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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Friday, June 15, 2007

Mannequins with Attitude

When I was a kid, I'd ride my bike up to Eastgate Center in Roseville, Michigan, and roam the toy aisles of a 5&10 called S.S. Kresge and a department store called Federals (which later burned down making room for the K-Mart that Kresge's became). Throughout my high school and college years, I suppose I shopped as much as the next guy, but sometime back around mid-life (after years of living in a house full of females), I lost the "thrill of the hunt" when it came to shopping. It became something to avoid if possible and endure when necessary.

Nowadays if you see me at a mall, I'm either wandering in an aimless daze or sitting at one of those upholstered "pit stops" where people consolidate their findings into the most prestigious bag and begin another lap. Me, I’m working on a different kind of lap—the one with my lap-top on it. Yes. I now write in malls. I shop for observations as I wait to see what my brood has bagged, and my wardrobe is none the worse to wear since there’s always something in the bags for me. I’m happy; my family's happy; it’s a pleasant arrangement.

With my oldest daughter’s wedding just two weeks away, I'm finding myself shopping more than usual. It started several weeks ago when I was fitted for a tux. On one of these delightful odysseys, I discovered a dramatic change. It probably began years ago, but it suddenly jumped out at me—Mannequins have attitude! Have you noticed?

When I was a kid, mannequins (or “peoplequins” as the industry no doubt now calls them) were pasty-peach-colored creatures made of some sort of plaster. These humanoid forms were forced into mechanical poses like the one Dorothy’s Tin-man is in as he murmurs “oil can” through his rusty jaw. Mannequin faces had a pleasant soul-less stare and painted grin that seemed to say, “I’m fake. Please don’t look too closely at me, but do look at these fine overalls I’m wearing. They're on the rack behind me.”

The female mannequins, if alone, seemed poised and friendly and if paired as mother and child, they were as matronly as June Cleaver. The brother and sister pairings looked like classmates eagerly heading back to school—right off the page of a “See Spot Run” Reader.

By contrast, today's post-modern mannequins tower over store guests like pouty models glaring out at the end of the fashion show runway. They don’t speak, of course, but if they did, their voice would be nothing like Dorothy’s or Tin-man’s—it would sound Italian or French—anything but Kansan as they whisper without looking your way: “I look great in this outfit, but then I look great in anything. I don’t think you should buy this—it wouldn’t look good on you. In fact, I think you’re in the wrong department.” If you think I'm misreading their attitude, go to window mannequins.com and click the word video. These mannequins seem starved for attention and sure that they will get it.

The old mannequins had no such conceit. They were plaster and had the dings to prove it. Each of them was as bald as a melon and at one time or another had spent entire shifts waiting for a wig during store hours. How petrifying! Not that the wigs were a big improvement—they clung to their heads like German WWII helmets—and they were just about as hard. (I once cut my finger trying to adjust the bristly bangs of a posed child whose wig was out of whack.)
To get a true picture of how bad mannequin hair was in the 50s and 60s, imagine taking your sister’s biggest doll and dipping its hair in a can a varnish then letting it dry on wax paper for a week. Peel off the doll’s head, and that was the basic style, sheen, and stiffness of mannequin hair. It was that incredibly bad hair that kept the old manikins humble, that made them whisper, “Please don’t look at me—look at the outfit. It will look even better on you. Or look at this pinafore my little girl is wearing. Cute isn’t it?—don’t mind her bangs. Some kid already tried to fix them.”

There’s another reason the old mannequins were humble, and since the vast majority of shoppers are women and the vast majority of mannequins are female, I’ll try to be discreet…. In the old days, if you happened to pass a manikin display during the changing of an outfit, the poor gal looked humiliated. The articulating joints were exposed and the arms were torturously contorted as clothes were wrestled on and off. The really old mannequins stopped caring long ago—sort of the way my 96-year-old grandma acts when she discovers the back of her hospital gown isn’t tied shut. “Is it drafty in here, Tom, or is it just me.” No harm done, because even at their most exposed moments, the old plaster manikins were about as anatomically vague as the portly patient in Milton Bradley’s “Operation” game. (You remember the guy, “Remove funny bone.”) This is not the case with the new manikins of the 21st Century.

Near the end of the excursion that prompted these thoughts, I was writing at a mall waiting for my wife and daughters to drop (as in “shop till ya”). Across the way, in the front window of some trendy clothing store, a young lady was changing tops on four shameless mannequins who just stood there casting sultry gazes at the young men passing by. The men smiled back as if they could hear their French accents through the glass. One girl yanked the hand of her boyfriend, “What?” he laughed, casting one more backward glance. Just then a group of young men with an eye for detail actually stopped to gawk. The window dresser nonchalantly turned her subjects' backs to the window and quickly finished the change. Only after the wolves moved on, did she turn them around to face the public once again. In spite of the drone of the mall, I'd swear I heard the plastic supermodels whisper to each other, “Don’t we look Mahvelous?”

It's sort of sad when you think about it. The need to be clothed has been replaced with the need to be noticed—not cared for necessarily... just looked at. The mannequin industry is the embodiment of this obsession. Millions of dummies are setting our pace, yet they seem so lost. We look to them to know how to look, but they don't look back... they seem to see right through us.

(Note: That last link one-step-beyond CREEPY. Be sure to check it out.
I have a growing "Honey-do" list to attend to between now and our joyous occasion on June 30. New posts may be scarce in the meantime, but read again and send a friend. =)
.
Revised former draft 2004. © Copyright: 2007

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33 Comments:

Blogger SusieQ said...

This is a very funny post. I remember how manniquins looked when I was growing up and shopping with my mother. I recall seeing a few bald ones and ones with a chip here and there. But what comes to mind right now is how delicately formed were their hands. I think I have mentioned this before, but I notice people's hands.

Best wishes to your daughter and her groom. And don't ask your wife how much you are dishing out for the wedding. Believe me, you don't really want to know.

15/6/07 11:38 PM  
Blogger jmb said...

Hi, this is a great post. I really enjoyed it. I've brought my westie to your site to visit although I've been before. I see you at Josie's site often. I think you are a good writer and have enjoyed the posts when I visited before. Perhaps I didn't leave a comment then but this time I'm leaving my westie picture behind.

15/6/07 11:53 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi, and thanks for visiting my blog :-)

16/6/07 12:48 AM  
Blogger JR's Thumbprints said...

We had a repeat offender at our facility. His crime: breaking and entering. Seems he'd fall in love with a mannequin and steal it. Talking with some of the other prisoners, I suggested us taxpayers chip in and buy him his own mannequin; it'd be cheaper than having to house him at $34,000 a year. An older gentleman said, "It won't work. You can't control which mannequin he'll fall in and out of love with. He may see a different one, and that's when it'll happen all over again."

As for my job: I teach all year long, summers included.

16/6/07 1:02 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

SQ,
In the beginning, we were setting all sorts of parameters, but at this point, you're right... it's too late. The good news is Julie is a superb bargain shopper--a REAL frugal dollar stretcher-- and we've raised a house full of bargain shoppers who get a kick out of showing me something and saying "Guess how much?" (which really means guess how little something cost.) This will be a very nice event--not "money in no object" nice--but very nice. Part of the Honey-do list I mentioned is helping make "silk purses out of sows ears" so to speak for the event. (The RSVPs have gone considerably beyond the projected 350 in the past two weeks. =)

JMB,
We just love our Westie. They are a breed that gets better with age. When he was younger he was--not a terror--but very much a Terrier. Now he is a dog who enjoys being wherever we are and resting his head on the nearest lap or shoulder.
[Others, enter comments to see her West Highland Terrier.]

Crystal,
I enjoy reading about people's journey.

JRT,
In this beautiful but broken world I suppose there is a psycho for just about every possible perversion. That's as creepy as that last link. I wasn't sure about the "school year" in our prison system. I hope you still have plenty of time to go cat fishing. At least once a summer, I spend some time on Lake Huron. My childhood beach is just north of The Blue Water Bridge.

.
Off to work on the trellised arch/bench were using as a "gift table" setting at the reception.

16/6/07 6:41 AM  
Anonymous Rhea said...

That was fascinating. 'People-kins', huh? Makes me realize I have to mien your archives for other good stuff. Gonna blogroll you, too.

16/6/07 6:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I laughed about the 'wrong department' but sometimes it is not funny. My son was with my husband and I at the mall some time ago. He is almost 16 and a good kid. We walked past a certain store I will not name and his jaw dropped in shock. His face turned red. My husband said,'Malls should have somr rules about showing skimpy underwear right out here in the main drag." What are they thinking? I feel bad for todays young men. We crossed to the other side on the way back.

16/6/07 9:22 AM  
Blogger SusieQ said...

Tom, I left a couple of comments to your previous post regarding your Divine Conspiracy link. It isn't working, and I think I know why.

16/6/07 10:02 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Anon,
Thanks for keeping the name of the store a "Secret." That store's TV commercials have the same effect in a living room full of mixed company. I never thought of it but it does seem reasonable for Malls to have some sort of standards for the areas seen by all ages of children. Today's kids are involuntarily bombarded with more "provacative images" than any previous generation.
My wife and I took our youngest daughter to see Nancy Drew last night. The young couple in that film model a refreshingly wholesome approach to the teen years--maybe it will set a trend.
I'm going to try a link to a poem in my November 06 archives that sort of addresses this:
Grow Slowly Girl

SQ,
I'm on a short break between "Honey-do" items. If the above link works, I must have solved it.
If not, you know where to send help.

16/6/07 12:18 PM  
Blogger SusieQ said...

Hoorah! Da link she works.

16/6/07 1:20 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

reah,
Glad you stopped by. Lots of early and late "boomers" read here (and even some post-boomers '70s children). Thanks for adding me to the blogroll at The Boomer Chronicles.

SQ,
It took two tries so I guess I'm batting 500 thanks to your coaching! =)

16/6/07 1:30 PM  
Blogger Josie said...

Tom, what a great post. And it's so true, isn't it? I remember the older manniquins, but I find the newer ones intimidating. They all look as if they're in a nightclub that I wouldn't be allowed into. I'm not sure I would want to buy the clothes they're wearing because they're almost "out of my league". And some of them are just a little too realistic.

Happy shopping, and good luck with the "honey-do" list. This is an exciting time for you and your family. Enjoy!

Cheers,
Josie

16/6/07 4:51 PM  
Blogger leslie said...

Tom, your poem brought tears to my eyes - will you read it at the wedding reception in honour of your daughter? There won't be a dry eye in the place!
Enjoyed your take on mannequins. It reminded me of a spooky movie I saw eons ago (can't remember the name) where someone was hiding among the mannequins from a murderer...or something like that. They're creepy, for sure, and should keep their clothes on! lol

16/6/07 6:48 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Josie,
Got lots done today (including two Class of 2007 open houses).
I wonder what customers would think if mannequins were designed to be "average" imperfect body types in stead of perfect. It may actually be a nice change.

Leslie,
I'm glad the message of that poem came through. That picture (with "Grow Slowly Girl") is over 20 years old. We used to take Sunday naps like that. I'm pretty sure I'll be keeping my lines to a minimum that day. =) I did make that poem into a nice card for her a back when I posted it in November. Emotionally, I'm doing surprisingly well for a sentimental guy, but I watched the intro of a video my brother Dave made for the service and reception and I'm pretty sure I won't be watching it as I wait to walk her down the aisle. =) [Woah! Just typing that gave me pause.] I may have Dave save some portions as Youtube clips so I can link to them. He'a a very good film maker.

16/6/07 10:45 PM  
Blogger SusieQ said...

Happy Father's Day!

17/6/07 1:38 PM  
Blogger J_G said...

Happy Father's day Tom!

I finally have a little time to do some blogging. I remember a movie from the late 1980s called Mannequin. The reason I remember it so well was because it was shot in Philadelphia and the window that was featured in the movie was John Wanamaker's which for more than a century was the most prestigious and beautiful store in Philadelphia.

The story line was about a young man looking for his calling in life and finds that he is very talented in window dressing. The mannequin in the movie comes to life and is played by Kim Catrall (Sex in the City). The young man falls in love in love with the mannequin and she comes to life permanently. The movie was a bomb for the most part but John Wannamaker's was an important part of my childhood years.

My Grandmother Gallagher would take my brother and I to listen and see the huge Pipe organ in the Court of Wanamaker's and see the Christmas decorations. Wanamaker's is now Macy's and it is not the same. Philadelphia, which I always considered to be my home town has become nothing more than a crime center run by criminals. It's not safe to go downtown unarmed anymore. It's a crying shame!!!!

The scariest mannequins (if they can be called that) were at the Madame Tussaud's Wax museum. There used to be a branch in Atlantic City before it became gamblized. The figures in the museum used to scare the heck out of me when I was kid. Atlantic City used to be a real wacky and fun place before the gambling came to town. It was sort of like a city with a cheezy carnival atmophere.

I remember Kresge's, W.T. Grant, F.W. Woolworth. They were fun places to go to find things you couldn't find anywhere else.

17/6/07 3:01 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Thanks, SQ and J_G,
We went to one of my favorite places to eat on the waterfront. It's where I took my son-in-law-to-be when he asked for my daughter's hand.

J_G,
I think maybe Leslie was talking about that same movie and it sounds like JRT knows an inmate who has seen it--and maybe tried to live it out! Yikes.
The old stores were great. Where I grew up in the Detroit area there was Hudson’s which eventually got bought out by Dayton’s (aka Target). The sad thing was they imploded the building to make way for Ford Field. I was writing about it back on November 23-24 2006. I'll will pick up where that story leaves off next November.

17/6/07 5:52 PM  
Blogger Tracie said...

Great post Tom! I will look at mannequins completely different now. Especially after that last link....very creepy.

I'll be thinking about you all in the upcoming days as you get ready to 'give away' a daughter. Congratulations on the upcoming nuptuals!

17/6/07 6:19 PM  
Blogger Lone Grey Squirrel said...

An astute observation of our changing values. Sad but true. Young ladies need to be given their sense of self w Happy Father's Day.

18/6/07 2:10 AM  
Blogger Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Arggh. I pressed the publish button by accident. That second last sentence should read. "Young women need to develop their sense of self worth through the love of their father. I really believe this. Many women who did not have a strong loving and supporting dad, often open themselves to abusive relationships with men due to a low sense of self worth." Okay that seemed a lot shorter in my head! Lol. Happy Father's Day.

18/6/07 2:46 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

LGS,
"Arrgh" I speak Pirate, too. =)
So true what you said about young ladies. A great reminder on Father's Day (or the day after). Dads need to be sure to emphasize the qualities in girls that mannequins don't possess and can't portray. They need to show lots of appropriate affection and share countless hours of "couch time" watching well-chosen "chick flicks" (and pointing out when one was not so well chosen). There's also shared chores and tools and school and sports and cars and all sorts of shared life, too. That relationship becomes a foundation for healthy relationships later on. Not to mention that "suiters" see it and it helps set a tone of respect toward the home and the girl during dating.

18/6/07 5:40 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Tracie,
That link could be called mannequin grave yard.
We are enjoying the preparations and passing days. I've taken the advice of some trusted friends who have alread been where I am and keeping some distance from the details but staying near enough to help when the ladies need me... thus the "Honey-do" list. =)

18/6/07 5:52 AM  
Blogger a brand new high school english teacher said...

Thank you for sharing Mr. B's story - I've been asked far too many times to count over the past two years why I have decided to change careers - "especially teaching high schoolers, are you crazy?" I haven't had one simple answer, but the consistent one I've found myself giving is that I just have to/need to/want to do this. I'm beginning to see that it is these "teachable moments" that I am so hoping to experience and to learn from myself! Please stop by once school opens - or anytime - to share in my trek. Peace, Amy

18/6/07 4:31 PM  
Blogger the walking man said...

So Tom what you're saying as far as he upcoming nuptials is you gave the wife the checkbook and are there to carry the extra packages?

You know for some reason I have aversions to malls, not fear of being in them or anything like that but I don't know maybe a year and a half ago was the last time I was in one and I saw the same stuff that has always been in them dolls in the window dressed in clothes most people can't afford but would like to.

Frustrated parents of young toddlers trying to manage packages, strollers, and babies and of course the gaggle of teen with no money to spend but at least out of the weather.

I remember the old wooden floors of Kresge stores and free standing Cunningham's, Federals and Hudson's down town and even that store a poster mentioned in Philadelphia because I lived there and it was their downtown Hudsons.

Now that i am a small art of the artist community i have enough friends who make things when I need a gift or actually whatever, I will go to their houses and walk their squeeky wooden floors and pretend the walls are lined with merchandise as we discuss what stones or lengths or fabrics.

Better than being stuck in the husband benches anyway.

Peace always tom

and remember as the next two weeks pass...breathe...in...out...in...out

18/6/07 5:17 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Amy the "brand new English teacher,
Welcome to POI. I loved teaching English (and its related subjects)for over 20 years. Your enthusiasm is refreshing. I never heeded the "don't smile 'til Thanksgiving" advice, but I will say classroom control is key. Maintain your "positional authority" as a teacher from the first to last day as you develop "relational influence" over time. Healthy teacher-student relationships can be built on reasonable authority, but if it starts as "buddy-buddy" it will soon break down and positional authority is much harder to regain after the fact. Just some unsolicited advice for a first-year teacher. You're going to do great!
The post she was referring to is
Remembering Mr. Bowers

18/6/07 5:20 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

TWM,
Those last two comments just about collided in cyberbia!
You got it about right with my role in the details of the wedding. =) It wasn't until recently that I realized you were a Detroiter.Do remember that when Federals burned down in Roseville, it was the third to close due to fire. Shortly after that they went under and K-Mart took over that niche. My Dad was suspicious of the fires.
Kresgee's was great. Here's what I remember: There was an old soda fountain with spinning pedestal stools bolted to the floor. If you looked under that soda counter there it had layers of multi-colored gum. Generations of kids just kept sticking it under there. It was incredible. I kid you not, they could have removed that counter and hung it vertically on a wall of the Detroit Museum of Art, it was that cool looking. True “Pop Art.” You may enjoy these posts about these stores and Hudson's back in November 2006,
When Doubt Came Slowly Parts I,II, and III

Thanks for the advice... I'm just breatheing in and out... =)

18/6/07 5:52 PM  
Blogger toothdigger said...

Nice post!

Check out my evolving record of my trip to Tokyo. PS. I am not a dentist; I am a collector of shark teeth, hence "tooth digger."

Carley (toothdigger)

18/6/07 7:28 PM  
Blogger Dr.John said...

You know I never even noticed the change. I guess that's because I never shop for clothes.

18/6/07 7:37 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Carley,
I knew you were in Tokyo. Thanks for the explanation of your blog ID. We've had experience with a dental hygenist who has earned that name. Ouch! She's rough!

Dr. John,
I don't either. I did buy a new pair of cargo shorts the other day. Wore 'em right of the store to an open house--yes, I did pay for them. =) Other than that, Great "clearance" purchases tend to show up on my bed. I'm fine with that. But the day I wrote this the mannequins struck me as snootier than ever, and I wanted very much for my daughters to not show anything like the attitude they portray.

18/6/07 8:45 PM  
Blogger the walking man said...

Wonderful set of stories Tom, I too remember the annual trek to "The real Hudsons" and the window displays and the special area they had set aside "No adults allowed" for kids to go shopping for trinket presents for their parents, always with a helper elf guiding you through the process.

Now you don't know (no us west siders were not much different than you east siders)I grew up near Schaeffer and Fenkell (5 mile & Coolidge for the suburbanites)so I don't remember the Federal fires but the closest one to me was at 6 mile and Schaeffer and the building still stands and is now the Piquette meat market.

But growing up it was not to far a ride to Northland, first Taubman mall in the world. But during my days there, it was all open air, no roof containing all of the stores, they just sat there side by side surrounded by a ten million acre parking lot.

The Eastgate is going to soon be under the wrecking ball because a developer wants the land for something else. (I am an eastsider now) Living a mile away from Eastland, which is doing well enough for Sears to have taken over the empty Montgomery wards store and open up a "B" store there (B = smaller)and they are building something new now, probably a sit down restaurant.

I have adult memories of Roseville three to be exact, it is where I hosted an open mic Sunday night poetry event, and two injury accidents. Like Hamtramck (the only town in America I was ever arrested in {Not GUILTY said the judge)I try as much as I am able to avoid Roseville these days.

But like your Christmas stories sometimes you just have to go where fate takes you.

peace

TWM

19/6/07 6:01 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

TWM,
It's been fun sharing these Detroit Metro Retro memories. Eastland used to be a beautiful open air mall (circa 1960's) with large fountains, statues, etc. I remember the statue of Androcles and the Lion. The Lion laid on his back talking to the brass mouse on his stomach. We used to climb all over those statues just as the artist intended.
Back in '94, when my father had his first heart attack, he was in St. Johns near there and I went to Eastland. The demographics had reversed but it was a busy, friendly mall. There inside--where it always had been--was that statue (with a sign keeping kids off).
I know what you mean about Roseville. It's special to me only because my K-12 years were spent in a little house there. It's where all the most formative things about who I now am began.

So Eastgate is going to be torn down? I may just submit some thoughts to the Macomb Daily, which I delivered as a paperboy.
The sign was still there last year (minus the loops). If they were smart they'd restore the sign and hang it as a prime example of post-Sputnik "space age" art. Each spring they had a carnival there, and I used to lock my bike under that sign.
Eastgate never was a very attractive strip mall, but it was where I spent the most "unforced" shopping hours of my entire life.
Thanks again for the update.

19/6/07 6:46 AM  
Blogger the walking man said...

Go three miles west from St. Johns and your within two blocks of my house.

We moved here in '89, it's mine and Joann's first house and we own it clear. And I rarely say this but I love this neighborhood, tough, mean as a rattler in the sun, little kids making that sideways holding a gun gesture when they talk to you about fighting, neighbors that watch the empty houses and 911 if they see someone going in them.
Sneaking at night to go and pop off a few rounds into the dirt behind the thugs house as a warning.

People who want to leave but can't so we make it as good as we can using some unusual methods that work and we watch out always leaning on the fence smoking and watching, letting the teen age cowboy wannabe's; know we are watching without fear. This is our hood not theirs so when they roll drugs if that's what they are doing they do it somewhere else, if they steal or break into cars they do it somewhere else.

It is a different Detroit than it was and I watched it go away and come back as a harder tougher place where what really matters most and this is sad but true, respect. If you show respect in the worst hood's in the city generally you get respect back because a Detroiter today recognizes another Detroiter.

That's why it's always peace first, for from it all good things grow.

Peace

mark

19/6/07 5:39 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

TWM... Mark,
(That's the first time I've known your name.) You are such a gifted, gutsy writer. I've never heard such an objective yet affectionate description of what Detroit has become. I do believe it's making a come-back and it will be because people like you collectively said, "Not here you don't!"

20/6/07 5:06 AM  

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