Best op shopping story I've read in a long time, big thanks to Dan for submitting it :-)
There is an art to op-shopping.
For many years I have been a keen supporter of any and all types of op-shop. I use to work for the Tip Shop in Hobart – EcoSalv is the Northern Tasmania’s equivalent – and nothing can prepare you for the joys of second hand anything’s better than rooting through pile after pile of rubbish on a tip face. It is kind of like a “Christmas come treasure hunt” and every new discovery brings a smile to your face. The point being, I had amongst my few friends acquired something of a fabled ability to find cheap stuff that actually fit me. Mainly because I always stop in to any op-shop I see, and I’m right in the middle of the bell curve when it comes to size and shape. Nonetheless, I still take great pride in such glorious finds, my lime green safari suit for example. I make no effort to dismiss suggestions of the existence of a secret “art of op-shopping.”
Let me now admit now, I didn’t want to write about my local op-shops, but I’ve moved to Spain. So I can now share the glory of op-shops – specifically Launceston’s – with you.
I began by visiting the City Mission Shop on the corner of Wellington and Frederick and it was here I discovered another “art of op-shopping.” I had just stumbled on a pure woollen blanket, ten bucks a steal, as they’re over a hundred new, when a voice grunted over my shoulder.
I turned around, the blanket clutched guiltily to my chest to discover a small old man smiling questioningly up at me – in much the same way I imagine great white smiles up at surfers. I looked down at the tag dangling beneath my nose and shook it gently towards him. The smile blossomed into a fully-fledged grin and I found myself backing nervously into the blanket box.
“How much?” He asked again, either unable to read or simply preferring to hear me admit the price.
“Ah…ten dollars,” I stuttered out; the ferocity of his stare nearly made me hand the blanket to him.
“Bargain!” He declared and swept away at a slow hobble with such wounded majesty that I remained frozen, wedged in abject terror between the blanket box and his presence.
“There’s more in the box,” I whispered, in an attempt at forgiveness. He stomped on my grovelling without turning back to me.
“Others no good. That one best.” I should have been pleased at this assertion of the quality of my new blanket, but I could not overcome the feeling I had somehow destroyed his day and possibly the future of mankind in picking up the blanket before him.
Unable to sustain my position I fled to the women’s underwear section to lick my wounds. For the next five minutes I patted absently at knickers and massive bras, but my gaze kept returning to the old man. He moved slowly through brick-a-brack, knick-knack section and back to the linen boxes, tugging free blanket after blanket, sheet after sheet and then flinging them down with great sighs. He then moved into kitchenwares and it was here with great reverence he selected a casserole dish, three dollars. He investigated the ceramic structure with the same careful gaze I now focused on him. He wore brown cord pants, a schoolteachers v-neck sweater and a green padded jacket. Held firmly in his hand were at least four of the now outlawed plastic shopping bags, they bludged out of his left-hand leg like a large shiny cyst. (It occurred to me yesterday that these new ‘green’ bags on offer all over Launceston and Australia are bloody plastic too. Stronger then their predecessors certainly, but we now pay for the future privilege of scattering bright green plastic bags with twice the half-life out into our environment. I wonder if the colour green makes them better for the environment, or just harder to see?)
Apparently happy with his choice he began to waddle towards the cash register. I was relieved he had found a surrogate treasure for the blanket, three dollars for a casserole dish, “a bargain!” Yet something remained amiss, he frowned at me from under wiry grey eyebrows. I turned away quickly abashed to be caught staring, only to discover another shopper raising her eyebrows at me, eyes gleaming in challenge. I looked down and realised my hands had twisted their way into an enormous pair of pink frilly knickers. Blushing an even deeper pink I handed the offending pair of knickers to the woman – who looked like she was going to slap me at the suggestion that they’d fit her – and once more fled. By the time I had found refuge in the belt rack the old man had reached the counter. He turned to me and offered a smile reminiscent of his first accept this one seemed genuinely pleased with me. My confusion now peaked for a moment and then I remembered the bags. Where as when he had first challenged me with the blanket a few minutes before they had been flaccid and empty, they now were positively pregnant with stuff.
“The old bugger was thief. An op-shop grafter!”
I had not stolen his blanket I had thwarted his attempts to make off with prize booty.
He was a stoic thief, despite his initial setback because he had quickly refocused his endeavours. Confident once more I swept past him on the way to menswear my blanket displayed proudly on my shoulder like a coat of arms, and snuck a peek into his bags. Wooden spoons, scarfs, sheets and ties could all be seen crowning out his plastic purses.
Faced with a moral dilemma I choose the path of benign observer, my first real taste of journalism. I would watch and let the gods decide. The old man placed the dish one handed on the counter, the three dollars ready and obvious in his outstretched hand. Embedded behind a rack of shirts (Winter Sale: two dollars) I watched with awe as he asked for paper to wrap his dish, and then for another plastic bag. With a little bow of thanks he headed for the door. As he passed my bunker of collared shirts his eyes flashed to me.
“A bargain,” he whispered through an almost feral grin of pleasure, and was gone.
Needless to say I cannot condone the theft of goods from op-shops. At these prices the real theft is if you go out there and buy new stuff.
The City Mission (6331699) has stores in Newnham, and City. St Vincent de Paul (63265551) has one in Invermay, Prospect and a new one in Ravenswood. And the Salvation Army (63318766) has one in Invermay. Kings Meadows and Youngtown. Don’t forget to check out the smaller surrounding towns, as there are shops almost everywhere. I have included phone numbers for all three because they can always do with volunteers to help them continue the great work.
If you'd like to write about op shopping get in touch to be added to the blog :-)