I’m finally starting to put together my steampunk costume to wear to book signings and conventions. Not having money falling off trees these days, I’m starting by hitting up the local Goodwill and Arc stores to find tiny tidbits that can be assembled into a viable steampunk outfit. I just got back from my first dive into the world of recycled possessions that aren’t displayed on someone’s front lawn and had a most remarkable experience. The first Goodwill I went to was in a fairly affluent part of the city. The goods there were priced about eight times what it would be for the same thing at a garage sale, but it was clean and tidy and well organized. The second one I did not have the same warm-fuzzy look and feel, and the patronage was very very different.
In the second store, there were these large tubs about four feet by ten feet that they rolled in and out of the warehouse-like space. When I first walked in, there were small clusters of people in twos and threes lining the walls with multiple shopping carts–frequently covered with a blanket or tarp– just waiting there watching the casual patron walk by and sort through row upon row of “things-one-step-away-from-garbage.” The people along the periphery looked as if they were waiting in a train station or something. They seemed careless as they guarded over their cart upon cart of treasures.
I did find a few things that I was looking for as I picked through the disarray: a pair of woman’s boots that will become armguards; a squirt gun and toy telescope that will become a pistol; a camera lens with an iris pulled off of a piece of medical equipment; an old wind-up clock for gears and springs; paisley women’s garments for a cravat and possibly a vest; a leather jacket to be used as source-leather for an eye patch with clockwork monocle.
Then something strange happened. A group of men came out from the back area through swinging doors. On their first pass they removed a middle row of rolling bins, about six of them, and disappeared into the back again. On their second pass, they came out with fresh bins of newly-arrived junk, and I swear, it was like someone had dumped chum along a coral reef.
Those calm, quiet people who had lined the walls came out like sharks coming out of caves under the surf. They patrolled and positioned themselves in what they perceived as prime real estate and waited for the men to finish bringing in and arranging the tubs. There were calls from the men of “Don’t touch anything” and “Hands off!” And then one of them said “Okay!” as if he were calling out the end of the parents swim session.
Have you ever seen footage of when somebody drops a ham into the Amazon River? Piranha have a distinct vigor to their eating habits, and I swear to you, these people dove in and tore out bits of precious this and that with all the reserve of a school of man-eating fish.
Never seen anything like it.