Thursday, May 20, 2021

¡Ropa Usada!

We complain about excess in America while the rest of the world suffers.

In 2002, we made a somewhat ill-fated trip by motorhome from Alexandria,Virginia, all the way to Cuernavaca, Mexico.  Our cleaning lady thought it would be a good idea for us to see her home there (which was quite nice) and also carry a trailer-load of her possessions for her.  She wisely flew home.  It was an adventure, to say the least, and we were only kidnapped twice, by the Police, who shook us down for petty bribes.

The first time was at the border, where we "hired" a bribe-taker to get her possessions through customs.  He put us in the back of his van and drove us (illegally) across the border from Brownsville to Matamoros.  So here we are in Mexico, trapped in the back of this guy's van.  It started to turn into a theater of the absurd, as he drove around pointing out the sites to see.  "There's the big drug dealer's house - right next door to the American Embassy - you might want to remember where that is, by the way," he said, as if this was some package tour.

Finally, he gave us the lowdown.  We could take this trailer-load of her crap across the border, if we paid a $500 bribe (including his fees) but we would need our cleaning lady's passport.  We explained we didn't have it, as she (wisely) flew to Cuernavaca.  "No problem," he said, "We will make one!"  And we drove around some more until he found an older Mexican lady who sort of looked like Gloria, and offered her a few dollars if we could take a photo of her for this forged passport.   Photo in hand, he went to another place where apparently manufacturing Mexican passports is a business.

As for the $500, Gloria had given this to us before she flew home.  "You will need this at the border!" she said, knowing he exact amount of the bribe.  By the way, we had been to the Mexican Embassy in Washington, DC, twice to get a "Menaje de Casa" or household goods importation certificate.  We jumped through all the hoops and got this very impressive ribboned-and-sealed document.  But the lady at the embassy admitted that "you will still have trouble at the border" and implied we would have to pay a bribe.   It is sad, but the Mexican government doesn't really control Mexico.

Again, we take for granted how lucky we are as Americans. If I came to the US border with a certificate issued by the US government, specifically allowing me to import my household goods, I would expect it to be honored, as a matter of course.  And paying bribes to border officials?  Unheard of.   As Americans, we would rebel against such chicanery.  The rest of the world just goes along with it.  Maybe we are lucky - or maybe it is because we don't tolerate that kind of shit.  Maybe a little of both.  But I digress.

Back to the Brownsville border checkpoint, we were released from the van and went back to the camper, where our friends were waiting in air-conditioned comfort, watching videos and having a glass of wine with our dog. "Where the hell have you been?" our friend Susan furiously demanded.  "Oh, just took a jaunt over to Mexico," I replied nonchalantly.  We had been gone nearly three hours.

Anyway, an hour later, we are allowed to go through the border checkpoint, at which point we are instructed to pull over so they can take everything out of the trailer and inspect it.  And when they took all this crap out, we thought that maybe Gloria had a hoarding problem.  There were boxes and boxes of used clothing - Ropa Usada in Spanish.  Plus boxes with nothing in them but coat hangers.   They were looking for guns, of course.  There are two things you can't bring into Mexico, guns and Ropa Usada, and we were loaded to the gills with the latter.  But the bribe was sufficient to let it slide.  The bribe would have been less if we had a trailer-load of guns.  They take this Ropa Usada shit, seriously.

It seems the Mexican government wants to protect its non-existent domestic clothing industry.  It is interesting, but the textile mills and clothing factories of the Carolinas all went out of business back in the 1970's and 1980's.  Used to be that if you bought a Champion sweatshirt, it was made in South Carolina or some such.  No more.  And you would think that this business went to Mexico, but you would think wrong.  Most of it went to Asia, where it is still, today.  We live in a sea of cheap clothing as a result.

And when we are done with it, our Ropa Usada often is shunted off to third-world countries in Latin America, South America, and Africa - clothing so cheap that it basically kills off any domestic industry.  our cleaning lady wasn't insane taking this stuff to Mexico - it was highly valued there.  This was back in 2002, but we saw people in Mexico wearing "Reagan 1984!" t-shirts, or in one instance, a Mexican lady wearing a purple "California Raisins" shirt that was at least a decade old.  The incongruity was startling.  I doubt she knew who the "California Raisins" were.

But apparently this used clothing thing is a problem, worldwide.  Cheap clothing made in Asia is sold in America and Europe, and once we are done with it, it is so cheap that it floods the markets in third-world countries.  It is akin to the problem with free bags of rice we send as "aid" - it insures that the local farmer goes bankrupt.  Kind of hard to compete on price with "free" isn't it?

I digress once again, but I would highly recommend not driving through Mexico.  The roads are in bad shape, and even the ones in good shape will have unmarked two-foot-high "Topas" or speed bumps placed randomly.  We got the motorhome airborne over one of these.  Not only that, you are likely to be robbed, or killed, particularly today.  Back then, it was just the Police shaking us down for $10 or so.  Today, the drug gangs decapitate you.  Such a shame, too, as the country is beautiful and the people are so nice (other than the drug-gang people).   If you think there are no consequences of drug use, think about Mexico today.  An entire country brought to the brink so assholes in America can snort coke.

I digress further, but Gloria came to us one day, upset. "My son has joined a criminal gang!" she said, "He has joined the Police department!"   That is how messed-up things are there.

Anyway, I got to thinking of this old story when I was cleaning out my closet.  Like most Americans, my biggest gripe in life isn't having too little, but having too much.  It is obscene how much shit we Americans have.  We have too much food and constantly are worried about dieting and losing weight.  We have too many cars that clog our roads.  We have too many "things" cluttering up our houses.  We have too many clothes jammed in our closets. And we have too much trash filling up our landfills.  In a world of scarcity, we live in a country of excess.

Aren't we lucky?  Good, now act it - be grateful for a change!  That's the worst thing about America and Americans.  We have so much but are so ungrateful - wanting more and more because someone else has more than we do.  No wonder the rest of the world hates us.  And no wonder everyone wants to migrate here.  People in other countries don't see life in America as "hardship" the way Americans do.  We are a nation of whiny little bitches.

Anyway, I started going through my closet and realized that I had like 50 t-shirts and 25 Hawaiian shirts.  I have a drawer full of shorts and another stuffed with socks.  And I also realized that more or less, I wear the same three or four outfits all the time.  There are clothes that don't quite fit right (they just are not comfortable) or shirts that seem inappropriate to wear.  For example, I was in Fredricksburg, Texas, and we went to a German schnitzel house.  It was fun and I bought the t-shirt, only to realize the guy on the  shirt, quaffing a big German beer, bore a striking resemblance to you-know-who.  What's worse, is that it said, in big letters, "Adolph's Schnitzel Haus" on it.  I mean, wearing this shirt made me look like I was endorsing Nazism.

Other clothes are "too nice" to wear (what am I saving them for, my funeral?) and yet others are deemed worthy only of changing the oil on the car.  I save an old t-shirt for "painting the house" or something, only to ruin a good one by forgetting to put it on.  It is borderline hoarding behavior.

The only thing I don't have anymore is suits.  I think I have one sportcoat, but it rarely gets worn.

Anyway, I decided to start wearing everything in the closet, one different outfit at a time, and give to charity the stuff that didn't fit, was starting to get worn, or I simply didn't like.  But how to monitor what was worn and what wasn't?  When I went to summer camp, some 50 years ago, my Mother bought a set of iron-on labels with my name on them, which she ironed on to my underwear for some reason.  She lived in fear, I guess, of us boys exchanging underpants.  I had about 100 of these labels leftover, which for some reason my Mother had saved for nearly half a century, and shortly before she died, gave to me - my inheritance!  And for some weird reason, I had saved them for another decade.

So this was my plan.  I would wear a t-shirt and shorts and whatnot, and if it fit and I liked it, I would iron-on these labels with my name in them, and cut off the itchy neck tag that came with the shirt.  This way, I could tell what I had worn and tested (and approved) and what I hadn't.  And pretty soon a box of rejects started to accumulate in the laundry room.  It was a system!  So far, I am only 1/3 the way through the process.

After a month, we took the box to Goodwill.  No doubt today, someone in Mexico is running around with a t-shirt that says "Adolph's Schnitzel Haus" on it.  But going to Goodwill was an interesting eye-opener.  They re-arranged the store quite a bit, dividing it in half.  On the right side, they have the traditional store, although shrunken in size somewhat. They have racks of clothing and everything is sold at a standard price or is marked in price.  You know, a traditional thrift shop.  By the way, these are a great place to buy used DVDs and CDs for a buck or so.  You can rip the CDs to your computer, iPod, Phone, memory stick, or whatever, and then donate them back to Goodwill or sell them in a garage sale.  DVDs you can watch and then donate back, or swap them with friends or at the local campground.  Make sure the DVD or CD is in the case, though or you just bought an empty DVD case for a buck.

So we bought a few DVDs - we didn't see any clothing that fit us that we liked.  But on the way out, we saw that the other side of the store had a separate entrance and they were selling "thrift goods by the pound!"  What the ever-loving......?

Inside were huge trays on wheels, each about 10 feet long, with junk thrown on them.  Clothes, shoes, old electronics, books, DVDs, CDs - you get the picture. And people were literally digging though these bins.  Clothing and "textiles" were sold at $1.29 a pound.  Anything else was 89 cents a pound.  I think they need to just throw away the electronics.  An old busted printer that weighs 20 pounds is worth nothing, but they want eighteen bucks for it.

We did find some clothing.  One of the campgrounds we are visiting this summer is having a Circus themed weekend and Mark wants to find or make some clown costumes.  And find we did - some pretty funny stuff.  Actually, it was a drag queen's paradise, with lots of stiletto high heels, platform shoes, and even a pair of "kinky boots" in red pleather.   I was shocked the local cross-dressers weren't in there digging.

But what an odd way to sell thrift goods!  I mean, how hard it is to put things on hangers and sell them?  Then again, they probably are facing a labor shortage like everyone else, and this is a lot easier to do - just dump stuff in the bins and let the customers have at it.

Used clothing can be a real bargain, depending on where you buy it.  I've found vintage Tommy Bahama shirts - pure silk - for $10 in Florida, which fit like a charm.   Of course, you have to launder these things when you get home.  Some folks have issues with the idea of used clothing - that someone else wore it before them.  Myself, I am not so fussy.  I found out long ago that fussy just costs money.  And fussy people are no fun to be around.

In general, though, the wealthier the surrounding neighborhood, the better the stuff at the local thrift store.  And maybe it isn't for everyone, but it is worth a look.  At the very least, take the stuff you don't wear anymore - for whatever reason - and donate it.  Goodwill, Salvation Army, St. Vincent dePaul - whatever.  It may not be a tax deduction like in the good old days, but it is a good way to clean out your closet and do a little good in the world.

That being said, it is considered poor form to dump your trash at Goodwill or other thrift stores.  People do this, apparently, dumping moldy old sofas at the loading dock at midnight (which if they are not moldy before, become so when it rains).   Broken things, worn out things, just plain junk, costs them money to dispose of, in terms of dumpster fees.   Just don't do it.  But I suspect the sorts of folks who are doing this are the same kinds who dump their trash down dead-end roads or throw old mattresses and furniture onto abandoned properties.  You know, classy people.

But again - America!  We have so much stuff that we can't even find a place to throw it away.  How odd.