Thursday, June 16, 2011

For the sniff of a pound

Now I love a bargain just as much as any post-war immigrant, and if you throw-in a bit of flattery to boot, I'm anyone's.  So with the sniff of a discount on the frigid morning wind, I found myself shivering on the shady side of the street last Saturday at 10.02, surrounded by a bunch of Greek yiayias and Italian nonnas waiting for the cheap shirt factory outlet to open its doors for the weekly octogenarian stoush between the Aegeans and the Mediterraneans, as they fight over the limited selection of excess garments for their husbands, sons, grandsons and more than likely, their great grandsons.  My plan was to get in and out as quickly as I could before the garlic-laced snarls began and the elbows and walking-sticks started flying.

The bloke who runs the place is of similar ethnic stock to his elderly customers, with both the look and manner of a cruise-ship crooner.  As his trade would dictate, he is always impeccably [over]dressed in a fine, tailored suit and massive cufflinks, and his thick, dark hair is bolstered above his head in one gigantic wave which, if not for the Gulf of Mexico-sized oil slick holding it in place, threatens to crash down on anyone within 6 feet like a devastating, deep-fried tsunami.  His olive skin and hands look impeccably manicured, and this rather dated, visual ensemble is capped-off with a kind of forced affability which is no doubt a winner with the early-morning ladies, but not quite what a fashionably awkward, moderately hung over Donkey is after at this un-Godly hour on a Saturday morning.

Or so I thought, until this Casanova de Couture decided to redirect his charm offensive from the aggressive hoards going mole-covered-head to mole-covered-head on the other side of the store, to quiet, unassuming Donkey who was pretty certain he knew his business when it came to buying a plain, single-pastel business shirt and matching tie. 

"Just these thanks", I mumbled as I unconfidently placed my items on the counter, the correct change in my hand ready to handover as I prepared my bolt for the door.

"A 43, Sir?", he queried with a friendly smile, "Sure, you've got a muscular, manly neck, but you cut a much finer figure than a 43".

Oh shit ... confrontation!  What do I do now?  "Ah, um ... I always wear a 43 when I have to wear a tie", I whisper lamely.

"Sure, you can if you like", he oozes, casting an appraising eye up and down, "but I think it far better to show off, not hide your fine torso.  I would suggest you go with the 42, and if you have trouble with the top button, just pull it off and sew it a bit closer to the edge".

Paralysed with fear at this unexpected buoying of my chronic low self esteem, and with all of my brain's reason-centres completely flaccid, all I can hear are the words, "fine torso" being sung to me in celestial operatic crescendo.  With my vocal chords strung-out like the neck of a rubber chicken, I dumbly accept the 42, hand over my cash and stumble out the door past two gnarled, elderly dwarves having a tug-of-war over a long-sleeved, paisley retro number.

Once across the threshold, as the cold air rushes my cheeks and begins to clear the cotton wool from my flattery-addled brain, I exhale my puffed-up, manly chest that had been swelling with each utterance from the salesman, and with that expulsion of gravity-defying hot air, I assume my usual, stooped slouch as the dread at what I had just done washes over me.  Against all my now-returning reasoning, I was too embarrassed to go back inside to change the size as I knew I ought; I'd been conned, plain and simple.  So, feeling as low and disgruntled as I always do after having bought clothes, I headed home to bury my shame under the doona.

The reason I had broken with my instincts that morning to venture out into the world to buy clothes, was that I had been invited to a very special luncheon this week with the Prime Minister of Samoa; obviously not something which happens every day, and something for which, I believe, requires just a little bit more effort in the wardrobe department than my usual shorts and thongs.  Unfortunately, I allowed my usual lackadaisical, "she'll be right" approach to my work infiltrate my preparation for this luncheon, and so here I was, in the last hours before the city retail outlets shut down for a long weekend, buying an outfit for the event.

The importance of the event, and my ill-preparedness for same, makes my decision not to return to the store for the 43 all the more unforgivable.  "Not to worry, Donkey.  You've got plenty of time over the weekend to sort the shirt and buttons out".  Of course, you're right ... but did I mention my lackadaisical, "she'll be right" attitude to everything?

At 11pm on Monday evening, literally 12 hours before I was due to shake the Samoan PM's hand, and share with him a pre-lunch sherry in the palatial reception hall of Government House, I sat with shaking hands trying to sew a button on my new shirt such that I would be able to do it up and adorn it with my new tie.  No worries – all done by 11.45pm; thread broken, shirt put aside, and off to bed.  Absolutely no need to check if I'd done it right.

The next morning was the usual, pre-work flurry of breakfasts, showers and cleaning Hambones' projectile porridge off the dining room wall.  As I got ready to leave the house, I decided not to wear my tie on the tram, but rather preferred to leave my top button undone until I was due to head to my luncheon.

Upon reaching the office, it was all wolf-whistles and lewd remarks from my workmates who were astonished at my lack of open footwear, and I was urged to don the tie for a squiz.  "Too busy!", I scoffed, and went about my work.

At about 9.30pm, I got a call from the big boss requesting a word about something else, and only then did I decide to put on my tie, and present the full ensemble.

No worries – the button did up easily, the tie slid on and I went on my way ... NOT!  Now THAT would have been a shit story!  What really happened, as my huge, bratwurst fingers wrestled with my collar, was that my knees started shaking, my "oh-so-buff" shirt became drenched with sweat and my already ruddy face became aflame with embarrassment and shame.  What the fark was I going to do now?  I was due to meet the Prime Minister of Samoa in just over an hour!

Immediately I set about trying to find a needle and thread ... but this was a modern, Australian office, not the set of Mad Men; there were no hot secretaries to be ever at the ready for any kind of crisis, with a secret stash of aftershave, freshly-ironed trousers or a sewing kit.  No one had anything like that – I was totally screwed.

Forty minutes later, after having jumped on a tram to fashionable Chapel St, been swindled by possibly the only designer-label sewing shop in the Southern hemisphere, and having legged-it 1.5 kilometres back to the office, I was sitting, shirtless on a toilet seat, squinting in the dim light as I tried to thread the expensive cotton through the needle.

With the precious seconds ticking like a great, booming base drum in my ear, I fumbled again and again with the pointy implement, but finally emerged from the cubicle, ready, like a champion female weight lifter from Eastern Europe, to attempt a final clean and jerk to affix my top button.

Again and again I extended my neck, screwed-up my face, sucked-in my breath, wiped my sweaty hands ... all to no avail.  It was about five millimetres too tight ... I was totally screwed; the first ever cretin to be invited to lunch with a national leader, only to be refused entry through inappropriate attire.  In a final burst of desperation, my eyes burning with humiliating tears, I reached for the scissors and cut along the button-eye, extending the hole by the required five millimetres.  My shame burned hotter than ever as I saw the frayed mess I had created, and with little enthusiasm, I twisted my body into one final attempt ... urgh, argh, uuurgh ... yes!  It went in!  It went in!  Aaaargh!  Noooo, it slipped out again; my sharp-scissored handy work had made the hole too big for the button.  That was it.  I was done for.

And just at that point, as my self esteem plummeted into the depths of dark despair, some kind of physiological, auto-pilot thing took over, and against all reasoning, I decided to give it one more go.  With my body convulsing in audible sobs, I pushed, and twisted, and sucked-in air, and wrestled and again the button went in.  This time, I was too scared to let go, but with the wall clock now indicating 'Time', I had no choice.  Very slowly, I exhaled, and one at a time, I took my trembling hands from my neck.  It stuck.  Just as gently, my face turning from shameful red to oxygen-starved blue, I slowly secured my new tie, and only when all was in place and seemingly staying together did I dare breathe.

I'd done it!  Off I went to Government House, and after presenting my credentials at the gate, I glided into the ornate reception hall and to the warm handshake of the Honourable Prime Minister and his entourage of Samoan Parliamentary Ministers.  As the PM and I exchanged platitudes, I was again struck, as one often is after having not been around Samoans for a while, just how massive they are; big armed, big legged, big bodied and big necked.  Hang-on!

And suddenly I was reminded of the difficulty that many senior government officials in Samoa, as the few amongst their countrymen who ever have occasion to wear ties, wrestle with every day.  Due to the sheer impossibility of finding a shirt that could ever reach around those massive necks, every one of them gathered there that morning wore his tie at half mast, having tried in vain to secure them as high as possible, without having been able to affix their top buttons.

I'll never, ever try to save money on clothes again.*

You try getting a shirt around that neck.  Pic:

* - I have absolutely no intention of honouring this pledge.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

JB. You've done it again

Despite the changin' times, there are some things in life which have, at one time or another, been so much an enjoyable part of who I am, that even if I don't do them as often nowadays as I might like, they still make me feel fantastic, as soon as I embark upon them.

Case in point; I really love a visit to JB HI-FI.  Sure, I might only drop-by once a year these days (instead of at least once a week, as of yore), and sure, the majority of the titles in the CD racks (not to mention some of the CD rack categories) are completely foreign to me, but still, the sense of excitement and anticipation I get when I step across the electronic sensors into that world of yellow, plastic sticky tape just gets my consumer juices going.

While I was only really ever into the CDs side of things at JB, I know there's always been something for everyone there; music DVDs, TV and movie DVDs, hi-fi systems, TVs ... and now a pretty comprehensive range of computers and i-pads – these latter items not really being my bag, but the fact that they are the bag for so many others merely adds to my enjoyment of the place.

But there's something I need to make very clear from the outset, given my observations from today's visit to JB Hi-FI.  While I love/d spending hours and shit-loads of cash on the acquisition of eclectic music from their copious range of fine reggae, dub and alternative rock, and while I even occasionally wandered through their DVDs and hi-fi equipment for a bit of a poke and a giggle, I never once lost sight of the fact that everything in that store was comprised of items that I may WANT, but never constituted anything that I, nor any other member of humanity could ever honestly believe they might actually NEED.

So today, as I was wandering through and having to chase Hambones along isles that I never really knew existed (who knew JB sold turntables, or "decks" as I believe the young folk call them?), I eventually found him after a few, heart-stopping moments of lost contact, in front of a massive array of flat-screen TVs (or should that read, " array of massive flat screen TVs"?).  As Hambones proceeded to place is grubby mitts over every one of those impossibly large, shiny screens, one couldn't help but be blown away by their amazing colours and picture clarity.  To enhance this, as these places often do, they had a DVD playing on every one of the thousands of screens, flying you over Antarctica in a balance-altering helicopter one minute, or riding across the African savannah on an abdomen-jolting elephant the next.

As I struggled to pry Hambones' vegemite-smeared paws off an IMAX-sized screen before I got caught by one of the black-clad Easter Island statues which moonlight as JB security staff, I noticed that each of these amazing images were punctuated with writing over a blank screen, which on further investigation, constituted facts and messages about environmental degradation and conservation, climate change, population explosion and other determinants of the health of our dying planet, and I gotta say, it really stuck in my craw.

Here I was, surrounded by walls of massive, shiny, black, plastic, electronic devices, any one of which would probably feed a whole family for a year amongst two-thirds of the world's population; basically the epitome of consumer-driven greed and superfluous acquisition, and they were using messages of peace, conservation and global socialism to sell them.  Surely someone was taking the piss?  I might have thought so, if the footage between each message wasn't so brilliantly drawing my two-year old son under its spell, not to mention a number of others who may have had more years under their belts, but seemingly equivalent intellect.

I get it ... we've gone too far.  While on the one hand, the screaming, talk-back radio listening mobs of Western Sydney Aussie Battlers surviving on the poverty line are leading a national outrage directed at a government which, simply because there seems to be just no other way to tackle the urgent global crisis of climate change, is threatening to "tax us within an inch of our incomes", on the other, everyone still seems to have enough disposable income to purchase a television which is so large that one needs to knock out a wall to get it into their living room.  We're so sick, twisted and confused with our own wealth and greed, that even messages of reduce, recycle and reuse, punctuating breathtaking imagery of what we'll lose if we don't, actually spurs us on to consume more.  Get me outta here!

You can just imagine how big the telley is!  Pic: