Saturday, January 7, 2012

Intermittent Forks

When I was in teacher school, I learned about the power of intermittent reinforcement. That's why casinos are such a lucrative business. People feed slot machines because they want to win big and the sporadic small payouts fuel that hope while emptying wallets. Similarly, the intermittent reinforcements of thrifting keep me coming back for more. Going to one estate sale full of Precious Moments figurines and XXL women’s clothing is validated when I score a pile of vintage wrapping paper at another. I find myself not only scouring thrift stores and garage sales for these treasures, but also the places of daily life. My treasure-hunting-antenna is always up!

As a middle school reading teacher (and reinforcement distributor) in Queens, New York, I was lucky enough to teach a program requiring a class-size of no more than 15 students. Having a small class not only saved my sanity, but saved me money while stocking my prize bin. My students never knew when or for what they might receive a raffle ticket, but the chance kept most of them in check. If intermittent reinforcement can wrangle middle schoolers, it is a powerful force indeed.

As a side product of my small classes, however, I was sequestered away in the old home economics room, which hadn’t been used in several years. Opening the door for the first time felt like cracking the seal on a hyperbolic chamber. The stale-aired room was cramped, dusty, and resembled the inside of a house in desperate need of remodeling. Rows of wooden cabinets lined the walls beneath a mysteriously stained drop ceiling and wooden boxes covered exposed gas jets that remained from the previously removed ovens. Ah, to be a teacher.

Middle school is an inherently strange place, and this environment made the experience that much more bizarre. Weirder still was the fact that many of the cabinets and drawers still contained 40-year old dishes, pans and cooking utensils. I don’t know what middle school home economics class made fondue, but look what I found:

Unless there is suddenly money in the budget to teach the finer points of cheese-dunkery, I’m pretty sure no one will miss it.

Several of the drawers and cabinets had been screwed shut, and on the last day of school, I brought my screwdriver and went to work, hoping to unearth a hidden treasure. What I found was better than a pouch of magic beans: a whole drawer full of silverware, several pieces of which were stamped “BD. of ED. N.Y.C.” Jackpot! I couldn’t dream up a better reward for my harrowed time spent in the throes of NYC public education.

Now, every time I sit down to enjoy a meal I can savor that job as a distant memory, one bite at a time. After all, I earned it.


  1. Very cool indeed! And in dog training we also use positive reinforcement....just like kids...

  2. Instead of a clicker, I used a doorbell. Worked like a charm!

  3. Thanks for the positive reinforcement, sis!

  4. Nice post. You would have loved the Estate sale that I went to today!

  5. Trying to post again with my name this time...

  6. Love your posts. I feel the same way about thrifting.

    1. Thanks Rachel! It's always nice to find a kindred thrifting spirit!