Saturday, February 20, 2016

Hand Surgery

I work in an 87,000 square foot store. There are between 75 and 100 mannequins under my area of control. The first week of the month, in addition to a lengthy list of projects, as many as 75 mannequins are scheduled to change outfits. That is another tale for another day.

If they are doing their jobs correctly as silent sales representatives, the mannequins inspire customers to spend money. Sometimes mannequins inspire a customer to want the clothes literally from the dummy’s back, because the items on the rack are not the customer’s size.

Some customers attempt to remove clothing from mannequins themselves, but ideally, they find an associate for help. Ideally, I will be in the store, not on a ladder eight feet in the air, and can quickly remove the item for the customer and redress the mannequin.

But retail is not always an ideal place.

Often, a nervous associate will attempt to dismember the form, which gets tricky. I know the feeling, because for a year I was a floor associate afraid to touch the mannequins, but sometimes required to do so.

For one thing, across the board, they’re breakable. For another, they’re all different -- some arms attach with magnets and pull off, others are a knob/slot configuration. Some lift up, others lift out. Some twist off at the torso. At least one is bound by the arms to a fixture with security tags to keep it from toppling over. Don’t even get me going on the legs and pant and shoe removal. The newer mannequins are glossy and slippery.

Things happen with the mannequins. Once, an unattended child grabbed a mannequin’s hand, and it came off. He threw it on the floor and screamed. And screamed. And screamed some more. His adults did not reprimand him for touching the mannequin.

The most common mishap occurs during dressing when an arm slides through a sleeve to the floor, fingers first. Like the time I changed a brand new mannequin into the second outfit of her brief time with us. Her slick, graceful arm slid through the Star Wars pajama sleeve and crashed straight into the tile floor. Oops. The Force was with me. The only damage was cracked finish on two fingers.

Recently, a coworker was removing a shirt from a mannequin for a customer. As sometimes happens, the customer decided to “help.” This is rarely a good thing. Trust us, we know what we are doing, or will act like we do. And you’ll feel better if we break something instead of it being you.

When customers “help” things can be thrown off balance. Some one (like me) or some thing (like store property) gets hurt. In this instance, it was a misses mannequin arm that suffered the injury when the customer attempted to assist the associate. The arm fell. Fingers were severed. The mannequin’s, not the associates.

The good-hearted associate searched for glue to repair the damage so she wouldn’t have to tell me about it. Maybe she’s afraid of me. Graced with resting bitch face, even when I’m not mad and I’m just thinking or stressing out over 10,000 things that need to be done, I have the appearance of intensity or something less than bliss.

Anyway. No matter how many times we buy Krazy Glue, nobody ever knows where it is. Luckily, this particular week, the only known bottle of magical adhesive had been given to me a few days earlier and was safe in my custody. So safe, my co-worker couldn’t find it. When she told me what happened, she was as apologetic as if my fingers were broken instead of the mannequin’s.

The day after the incident, the arm, hand, and two detached fingers were laid across my desk. The recently acquired glue was nearby. I examined the manufactured limb. Hollowed out fingers. Hollowed out hand. Something like newspaper inside the opening where one finger snapped off. Inspiration struck.

 A clean napkin was on the shared desk I call home base, which I could tear and twist around a paper clip and insert into the hand and finger for reinforcement. I imagined the wire pin to be like real surgery on a real finger, which thankfully, I’ve never had.

The hardest part of the whole operation was finding a paper clip, because we use binder clips. I finally found one, cut off a piece, and wrapped it in a piece of the napkin. After checking the fit and trimming off some of the napkin, I separated the finger and hand a bit, brushed on some glue, and pressed them together for 30 seconds as noted in the directions, which yes, I do read. It worked, so I did it again to attach the second finger.

The hand, however, had lost three fingers, so feeling all Phryne Fisher from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (my current Netflix obsession), I hunted for the third digit. It was on a sales fixture near the one where the temporarily one-armed mannequin resided.

There are times it pays to have been a broke-ass kid doing art projects on a deadline. In 20 minutes I developed a plan, found materials, located the missing finger, and restored all three fingers to the mannequin hand. It may not have needed the reinforcement of the pin and paper, but in my mind it helped.

The Dana Buchman secondary strikepoint mannequin now has three of the strongest fake fingers in the place. There are cracks along the break line, and someday, maybe I’ll have time to touch up the paint with one of the dozens of mannequin touch up kits in storage.

It was the first time I’d had a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment at work in weeks. Possibly months, but I try not to dwell on it because it’s too depressing. Maybe I should go into business as a low-budget, traveling mannequin hand surgeon.

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