Friday, December 26, 2008


I hit the thrift stores of Park Rapids today with Amy and my brother Nate. My favorite store in the world is Rich's Antiques, which consists of two neighboring white houses joined by a connecting addition, all of it stacked floor to ceiling with weird and awesome junk/treasures. It is miscellaneous heaven.

I found some great midcentury dinner plates, a hefty, crusty Griswold cast-iron skillet ("Buy it!" Amy commanded, and I listened, she is the chef), a small snowy painting, and a pair of handmade birchbark lampshades.

But the real find of the day was at Bearly Used, the thrift store a block away on Main, where I uncovered not only a quilted flannel for two bucks and a Pendleton shirt for four, but a T-shirt jammed into a crowded upper rack. Grabbing the soft brown edge of it and tugging it into view, I glanced at it indifferently before I realized what I was looking at.

It was a Swan Island T-shirt.

The late great Swan Island was my friends' band. They were based in Portland. Who in Park Rapids had a Swan Island shirt? They played only one national tour, and it was a couple of years ago. They never came anywhere near here--the closest they got was probably the Twin Cities, 200 miles away. The band didn't print a whole lot of those shirts. And, strangest of all: I designed that shirt.

Funny to stumble upon this artifact from my life that was relatively recent--the summer of 2006--but seems so distant now, in both time and place. That was a time when it seemed I saw Swan Island play every week--Mississippi Pizza, Holocene, the Wonder, basements, wherever. I drew that volcano design in black ink on white paper in my unfinished, cluttered garage (which Melissa dubbed my "man-shack"), during a hot week in August, with the garage door rolled up to open a wall of outdoor light, the pear tree in back heavy-limbed with fruit. I did not even have Emmett yet to curl up on the couch behind me. I was living on the last money left from my Norway job.

After making a good go of it, and a couple of great videos, Swan Island played their farewell show last January. The garage is now finished, transformed into a luminous pine-walled studio, and I am thousands of miles away from it. My life in Portland semi-exists still, but tenanted, tenuous.

And stranger still to be faced with my own design, lines drawn by my hand, staring back at me, somehow transported from my adopted hometown to my original one. The nostalgic pang surprises me; it's a shock to realize that something so recent is already gone. The shirt has been worn and washed many times, it's soft and a little shrunken and fading around the seams, but the gold ink still glitters.


carrot quinn said...

A hot water bottle! There's a hot water bottle in that picture! And all those lanterns? Amazing! And it kind of blows my mind that you found that shirt there. Like, someone in that area not only owned it, but they got rid of it. Why?

torrence said...


Also, your favorite technologist pays top $$ for second hand flannels (size 10-12 and/or 12-14)!