that are available to you for literally PENNIES ON THE DOLLAR, and requires barely more effort than it would take to go to the grocery store and pick out a tomato. It’s play, and it’s fun, and it’s important and necessary because it helps you maintain some kind of sense of wonder and if you lose that, if these stores keep closing and we all lose that, then we lose everything.

Have I written this in large enough letters yet? Go out and shop. See you next time.

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10 Responses to MIFA

  1. Buffy says:

    Recently found and love your blog and have just now gone back to start at the beginning. I LOVE that you included the bit on the personal photos. LOVE! My daughter and I call those pictures “dead people” and usually at the end of thrifty find trips we go to the frame section in search of said dead to make up stories about them and what led them here. Once on a trip to our local goodwill, as usual, I get lost treasure hunting and never look up, so without looking up and just assuming the person standing next to me was still my daughter, I grabbed her arm and said, “ok, I’m bored, let’s go look for some dead people.” Feeling the arm tense up instead of hearing like, ok, sure….I turned to see that the arm I was gripping was not my twenty year old daughter but that of a middle aged, very frightened woman. I could barely contain myself or my bladder, as I quickly apologized, telling her I thought she was my daughter and ran off in search of daughter and to quickly exit store before being reported as necrophilliacs.

    • That’s hilarious. If it had been me I would have just nodded and understood. Some people just don’t get it, you know? Thanks for reading, I really appreciate the comment. If you go all the way back to the first blog (bitterbooks.blogspot.com) there should be plenty to read. I was just working on a new entry yesterday so hopefully I’ll have more for you soon! Happy thrifting.

  2. Del says:

    I once ran across one of those huge tri-fold standing photo frames, you know the kind. Maybe five feet tall by three feet wide when fully open. I don’t know how many photos the thing held. Lots. It was mostly if not completely full of photos of a large black family. When I say large I mean numerically speaking, not girth. And I got seriously, sincerely depressed at the time, imagining an old lady dying alone and her most valued personal possessions ending up in a thrift store. I swear, it didn’t occur to me until maybe two years later that huge as the family was, there ought to have been at least one person who’d claim those photos. Now I wonder if the entire family died in bus explosion or something.

  3. Karen says:

    oh no, that’s sad about thrift town closing! (and the others too, though i never made it out to them. i guess i am part of the problem.) thanks for the awesome MIFA review! will be checking it out soon.

  4. F. Steak says:

    There are 114 goddamned people in that family. I think you’re low-balling.

  5. F. Steak says:

    The palsied editing, swirling crane-shots, vibrating colors, the perceptible taint of White Rain hairspray, and the boisterously fierce fucking choreography of the Crush on You video nearly made me faint/throw up. Or maybe it was just a sugar-rush of nostalgia. Did you know their real last name is Wolfgramm?!! Why they didn’t call themselves The Wolfgramms is certainly beyond my ken. Maybe cause it sounds metal enough to make Lemmy explode and that kinda wasn’t really their sound. Still. . . The fucking Wolfgramms.

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