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Thrifty 

The Observer is a known and incorrigible haunter of thrift stores. Some weekends, with Spouse in tow, we'll make the rounds of every Goodwill store in three counties, driving them on a carefully pre-planned circuit so we can stop midway and get coffee at our favorite little place. It's a fun way to spend an afternoon in the company of the love of this fair to middlin' life, even if we're around 65 percent certain it'll net us a case of the cooties one of these days.

For a student of the human condition like Yours Truly, a trip to the thrift store can be enlightening. You can learn a lot from the things people buy and then come to realize they no longer need, or didn't need in the first place: towel warmers, bread makers, a cutting board in the shape of Idaho, a wedding dress, a dedicated electric cocoa pot. A few weekends back, we found a stainless steel Bienville wine chiller that claimed on the box that it could, through a space-age process, cool a bottle of vino from liquor store temperature to 57 degrees in seven minutes flat. We toted it around for a while, intent on throwing a speedy frost on our bottles of Big K Cola and Old Milwaukee, but soon remembered the severe lack of counter space at The Observatory.

All this stuff! Where does it come from? Where is it going? Why were you ever possessed to buy such a thing in the first place, Dear Reader? Sixteen tons of late-nite infomercial exercise equipment. Genuine Miniature New Zealand Ceremonial War Clubs. Enough golf bags to outfit a regiment of Tiger Woodses. Ski boots, ice skates and snow blowers, all of which look pretty funny with the African-savanna-style heat of an Arkansas summer punishing folks outside. Enough copies of "The Art of the Deal" to build Dorito Mussolini's beeootiful wawl between the U.S. and Mexico. A few months back, we sauntered into the Goodwill in North Little Rock and found a 200-pound machine fitted with a saddle and stirrups that claimed it could simulate the sensation of horseback riding for fun and fitness. Sadly, the Observer's efforts to convince Spouse the Galloptron 5000 could be installed in the boudoir of The Observatory so as to facilitate a passible Lady Godiva impression warranted us only a slap on the arm and a rosy blush. We'll accept that.

You never know what you'll find, if anything, which is what keeps us going. This past weekend, out at the Goodwill on Markham, what we found was a whole bunch of fur coats, apparently the abandoned or forgotten contents of a cold-storage locker, judging by the claim tickets still dangling from sleeves. There were maybe 50 of them hanging there on racks near the door: mink and silver fox, sable and beaver, all in perfect condition, and all fairly cheap as far as a fur coat goes. The tickets showed most of them had been put into storage around the time Ronald Reagan was finishing up his second term. Nearly all had a woman's name embroidered in elegant script inside the liner, which made us wonder sadly what had to happen for so marvelous a thing to wind up forgotten.

We were sorely tempted to count our pennies and buy one, especially after convincing Spouse to slip into a floor-length mink so heavy it would have surely had the wearer in a deep sweat during the coldest Arkansas February known to modern science. Must have cost a fortune when new. Goodwill price: $300. Like we said, tempted. But eventually we hung it back on the rack for some Tony Soprano type to find and buy to smooth things over with his gun moll. As for Yours Truly, the life of a Goodwill fan is unlikely to ever be glamorous enough to need such finery.

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