On dressing mannequins

Ann Taylor occupies two floors in Boston’s Faneuil Hall historic shopping plaza. On the second floor, there are narrow shafts for window displays that are only wide enough for my 23 year-old petite body to stand very still. Problems ensue when I am tasked with dressing one of the mannequins (size 2, all of them, because when have you seen a mannequin holding a hamburger?). My managers at Ann Taylor never say, “Oh, Kendra, can you go simply drape this fetching scarf around the neck of a mannequin upstairs?” They never ask, “Could you be a dear and quick like a bunny change out the broche on that one’s blouse up there?” They are prepared to exploit me for their big window dressing asks, like a child with tiny fingers taken out of school to sew sequins onto gowns. Only I am being paid a fair wage. And am not denied an education. (Forget the child labor comparison. I was being hyperbolic.) My managers see that I am scheduled to work and order the full rack of tweed blazers steamed and for the mannequin in the upstairs windows to don the new angora turtleneck and wool pants with no zippers.

 Photo by  Fancycrave  on  Unsplash

Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash

I am a visual assistant at Ann Taylor in the hours before the shop opens. Except I am not assisting anyone, per se, besides the mannequins out of their naked Barbie doll ignominy and into the season’s latest couture. This early shift is an absolute idyll for an introvert. It’s so peaceful up in the window shaft. I get to watch the cobblestone paths of this Boston tourist destination come alive. From the second floor window, I see a queue of New Bostonians preparing for their citizenship swearing in outside of Quincy Market. I observe flocks of pigeons pecking at last night’s stale popcorn. I wrestle the mannequins and watch the sun come up. The best and worst part is: not a soul bothers me.

So when I get stuck in the window, no one can hear me banging. The door to the window shaft has suddenly swung shut and I cannot seem to bump it open. I knock on the window, but no one looks up from below on the cobblestone because it is mainly just pigeons and a hungover security detail. Actually, no. That guy doesn’t work security. He’s a leftover from Cheers last night. No one inside the store can hear me yelling, because it is just the manager and I and she is a volunteer gospel choir director, so she is most likely opening up the cash wrap downstairs and practicing, “I Surrender All” while I am upstairs singing, “Here I Am, Lord!!” and hoping that a merciful god/manager lets me out of here soon. I begin to think about how little air there really is in this window shaft and how sad that I may spend my last Christmas on earth with the Madame Tussaud’s rendering of my junior high nemesis and just as I begin to feel tears pooling, Nestor, the custodian, just happens to be swapping out a broom upstairs and hears my plight. Nestor does not speak much English and my Spanish is mostly garbage, but!! That day, Eso dia! He heard my cry for help and answered the call perfectly. I won’t be spending Christmas as a mannequin in rigor mortis after all. Praises be!



"A Star is Born" and what I’ll tell my daughter

2018’s “A Star is Born” hits some pitch perfect notes. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s chemistry, the robust sounds of their voices, and the tragic truth of stardom are all especially captivating. The film, by Bradley Cooper, bears out the metaphor of stardom beautifully. In order to shine brightest, stars are often eclipsing one another, and in the world of celebrities, paying for it with their very lives. Falling stars are at their most recognizable when they’re descending. There is nowhere to hide. Where “LALA Land” sang wistfully of the “City of Stars,” in “A Star is Born,” this song becomes a lament.

 Photo by  Phil Botha  on  Unsplash

Photo by Phil Botha on Unsplash

As with stars, we all have an expiry date, and Cooper’s character Jackson Maine’s edict to Gaga’s Ally rings truest and most important of all: We’re all here to launch the message within us. It’s our raison d’etre. We can borrow another’s message, but it will never ring as true unless we assign our own interpretation. We can let others mold and fashion our message to their liking, and we will lose the essence of who we are, we will trade our truth for an advertisement, a glossy, photoshopped billboard.

The irony of “A Star is Born” is that it is itself a recycled work. It’s message is to be thine own self be true, and yet it is based on a prewritten message, repurposed for the new millennium. There are brief but potent nods to starlets like “Dirty Dancing’s” Baby, “Pretty Woman’s” Vivian , “Splash’s” Madison—all female characters whose ascendancy is inextricably linked to a romantic male character, their North Star of sorts.

It also employs a couple of Hollywood tropes that surprised me in their transparency. Dave Chapelle is an obvious Magical Negro who exists, it would seem, merely to rescue Cooper from his sunken place and remind him with wisdom and wit, that he should dock his boat in a safe harbor. The hackneyed mystical person of color who speaks words of life into the wayward white person made me roll my eyes a bit, even if I did love seeing Chapelle.

The damsel in distress trope is also undeniable. Gaga’s Ally possesses a sound mind and creative talent, but she is always thanking men for allowing her the opportunity, looking to men to validate her decisions, waiting for men to bless her words and deem her worthy. Spoiler ahead: I don’t recall anyone asking her to marry him. I don’t remember anyone asking her what she wanted. This may well be the film’s own critique of Hollywood, a place where women must still ask for permission to succeed even if we are finally beginning to demand an end to the forces that hinder our access or snuff out our light altogether.

I hope to share “A Star is Born” with my daughter someday. But I will do so gingerly, asking her what she thinks of what it takes to be a woman with a message and a microphone, and what costs she is willing to pay to share them with a world that too often wants to silence her.

Drunken Walking and the most important thing I have done in 2018

The other day, whilst walking Puppy, we passed a group from a daycare that had planned an epic trip to a football field. I could imagine the teachers discussing this voyage they were about to mount, and how it was the perfect day to be outside and feel the warmth of the sun and a little crisp breeze on the air. How if they left now, right after morning snack and just before lunch, they would be able to totally rock the field without any ornery tots falling asleep or jonesing for goldfish crackers. How if they just turned these kidlets loose on the open field, it might be the best day of their entire wee little lives.

I suspect it was. The best day of everyone’s life. Because for me, merely a spectator, I was completely intoxicated by the unbridled joy in their ruddy little faces. Oh my. The sweet reckless abandon of their little wobbly gaits, a bit drunken looking and still finding their sea legs. They darted in all directions. Some of the sturdier tots were taking to a plastic ball, giggling and kicking it back and forth like they had invented soccer just in that very moment. Others had not yet learned to walk so they were crawling, excitedly caterwauling across the football field toward touchdown territory. Maybe they’d done this drill before.

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I beheld this tableau of humans at their best and most unadulterated and it moved me in a way I cannot overstate. I thought about how God presents us with opportunities, wide open football fields full of chances and new experiences, but too often, instead of running arms flailing eyes wide tongues peeling out of our mouths excited toward the Wide Open Wonder, we are content to stay strapped into our strollers, chilling and checking our e-mail, sated by the endless scrolling of endless screens.

I wouldn’t normally have been strolling past a football field at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday, except for the fact that I have a Puppy who needs to get out the zoomies sixteen times a day and I live at a boarding school where athletic turf is a common sight. I can well promise you that I considered all this an interruption, though, before we traversed the football field. Because Puppy is the most stubborn creature on four legs, I am typically dragging/lifting/shlepping/bribing her across great expanses of terra firma. On this particular morning, though, she was walking me, and I was also being held. Held by a God who sees me and sees my agenda and crinkles his eyes and laughs uproariously at all the things I think I am meant to accomplish, that carry such weight. He holds me still for a moment and turns my face to see the sun and the patchy grass and the little drunken munchkin prophets speaking life into my raggedy heart.

I have done some things in 2018 that have earned my work a spot on the refrigerator, but by far the best thing I have done is adopt this stupid cute Puppy. She forces me out into the world and forces me to be neighborly. She has interrupted my work and my sleep and completely foiled all the plans I had made to not notice the matchless beauty, to not feel the warmth of the sun.