Monday, April 27, 2009

What's Old is New Again

As the man retrieved the year-old deck furniture I had just lugged into the container marked "Metal Only," I figured he deserved an explanation. I pointed out the split down one leg of the bench and the chunk of aluminum that the winter freeze had popped out of another.

"No problem," he said. "I have a spot in my yard where this will look good but no one will ever sit on it."

We talked about where I had bought the furniture, cheap foreign imports and the decades we had each lived in this city.

"I'm sure this isn't the best treasure you've ever dug out of one of these bins," I said, hoping for tales of the local recycling center burping up a shrink-wrapped "butcher cover" of The Beatles' Yesterday and Today album or a grease-stained paper bearing Col. Sanders' 11 secret herbs and spices.

Instead, he said much of the stuff that made its way into the facility deserved to be there. It was mostly junk. Disposable. Valueless.

"I prefer antiques," he said. "And those pretty much dried up around here 10 years ago or more when they finished tearing down all the old houses for apartments and offices. Everything we get here tends to be new. Stamford is a new city."

I've heard debates about whether Stamford is part of New England or New York, but never a statement that it was just plain "new."

This place where Indians once roamed, or so claimed the Stamford Museum staff that annually filled my brain with such tales during elementary school.

This place with a Revolutionary War-era earthen fort where a classmate once found a musket ball as we roamed the grounds during a field trip. (I wasn't suspicious then, but now I am convinced it was a plant by hippie preservationists.)

This place with public beach bathhouses that look like they doubled as bomb shelters during the Eisenhower administration.

For a while, I lived in a newly minted suburb of Dallas. It was a sea of Spielbergian tract housing punctuated by sparkly warehouse-sized supermarkets and freshly bleached concrete strip malls that regularly sprung up like dandelions. Depending on my route and choice of clothes, on most days the underwear I wore was older than the structures I drove past.

That was a new city. Bland, but new.

Then, the more I thought about what the current owner of my old furniture said, the more I realized he was right. Progress creeps here, bit by bit, until even the new seems old. You become immune to it because the change is usually so slow. You just accept what has become as what has always been.

I thought about the places where I worked here in my teens. The supermarket where I sorted returnable bottles is now a mega-bookstore. The bookstore where I once stripped magazine covers for return is now a dress store. The supermarket that then became a dress store where I helped my sister do inventory is now a health-food grocery.

However, I rarely think of those childhood stores anymore; their replacements have become, to me, old, too.

Circle of life. So on, so forth.

"Sometimes new is good," I said to him. I pointed to a shopping cart, its plastic yellow seat bearing the one store name my wife can't say without a grimace of pain -- Caldor. "You have to admit the Target downtown is quite an improvement from that dank old place."

"Meh," he said. "As a discount store, Caldor was ahead of its time."

We introduced ourselves, shook hands and went our separate ways.


  1. >The bookstore where I once stripped magazine covers for return is now a dress store.

    Aw. I worked there, too! (1986-87) I never got to do the coveted magazine section work, though.

  2. In our suburban town, when giving directions to go anywhere it is standard to say, "Yeah, Joann's Fabrics is now in the building that used to be a Venture store, then it was Computer City and Minnesota Fabrics was next door to it, only now its a TV shop, anyway, its the strip mall where Best Buy took over Builders Supply on the corner, you can't miss it." We watched this town go from 35,000 to 160,000 in 20 yrs - changing constantly.

  3. I'd imagine it is mostly us New Yorkers who consider Stamford part of New England and staunch New Englanders (Massachusetts, Maine and the like) who consider it New York.

    I guess it really depends on which baseball team you root for. The Mets and the Yankees are closer, after all.

  4. My first job was as a cashier at Caldor (in MA) - it was next to the Shoppers World (which was the first ever enclosed mall in the US) . I think now those places are plowed over and parking lots for a Costco.

    wait, lemme find a dime for the payphone to get directions.

  5. My hometown of Charleston has changed so much in the 7 years I have been gone that I just ask for street names now when I get directions or I will be completely lost.

  6. Your adventures at the dump mirror, Patty's. I guess it is something else after all.
    A friend of mine who came at the same time I did has noted similar changes.

  7. I have such a hard time thinking of East Coast stuff as "new." But that's because I'm a damn stinkin' Midwesterner.

  8. I live in an old town that is so shiny new that I can't keep up. Every day a new subdivision springs up with street names I'll never remember, and we build a new elementary school every two years, adding it to the long list of others - which are still being called new even though they're more than six years old. We hold onto that 'new' word until things start to look less shiny. This spring I'm going to miss looking out from my deck and watching the tractors turning over the field across the highway because now a giant YMCA is growing there.

    But damn I love this place.

    I also love that you worked at a bookstore. We are so meant to blog be, you and me!

  9. Woolworth's patty melt. Still can taste it.

  10. The corner drugstore that once had a soda fountain, had a pharmacist that knew every family's ailments cross generations, provided the college kids with post hangover aspirin, delivered prescriptions to the elderly, provided many high school students with sub-minimum wage jobs (hey, but we read the magazines for free), and was a place that you would see at least 6 people that you knew, is now a depressing Dunkin' Donuts.


  11. I live in a town much like yours that I've grown up in. I watched the old give it up for the new and wondered if this was progress?

    I do have a hankering for the old shops where they knew your name when you walked in the door. And if they didn't have the item on the floor, they dug around for it in the back room...

  12. I love seeing the old stuff from when I grow up get a face lift and become something else! :) But then, it's not as easy to reminisce about some parking lot you made out in if it's no longer there!!!

  13. I'm the opposite. I still see the stores as they were when I was a child. I see the mulberry tree next to the grocery store where we used to walk to buy food for my grandma and we'd come home with purple fingers. The grocery store is now a Goodwill and the music store where we used to climb up to the roof is a motorcycle shop...but I still hear the pianos playing.

  14. Sometimes, when I drive down the street of my old neighborhood, I try and image what it looked like when I was young. Two lanes (now four), lots of trees (cut down for those extra lanes), mom and pop stores (replaced by Big Lots and Radio Shack)... *sigh*

  15. Gotta love the fake blog-whore comment above. I mean, "I stil can't get my eyes off to!"

    Anyway, since this post is a week old, does that make it new again?


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