NICK Start early enough in the season, and you'll have time to tweak a cheap gift into something bizarre, original, and priceless. Or at least so went my line of thinking at 604 Thrift, where I purchased (for a dime!) a blank Sony cassette labeled A: POCAHONTAS in handwritten pencil on the spine. With the merest personal touch, I thought, I'd have the perfect ironic/sincere gift for my oldest friend, who just happens to spend long stretches of work-related time in the car. Leaving the soundtrack to the Disney classic on Side A intact, the 60 minutes of B-side blankness is plenty of time for a self-narrated collection of Donald Barthelme stories, surrealist manifestos, and other poetic rabbit holes.
Just down the street at the new Reny's, I waded through the back rows of cheap knickknackery to their nutrition aisle, where I discovered 30-day-supply bottles of Vitamin D (400 IU) for $1.04. With a gray winter looming, there's no shortage of friends and loved ones who could use this little beauty (myself included) — just gotta find the ones who won't take it personally.
I found my "big-ticket" item at a little-known depot hidden in a warehouse off outer Forest Avenue called the ReStore. An outlet of Habitat for Humanity, the ReStore salvages classy home furnishings and peddles them on the cheap. I was very tempted to splurge on one of their coffee tables for my own pad (particularly a two-tiered glass-and-bar stock piece at a very affordable $50), and needed a few minutes to recover the spirit of giving before I was able to continue. In the end, I settled on this dashing wicker number for my aunt. It's well built, lightweight, and rocks well; perfect for the heavy-duty winter reader who balances both book and cat at once. This rocker was many tiers above what you'd expect to find at a yard sale, and showed only one small worn hole in its weave. And yeah, $5 isn't much, but she'll also be pleased that my gift-giving proceeds benefit a worthy cause: affordable housing in greater Portland. On my way out, I grabbed a low-action, foam-handled ice-scraper for $1.04, a good stocking-stuffer for "the woman," whose own model I indelicately snapped last winter.
For the other aunt (that's right, I'm shopping for an alternative family, please tweak accordingly), I spent a couple hours poking around Arundel Antiques. Depending on your outlook, the rows of ephemera at places like this can seem either like a goldmine or a morass of caca. Today it was both. I found tiny cities of crockware, armies of miniature pewter figurines, and enough retro-colonial home décor to sink a Home Goods. I also found a lot of gems. The cast-iron skillet selection was several grades above the standard Lodge-brand models, and I spent several minutes hearing a hand-moulded E.T. piggy bank asking me to take it home. These may be affordable by most standards, but not for the $20 treasure hunt. I settled on another fixer-upper, a Mirro loaf pan, roughly brick-sized, whose interior was oddly charmingly flesh-colored. I don't bake (though my aunt, the gift recipient, surely does), but kitchenware with this much character is seldom found for $2.10. And now that I have the business end of this crucial gift fulfilled, I'd happily try my hand at the family pumpkin bread recipe.
Elsewhere at Arundel Antiques, I committed what's normally a classic error: actually browsing through the record bins. As everyone knows, eBay and vintage vinyl hounds have all but obliterated the odds of finding gems in the salvage stacks. I've wasted hours flipping through such tattered inevitables as Herb Alpert, Burl Ives Christmas albums, and James Taylor duds. I should know better by now, but when someone takes the time to mark a NEW WAVE section in a small-town antique lot, I can't help but take note. In my vinyl hunting fantasy, NEW WAVE is the genre rural folks label the weird records their kids left before going to college, or their wife collected before growing her hair out. This particular stack had all the signs of someone who dug deep into '80s weirdness, and in no time at all, my efforts were rewarded. I found the perfect gift for a tough category: best female friend (nonromantic): Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill" 12-inch not only contains an extended version of one of her best songs, but the cover depicts the diva aiming an arrow bravely into the beyond, a perfect metaphor for my friend's artistic life. At $4.19, I made the deal.
A $2 Blondie seven-inch of their song "Call Me" at Moody Lords satisfied my sister's list. She might already have the mp3, but the material copy's a nice touch, and contains a slick Giorgio Moroder remix on the B-side. With that, my plundering checks in at seven gifts — some with questionable effectiveness — for $15.72. That leaves $4.28 remaining, or in other words, four months' worth of Vitamin D.
ARUNDEL ANTIQUES | 1713 Portland Rd (Rte 1), Arundel | 207.985.7965
GOODWILL | 1104 Forest Ave, Portland | 207.878.1763 |goodwillnne.org
MOODY LORDS | 578 Congress St, #2 (upstairs), Portland | 207.773.9363
RESTORE | 83A Bell St, Portland | 207.772.2151 |habitatportlandme.org
604 THRIFT | 604 Congress St, Portland | 207.899.0365 | facebook.com/604thrift