Friday, October 23, 2009

Quality Time

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends,
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?
©1970 Janis Joplin

Hi Dudes, Here's a postcard of somewhere I've never seen or been. I bought it and some others at a garage sale in Denver
From Postcard from Simon, 1996

I'm sure they have "quality time" in other parts of the America, in other parts of the world even. But for me, "quality time" will always be a New England thing.

Quality Aisle, New England Supermarket
This is because I was in New England when I first heard the term used by actual human beings. Well, one human being, to be precise.

I hadn't been long in the U.S., perhaps six months or so. I was standing in a flea market somewhere in Connecticut. This particular flea market was VERY New England. It wasn't anything like the flea markets I'd been used to back home in OZ, where cars would back into their owner's allotted stall space and empty all sorts of unwanted goods onto trestle tables.

The Australian flea markets sold things like pink and blue synthetic wool coat-hanger covers. Old cups with handles and saucers missing. Hazardous one foot square carpet remnants to cover up the worn bits of floor carpeting on the driver's side of the car. Right underneath the pedals. Good one! Bookends hand-carved by someone's arthritic uncle in Therapy 101 class at an old persons' home.

My mother was a lover of such flea markets. She and her friend Del had a stall at one, somewhere in the outer suburbs of Melbourne. Every Sunday stall holders would buy each other's junk - well no one else would. The only difference between that flea market from one Sunday to the next, was whose stall the "bargains" were set up on.

In those halcyon days I was married to the man-who-didn't-believe-in-telephones-or-washing-machines. We'd visit my mother on Saturdays and she'd load the trunk of our car with items she'd gleaned from the flea markets she'd been to during the week. On returning to our home, my husband of the time - he of the no phones or washing machines - would back the car up to the backyard, so that its trunk was directly in front of the garbage bins, where upon he'd empty the contents of the trunk straight into the trash. He was a man of economy of movement. Some would call him pragmatic. I have my own adjectives ...

No, the Connecticut flea market was nothing like those outer suburban flea markets of Melbourne. They were another animal altogether. For starters, there was hardly anything there that anyone without a six figure income could afford. Or had the space for. A Steinway Model M Medium Grand Piano? I didn't think so. An almost complete set of signed limited edition Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post prints? Nice, but I left my check book back at my hovel. Oh look, an Andy Warhol. Love the cans!

As well as the difference in the items for sale, the people at the New England flea markets looked quite different than their Australian non-equivalents. Not a track-suit, not a hoodie, not an Ugg boot to be seen.

So, there I was, out of my element, as Stepford Wives accompanied by Wall Street brokers and Fortune 500 CEOs made their way to the market, strolling patrician-like through the car park, past the Mercedes, and the occasional Lexus. The Lexus's it seemed, were owned by their children. Nice to see parents making sure that their children understand the value of money, showing them that they have to start small.

I was wandering round the middle of the flea market, despairing of finding anything I could buy, when I came upon a man selling old campaign buttons. I bought a few. "Spiro Agnew's Mother now Believes in Abortion". "My President" showing a long-haired Bill Clinton in 1972 not inhaling. HaHa, there was a funny poster of Monica Lewinsky with milk on her upper lip (from a milk campaign at the time). Caption read, "NOT milk".

Walking back toward the car park I paused when I heard a couple, voices raised, arguing. The Stepford Wife was saying, "Hey, wait a minute hon, I am interested in these vintage watches." Irate CEO husband yelled back, "I'm not wasting our quality time watching you look at god-damned watches!"

I was surprised. I didn't think people experiencing quality time could bicker. Imagine what their non-quality time was like! Quality time spent fighting was surely an oxymoron. Or perhaps just moronic.

Urban Ferals on Way to a Flea Market in Australia
So I pretended to look at the watches myself, just to see what would happen. Both husband and wife held their quality ground. The woman pushed a few watches around on the counter, marking time. The man grumbled and paced. He looked at his watch. "We have seventeen minutes of quality time left!" he bellowed. "Suit yourself, when it's over, it's over!" "The sooner it's over the better," the Stepford wife snapped back. "Next week I'll spend it with the dog."

I've always valued education. My own time at the flea market was not being wasted. I'm not sure it was quality time though. Can one person's not-quality-time be another person's quality time? Can one person be in quality time all alone? I think not. But it was certainly a learning time.

Ah my life was so rich. Surrounded by Mercedes and Lexuses, Steinways and Warhols, people with quality time ticking away. The richness of the fabric of my life was beginning to overwhelm me.

Only ten years before, I'd been married to the man-who-didn't-believe-in-telephones-or-washing-machines. I'd thought a flea market was a place where one bought crocheted coat-hanger covers and pre-loved carpet remnants. I'd thought Stepford Wives were characters in films, rather than warm-blooded real human beings with rationed quality-time. I'd thought a CD was a circular thing that made music. Now I was a worldly-wise woman who knew they were high yielding bank deposits and that Basil wasn't Sibyl Fawlty's husband, but was instead a herb with a silent 'h'.

I'd come so far in six short months. The world was my oyster.

I was beginning to understand that America really was, a land of opportunity!

As I stood there in the flea market, I remembered a bumper-sticker popular in the 1980's when an Australian Premier ruined tertiary education in my home state of Victoria. "Six months ago I couldn't even spell enjineer and now I is one".

Now why did that thought come into my head? ...

1 comment:

Boggy said...

But then you never shopped a North Shore (Sydney) flea market, eh? I can imagine the Pymble Stepfords uttering the sam nonsense.
"Oh Lord, won't you buy me, a colour TV, Dialing for Dollars is trying to find me, I'll wait for delivery, each day before three....................."
Good ole Janis. (Her brother is married to an acquaintance of ours here in Tooooson. Is that some claim to fame, or just the third degree of separation?)
Whatever happened to Richard?

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