I was a-bloggin’ away on Wednesday morning when the screen went dark and all was quiet. No more faint high pitched whizzing of the hard drive, and no more low whir of the fridge from the kitchen. I blinked. The power had cut out. Aha, I thought. This has happened before. I hot-footed it around to the front porch to see if the guy from the electricity company had switched us off and left a mean note about not paying the bill. But the switch was still on. I figured that the construction site down the road had tripped something. There was nothing to be done but to get out of the house.
Rachelle was talking to Therese, two doors up, to see if her power was out too. It was. Up the street, shop-keepers were standing around in doorways with their hands on their hips, looking up and down as if the answer was going to be delivered in a taxi speeding down Canterbury Road. The traffic lights were out, motorists were left to their own devices. It was a genuine neighbourhood event.
The Post Office still had power though. I overheard the guy behind the counter saying they had their own generator there, so they could still “get the mail through,” rain hail shine or blackout. Someone in the queue contributed the news that the power was out all over the Marrickville area.
I headed up Fisher Street, past the Council Chambers, where a couple of dozen council office workers were having a celebratory cigarette in the late morning sunshine. I guess they had the same problem as me: no computer, no work. Everyone loves a minor natural disaster.
Up at the Crystal Street Community Shop I was greeted with “There’s no power! We can’t even open the till!” – and then – “But of course you’re still welcome to come and browse…” I asked if Caroline was in. She wasn’t, not due til Thursday. I nosed around a little, considering whether to pick up a nice old chequered woolen blanket, and a professional-looking set of dominos, heavy faux-ivory, in a leatherette case. I put them down again, considering the unavailability of the cash register.
At that moment, a bearded man with a cap breezed through the door. “Is the power out here?” he asked. “Yes!” we all chimed. The Crystal St Shop is a bit like Cheers. It might look like there are four or five people sifting through the second hand clothes for a bargain, but it turns out they all work there as volunteers, or, like me, are just hanging around. It’s right next door to a set of boarding houses, that run all the way up to the corner of Crystal and Stanmore, so I figure plenty of the fellows who live there are regulars at the shop.
As was this one. Bruce, his name is. He was just doing some washing at the laundromat around the corner when the power went out mid-drying-cycle. The lady who runs the laundry was worried, he said, so he’d taken it upon himself to do a mission to find out what was going on. Bruce sized me up and asked who I was. We introduced ourselves, and I explained what I was doing in the ‘sham. He looked curious. “Stay right there!” he said, and dashed back around the corner to let the laundry lady know that there was nothing to worry about, the blackout was suburb-wide.
Bruce returned, and we sat down on the comfy couch opposite the till for a chat. “So what do you want to ask me about?” he said. That was a good question. I don’t really have any questions, per se. And it didn’t really matter with Bruce. The conversation meandered here and there, topics included graffiti, censorship, boarding house life, facial hair and the removal thereof, the colour of our eyes and the various levels of colour-blindness, new-fangled technologies and telephone wake-up call services, and the available sizes of the nice brown five dollar sneakers in the basket next to the couch (unfortunately they only go up to size nine). It was a fragmented exchange, but not at all unpleasant, and certainly I think we took a shining to each other, although I’m not sure that each of us really “got” where the other was coming from.
Bruce kept coming back to his father, who was “a jack of all trades, master of none,” very good with his hands, with woodworking, not so clever with electronic things, and had been in the military: “a very directed man,” he said. And, in a way, so was Bruce. He had a penetrating gaze (which I told him), and sometimes he worried that I found it too disconcerting.
Barbara, the lady in charge of the shop for the day, and another lady, began dragging some big black garbage bags filled with clothes towards the door. Bruce jumped up to help, and I followed. We carried these sacks, which had masking tape labels inscribed “VINNIES” to Barbara’s car. I asked her why one op shop was taking stuff to another op shop. There just wasn’t enough space, she said. While we were walking along she asked me where I was from, and we talked a bit about the nature of the suburb. She doesn’t live in Petersham, but she goes to the church around the corner, which runs the shop. She said she thought it was an interesting place, lots of different sorts of people around, from the boarding house guys to fairly wealthy folks in big houses.
We re-entered the shop. The power had come back on. Bruce went off to check whether his clothes were dry, and I waited for him on the couch. Soon after he returned, a fellow came through the door with a bag filled with hot cross buns. “Is Caroline in?” he asked. (Caroline must be an important person in the world of the op shop). He left the buns for us, and Barbara made us a cup of tea. It felt cosy in there.
A mum and her son came in. “Hello!” they said to us as the door whacked the son on the backside (just as it had done to me the week before). He apologised to all and sundry, but “us regulars” were used to it by then. They were looking for clothes for his dad, who lives up the coast somewhere, and needs new shoes and shirts. The mum kept getting the son to try stuff on. Not that he was in any way the same size as the dad. But somehow they used the consistency of the too-large sizes as an index. The son would refer to Bruce and I, sitting there on the couch, as if we were “fitting experts” and this was a classy boutique. We recommended the five dollar brown sneakers in the basket next to the couch, and indeed, they went for a pair.
A fellow staggered in clutching the handle of a five litre cardboard wine box with his curled up fingers. The box had a nice colour photo of a garden salad on the label. He rummaged through the shells on the counter, selected a few, and then looked around the window display. Bruce looked concerned, and went and stood officiously behind the till. He looked like he was worried things were going to get out of hand, and he called out to Barbara.
In the meantime, the wine guy had found a painting in the window display. He was very taken with the painting, touched and stroked its surface with his fingers. He brought it to the register. “How much for all that?” (including the shells) he asked, pulling out a five dollar note. The painting alone was ten dollars. He tried to get Barbara to let him have it for less, even offering to pay her “double next week”. But she was firm on the price, suggesting that he might like to come back later on, when he’s sober. “What’s sober?” the fellow joked, staggering back out the door again.
“He gets a bit inappropriate when he’s drunk,” said Barbara.
It was getting on towards one, and I had my appointment with Sunny to make. Bruce and I exchanged phone numbers, and I said goodbye to him and Barbara as I dashed out between the traffic on Crystal Street.