on the roof of the
Thrift Trader in North Park
Image by Howie Rosen
These boots clearly belonged to a Beatles fan, possibly a musician of sorts, before they (the boots) arrived here…except, the heels are too low. No, no, these belonged — I see it now — to a member of the Sherlock Holmes Irregulars. It’s a Spanish boot style, ankle-high, an English-made job with expandable canvas separating the heel area from the front of the boot. Exactly the kind of footwear Holmes favored. The price is $14; I end up getting them for $6. I would attribute that to my redoubtable bargaining skills, except I haven’t any.
Meanwhile, I hunt around the 9000 square feet of items for a stylish coat. Here’s one: a brown leather, wide-lapelled, calf-length deal that would be perfect if I were in Chicago or New York. I’m not. And here’s one next to it, almost identical, only black. It is obvious that the previous owner was a rabid Nazi with delusions of being an SS gruppenführer. I wonder if his jackboots are in here somewhere.
This leads me back to thinking about the Holmes Irregular guy’s boots — which I’ve already told you I’m about to buy. I picture this guy smoking, not a calabash pipe as he is so often mistakenly pictured, but a straight-stemmed briar. Of course, he’d be in his imitation Baker Street flat (located in El Cajon), dressed in a mid-thigh, burgundy silk smoking jacket and probably hovering a magnifying glass over a small pile of Turkish, opium-laced Latakia tobacco, shouting, “Ah-hah! Quick, Watson, the needle!” His wife, infant on her hip, calls out from the kitchen, “Cut it out, Larry. And stop calling me Watson!”
Meanwhile, back to the coat search. I want nothing heavy, just lightweight, San Diego–appropriate, yet something without hibiscus or bird of paradise design. Here’s one, promising. A calf-length (again) black leather with too-wide lapels. Belonged to a pimp. No question. His disco platform shoes (the heel possibly transparent Lucite with live — or dead — goldfish swimming around or floating in ’em — I once saw a guy named Sugar Boy in New York wearing exactly that) are probably next to the gruppenführer’s jackboots over in the shoe department. This coat’s not for me…
Next to it, same length, is an almost identical coat with thin lapels, beautiful condition, and no buttons — anywhere. Perfect for San Diego on, say, a slightly cool day. The previous owner was clearly a man of taste and probably an extrovert. Maybe a hip scientist or professor of modern American poetry. Of course, he rode not a Harley but a Norton or a Triumph. His female students liked him, but he was ethical. Or was he? Hmm…no buttons. Maybe his secret vice was exhibitionism. Yes, there is a quiet mystery and danger about this coat. I paid $6 for that item, too. So far, I have resisted the temptation to wear an ascot or white silk scarf with the thing, but it’s only a matter of time.
Wandering through this most unusual curiosity shop, I hear “See See Rider,” performed by the Animals. The last time I heard the Animals’ recording of that was more than four decades ago. I did see Eric Burdon live in San Diego some years ago, at [1990’s] Street Scene, with Robby Krieger from the Doors. They made hash of the identifying riff in “See See Rider” by employing a bottleneck slide on the fretboard. This reminded me of Barbara Ann DelVechio at a high-school dance in 1967, dancing erotically — that is, shaking her upper torso as she leaned forward for the benefit of my band (me, particularly, I figured), “The Yard Dogs.” The thought of Barb, now my age and maybe as shot-out, gave me a shudder.
I moved quickly on to the CDs and LPs. There were a hundred thousand or more LPs alone, plus an equal number of CDs. Probably more.
A walk through the secret record rooms of Thrift Trader.
Here were obscure bands from the ’50s and ’60s. Dean Martin and Julie London just inches away from the Strawberry Alarm Clock, and the Rivieras, the Count Five album with “Psychotic Reaction”… I looked at the staff in this place and saw some very pretty, possibly eccentric young ladies to whom Bo Diddley’s name would mean nothing. Eccentric in the sense that, first of all, they were working here, and, secondly, several of them sported goth-type items (studs in uncomfortable looking places, for one), hair dyed the color of radioactive material. One girl clearly was a fan of Johnny Depp’s Edward Scissorhands, her hair a riot of bituminous spikes that gleamed in the overhead lighting as if waxed, her face in subliminally changing aspect the closer she stood to a lava lamp some 20ish customer had set next to the antique cash register. The girl plugged in the lamp, checked it out. Bought it. The hollows beneath her eyes like semicircles of ash.
Now the house sound system was playing “Mystic Eyes,” by Them, Van Morrison singing.
After picking up a Little Feat album and The Most of the Animals, I continued my tour.
Naturally, I was attracted to the book section: nice editions, cheap, but on my way I was arrested by a woman’s mini-skirt. Unfortunately, no one was in it; it was hanging on a rack. A multi-colored item, rainbow hues, and finished with colored bangles, now flaking off the garment in sad, small numbers.
You may have noticed that I am psychic about the previous owners of much of this establishment’s stock. As I fondled the skirt, eyes closed and murmuring ancient Egyptian phrases from The Book of Thoth, I got a jolt of what I call my “Auto-Bio Mesmeric-Imagery.”
I could see, as clearly as I could see the traffic on University Boulevard (only yards away), that a girl named Loretta whom everyone called either “Peaches” or “Boom Boom” wore this skirt. Her classmates in Moline, Illinois, gave her a hard time, and a fictional reputation was woven around her, no doubt due to her upper-torso endowments and cheerleader-muscled legs.