I rarely shop behind the counter, where most thrift stores keep their “valuables” –the usual collection of knives, jewelry, CDs, overpriced glassware, and Precious Moments figurines. But I always take a minute to scan the stuff anyway. I like to know I’ve seen everything.

This time my eye is caught by a nine-inch-high 50s-style plastic poodle bank. Just a cheap piece of schlock left over from a cuter, pinker decade, but it looks beseechingly at me. For the right price, it could find a home on my shelf.

Four feet of counter separates the poodle and me. I wave over a worker and ask, “How much is the poodle?” She smiles, shrugs, and shakes her head. “Que?” “The poodle,” I repeat, pointing at it. Blank. The dog, there, see, the poodle dog. She’s trying to be helpful, touching every other thing on the shelf. I only had two years of Spanish–what is the word for “dog”? I query my friends. “Gato is cat,” says one, not very helpfully. “It’s chien in French,” offers another. A third begins barking loudly and pointing at the poodle. The worker’s expression shifts from confusion to fear. She’s in such a panic she breaks a cardinal thrift-store rule. She invites me to step behind the counter and pick out the item myself. Anything to stop that crazy man from barking.

Finally I have the stupid cheap plastic poodle in hand. “What is this?” I gesture, hoping she’ll solve the mystery of the missing word. She smiles sweetly and shows me the price on the bottom, $1.95. I abandon the cross-cultural learning experience and hand her two bucks.

Unique Thrift Store

2329 S. Kedzie


Hours: Monday 8-8, Tuesday through Saturday 9-8, Sunday 11-6.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Dorothy Perry.