I’m at this warehouse in Brooklyn run by a tall Russian, a short Italian and a rabbi. I bang on the door and when it opens there’s a rabbi standing there in a long black coat and a kippah. “Come in, my child,” he says and he lifts his arm to show me in.
I step up inside. Rows of boxes are stacked to the ceiling. It’s cold. The Italian’s in the back. “What you here for, lady?” he asks and sizes me up from under his Yankees cap. He lifts the brim to see me. He’s short, real short.
“I’m here for Linda.”
The Russian peers his head out from behind a wall of boxes. “Linda! Oov you been talking to? Vat do you know?”
“I talked to Joe. I told him I was coming.”
All three men let out a breath.
“Joe. It’s okay. She talked to Joe.”
“Is Joe here?”
The Italian looked at me again, a little funny. “Joe’s gone home, lady. What, you think you’re finding Joe here late on a Friday?”
“Is Linda here?”
They look around at each other. I can see my breath. The rabbi moves first. He claps a hand on the Russian’s shoulder. “Get the girl Linda. It’s okay. Joe knew she was coming.”
The Russian gives a huff. “You just want one?”
“That’s all. Just one. Linda.”
He ducks behind the boxes again. The rabbi smiles at me. The Italian hasn’t moved. He pulls his cap back down over his eyes.
The Russian comes back with a box five feet tall. “Here she is. You got a car?”
“Parked out front.”
“You from Brooklyn?”
“No. New Jersey.”
The other two turn around and stare. “You taking Linda back to New Jersey?”
I stand there for a second with my carton. None of the men make a move to help. It’s cold. My fingers hurt. The carton is heavy. I hoist it up on my shoulders and walk back between the walls of boxes. They’re not stacked very well. Some of the ones on top look like they could fall right off.
I push the metal door open with the box. It’s hard because it’s windy outside and the wind is blowing the door back against the building. When I step out of the doorframe the door blows shut behind me. The car is parked at the curb. I open the trunk, put Linda inside and drive away.
A-Fiber Mannequins wasn’t very well marked. I guess it didn’t need to be; people don’t often go walking down the street looking for a mannequin warehouse. Especially not in that part of Brooklyn, which seemed to support a convenience store, a sub shop, two barbers and not much else.
It was next door to a salvage yard. I could see gutted, rusted-out cars through a break in the walls surrounding the lot. Car bodies were in all shapes, some intact, some crushed nearly flat; only the flaking remnants of dulled paint distinguished one wheel-less, windowless hunk of metal from another. Single headlights still rimmed in jagged plastic dangled from ropes like pendulums. I always thought that headlights were pretty standard, but hanging all together like that, you could see that they weren’t.
None of this, of course, was visible from next door. The mannequin shop had no windows and just one sheet-metal door without a knob. The walls were thick, brick, reinforced; boxes dimmed the feeble lights and muffled the sounds of traffic. But when I went inside I could still hear the shear of cutting metal.
The stillness inside was oppressive, dramatized by the unmoving figures perched on every carton and reclining in every corner. Stacks of boxes fractured lines of sight and obscured much of the warehouse from view. And the cold was such that I felt my fingers start to numb and stiffen, my movements start to slow.
As I looked around, thirty identical pairs of eyes stared blankly back at me, mimicked by the thirty pairs of breasts below them. Each of the thirty chins, frozen in a haughty lift, seemed to motion in a different direction. I felt disoriented, unfocused. I didn’t know where they were pointing me; I didn’t know which vacant set of eyes to trust; I didn’t know how many others I couldn’t see. We were thirty-one bodies, with only one puff of breath hanging, visible, in the air.
Where did they come from, these women, fixed in place?
I never doubted that it would be men who would make their livings selling mannequins. Nor did it surprise me that, although the website advertised figures of “both genders, all sizes, all sorts!”, I didn’t see a single male or (thank God) childlike figure strewn amidst the Barbaras and the Janes, the spare Denise torsos and the mismatched female undergarments. John and Johnny were packed out of sight. I assume they did have John and Johnny somewhere. If not, where did people buy male mannequins? Imagine the reciprocal scenario – what sort of women would vend dissembled male body parts? Wouldn’t they be lesbians? They’d have to be lesbians. Maybe a lesbian couple, sculpting sweet irony along with anatomically correct male figures.
So these three men – well, four, but I never did meet Joe – specialized in the wholesale distribution of female bodies. Only the stillness of their chosen women kept the warehouse from the status of a brothel. Shouldn’t my feminist sympathies be riled? Maybe not. I had seen the logical conclusion of female objectification, walked along its aisles and emerged alive. As pimps went, these were polite, even respectful. And one was a rabbi; the hand of G-d himself was protecting these women. Whose guardianship could be more fitting? Didn’t He decide who among the vacant bodies would receive the breath of life? Wasn’t Eve lifeless, once?
And the women – they looked comfortable, even happy. Their stylized poses revealed more confidence than I could ever muster. Why wouldn’t a mannequin be smug with that smooth, even skin, those perfectly toned limbs? Never to be caught in a bad moment; perfectly photogenic, constantly composed. Her every need provided for. How could I hope to stem the rising tide of envy? Perhaps we do desire to return to the inorganic. Perhaps we were created to put down roots and lure others to us. Perhaps immobility is just easier.