Vale: Why did you publish Thrift Score?
Al Hoff: First of all I always “thrifted,” but it increasingly became more of an obsession–I went from once a month to every weekend. There’s so much great stuff to be retrieved out of thrift stores, yet no one discusses this as a concept or a lifestyle. Thrifting involves many different groups of people: poor people, art people, students. I had friends who thrifted a lot; one day we were talking and realized that no one had ever written about thrifting: “Hey, someone should write a book!”
A few months later I had a “temp” job and during work I started making notes on what might be interesting topics to cover. I also raised “issue” questions like “Why is something valuable when it’s at the mall, but not at the Salvation Army?”
Vale: Do you ever buy something because you think it’s “cute”?
AH: To me “cute” is a negative word; people used it in high school and I had a lot of problems with it. It reminds me of walking into a Hallmark card store with someone’s grandma–when she says something is “cute,” you have to lie to agree with her.
Vale: I’m thinking of a ceramic statue of a chihuahua with big brown eyes, begging–
AH: I have one of those! I bought big-eyed dog statues for years, but now they’re “in”–in fact I just saw one of my sad-eyed dog figurines on MTV; it was behind the veejay. I thought, “Uh oh–time to take it to New York!”
Here’s an example of how my irony has shifted around. I always bought those big-eyed things (mostly repro-paintings of Keane, Gig, Eden, etc.) just because of how they looked–they were absurd, but there was something so great about them. They’ve been piling up in the corner for years. Our new house has this long narrow hallway you have to walk down to get to the bathroom, so you can’t avoid it. I had an idea to line the entire hall with these paintings (and I always buy only the sad ones, not the happy ones) so it’ll be a Hallway of Sorry (like in Night Gallery).
Then I thought of those “I Love You This Much!” statues of people with their arms outstretched. They’re about four inches high. There’s a whole series of them: “World’s Greatest Grandma,” “World’s Greatest Fisherman,” and there’s one of a guy with these beseeching eyes and arms outstretched saying “I Love You This Much!” I see these all the time, and I thought of having a shelf of them at the end of the Hallway of Sorrow–you go through all this sorrow, and there’s this embrace of love at the other end–this antidote.
After I started buying these “I Love You This Much” statues, I discovered there’s an incredible diversity in them. Now I’ve got many variations of men, women, children, and animals. One night I had this epiphany while staring at them: the saddest thing on earth is an “I Love You This Much” statue that someone threw away! Here I was thinking that was going to be a happy part of the hallway, when in fact it was even more sorrowful. Imagine someone giving you that as a gift, “I Love You This Much,” and then you ditch it!