RHETA GRIMSLEY JOHNSON: One person’s ‘junke’ sometimes proves cure for problem drinking

By Rheta Grimsley Johnson

BOULDER, Colo. – After eating a big bowl of macaroni and goat cheese and chasing it with $15 worth of strawberry shortcake, I sashayed into an art gallery. There I saw actual VW doors with papier-mache dogs sticking their heads out of the car windows, button eyes shining, string hair blowing in the breeze.
For a couple of thousand dollars, you could adopt a dog.
It quickly became apparent that because I have real dogs who like to eat, I couldn’t afford such objets d’art.
Next I saw a store that sold “European-style” gifts. I’m a sucker for anything European-style, so in I went. It was true, a lot of the store’s inventory came from Europe, where you could buy the same gewgaw or food item for one-fifth the price. I am not cheap, just broke, and refuse to pay more for one sheet of gift-wrapping paper than the gift cost.
On to a map store, where a clerk told me that if I didn’t see what I wanted, I should speak right up, as there were thousands more maps behind the curtain, so to speak. I thought but did not say, “Well, then bring me a Mississippi map that costs less than $100.”
I have a love-hate relationship with towns like this. They are pretty, and fun, but I worry about the full-time residents. Once a shopping area has been “boutiqued,” normal stores that sell hardware and toilet seats (without flamingos) and grits by the box become impossible to find. I love to look at the frivolous and creative “junke,” always with that “e,” but e-ssentials must come first.
My favorite section of The New York Times is called “Home” and appears each Thursday. I read a recent story about a New Orleans couple who lost their home during Hurricane Katrina. Insurance covered the money they still owed on the house that was swept away, but not much more. Eager to build back, they paid a contractor $100,000 for work he never did.
Savings exhausted, life in disarray, the husband started to drink. The wife, a lawyer, had to commute three hours each day while they lived with relatives.
They struggled to build a small house, furnished it on a shoestring and discovered, in the process, that the wife was a designer at heart, not a lawyer. She made the most of what she called “Katrina patina” on the furniture that rode out the flood. She shared with readers her $16, dollar-store, plastic, Italianate mirror, even showed a photo of it. And the story told about her funky finds website, 1stdibs, which, naturally, I rushed to see.
Maybe she decorated her own home on the cheap, but this savvy lady wasn’t about to help you do the same. On the website there was an old-fashioned blackboard for over $1,200, a harp for $6,000 and a horse on a weathervane for $4,500. There were hundreds of unusual old items, all of them priced over $1,000. This “junke” was out of my league.
I could see why the wife quit writing wills and started haunting thrift stores. And why the husband stopped drinking.
By comparison, Boulder prices look bargain-basement.
The last store I visited in this charmingly decadent town of youth, watering holes and specialty shops was called, simply, Clutter. There were even a few bargains, but mostly things you could live without. I might have stayed and shopped, but Clutter was crowded.

Rheta Grimsley Johnson is a syndicated columnist and lives in the Iuka vicinity. Contact her by writing her at Iuka, MS 38852. To find out more about Rheta Grimsley Johnson and her books, visit www.rhetagrimsleyjohnsonbooks.com.