A long story about a small object

I come by it naturally, my sense of thrift. My dad grew up on a farm in Southern Ontario during the Depression, and experienced shortages during the war. He lived the adage, use it up, wear it out, make it do, do without. He was able to see the possibilities in objects, even objects that other people thought had outlived their usefulness. One of his favourite phrases was, I could use that someday. He taught my brothers and I to see beyond surfaces, to what quality may lie underneath,  to understand that new was not necessarily better, to think beyond an item’s intended purpose. I’ll admit, this philosophy was hard growing up; when you’re a kid in the 70’s you want to be like everyone else with new bikes and skates and store-bought Halloween costumes. Being called a rag-picker was something to be avoided, although it now amuses me that the behaviour that people looked down on then is made nobler by the modern label of recycling.

I’m sure that most of the people I know, especially the younger ones born into a consumer culture or those with money, may be a bit disgusted by this but I like looking though what other people discard/donate to thrift and charity stores. Call it an inheritance from my father with a side holdover from my punk rock days. I usually find things I can use, perfectly good things that with a little imagination and/or kludging can be revitalized and useful. More often than not I find nearly-new, good quality merchandise for a fraction of the price. And I often find myself saying the things my dad would say; there’s nothing wrong with this or I need something like this for (insert project here), I wonder if I can make it work, or I think I can use this someday.

Keith has weaned me off that last one to a certain extent. Unlike my dad, we don’t have 2.5 acres in the country and 3 outbuildings to store stuff that might be useful someday.

I hit my local Goodwill store every few weeks or so. The prices are ridiculous, it’s near a fairly well-to-do neighbourhood so many of the donations are good quality, and every once in a while they have a 50% off sale to make room for the new donation backlog in the storeroom. A few months ago, I found a very gently used black wool pea coat in my size. Even after the immediate dry cleaning, it still cost me less than $20. It satisfied two needs… I needed a new coat, and I love the rush that a perfect thrift store score gives me.

I drifted into the Goodwill on Wednesday, one of their 50% off days. I only bought one thing, a small metal cup. I put it down and picked it back it up a few times in indecision before taking it to the counter. It was quite honestly a bit gross. It was varying shades of green and orange and black, and christ only knows what the substance was that had been left to dry and oxidize in the bottom half inch. But I’d just come from Mastodon Weekend where I’d been introduced to the wonder that is a properly made Moscow Mule and needed a copper cup to replicate the experience properly at home. I had no idea if this was copper or not, but I didn’t want to wait to order something from Amazon. I am impatient. My final thought before going to the cash register was, oh why the fuck not. If it’s not copper and/or can’t be cleaned, all I’ve lost is $1.26.

That’s right. One dollar and twenty six cents for this bad boy:

Before – I spared you the view of the bottom of the cup.

Twenty minutes later, I was home and Googling how to clean copper before I even had my coat off. I trusted the folks at WikiHow and immersed it in a boiling pot of water, salt and vinegar.

And that’s when Keith, who had been on the road for two weeks, walked in the door of his home and was greeted by the smell of vinegar and copper. I think many/most/all men would be perturbed by that, but he just made a joke and helped the process once I explained. He gets it. He comes from the same background as I do, with parents familiar with making do and doing without.

I was ready to pitch the whole mess as a bad experiment a few times. The cup was lacquer coated, which cracked and peeled off in long translucent grey-white strips the exact shade of the belly of a dead fish. The grunge at the bottom of the cup was lifting slowly and unevenly. It wasn’t until I lifted the pot lid at the one hour mark that the metal underneath was finally revealed to be a lovely sunrise shade of pinky-orange. It took a quarter of a bottle of metal polish, a session with a wire brush and some fine steel wool (man, that grunge was stubborn) and a going-over on Keith’s buffer (I love a man with power tools) to reveal this loveliness:

After – look how prettily it shines!

A final wash and sterilize, and I made my first Moscow Mule. It was delicious.

I really quite like this copper cup. It satisfies more needs than just being a suitable receptacle for the cocktail that all the cool kids are drinking. It pleased me to watch this disreputable-looking object be transformed back into something shining and lovely through my labours. I love the fact that it was pre-owned and imperfect; there are a few dings and scratches that give it character and tickle my imagination into creating increasingly wild back stories for it. And I got the rush of a great thrift store find.

Not bad for a dollar and twenty-six cents.

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