Posted by: Brad Nixon | October 13, 2010

In the Store of Secrets

The ramshackle, single-story building on a side street had no sign, and no address other than the numbers painted on the curb in a crude ┬ástencil. I looked twice up and down the unfamiliar street before I got out of my car and headed to the entrance. I swung open the heavy wooden door of the shop. An old-fashioned bell jingled, attached to a cable, to alert the shopkeeper that the door was open. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to dim interior after the bright sunlight out on the side street of this dusty, forgotten corner of one of Los Angeles’ rarely-visited suburbs.

I looked around at shelves and tables where all sorts of goods in boxes and bags were stacked in seemingly random order, from boxes of outdated electronics to household cleaning supplies and what might have been old farm equipment. Everything seemed covered with dust. Even the still air in the place seemed to be full of suspended dust motes.

A dim light — whether from a clouded-over skylight or a failing light fixture, I couldn’t tell — fell on a long counter, where sat a huge vintage brass cash register. I picked my way there through a jumble of old toys and garden supplies. I stood at the counter for a moment, then saw movement to my right and turned to see an old, stooped man wearing an open collared white shirt and dark slacks. He looked at me, returned to his stooped walk, came behind the counter and faced me.

“Help you?” he asked me, looking up and revealing surprising blue eyes under his heavy dark eyebrows.

“Oh, hello,” I said. “I was told that you might have something I’m looking for. Uh, do you have any, uh, well, you know, special items, maybe in back?” and I gave him a Meaningful Look.

“I don’ know vat you talkink ’bout, sonny,” he said in an accent that might be from nearly any continent except North America.

I knew it would be like this, just as I suspected that I had been sent on a wild goose chase altogether. I decided not to be coy. Either he had the stuff or he didn’t.

“Look, I’m trying to find replacement blades for my Ginsu III razor. They don’t have them anywhere and the Ginsu IV is so insanely expensive, I’m ready to stop shaving.” There. It was out; my dark secret. I knew I wasn’t alone, but there was no one at Ralph’s or CVS or Rite Aid to help me. The escalation of the Razor Wars had made my old three-blade razor obsolete — all the refills pulled from the shelves — replaced by its incredibly-expensive 4-blade successor, with rumors rampant that the monster 5-blade “Ginsu V Dominator” was soon to follow. When would it end? Already the closely-packed 3 blades of the Ginsu III clogged up after about four shaves, and the Ginsu IV was good for two or three; it was reasonable to assume that the Ginsu V Dominator would deliver one incredibly close shave, and then be unfit, the infinitesimal spaces between the five metal slivers clogged with old goo. Gross! Not only that, it required a credit check to be able to buy the IV, and the buzz was that escrow agents would be on duty at check-out stands to expedite financing for the even more expensive V!

Word had reached me (don’t ask me how) that there were secret caches of remaindered Ginsu III blades, and that this was one of them.

“Don’ know vat you talkink ’bout” the old man said.

I thought of Bond. I thought of Patrick McGoohan. I thought of Paul Newman facing down Richard Boone in “Hombre.” What would they do?

“I think you do know,” I said, and slid a twenty out on the counter. “I’m a buyer, and I’m prepared to pay for Ginsu III blades.” And I waited.

The old man looked down at the crisp green on the counter but didn’t touch it. He looked up at me, and without a word walked back toward the right, from where he’d entered. I followed.

“Vatch het,” he said as he ducked through a low doorway. I went after him into an even dimmer, close room that seemed packed from floor to ceiling, wall to wall with boxes of merchandise. The old man went to the center of the room, reached out and pulled a string that turned on a single bare┬ábulb.

The light revealed a treasure more startling than King Tut’s Tomb; the cramped room was crammed full of out-of-circulation razor blade refills from the past: from every manufacturer, going back to the ancient days when razors had only a single blade. On the far wall was the end of my search: dozens of boxes of Ginsu III refill blades!

He looked at the pile of treasure and then looked back at me without a word.

“Wow,” I managed. “Where did you GET these?” just stalling and not really expecting an answer.

“I haff sources; pickers, wrecked truck shipments, sometimes bankruptcies; you know, dere’s alvays tings comink, goink.”

I could only stand, staring at this incredible clandestine trove. The old man seemed to lose patience and said, “Zo, you vant any dis?”

I looked at him. “I’ll take it.”

“How many you vant?”

“Uh, all of ’em. Everything.”

“Ev’ryting?”

“They’re not making any more of ’em, are they?”

“Hmmph,” was the old guy’s only remark.

It cost a lot, but I paid. I noticed that 20-spot still lying on the countertop where I’d put it. I considered slipping it in my pocket, but you never knew who else might be here in some corner of this little joint; might not be worth the trouble of trying to get it back. One more of the day’s expenses.

It was a big armload of boxes and as I picked ’em up and started toward the old man said, “You crazy, sonny? Don’t go out de front: somebody see you. Use de back way,” and he gestured to a door I hadn’t seen, nearly obscured by a pyramid of Cabbage Patch dolls in their original boxes.

Man, for the first time in my life, I couldn’t wait to get home and shave!

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Responses

  1. Brad – your words resonate within me – I too am regretting the passing of the older blades, the ones before that gummy “lubrastrip” you can’t get away from these days.

    And those old dusty stores with cranky proprietors and strange notions about pricing (whichever direction) — getting harder to find as time goes on.

    Like

    • The Counselor will be delighted to read your comment — she refers to that “lubrastrip” as “the slime strip,” because it’s on women’s razors, too. I did not include that bit of gross detail in the blog, but now you’ve corrected my omission!

      Like

  2. ginzu III! you finally quit the old straight razor your dad got you for your 15th birthday?

    Like

    • Lost it in a craps game in the hold of tramp steamer in the Malacca Straits.

      Like


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