Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Best Shop That No Longer Exists

I did another shift at the op-shop yesterday. It's great because volunteering means I get excellent things even cheaper than I normally would. Two sweet rockabilly dresses and a great jacket for $20 is the sort of charity work I can get behind. Yesterday I didn't find as much funny stuff as last time (although there was a pair of pants with a built in bumbag, for people who don't even want the option of not looking like an idiot), but it did remind me a lot of when I worked at the clothes shop back in Newcastle. I mentioned it briefly in my entry about insane role models, but that brief couple of paragraphs doesn't really do justice to how amazing a job it was.

As I mentioned, the shop's owner hired me pretty much out of the blue, on the basis that I came into his shop sometimes and he thought I was cool. For the sake of a joke, we will call him Bernard. When I started working for Bernard it was just a shift every now and then when he wanted to go do something else. When he realised that I was able to turn up for shifts at short notice (I lived around the corner) and that I had a knack for convincing people to buy things, he started giving me shifts all the time. He was dramatically underpaying me - we both knew it. I didn't care. It was a cushy job and he was a funny guy, so I never pushed the issue. I got to dress how I wanted, read on the job and play my own music. I viewed it as a bonus that I was even getting paid at all.

It was a small shop, with a lot of really unique stuff. Barramundi skin boots, polka-dot tops with suit-style tails, you name it. Because there was a lot of stuff that you wouldn't find anywhere else, people were always very disappointed when I didn't have their size.

"Can you check out the back?" was the most common question I would hear. I would agree to have a look, but it was almost always to humour them. Admittedly, the shop did look like it had a back room. It didn't though. There was a little corridor behind the till, but it didn't go anywhere. Customers, however, didn't know that. Whenever someone asked me to have a look for something out the back, I would just go and stand in the corridor. The whole thing was out of view of the shop, so to the customer it would look like I was disappearing into a vast, stock-filled area. In reality, I would be half-heartedly flipping through the one rack of clothes that we had there. I would open the little bar fridge, the only other thing that was hidden in the corridor, and see what Bernard had in stock. For the record, I never saw anything other than wine and random condiments in that fridge. There might have been half a kebab for a while, I'm not really sure. You can see why I gave my boss the name Bernard. I always pictured him telling a customer that he was going to look out the back for something, only to pour a drink and laugh to himself. 

We used to spend a lot of time laughing at our customers. While there were some great items in the shop, there were also some seriously awful ones. I remember coming in one morning to be shown the latest item of stock. It was a handbag, designed for carrying around a tiny dog. We had hysterics, joking about the kind of person who would buy that. Later that afternoon, I checked in with him on my way home.

"Did anybody buy the dog purse?" I asked. He looked at me with the utmost seriousness.

"A woman has gone to buy a dog so she can use that bag."

I kid you not. I only wish that I could have seen that unfold with my own eyes.

The thing about Bernard was that I could never quite predict what he was going to say. He never felt the need to give his conversations any kind of prior context. Instead, he would jump right to the point. I remember one morning, I came in to open up the shop.

"Do you like dead animals?" he asked me, straight up. I was a bit taken aback. I figured that this was some kind of pop culture reference that I wasn't getting, a band that I should be familiar with but wasn't because I didn't listen to the radio.

"Um..." I stuttered, thinking fast about how to bluff my way through this situation. Luckily, he didn't seem to expect a reply, leading me to a locked cupboard at the back of the shop. He opened it and as it turned out, he meant dead animals in the most literal possible sense. It was a mink stole, the kind with the stuffed head and feet still attached.

"Someone donated it to the shop," he explained, "I'm not sure what to do with it."

I'm not sure what ended up happening to it - it was never put on display. I'm honestly not sure if he was actually against fur or whether he was aware that a lot of his customers were the type of people I call "corporate hippies", the type who are happy to drive an expensive 4WD halfway across the country to attend an anti-coal protest. Although, just because it was never on display doesn't mean it was never sold. He often brought special items out of that cupboard for certain customers and I didn't see it again after that.

Hey. Hey you guys. Maybe it was STOLEn. B-because it's a stole? Guys?


-Smackie Onassis

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