Saturday, October 11, 2008

Looks may be deceiving.

In my Photoshop class the other night, we restored old snapshots, fixing the cracks and tears and discoloration that time and carelessness had allowed. The picture we worked on was a black and white of an adorable little girl, maybe 3 years old, that was covered with scratches, tears and splotches. Half of her arm was destroyed as well as her right cheek, her chin and part of her forehead.

The girl had a serious look about her, like she was an old soul or someone who had seen more than her time on earth should have allowed. She stared out at me with intensity, like she was trying to communicate something I would never believe. The picture reminded me of a war relic. Like it had been discovered trampled in the dirt of an abandoned Vietnamese village by a soldier who kept it because it reminded him of his kid back home, or printed in a left wing newspaper under the headline, "Children: The real casualty of war."

If you looked really closely though, you could see that her dress had a Winnie the Pooh stitched on the front and her traditional wooden sandals were actually just rubber and velcro Teva knockoffs. That kinda killed it for me. I liked thinking I was working on something important.

So, I decided to make her dress plain white, disguise her shoes and pretend.

But first, I had to fix the photo. I started with the background, of course, testing my skills and trying to hit my stride before patching and cloning and painting a child. As my background slowly came together, my classmates moaned and groaned all around me. Aurgh! Her arm looks worse now than before I started. She looks like a burn victim! How much of this can I undo?

By the time I was ready to work on her flesh, I was starting to sweat. Not only was everyone around me struggling, I had been clicking and double clicking for over an hour already and my hand, arm and shoulder were really feeling the burn (I have problems with my "mouse muscles" or "carpal tunnel" or whatever). I had finally figured out how to adjust my chair (it only took me 3 weeks!) but every time I raised it up to a comfortable position, it would sloooowly lower back down as I sat there working. I coudn't feel it happening so I would just notice, suddenly, that I was sitting on the floor with my knees in my throat and my arm up over my head, clutching onto the mouse for dear life.

Despite all this, I actually made the little girl look better, not worse. When I was finished with her arm, it didn't look like a burn, it looked like an arm. A real arm. That I made! I was so proud of myself. I couldn't wait to see what I could do with her full, soft cheek that still looked like a baby even though the rest of her had grown. Would I be able to fix that, too?

I didn't have time to find out before class ended but was pleased with what I had accomplished. I was walking to my car thinking, Burn victim? Ha! when I came around the corner by the men's room and found myself face-to-faceless with one of those partial mannequins in nothing but a Watkins College t-shirt. I couldn't tell if it was meant to advertise new school merchandise or if it was part of an avant-garde exhibit I was too mainstream to understand. It didn't matter either way. All I was looking at were the mannequin's boobs.

OK, not her boobs so much as her nipples. Her hugely erect, sharp and pointy, someone has got to be joking, nipples. If I had been alone in the hall, I would have had to have touched one to see what it was all about. What was going on under there? Two tiny teepees? Crumpled up gum wrappers? A couple of misplaced protractors? Surely that wasn't just the way mannequins were made.

And then I remembered something that made me laugh out loud. That is the way mannequins are made.

When I was a copywriter/buyer at an outdoorsy clothing company many years ago, one of my jobs was to put together looks each season for the mannequins that hung on the walls all around the office. I would dress them in stretch denim cargo pants and plaid flannel shirts in the fall, layers of moisture wicking cotton and water resistant Goretex in the winter, and multi-pocketed fishing shirts and ripstop nylon convertible pants in the spring. In the summer, I liked to keep them as cool and comfortable as possible, dressing the men in Hawaiian shirts and stretchy cotton/polyester cargo shorts with a 4" inseam (our #1 bestseller!), and the women in skorts or wrap skirts and casual tanks.

One morning, right after we dropped the late summer catalog, I was on the way to the break room to fill up my Nalgene when one of the female mannequins caught my eye. I stopped, turned around and walked up to her for further inspection. Her outfit was intact, an Island Dreams Wrap Skirt and Sassafras Knit Tank (in coral), but there was something strange about her top.

Her chest was all bumpy and there was a rippled circle around the circumference of each boob. Since I had already seen her naked, I felt OK about sticking my hand up her shirt to investigate. There was something paper or fabric or...I couldn't quite tell. What the heck? I yanked her shirt up over her neck and two coffee filters floated slowly to the ground and landed at my feet.

I laughed and then made a big production of crumpling up the coffee filters and throwing them away in the break room like, OK, you got me. Coffee filter bra - good one! I went back upstairs and when my friend Karen (or Kevin as I called her) denied the prank, we spent the next hour or so talking about how lame the people we worked with were.

We had no idea.

When we passed the mannequin on the way into the break room for lunch, the coffee filters were back. I ripped them out only to find them back again when I ran downstairs to get a post-lunch Diet Coke. This went back and forth several times before I realized I would just have to buckle down and solve this mystery once and for all.

I confronted all of the obvious suspects first. The weirdo I used to sit across from who got so drunk at the Christmas party that his wife had to wipe the drool from his gaping maw as he tried to form a sentence. The frat boy executives who were not above a little hazing now and then. My friends (once they Photoshopped a bunch of my handwriting together to look like I stuck a post-it on a co-worker's monitor that read, "I hate your ass face. Love, Maggie"). Everyone I suspected checked out. I was stumped.

When I had wrongly accused everyone except the perpetrator of the crime, the mystery solved itself. The mousy, middle aged lady in customer service was guilty by process of elimination. But why? Why would she stuff my mannequin's shirt with coffee filters several times a day? It just didn't add up. I had to call her in for questioning.

She broke under the pressure and told me she just couldn't walk down the hall to the break room with those nipples (she whispered the word nipples) sticking out at her like that. "It's so offensive," she said to me, like I was on her side and would totally understand. "How is it offensive?" I snapped, looking at her like she had just insulted my hard, plastic nipples. "I mean, they're not real you know. It's a plastic torso with no head, arms or legs. What's there to be offended by?"

She looked at me like I had betrayed and insulted her in one foul swoop. "I'm not trying to offend anyone," I offered, backpedaling the best I could. "I'm just doing my job. If we sold bras, I would gladly strap one on her. OK? Just don't put any more coffee filters in her shirt. It's tacky."

Although my boss agreed that the coffee filters were tacky, he still made me come up with a solution for her high beam situation. "But it's a mannequin," I protested. "Yeah, but Cathy's offended," he said, nodding at the word and making air quotes like I couldn't recognize a sexual harassment threat when I saw one. So I spent the remainder of the day cursing the mousy woman under my breath while sorting through samples and accessories, looking for something tasteful to layer or drape over the mannequin's offensive nipples.

I settled on a matching Sassafras Cardigan in coral and threw on a slightly loud but color coordinated scarf for good measure. I was careful to position everything just right so all the offensive bits were disguised. I hung her back on the wall and stood back to look at my work. My carefree summertime mannequin was gone and in her place hung a 60 year old retiree waiting for an iced tea at the Club (not too much ice, dear). Oh well. At least she would no longer haunt Cathy as she hurried into the break room for an egg salad sandwich and some cottage cheese with fruit. And she would offer a daily reminder of what an up-sell should look like. My work here was done.

1 comment:

Katie said...

I want to know more about the little girl in the picture. $20 says I dream about her tonight.