The Story of My Secondhand Stuff
I’ve never lived alone before I moved into my current apartment building in downtown Indianapolis. It’s named after the family of a badass lady doctor, Dr. Mary Spink, who practiced in the city during the 1890s. A relative, George W. Spink, built a series of apartment buildings in the early 1900s and mine, The Spink, was finished in 1926. It’s gorgeous—wide bay windows in each unit and a soaring, white stucco and brick face. I’ve been living here since October, and it’s finally starting to feel like mine.
Last week, I realized almost nothing I have in my apartment is new. I don’t say this because it bothers me—it doesn’t. I think I prefer it. As a lady on staff at a regional alt-weekly, I’m not exactly raking in the big bucks. But I’m debt-free and happy, and although living alone has its low points (no one around to split the electric bill or bottles of wine), I’m really starting to like it.
So here’s the story of my old stuff. It behooves me to say that I’m blessed with an extremely generous family, who’s helped me get on my feet in a variety of ways. Stuff is just stuff, sure, but everything comes with a story.
I didn’t have any seating inside of my apartment for a few months, and at some point I got pretty tired of dragging my mattress from my bedroom to my living room whenever I needed a place to sit besides the floor. Cue the “Free Stuff” section of Craigslist. Yes, I was worried about bed bugs. But I overcame that fear when I saw a free, almost new couch listed. I called in a few favors, secured a borrowed truck, and hauled a big blue couch down five flights of stairs, and then back up five more into my place.
The Craigslist poster was moving to Spain, where she had recently been hired as the Spanish Olympic women’s synchronized swimming coach. For some reason, as soon as I heard that, I wasn’t worried about bed bugs anymore. The awesomeness of that position erased any lingering fears from my mind. I know everyone learned from that episode of 30 Rock that anyone can get bed bugs. But what can I say? I believe in the magic of synchronized swimming and the cleansing power of chlorine.
Coffee tables (2)
My aunt has always understood my need to craft. She’s a part-time paralegal and full-time creator, who’s inspired me to craft everything from jewelry, to scrapbooks to quilts. Of course, anything I create is about 25 percent as excellent as what she does. The woman is amazing. She’s also the reason I got busted for running a black market jewelry business in the fifth grade. I’m still unsure why creating custom bead rings was a no-no in elementary school, but I’ve gotten over it.
She just moved with my uncle into a new house, which happens to be a bit smaller. In the process, I acquired a few pieces of furniture from her; namely, a large black coffee table-cum-bookcase, and a smaller, wooden end table that belonged to my uncle’s family.
A very fancy person in a very large house listed this beautiful golden wingback chair on Craigslist one day last fall. The moment I saw it, I had to have it. It was exactly like a chair inside of my childhood house. Plus, it was $40! That doesn’t sound so bad to someone with three pieces of furniture to her name. The woman I picked it up from was redecorating. I guess gold is out and florals are in? Gold is always in to me.
Source: My paternal grandfather, by way of my aunt and uncle.
During spring break of my sophomore year of college, my uncle dropped off what, to this day, is the most magnificent desk I’ve ever seen. It belonged to my grandfather, who used it while working at the Naval Avionics Warfare Center in Indianapolis in the ’50s. That’s where they developed the Norden bombsight, which allowed American bombers to strike targets from high altitudes. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs had the Norden bombsight. My history major brain practically vibrates with excitement every time I sit down at it. It’s also the closest physical tie I have to my grandfather (besides my blue eyes) who died before I was born.
There’s approximately one million compartments inside. It’s like my own personal Room of Requirement, except it’s a desk, obviously. I’ve hauled it to five separate houses and apartments now; for a while, it was the only storage I had. I can find anything in there: gold spray paint, Polaroid film, bike helmets, tacks, discarded school books, matches, lopsided bowls I made in high school ceramics class. So, not really things I need, per se. But still! It’s all there.
Source: Grandmother; mother.
We’re a biking family—my dad rode across the entire country one summer when he was 17 (Side note: I once asked my mother when I was 17 if she would allow me to do the same thing. The walls practically shook with the force of her “NO”.)
I lost my own bike some time my junior year, after I locked it to an icy rack outside the psychology building. One final later and it was gone. Bike thieves are scum.
My grandmother let me have her 1970s Huffy Wild Wood some time the next year. It’s a forest green single-speed cruiser, with a wide, padded seat and a wire basket on the front. Oh, how I loved it. The cruiser—her name is Betty—was perfect for the short commute between my senior year house and my classes. Not exactly perfect for my commute down busy city streets to my current job, however.
So I finally convinced my mother to let me borrow her Trek 730 multi-track. It’s similarly gorgeous, with a green, blue and purple paint job and actual gears, which was a relief to my aching legs. I hate to say it, but it’s just a touch too small. So, at some point in the near future, I may have to invest in another bike. But I’m loving the free ride (ha!) for now.
Cost: $14, for new tubes for my mom’s bike.
Red and green Oriental-style rug
Source: parent’s house
This rug lived in the entryway of my childhood house. At some point, it became my ailing dog’s favorite place to vomit. It was relegated to the garage the same day we put her to sleep, and after crying a million tears, I snagged it a few months later for my living room. Yes, this is very gross. Yes, I had it cleaned.
Candles: Beeswax, 10” (10)
Source: Locally Grown Gardens
This year-round permanent farmers’ market is my favorite place in the city. It’s run by a chef who drives country roads all summer long in search of the freshest, most delicious local ingredients. He also stocks things he loves dearly, including beeswax candles, French ceramic dishes, and heavy metal heart cookie cutters. I go in nearly weekly for a slice of sugar cream pie.
Various milk glass containers (9)
Source: Boyfriend’s mother
I had a vision last year (perhaps Pinterest-inspired) of a collection of milk glass containers holding various kinds of succulents. It seemed so clean, so modern, so easy to take care of. I was half right.
My boyfriend’s mother—who, let it be said, is wonderful—understood my vision. For Christmas, she scavenged Goodwills and Salvation Armies for variously sized milk glass vases. I opened them one by one on Christmas Eve, just so excited. I visited home and garden shops a few days later, bought agave, huernia, crassulas, echeverias. I scattered them around my windowsills, gazed upon them lovingly, and promptly fell asleep on my Craigslist couch.
Most of the succulents died. But the milk glass will last forever.
Source: parent’s house
I ruined my fair share of end tables as a child. I spilled nail polish on one, and nail polish remover on another. In fact, I also spilled nail polish under my mom’s bathroom sink. It’s no wonder my nails have been bare for almost a year—I clearly can’t be trusted to paint my nails responsibly. It is a wonder, however, that my parents entrusted me with one of their end tables for my new place though. So far, it’s polish-free. However, the drawer inside of it is mysteriously filled with dead lightbulbs.
Source: college roommate
I lived with the same two girls for all four years of college. It’s a wonder we could stand each other by the end. But we more than tolerated each other; we were best friends. I’m still sad when I think about how far I am away from both of them. Right after school ended, one moved to Seattle, and the other to New York City. In the process, I acquired a record player, a few dishes, and lingering sadness I can’t seem to shake about the disappearance of two of my best friends to far-away lands.
Source: Antique stores all over the country.
Yes, bones. For a few years, my mind couldn’t shake the idea of bones. I needed them. Skulls, antlers, water buffalo horns. I needed bones. I know this is strange and vaguely Portlandia-y. So I started collecting antler sheds from places I traveled. I have vague plans of turning them into a morbid chandelier at some point, but right now they’re scattered around those great big bay windows, where the dead succulents used to live.
Source: basement, Goodwill
I thought it would be a good idea to collect typewriters. Two typewriters and three moves later, I realized how damn heavy typewriters are. So, my collection stands at two. One I snagged from the basement of the student radio station where I was a director; it’s technically the property of the university I attended. (I won’t tell them if you won’t.) It was completely unusable when I brought it out of the terrifying radio station basement, but, as luck would have it, a man from my childhood church is (was) a typewriter repairman. He spent a month on the thing, but it looks like like the typewriter was doomed to the basement because it’s completely unfixable. Now, it props up some of my bone collection, specifically, an Austin, Texas-sourced deer skull.
The other was an impulse purchase at an area Goodwill some time in the last two years. I’ve actually typed a few things on it. It can last about … seven minutes before jamming up completely. Turns out, seven minutes is exactly long enough to convince anyone that the modern computer keyboard is something to be celebrated daily.
Personalized cat clock
Source: local artist
The incredibly compelling subject of a story I wrote for the alt-weekly created a personalized maneki-neko wooden clock for me. It’s by far the best thing to come out of a story I’ve worked on. It has a tiny illustration of me inside of it! Forever on my wall.
Cost: one AA battery, approximately 50 cents
Source: Indianapolis Animal Care and Control.
Bruce was an accident. While writing a story about area animal shelters and doing an interview with infamous Internet cat—and Hoosier resident!—Lil Bub, I became a foster mom for two skittish kitties from the city animal shelter. I was a foster mom for about … one week, before I fell irrevocably in love and adopted one. A friend took the other. I’m now in the IACC database as a “failed foster,” which strikes me as hilarious. Best failure ever. I guess I don’t live alone any more.
Cost: Whatever it takes to keep her in litter, food, and health check-ups for the rest of her life. And she’s going to live forever, so she’s my most expensive acquisition thus far.
Katherine Coplen is the music editor of NUVO Newsweekly. She loves Bruce Springsteen and her cat, Bruce, equally.