and I quote

april 2012

click for permalink April 28, 2012

I just read the most amazing article. It's one of Byliner's 101 Spectacular Nonfiction stories, one that I hadn't read yet until today. After the tsunami hit Japan last March, once the initial feverish days spent bouncing between news sites and YouTube, devouring video after video of sickening black waves spreading death and ruin and, incomprehensibly, fire across the Japanese countryside had subsided and new footage of the disaster as captured from different angles and elevations eventually slowed to a trickle, the natural thing would have been to turn to the written word. But I found that I couldn't bear to read the tales of survival and loss that filled the void after the shock the way I had in the wake of other disasters. Instead, I focused on the lesser, or at any rate more gradually unfolding, horror of the Fukushima nuclear plant and the first-hesitant, then hyperbolic comparisons eventually, inevitably made to Chernobyl (which is to nuclear accidents what golf balls are to hail).

You may remember three days after the wave claimed 20,000 lives, a man was found clinging to a makeshift raft, nine miles out to sea amid the swirling gyre of broken driftwood that had been his neighborhood. It was the single miracle this disaster had to offer, but I don't remember seeing it when it happened. Without television to scream and flash, directing my attention to the things it deems important, and since my unseemly thirst for visuals was by then sated, I missed this one small tale until today.

From "The Man Who Sailed His House" by Michael Paterniti:

Man who sailedAt sunset, sky in scratches of purple light, a gnawing in your gut tells you it's dinner, so you crack open the first can, drink, then, head tilted back, try to lick out the last drop. The roof is perhaps twelve feet by six, of corrugated metal nailed to wood beams, your raft at sea. Last night, you and Yuko slept beneath it, and now you perch atop it on the sea, above the goblin sharks and whatever else lurks below. Saltwater laps up the sides, and any sudden movement immediately sets it seesawing. Sit still, in the middle—and as time passes, let the contrite sea bring gifts from the dead. This makes you giddy, the gifts. First it brings a red marker. Then the torn pages of a comic book, a manga, its hero, Captain Tsubasa, kicking a soccer ball with superhuman force. It brings some sort of red container that used to hold paint. It brings a tatami mat woven together with string, a broken radio, and a white hard hat. All of which you fish out of the murk. The hat (To whom did it belong?) immediately goes on your head, the marker in your hand. You imagine the dead offering you these things from underneath the sea. Hunched over the ripped comic, you test the marker on the damp page and write the following words in the margin: On March 11, I was with my wife, Yuko. My name is Hiromitsu. Then you tear the paper, fold it, place it in the red canister, seal it, and with the string from the mat, bandolier it to your body. Resume your pose." (Read it here)


click for permalink April 27, 2012

MaddyMaddyI'm happy to report that Project Makeover: Mannequin Edition was a smashing success. (Photo gallery here). My little batches of acrylic paint mixed in the empty plastic shell from an overpackaged set of headphones grew easier and easier to match, until eventually each new batch blended seamlessly with the last and she was coated from head to toe. It took the better part of a month, since I could only work during the day — I learned this after one attempt at mixing paint by the glow of two desktop lamps. But by the next morning's light, it was obvious I had used a drop too much of red because her legs from foot to knee were flushed a virulent pink, as if in the night she had taken a stroll through poison ivy.

makeoversI worked my way up, over and around, filling in cracks and building up color over the numerous minor scuffs, scratches and marks, gaining confidence in the informal system I'd devised and searching the internet to find more amazing mannequin makeover photos. I discovered wonderous places where entire fleets of mannequins are reborn, restored and re-imagined by a dedicated cadre of custodian-artisans, who wield their paints, plaster and Bondo like fairy godmothers' wands.

makeoverI allowed myself to fantasize about having the space and inclination to build such a collection, rescuing them one by one as they were discarded, having outlived their usefulness to the commercial world; restoring and giving them new life, each a unique artistic creation in wood and fiberglass, my own made-over mannequin army. I imagined myself a member of some eccentric self-styled family of fanatics — a distant cousin to the crazy cat lady — the mad mannequin lady.

maddyI had initially wanted to avoid repainting her face — I don't know why — probably just a natural trepidation at the possibility that I might make the one area least in need of any work not better but worse. As I closed in around her ears and over the reconstructed forehead where the worst of the damage had been, though, I realized no amount of blending was going to get me out of it. I bought a set of brushes in an array of sizes from an inch to a millimeter wide and, with hours of daylight still ahead of me, I carefully began to peel away the false eyelashes and scrape off the residual glue that had held them in place, for all I knew, since the day she was airbrushed with a final coat of varnish, swathed in packing foam and sealed in a crate bound for her new home, a nameless department store on the west coast of Canada.

IL-7Speaking of which, as the makeover progressed, I closed in on that mystery as well. The day I brought her home, I had noticed the series of numbers and letters scribbled in indelible red ink on her arm plate just below the keyhole fitting: IL-7 1992, and two more letters below that: JO, which I assumed to be some sort of name. These markings clearly identified her within a system, but which system was anyone's guess. To Google as to myself, this combination of characters was just as random and enigmatic as any other.

Weeks later, as I waited for the paint man at Home Depot to mix me a color that wouldn't even come close to matching, I noticed something on Maddy's foot which was resting nonchalantly on my shoulder as it stuck up out of the black garbage bag I had carried her leg in. Across the bottom of her foot was stamped a single word, deeply engraved in all caps as legible as a stop sign: PATINA-V. Now I could see as clearly as directions on a Google map the path that would lead directly to her place of origin, all the way up to the factory door.

As luck would have it, Maddy's creators were and are meticulous record-keepers (I should have known that from the red magic marker) and their entire catalog going all the way back to the early nineties is archived in PDFs on their website. I had only to download and flip through six pages of every single one before I found her, IL-7, incept date 1992, promoted in a flyer for the "Illusion" line, a collection of dark-haired, pale-skinned beauties with a European pirate-gypsy-vampire vibe.

JOI quickly realized that while the body was unmistakable, her head must have been from a different line, and since I'd already downloaded, skimmed and deleted the entire catalog of 20+ PDFs, it was going to be a bit harder to find. It would have been damn near impossible but for those last two letters, "JO," a moniker that I located at last in the brochure for "Notorious," a 1995 line featuring sirens with full red lips and romantic up-dos. The release date suggests that their style was an homage to Kate Winslet (their faces if not their figures), whose full lips and romantic ringlets were prominent fixtures on screens and magazines that year.

I needn't have been afraid to give her face a new coat of paint, making it smooth and flawless, and relieving her of the garish blush that had striped her cheeks two full decades after women everywhere had learned to apply it sparingly, and only to the apples of their cheeks, if at all. (She may have been born in '92 but those darkened cheekbones were relics of the previous decade.) Working with a quarter-inch flat tipped paintbrush like a calligraphy pen with my face just inches from hers, I filled in the tiny dents and imperfections before hiding all evidence of their existence under a thin layer of paint. After all this time, every new batch of paint seemed to coalesce effortlessly from its four sources, mixed in perfect proportion.

maddyI methodically erased the eyebrows, covered the eyelids, orbital bones and lash lines with a fresh, clean slate. Leaning in with my smallest brush, I held my breath and carefully whitened her eyes, swiftly wiping away any traces of paint that strayed outside the lines. Dipping a toothpick into the tiny glass bottles of blue and yellow model paint I'd suddenly remembered we had in the kitchen cupboard, I swirled them into the tiniest pool of brilliant green which I dotted into the irises with the tip of the tiny brush. I pulled more yellow from the edge of the paint bowl into the green — once, twice, creating dimension — then added a single dot of white just off-center of each pupil. Far from being a reluctant observer on the sidelines, Mr. Pink pitched in at critical stages throughout the project, sanding and re-filling the plaster restoration on her forhead the final time, sanding the area around her bent knee which stubbornly resisted my efforts to render it smooth; and finally, wielding a lime green highighter pen, adding a final touch to the irises that made her eyes glow as if lit with an inner fire. (I began to wonder if he would actually put up much resistance to my vision of a future mannequin makeoverland...)

Finally, I gave her new eyebrows and freshly painted lips. These had been the most daunting but in the end, they were the easiest. After all, I've had decades of practice painting on my own lips and eyebrows every day. The big feathery eyelashes (photo above) were a nice idea, but after seeing the first one from different angles, I decided to go with a pair that looked more natural. Unfortunately, those didn't come pre-loaded with adhesive like the others, so setting them in place was a nerve-wracking process involving three kinds of glue, the last of which tested my anthropomorphizing of Maddy to its limit; Crazy glue dripped from above onto the lash line, forming a near-instant liquid bond with the eyelid looks way too much like Bizarro World Visene for comfort.

The other day I went back to the eclectic thrift store where I had encountered the street artist with Maddy in his shopping cart a month earlier. I told the store's proprietress about my makeover project and she marveled at the obvious enjoyment the $10 investment had brought me since my last visit. Then she said, like the voice of a siren calling down from the cliffs of the island of the madwomen, "Do you want any more? We can get all kinds of mannequins for that price..." and I could swear I heard the faraway echo of a thousand mannequins on the march.