Sunday, July 15, 2012

Rag of the Day: The Story of a Shirt

When I showed my mom this shirt (because it is quite a find) the day after I found it, it dawned on me how much we knew about it. Between the tag and how and where I found it, its story is remarkably clear.

I found it spilled out of a sun-rotted garbage that is grown into, overgrown by, engulfed by the meadow plants and wild shrubs that reinforce a decades-old chain link fence that separates the CN tracks from municipal property. The municipal property in question is a very odd little wedge of unmowed dirt and gravel that, until recently, was a privately run parking lot- illegally so, because the City had just overlooked that it actually owned the land, for years.

After the City took back control, it added another fence, and created a well-fenced triangle of meadow, now full of flowering sweet clover, alfalfa and milkweed. The fences give the impression it is sealed off, but the newest fence misses the one it was supposed to adjoin by a good foot, and the elaborate, expensive gate along one side has no lock, just a heavy latch. It is a perfect place for The Dog and I to pass through on our way home from the river (unpaved), and a perfect place for mostly men from the homeless shelter a minute away to while away a fair day. The Dog, They and I all know and greet one another, we are acquainted. I call out "is anyone afraid of dogs? She is friendly but will knock over your beer!". Usually some one says "oh that's my buddy, that dog with the blue eye". Maybe we are more than acquainted. (update: today, after three years, there is a lock on the gate).

It is not a surprise to find a bag of clothes in this place. A garbage bag full of clothes in this place is one of three things. It could be a bag of a man's or woman's possessions, a man or woman moved out of the homeless shelter and either not welcome or not willing to cycle into the other shelter. Or, it could be a bag of donated used clothes distributed to a person with the proper paper work (a 'voucher') by the clothing bank run out of the nearest homeless shelter. (Neighbours have brought me clothes from there, in repayment of small favors we've been able to do for them; I always have to bend to that kindness and accept). Or, finally, it is a bag of clothes that was left in the drive-through drop-off at the also nearby Goodwill, by a donor who pulled up in their vehicle after the donation centre closed, and decided to just leave the bags outside and hope for the best. And then the bag was stolen.

I think this shirt came out of the last kind of bag. Its contents were all neatly folded- they are being spilled out one layer at a time. No one moving out of the homeless shelter has such neat luggage. And the bag was packed, full, dense. No one gets such a volume of clothing from the clothing bank. And, judging by this shirt, well, it is hard to see whoever owned it taking it to the homeless shelter, which is slightly harder to find, you need to get out of the car, you need to go inside and find someone to take the bag, etc. It's a chore.

Judging by this shirt, I mean to say, it is a brand name shirt from a company that bills itself as "purveyor of island lifestyles and maker of luxury lifestyle clothing and accessories". This is one of their Camp Shirts, and a nearly identical new one retails for $110.00 US. As they say on their website, "Whether it's late summer in the city or any time on the islands, this versatile camp shirt is the perfect complement to your relaxed lifestyle." Silk. Well made. The website recommends that you "zoom in to see the plaid dobby texture and how it flows uninterrupted over the front pocket." And so it does.

When Mom and I looked at the shirt, I said "I think it is from a bag of clothes stolen from the Goodwill". She tsked, "stealing...." and trailed off. Because she knew I didn't mean shoplifted, daylight robbery, late night break and enter. She knew I meant that whoever owned the shirt left it outside the Goodwill. Really just dumped it. Just had too much other stuff and needed to get rid of it. And didn't really care where it went, just that it went.

What strikes me most is that whoever dropped it off has no idea that it was more likely to be poached than to ever make it into the store. Whoever dropped it off has no idea that the shirt might fall off the consumption treadmill that needs the Goodwill for a legitimate conclusion to the process of over-consumption. What strikes me is that whoever dropped this off has no way to understand not just where it ended up, in the no-man's-land triangle, but how likely it was to end up there after all.

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