Second Hand Rows

4 years BC (Before Covid) my life hit a scary financial pothole. I had a small, yet vital secondary income and theoretically it would have made my bad years okay indefinitely. Its disappearance could not have been planned for. It was literally the secondary effect of very positive federal legislation.

Some people think that a college educated woman who chooses an uncertain life in the arts is foolish, and a subset of that group unconsciously begrudges it because they didn’t take that chance. My attitude regarding the tough times has always been you made that security-diminished bed; you lie in it. One night my fear got the best of me and I was crying at dinner with a friend, and I don’t mean whining, I mean uncontrollable sobs. This friend is a frustrated writer but pulls down six figures within the financial sector. Her suggestions of different types of work were so inappropriate that it ended our friendship, not because of her delirious suggestions but because of her lack of anything close to empathy.

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My worst fears (knock on a piano if there is one near you) did not come to pass. I am not sure what the future holds but these last four years have had some odd blessings. Resiliency and resourcefulness came to the forefront, and right around that time is when I started “thrifting.” You know something is hip when it inspires a verb to be born. The hunt could be fun like when finding designer leather bags on the cheap. Or a new summer wardrobe for less than $35.

Second Hand Rows
At the Thrifty Shopper in New Hartford, NY: thousands of items with thousands of stories. (courtesy www.ishopthrifty.org)

The smell of a thrift store has its own funk. It’s not always a bad funk…but on certain days if the homeless guy in the corner who is talking to his invisible friend while perusing a big arrival of new, old shoes, and if on that very day the weather is hot…well that would be a day in which I would pine for Loehmann’s. (May she rest in peace.)

But something started to happen the more I shopped in my favorite Salvation Army. I would think more about how everything including us has a finite time and purpose. I would find a batch of clothes that I was pretty sure came from the same person’s closet. Was I positive? Well, not as certain as the guy in the shoe section having an argument with a pair of Nikes, but I have my instincts. My mind would wander did she pass away? What happened?

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Individuals’ histories are important to me, not just what they left behind but who they were while they were here. How people lived in the past and what that looked like has always been something I search out. I think it’s part of the allure of Traditional Jazz—even those that aren’t old enough to have a direct memory of the period, the music itself draws those pictures. It’s why some folks in the swing dance scene have homes where the kitchen looks like it popped out of a 1948 American Home magazine.

Second Hand Rows
A (possibly) excellent old phonograph lurks at the Mohawk Valley Community Market in Herkimer, NY. Does it work? The Editor wishes he had more floor space! (courtesy craigslist.org)

It’s not just the aesthetic, it’s how people lived life that appeals even if it is mostly conjecture and fantasy. While I love the visuals of these appliances, I can’t be all in because my dream is that every piece of machinery is self-cleaning—and if it could chop vegetables and mop, I would buy that whatever it looked like.

We are in a time of consciousness raising regarding race and how we can be more sensitive to those that are marginalized. Like all cultural shifts it will take time.

Most gifted songwriters of the past didn’t sit down with a pencil and a paper and try to be offensive; they were living in a different era. I cringe when I think about a Cole Porter lyric being changed or of Porgy and Bess being shelved because a Jewish man was creating an American Opera about black culture while those very people were living the horrors of Jim Crow. It’s a difficult subject. I decided I couldn’t sing the chorus of “Tain’t Nobodys Business If I Do” that condoned beating a woman senseless.

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William Shakespeare’s plays are sprinkled liberally with anti-Semitism. To my knowledge not performing those plays has never been on the table as a solution. I have winced at times while performing in those plays, but I wouldn’t want them touched. And we all know that anti-Semitism is alive and well.

There are no-brainers within the canon of old jazz tunes that are offensive, and even when they were written they were meant to be. It’s important when we are looking at the dusty old tunes to think about how these artists lived their lives and how they made their art overall. Was their purpose to get a laugh with that slander?

My friend runs Estate Sales. I always enjoy the pictures and dreaming is free. This weekend I was drooling over a very small antique hand painted vanity that could also double as a desk. I had been looking for something like this for over 20 years. It was the last day and unbelievably it had not sold. So off I went to the hills above Sunset Blvd.

Second Hand Rows
The author’s new (old) vanity desk: a priceless bargain. (photo by Randi Cee)

Riffling thru someone’s things in their home turns me into a combination of Gladys Kravitz and Margaret Mead. I took this small piece of furniture home and cleaned it. Had that been done before the sale it would not have been mine. I felt that the “Mrs” of that house would have liked where her vanity landed. I can still smell her perfume even after cleaning it. What started out as necessity (my thrifting) has morphed into something that has nothing to do with how much cash I may or may not have. I like honoring something that someone created and another person loved.

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Randi Cee is a bandleader and a swing and hot jazz vocalist living in LA. Her CD, Any Kind of Man, is available via randiceemusic.com. To see clips from her acting and dance career watch this video. For booking information, write: [email protected]

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