Shopping for Safety
The bell on the door buzzed as I entered the shop, a large emporium with worn cedar shelves signifying construction in the last century. I loved the smell of these old shops with dusty stock on the shelves that hadn’t moved for years, some with old price tags in pounds, shillings and pence. The old general store was one of those places that seemed to have everything, a mix of the very old and new.
The bell had obviously alerted Bruce who had been out back, he had been running the store since I don’t know when. Bruce was one of these guys who loved collecting general knowledge from conversations with every patron. He didn’t just sell products, he engaged everyone with life. Bruce had a dry sense of humour, always looking for a pun or aphorism in his banter, his shop and serving others was his life. You may have come into the shop to buy something, but you always left with a pearl of wisdom from Bruce. He would wander out from back in his khaki with white and black striped apron and always say ‘hold on, hold on, Rome wasn’t built in a day’. After the opening ‘g’day’ he would never say ‘can I help you or what do you want’, Bruce always started out with ‘what’s on your mind’.
The greeting today was no different than any other day but my mission this time was going to be a challenge for Bruce. ‘ I heard you’ve just got in those new cans of safety’, I said. ‘Well I’ll be’ said Bruce, ‘news travels fast in this neighbourhood, seems like everyone has the news, I’ve been inundated all morning’. He explained he had only just got in the new cans yesterday, had plenty of old stock but had to clear a whole section of shelving to put the new cans on display.
So, Bruce walked me over to the new section and there on shiny steel shelving were an assembly of cans, advertising, labels and packages stacked to the roof. They were stacked so High, Bruce had a ladder to get to the products on top. I had never seen such a variety of products like this before, looked like this line of stuff was taking over his business. I was afraid to ask Bruce what the new stuff was about or I would have got a 60 minute sermon on the perils and nonsense of modern life. Instead I just asked him to give me some guidance on the new lines, but that isn’t what happened. The new laws now regulated that all businesses had to have new and old safety cans on display in all large workplaces, so here I was to buy my first new can. ‘All this new safety stuff is a bit beyond me’, said Bruce, ‘seems just like a lot of sugar, froth and bubble to me’.
I was short on time so I just jumped in and held up the first one I could grab and said ‘what’s this one’? ‘Oh that’s a Heinrich’ said Bruce, ‘it used to be called ‘Pyramid Plus’, tastes off like it’s past it’s used by date but people seem to want it’. ‘and this one’, I asked. ‘Oh, that’s the one I’ve nearly sold out of already’ said Bruce, ‘its called ‘Fear’ and people seem to like that too’. ‘I’ve got to order more of that, seems people can’t get enough of it’. The words had no sooner left Bruce’s mouth and the door bell rang and in rushed a tradie who interrupted us, grabbed a can of Fear, two ‘Super Large’ Cans of ‘SWMS’ put down his dollars and rushed out. ‘ What’s in a SWMS’, I said. ‘Got me baffled about the taste of that one too’, said Bruce, ‘tastes like paper to me’.
When I looked at all the cans on the shelves, the labels and sizes, I realized I was going to be here for more than 5 minutes. So, I pulled up a stool and decided to get the full Bruce Guided tour. I asked, ‘does anyone bring back their old cans’? ‘Nope’, he said, ‘seems people like to hold on to the old stuff, as well as some of the new’. ‘How does that work’? I asked. ‘Buggered if I know’ said Bruce, ‘when you mix this stuff together it just explodes in your face’. ‘I’ve got a can crusher out back’, he said, ‘hardly used it’.
‘And this one’? I asked. ‘Oh that’s one of the new lines called ‘Process’, said Bruce, ‘it has the new nick name ‘Human’ but it tastes exactly the same as the ‘Systems’ line, just with a new name’. ‘The funny thing about the ‘Systems’ line’, said Bruce, ‘is that everyone complains about it, but they keep buying more’.
‘Well, I’m a bit confused now’ I said. ‘I’ve tried that BBS stuff previously but it has such a bad after taste, when the first guzzle seems so enticing’. ‘The advertising is full of promises, but in the end you feel so bad the next day’.
‘I guess I’ve seen the lot then’, I said, ‘Hang on, what’s that shiny gold can about’? ‘Oh, that’s the re-badged new label for the ‘Zero’ line’, said Bruce, ‘it says it has no sugar but is just choc-a-block full of toxins, the kids seem to like it, and it sells heaps’. ‘What’s it called’? I said. ‘Oh, they still call it ‘Zero’ but the kids call it ‘Target’, leaves an after taste like you wouldn’t believe’. ‘Some of the kids mix it with ‘Fear’ and trip out on it’, said Bruce. ‘Got me buggered why they do that stuff, does their brain in’.
By now the old Roman numeral clock had ticked past the hour and as much as I like the conversation, I had to go. ‘Thanks for the guided tour Bruce, but I think I’ll have one can each of of the old reliables’. I said. ’Ah, so one can of ‘People’ and a can of ‘Listening’ as per usual’? questioned Bruce. ‘That’s right’ I said. ‘Great taste, no fuss and gives you that warm feeling when in a group that you’ve shared the best drop’. ‘The funny thing’, I said, ‘people think both cans are a new line but they’re not’. ‘Great old products as reliable as these cedar shelves’, said Bruce, ‘don’t sell much of it these days’. ‘They don’t fit in these new steel shelves either’, said Bruce, ‘I keep them over with the tonic water, vitamin supplements and ‘Boost’ line’.
So, we wandered back through the store, back to the old section and Bruce blew the dust off a couple of cans and handed them to me. ‘There you go young fella, look what happens when you get a few of these into ya’. ‘All the new lines come with glossy packaging for free’, said Bruce, ‘do you want some’? ‘No mate’, I said, ‘I’ll pass on that stuff, seems like people show more interest in the package than the substance these days’.
With my cans in my pocket and Bruce’s pearls of wisdom in my heart, I set out for the noisy door and the ‘frog and toad’. As I stepped into the fresh air Bruce called out ‘Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do’. And as usual I replied, ‘that’s a promise’.