Twenty miles and a thousand smiles

While COVID-19 has ixnayed all my travel plans, my sense of adventure has stayed untouched. And thus a pressing question: What to do for excitement within the borders of the Tri-Lakes?

Frankly, as far as I’m concerned, if you’re gonna be stuck anywhere during a pandemic, this is the place.

First, almost all of us seem to be following sensible guidelines.

Second, our population density (or lack thereof) is as good as it gets.

Third, we’ve unlimited access to the woods and the wilds. We can can hike, swim, ski, paddle or just diddy-bop in millions of acres, whenever we want. We can even climb a mountain within the town itself, with a quick scoot up Mount Baker.

But what if you’re not a Lewis and Clark wannabe? That’s fine, too. Let’s say it’s raining like some Old Testament curse, dampening spirits as well as the landscape? My surefire solution: A trip to Stewart’s for a hot fudge sundae, which raises my spirits almost as much as my BMI.

Then there’s my hobbies and tending my slavering canines, which help keep boredom at bay quite well, thank you.

But beyond all those things, there’s one cheap thrill I can always count on — thrift shop cruising. My latest foray to the Pearl of Tupper Lake, Thrifty and Nifty, is a perfect example.

Here’s the thing about me and thrift shops. They, like every other store, have nothing I need and almost nothing I want. Instead, they’re my version of the Trifecta — one part shopping paradise, one part museum and one part time machine. On my last Thrifty and Nifty visit I scored with all three.

Looked at … and left

As I first wandered around, I saw nothing of interest. But then, examining a rack of winter coats, I saw a knee-length, wool-lined Woolrich coat. It was in perfect shape, which was no small deal since the label said, “Made in USA.” This meant it was around 40 years old, made when — believe it or not — American companies still made their stuff in America.

I immediately snagged the coat, right?


The harsh reality is all my winter coats have a longer life expectancy than me. Just seeing that Woolrich was a delight in itself, but knowing someone else would score The Bargain of the Century and stay warm all winter with it was the real reward. I only wish I could see their face when they happ’d upon the coat.

I resumed my trek, first by appliances, then dishware, then shoes, when a bright flash of light caught my eye. It was reflecting off a black object, and as soon as I focused on it, I knew what it was — a pair of Corfam shoes, something I hadn’t seen since I got out of the Navy in 1972.

We were issued one pair of work boots and two pairs of dress shoes. I wore the work boots (called boondockers) and one pair of shoes in the radio shack, since dress standards were relaxed, if even existent. The other pair of shoes I kept in the closet, to be hauled out only for inspections.

That system worked fine for me, and all the other one-hitch guys, but it wasn’t enough for a lot of the career guys — they wanted a blinding spit-shine of their shoes ALL the time. And Corfams were their ideal solution … at least at first.

So what were Corfams? They were something perfect in theory, but magnificently flawed in reality.

The theory was if shoes could be made of some miraculous synthetic material, they’d never need to be shined. Corfams, made of some space-age plastic, fit that bill perfectly. They shone brilliantly and only needed to be given a light swipe with a cloth to clear off any dirt or dust on the surface. Thus they fulfilled the theory.

But what about the reality?

Well, there’s probably a reason why leather is the most popular shoe material. It’s rugged, it conforms to the foot, and it breathes. Corfams, on the other hand, managed only one out of three — they lasted forever. Unfortunately, they also were as stiff as sheet metal and breathed about as well. So in exchange for a bright, permanent shine, the Corfam wearer’s feet were sealed in small black convection ovens, whose edges tended to slash his ankles with every step. And the wearers paid in dollars as well as pain, since Corfams cost about five times as much as the issue shoes.

I waved goodbye to the shoes and memory and headed out, figuring I’d had my fill for the day.

As it turned out, I’d figured wrong.

A very salty salty dog

As I passed a table of plates, cups and saucers I heard a voice — a tiny, barely audible one. I turned around but there was no one there. I turned back and took a step when I again heard the voice. It seemed to have come from the table, but it couldn’t have since there was nothing but dinnerware on it.

I gave the table a once-over, then a twice-over, and then on a whim, I looked UNDER the table. Standing there, so to speak, was a gaily painted wooden figure about 3 feet high. It was an old-time sea captain, complete with a hook for a right hand.

“Buy me,” he said.

“What?” I said.

“You heard me,” he said.

Actually, we weren’t talking aloud. It was more like non-verbal communication, mind-reading, if you will. At long last, all the time I’d spent as a kid studying clairvoyance had finally paid off.

“But –“ I began.

“But nothing,” he snapped. “I just gave you a direct order, and I expect you to carry it out.”

“Aye aye,” I said before I even realized it.

Immediately, I thought of Philip Spencer and his sad fate.

In 1842 Philip Spencer was a cadet aboard the USS Somers. He was an incorrigible troublemaker who the captain, one Alexander Slidell Mackenzie, suspected of organizing a mutiny with two other crewmen. So Mackenzie, obviously a man of firm command and swift action, wasted no time with legal niceties and had the three of them strung up on the yardarm.

The issue would’ve probably have ended right there, over the bounding main, had it not been for the niggling fact that Philip Spencer’s pater was John C. Spencer, then secretary of war. In spite of that, in all the legal proceedings that followed, including a court martial, Mackenie was found innocent of any wrongdoing.

Needing no more reminder than that of the life-and-death power of Navy captains, I dusted off the little skipper and tucked him under my arm. Then, after paying his lordly two-dollar ransom, I took him home, where he proudly stands watch on the quarterdeck (or, to you landlubbers, the front porch).

In case you wonder, I haven’t heard him say a word since we left the store.

And frankly, nor do I ever want to.


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