Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Special Trip! to Staten Island; It's a Thin Line Between Commune and Cult

Of all the things that I thought I would end up reflecting on in this post about my special trip to Staten Island, the point at which a commune becomes a cult, was most certainly not one of them. But here I am. I will begin at the beginning.

It all started at my boyfriend J's Birthday brunch last Saturday, when, two Bloody Marys deep in to the meal, sudden unanimous enthusiasm erupted between J, Julie, Chuck and I, at the suggestion to take an impromptu road trip to explore Staten Island. Before we even knew it, we were heading over the Verrazano Bridge in Chuck's Prius.

Here is Julie, double-fisting iphones; researching thrift stores and navigating at the same time.

This kind of devotion and focus moves me.

Fingerboard Road! Hahahaha. Oh! We all had a good laugh. What a magical place, Staten Island.
We were all so innocent then.

Our first stop was Bay Street thrift, one turn off of Fingerboard (ha!) Road.

This is not a picture of Bay Street Thrift. After what happened inside Bay Street Thrift, I was far too nervous to be seen taking a picture of the place. THE SHACK ATTACK! is a mere placeholder for Bay Street Thrift, and, surprising, is a firsthand, and not secondhand, store, located across the street.

Upon entering Bay Street Thrift, my raging adrenaline was quickly tempered by the very tense scene inside. There were no customers in the store, but three (what appeared to be) workers; two men and a woman. All three of them were standing totally silently, and nervously, about the store. One man very awkwardly and mechanically "welcomed" us, while all three watched us all extremely closely as we browsed around. It definitely felt like we walked in in the middle of something we weren't supposed to hear or see, and it was strange enough for all of us to nervously whisper to each other in order to communicate, afraid to speak aloud.

I was not going to let this air of utter weirdness stop me from finding deals, so I delved in regardless, especially excited by the cheaper-than-mainland-NYC thrift store prices.

These are some of our finds, decided on after a very closely monitored dressing room session.

Julie scored this awesome Southwestern-turquoise-printed-studded sweatshirt, for $2.

I found this fantastic lace yoke Western button down shirt, complete with rhinestone buttons.

I have since removed the collar hardware, to make it a little less "Dallas Ladies Who Lunch." You may or may not object to this decision.

Then there is this very special purple printed cropped velvet jacket. It has all the right kind of attitude. It even looks angst-y on the hanger.

After making my selections and emerging from the dressing room, J walked up to me and loudly (what seemed loudly, but was just normal speaking voice) asked me what I thought of a box of edible adult body paints that he had found. Laughing nervously, and wondering what the F he was thinking, doing such a thing in a place like this, I looked around at the utterly humorless staff who I knew would surely not find this at all funny. They did, in fact, not even crack a smile, and I was psychically screaming at J to stop making jokes!

Julie and I went to the check out with our things, and got up the courage to chat up the man behind the counter, who seemed to loosen up when he realized we would be spending money. We asked him if he knew of any other thrift stores in the area, and he was apparently melted by our charm. He said, he didn't "usually give these out, but you guys seem serious", and handed us this:

JACKPOT!!!!! He then kindly recommended that we check out Everything Goes, just down the street.

Regrouping in the safety of the outdoors, and Chuck's car, we tried to make sense of what in the holy hell was going on inside that store. J claimed that the woman didn't even work there, and that he heard one of the men say to her at one point "it's ok to go downstairs now", after which she disappeared down the back stairs. Then we all lamented the loss of the $2 edible body paints.

Stop #2, Everything Goes!

When we pulled up to the store, I was skeptical, as it seemed to have all the trappings of an overpriced, over-curated resale shop (neon sign, the world "vintage"). But overall, I think we were all just hoping for a little more normal shopping experience. This was not to be had.

Upon walking in to this place, we were greeted by a BOUNCER with a WALKIE TALKIE. This, in all my days, I have never seen. A bouncer in a thrift store.

We browsed no less, now somewhat drawn in by what was apparently a permeating, inexplicable weirdness throughout Staten Island. The store was, in fact, curated, but at different levels. Some rooms had really nice vintage, at decent prices, and others were just "nicer" random clothes at everyday thrift store prices. I pulled a sweet 90's halter dress (below) that was only $4, but was conflicted by my desire to purchase it. I had somewhat of a moral opposition to buying anything at a thrift store with a bouncer. But this dress was sweet, and only $4.

The dynamic between the workers at this place was definitely strange as well. Things were equally tense, and the workers seemingly under the influence of a very rigid, omnipresent power structure. When I went to pay for my dress, a women walked by with a box of hangers, and another woman said to her, very sternly, "DO THAT HERE." And the woman obediently stopped in her tracks, and sorted the hangers in the cramped space behind the counter. I bought my dress and got the hell out of there, relying on cell phone technologies to get me back together with my party, who were still inside.

Julie had found a very cool linen tank top, with appliqued zebra stripe-printed squares running down the center, for $4 or $5, that she planned on buying. The next thing I knew, standing out on the sidewalk with J and Chuck, who had also made it out, Julie came running out yelling "I couldn't do it! I couldn't do it! It was too weird in there!", sans linen tank top.

I am now terribly relieved, after all I went through, that I did in fact buy this dress. It fits perfectly, and will surely be a summer staple.

So, in summation. Recounting our adventures, we could not all help but laugh and conclude that the only explanation for the bizarre atmosphere that we experienced was that the entirety of Staten Island was run by some weird Satan-worshipping cult with thrift stores. Hahaha, how the imagination runs away!!!! Or not.

Having a debate coach for a boyfriend comes in handy often, especially when it comes to research. This is what J found when we got back home.

Exhibit A: BIG LOVE ON STATEN ISLAND. Everything Goes. The pun, is apparently, intended. The store is operated by members of the free love commune Ganas, a 20-odd year presence on the island. They have little people! And a very high member retention rate! They must be on to something.

Exhibit B: Rick Ross, an internet watchdog devoted to the critical monitoring of "controversial groups," has a somewhat less ideal view of things.

What did I take away from my trip to Staten Island? That even in the most bizarre of circumstances, you can score sweet deals. And that as much as I love thrifting, I don't ever want to join an oppressive free love thrift store operating commune.


  1. This. Blows. My. Mind. Well done Laurie! You're special trip cherry was popped in the very best of ways (the oppressive free love commune way!)

  2. awesome stories. Kind of reminds me of the little church thrift store near your grandparents house in Milwaukee (if I recall correctly that's where it was...). You know, the one with the cranky 80+ year old ladies who gave us the evil eye for daring to shop up to the 4:00 p.m. closing time. Thanks for shopping indeed!