Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Melbourne The interlude - Fitzgeralds burns the toast

So I'm cross legged on the floor of my house tonight, and obviously I didn't win the big lottery prize that everyone was talking about. I've got a pile of e-mails from people who had the money spent before the draw, intricate insights into peoples minds where they share far too much information and then no e-mails since, as if an entire nation woke from it's slumber today melancholy and angst ridden that they still had to go to work. The night after my surprise 18th birthday party, I worked for 6ix hours at Coles, thus meaning I had been awake for something like 37even hours straight drinking, in unrequited lust, and then scanning Mrs McGlumphers roast chicken like it's 19teen9ty9ine. That joke kills at Coles...you see 19.99 is a price, and a so...anyway, never mind the ins and outs of supermarket humour, my lottery tickets lay horribly piled up on the floor, a testament to hype and overexcitement just as much as the myriad of horrific unlistenable albums I bought because of a positive Rolling Stone review. Groceries are unpacked, horrible improvisational comedians flitter and shimmer on a television set with fuzzy tracking lines a constant companion, and there's a largesse of books surrounding my feet - wacky real life travel stories, people who survived things more arduous than an aching knee and an allergic reaction to Rebel Wilson. I'm in torpor and tracksuit because they closed a store in Burnie, my old home town, and I didn't know about it until today. When I say a store, you have to understand it was basically the only store I can remember in my first 6ix years on the planet that didn't sell chips in a paper bag or had a shopkeeper who knew my name and ruffled my hair in a way that became socially unacceptable after 1987...the glory days are long gone of course, I'm sure it's depressing these days and small and pokey and they pipe The Presets over the PA and there's no ramp or piles of surprises for you to uncover...I had an argument today with someone about Twitter (shakes angry fist) and the argument segued into a rant about how not everything from my childhood was great when she was using simplistic nostaglia as her illustration, and I cited Simply Red as my basic tenet, but Fitzgeralds, the store, the place, I wouldn't have any criticism of that...I burned my toast just thinking about it...

I'm not sure if Fitzgeralds would have won any awards for design, but to people living in Penguin in the mid 80tys, it was basically Las Vegas. Given that we got excited about what the new Wally The Wombat fire safety sticker was, you can understand a chain store with a big ramp and a whole section full of toys was enough to cause palpable excitement. I wouldn't say the strength of the store was necessarily organisation. A He-Man toy was hard to find under a pile of clothes and Betamax tapes, and I'm sure 1/2lf the time it was easy to scam the shopkeepers by putting an expensive item on the 5ive dollar table and then waiting for the most stoned of the checkout staff to wander by. I think that's how we got our fridge. It wasn't even the service that made Fitzgeralds memorable. The cheeky urchin who asked for an extra scoop of ice cream in their lime spider was dispatched post haste from the chip smelling restaurant within with a clip around the ear. Now that's not to say the staff at Fitzgeralds lived their day to day existence to a consistent set of ethical principles. It was entirely at their whim whether or not you got fresh food or something scraped together from the bottom of a silver tray. It added a real edge to the proceedings as the 40ty year old single mum wielded her scoop of power over you, as you stood helplessly in Mum bought clothes wondering what you were going to get to eat. 1ne day while I stood in line waiting to be served in the midst of the gristle vs quality food swingometer, a smarmy middle manager in a suit was pitching to one of the Mums that they should have a suggestion box. She said she had an f'n suggestion...and to be honest, I got it about 6ix years later in Coles when my own smarmy middle manager pitched a suggestion box...I don't think Simba was singing in the Coles carpark about circles of life, but I wouldn't have been surprised if he was, avoiding the prostitutes and the out of control trollies as he did so...

I think sometimes Fitzgeralds could have been 3hree huts that sold cheese, cheese and more cheese, and I would have loved it because I had to make an effort to get there. I had to get out of bed early, I had to throw myself on the whims of my parents - and in the mid 80tys those whims were very strange, because they could fight about the most trivial bizarre things, my Dad being a master of finding duality of meaning in the most flippant of comments, a man pre-disposed to finding offence in questions about whether he wanted a cup of tea. So to get to Fitzgeralds, I had to hope at least 1ne of my parents felt peppy and awake, and then if they were talking and motivated and even hinting at leaving Penguin to go to Burnie, I had to allign myself in a perfect universal triangle where my chocolate brown Torana would start, Mums sister wouldn't come to visit and distract her with her beehive hairdo and tales of domestic woe told with a detached Glaswegian irony. If the car was good and there were no visitors, there was still a 3hird problem, that my Mum would decide to head to Ulverstone, or worse, Devonport, where the shops were alien and strange and some of them didn't have toys and a few of them had nothing but clothes and monobrowed girls and we had to sit in Mums friends house drinking tea and I was divorced from television never mind seeing piles of toys. I'm sure there were explorers in new lands who went through less trouble than me just to get a Man At Arms figure. And all that just supposed I myself wanted to go to Burnie in the 1st place, and not just play in the Pampas grass and try and find hidden treasure in the back garden...it was a high point of personal motivation, and if I found a similar motivation today my life could be rich and rewarding...but nothing has motivated me like Fitzgeralds...

Many years later, Fitzgeralds got rebranded as Harris Scarfe, and that was just all wrong, like your girlfriend getting a buzzcut or something. The livery of the store and the cadence of the shopkeepers just seemed all wrong. I wanted to physically grab someone and demand things were stacked in more haphazard fashion and a drunk Santa was on hand from October-December just ready to fall in a heap on command. I was in the middle of my Hicksian winter of 92, and if I did go to Burnie, it was just to say everything was rubbish and kick some cans unconvincingly. Oh I was cool and suave, I really was, sometimes I even kicked the cans quite far, while other times I would kick the can just a little bit. Maybe I mis-heard Bill Hicks, I'm sure he said to stick it to the can. I was smoking at the time, and I had a crush on a girl in Toyworld called Karen, who was I think taking the piss out of my accent but I didn't mind because she had beautiful eyes and was culturally ironic before it became cool. She also didn't understand shame, or wasn't able to spell it if I'm honest, and there's the possibility she had to wear that horrible Toyworld purple bear suit on weekends so there's a chance I kicked her up the arse once, but that's not that point. She didn't like Fitzgeralds, I know that because she found the staff rude - but our burgeoning relationship which consisted of me stealing brief snatches of conversation in between her serving bratty children mostly floundered on of all things a mutual enthusiasm. She began to tell a story about Fitzgeralds from her childhood, about something to do with Santa Claus about a special memory involving the creation of a grotto and how kind and friendly Santa was and I was smiling because I too enjoyed Xmas there, and had looked forward even more than the release of Battle Punch Skeletor over Xmas 87...and then, we realised that our poses had fallen, that I wasn't a cool detached strider through life hustling from town to town, and she wasn't the unattainable ice queen you had to woo...in fact, we'd probably stood behind each other in the Xmas queue, and even then, we'd liked it more than we'd care to let on...

Vale Fitzgeralds, you influenced me more than you would know...

5 comments:

Rebecca said...

And that really high ceiling in the layby section... that used to fascinate me. There were always one or two helium balloons bobbing about up there, with Buckley's chance of recovery.
My major fear as a six-year-old was letting go of my Dollarmite helium balloon in Fitzgeralds... I'm pretty sure I had nightmares about it.

sparsely kate said...

Harris Scarfe is taking over the suburban shopping world. They are everywhere, just like Miller's fashion houses, letting us know that the over 50's unoffensive pastel pants brigade is well and truly ruling the world.

Miles McClagan said...

Ah, layby in Fitzgeralds...would anyone get up and serve you? Would a balloon ever float down? Would you get something better than what you actually lay-byed due to a hilarious mix up? You lay-byed a hose and ended up with the Test Match game...good times...

I would no doubt be outraged about the evil nature of Millers if it wasn't for the fact they make my Xmas shopping for Mum easy...they made this poor big girl in the shop wear a small T-shirt though with big pink letters...I was going to ring Naomi Klein just to protest...

Baino said...

Hey, Kate! Take it easy on the over 50's, I haven't got a single pastel item in my wardrobe!. I'd like to torpedo Millers! Fashion warehouse indeed.

Bit like where I'm working now, it was once David Jones, all posh and smelling of Elizabeth Arden but now it's a ghost town of dead factory outlets, stripped of stock but still with their shop fittings intact and my leviathan of an office on the top floor, smattered with little grey cubicles full of little grey men. Sad to see the old girl go.

Miles McClagan said...

Every single shop seems so uniform now - Big W here, KMart there, it's all a bit rubbish, the older stores seem to be kind of mince now...

The Harris Scarfe/Fitzgeralds chain is now so awful, it's frightening. Piles of shoes and none of the toys...

Charmless to a fault...