On Wednesday I woke up thinking I was tired but it turned out I was sick with something. A 48-hour stomach thing.
It wasn’t terrible. I’m not a masochist and my pain threshold is low but if the environment is comfortable I’m usually happy to be a little sick. It gives me the same feeling I get in airports which is this: I look around, see there are no pencils, and slap my hands on my thighs and say audibly, to no one, “I simply cannot be expected to do work.” And then I sit still. Restful. Even diarrhea is fine with me so long as I’m home and there’s nobody in earshot and my phone is charged.
The best part of food poisoning was I got to miss two days of work but the worst part was that I lost two days of work.
On Friday when I was feeling good enough to get up and walk around and do a few chores I started thinking about how I’d called out for two straight days of work and decided to visit the one legitimate thrift store on Miami Beach. It’s in the first floor of the apartment building Marie and I just moved out of. We lived there for seven months in a 400 square foot studio. We’ve since upgraded to a 500 square foot apartment only six blocks away.
Walking distance. Even in the closing rounds of food poisoning.
The owners of Miami Beach’s one proper thrift store are married. Oselio is Cuban and Mina is Argentine and you’d never guess either one is the age they are. During the World Cup Oselio decided he was also Argentine. He put a flag in the window and hung another from the door and put the jersey on and played the game on max volume. M was walking home one evening after Argentina won a game and Oselio, sclerotic and limping, hobbled to the doorway, “Oye, m’ija!” and whacked a blue-and-white flag back and forth, “Argentinaaa!” clanging the flagpole, “Argentina cono!”
The one time I went into the store prior to this and really looked around was a day when Oselio was alone on his stool behind the glass counter. Looking somber. He asked me my name and I told him Alex and he nodded and looked away.
I started browsing.
Then he came around from behind the counter. Joined me at a coat rack. Touched my arm. “Oye.” Softly. “What’s your name again?” I told him Alex and he nodded. Stepped toward the coats which are hanging from the ceiling and he pinched a leather cuff and thumbed it for several seconds as if to both test the material and enjoy it. Then he looked at me as though a point had been made.
“It’s a nice coat,” I said.
Oselio nodded and lowered his hand and explained to me without smiling that the deals he offers here are serious. Fifty percent off retail. “Sometimes I do sixty.” Then he flapped his hands like it could even go higher. “Sometimes,” he shrugged, “I just have to pay rent. You tell me a price.” He touched a temple. “If it’s good?” He shrugged. “I take your price.”
“Thank you,” I said.
Oselio nodded and looked up at the coats again and pinched another one by the cuff and released it and encompassed the store in one gesture and said, “Let me tell you something. All this? All these things in here?” He tapped two fingers to his chest. “Mine. From my home. I’m a…” he wiggled his fingers and started searching for the word like it was a mouse, scanning the floors, and then found it: “I am a compulsive buyer. All this was things I bought for myself. But now?” He shrugged. “What I’m gonna do with all this? Papo,” he said, “I’m eighty-nine.” Then he gestured at the coats. “You think I need all this? I don’t need all this.” He shook his head at me, grievous, and started walking back to the counter as though I’d just suggested he needed all this. “You want something? Tell me a price. I like the price? I take your price. That’s my,” then he stopped, looked at the ceiling, and barked it: “my philosophy!”
I didn’t make an offer on anything that time but now a few months later I was several shades whiter and several pounds thinner and looking to make a deal.
Oselio was perched on a stool at the counter. I said hello and he nodded. In the back of the store I found a camcorder from 2002 and looked it up on eBay and saw it was selling consistently for $60. A couple people got away with selling it for $80.
I took it to the counter and showed it to Oselio and asked him how much.
He climbed down from his stool and opened the bag and took the camera out and smiled at it. Nodded and looked at me and pointed at the camera and said, “I paid a lot of money for this.” Then inspected it some more. Nodding all the while. “But that was a long time ago. Ten years maybe.” He flapped a hand. “Twenty years, maybe.” He cradled it in two hands like to measure the heft. Shrugged. Put it back in the bag. “But for you?” He shrugged, Fuck it, flapped a hand again: “One hundred.”
“Oh. Nevermind.” I started putting the camera back in its case. “Thanks, though.”
“What,” he said, “you want to pay less?”
“I was thinking less, yeah.”
“OK, tell me a price.”
“I don’t know. Less than a hundred.”
“Let me hear it.”
“Way less, though, and I don’t wanna—”
“Papo,” he said, tucking his chin and gesturing around to encompass the store, the neighborhood, the planet, “I’m ninety years old, I’ll never touch it again, tell me a price!”
I dropped my shoulders. Deep breath. Leaning on the counter. “I was gonna say twenty.”
He shook his head. “No.” Immediate resolve. “If you would say half, I could make half, but not twenty.” He smacked the case. “Just this, the case, just that is worth forty. ‘Twenty dollars.’ Come on.”
I asked if he wanted me to put the case back where I found it and he said yes, please. Then called me back when I was nearly there. “Oye wait!”
And I circled back, hopeful.
He cocked his chin at me, inquisitive. “Where’d you find it?”