Once I had a boyfriend, and when he got into my car for the first time he said, “Oh, it’s dirty.” I could tell he was concerned, because it was not just cluttered — it was strange messy. I looked around and tried to imagine what I would think of the owner of a car like that if it wasn’t mine. I moved things out of the passenger seat — shoes, rackets, books, orange rinds, glasses of dried smoothie — but then I thought there was no use in pretending. “It’s just like this normally,” I said. “It just is.” It was a time when I was too worn out to lead anyone on. “Hey, you know I ride a bike,” Sean said.

He said sometimes people flipped him off while he was riding, or threw drive-thru drinks at him from their car for no reason. I told him the… More…

I’ve long been inclined to read stores the way I read texts. The nature and display of merchandise, the style of salesmanship, even the pricing are all signifiers in what, at its best, is an esthetic as well as a commercial spectacle. Some stores create a kind of embrace that is both familiar and strange — rather like a good poem.

In recent weeks, I find myself returning to a store called the Painted Cottage. It’s a furniture store that sells armoires, vanities, ottomans, and armchairs. The pieces are not expensive — rarely does even a large piece exceed $1,000. This is because all the furniture is secondhand, found in junkyards or purchased from estates, then refurbished by the store’s staff. Despite the humble origins of the pieces, the results are delightful: Nails, whitewash, and hand-painted flowers transform a broken-down dresser into a Country French chiffarobe; chintz upholstery turns a… More…