April 16, 2004
“I know exactly the shade of green you’re talking about,” she said. “I call it kitchen green.”
It was a comfort to be talking with someone who understood my passion for a green, wood-handled bottle opener I had recently purchased for 25 cents at an estate sale. And she understood my excitement over the heavy hotel key and the five volumes of Winston Churchill’s history of World War II, also 25 cents each. And the gigantic, free ATLAS WHOLEFRUIT JAR that I found in the Swap Shop at the dump last Saturday, now enshrined atop a bookshelf. Even the silver wire-rim glasses I bought in San Angelo, Texas, from a friendly white-haired optician in 1969, the ones in my dresser drawer that I keep thinking of resurrecting, she understood those, too.
But I should have expected no less from Al Hoff, author of Thrift Score, the bible of thrift store shopping, seated in a pew across from mine at Pittsburgh’s Church Brew Works (formerly St. John the Baptist Church), the only brewpub in America with a bas relief of St. John the Baptist’s head on a platter over the entryway. Cheers!
Brew kettles gleamed in the nave where the altar once stood; pillars reached to the soaring ceiling; stained glass windows surrounded the room. And the beer was excellent. I started with the sampler and some “non-traditional pierogies” made with smoked pork and coconut. Yum.
Al was watching for her husband and when he arrived, her eyes brightened and she said to the waitress, “Don’t let him sit down.” Sliding in next to his beloved, he responded, “Why would I sit with deviant scum like you two?” I felt right at home, and Pat was wearing a great tie. “I’m a consultant,” he said, when I inquired about how he passed the time, and he gave me a business card that I’ll show you if you’re ever in Skaneateles; it’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.
I can’t repeat the stories that followed. They’re all incriminating. I will not tell you about the trip to Ithaca that foundered on accusations of ageism, the wedding in Pacific Grove conducted in Finnish where the mother of the bride carried a Mexican purse emblazoned with the image of a bulldozer, or the schoolboy who said, “My father’s the head of the CIA. So there.” Nor will I mention Scott with his shopping cart filled with vinyl albums, mostly all by the Ventures. You’re not going to pry that out of me, not even with another pint of Pipe Organ Pale Ale, nor the unfortunate comment about pugs made to a woman who owned four of them.
And I can’t tell you about the Buddha watercolor because I have no idea what that scrawled note refers to, even though it’s in my handwriting, beyond remembering that I commented on how hard it is to spell Buddha. Or is it Bhudda?
I begged Al to visit the NRA convention that was in Pittsburgh that week (“Four acres of guns and gear” the billboards screamed), just so I could read about it. Her writings about NASCAR racing and Las Vegas are gospel to me. But she said she’d already been thrown out of a gun show and didn’t want to risk another ejection. Something about orange hair, Converse hightops and a camera attracting the wrong kind of attention, the public address system announcing her impending expulsion, an ominous silence in which she heard guns cocking just like in the movies, and grim, large gentlemen escorting her to the door.
Chihuahua owners, Al and Pat noted that small dogs provide “just as much love,” (but complained that at least one of them had learned to parcel out his poop so you needed at least three plastic bags for every walk) and admired my wallet-size photo of Gus, who himself is not much larger than wallet-size. And then I made a quick visit to the Gift Shop, lodged in what used to be a confessional, and spent too much on souvenirs (“mea culpa”).
Al gave me a ride back to the hotel, where a giant clothes dryer was suspended over the lobby floor, swinging on block and tackle, making its way to the hotel laundry by the only route wide enough. “Is that a Braun?” I said to the doorman. “I used to write brochures for them.” He said he didn’t know what kind it was, and I said, “Well, it’s a big ass dryer.” He smiled and said, “That it is.” It was a night of revelations.