My hands are the stuff of legends. They have held the tiny fingers of babies taking their first steps and applauded loudly at rock concerts, sporting events and countless ballet recitals. They’ve rubbed the feet of sick friends and relatives, and have stirred many a pot of spaghetti sauce, soup and risotto. But what few of those I’ve cheered for, rubbed or cooked for know, these hands were once famous, at least in home repair circles.
The spring of Junior year I was chosen to represent my High School on the Teen Board of the local department store. It was a dream-come-true. We got to model the latest spring and fall fashions in runway shows and pose in prom dresses in the local newspaper. And with my new role came the opportunity to work in the store. I was able to leave the greasy floors of my job peddling soup or salad behind the counter at Golden Corral for the sales floor of Ivey’s.
I started out as a floater, selling cookie sheets and bed sheets in housewares, lacy bras and coordinating panties in ladies lingerie and pinstriped shirts in the men’s department. Eventually I landed my dream job up as a regular in the Junior Department, where music from Casey Kasem’s Top 40 played on an endless loop and I got to dress mannequins in Jordache jeans, velour joggers and Members Only jackets.
It was there, as I was ringing up the sale of a leopard print dress with quarterback-worthy shoulder pads to a pretty woman with a huge perm, that I was discovered. The woman called over her shoulder, “Honey, come here and see her hands.” I looked at my hands as I draped a hanging bag over the dress, my hot pink nails clicking against the hanger. “You really have exceptionally lovely hands,” she said to me.
The man, who was wearing his Ray Bans indoors, raised them to his forehead and reached his palms toward me. “May I see?” he asked as I quizzically placed my hands in his.
“Ah, yes indeed!” he commented, carefully examining my fingers and my wrists, adorned with a Swatch watch on one and a dozen neon-colored rubber bracelets on the other.
“Here’s my card,” he said, handing me the first business card I’d ever encountered, “Call me tomorrow, please. I’m a photographer and I’m looking for a model for a campaign I need to shoot this weekend.”
Me! A model?! I’d hoped there might be a modeling agent in the audience at the fall back-to-school fashion show, as Cyndi Lauper sang about girls having fun over the mall loudspeakers, and shoppers in the food court watched with minimal interest as I twirled awkwardly in my parachute pants on the makeshift runway. But no one seemed to think I was the next IT girl, except my mother and her best friends.
But then this happened and I had a business card to prove it. I couldn’t contain myself. I was seventeen and I was about to hit the big time. I could feel it! As I drove home from work in my rusty red 1967 Mustang, my heart was pounding with excitement. I showed the card to my mother.
“I suspect this is a scam,” she said. “I’m sorry honey, but men do this type of thing to lure pretty girls into precarious situations.”
“But he was with his wife!” I protested.
We went back and forth until I finally convinced her to let me make the call. We agreed that I’d meet with them at the photo studio with my mother accompanying me.
The studio turned out to be legitimate. My hands were photographed for a Black and Decker campaign and I spent three days holding drills and sanders and other power tools. I was paid $250 each day, more than I made in two months working part time at Ivey’s back when minimum wage was $3.35 an hour. Several months later, I was called back to hold paint brushes for an art supply store shoot and during winter break my Freshman year in college, I was part of a mood ring jewelry shoot.
These gigs practically paid for two years of college, but I was heartbreakingly disappointed. On the stages adjacent to mine, beautiful women were flashing their smiles for the camera, cocking their heads just so, looking coy and cute, wearing stylish clothes and making them look perfect. They were wanted for more than just their hands, but no matter how I dressed or smiled, I was never elevated beyond hand model and my career dried up abruptly after I broke one of my precious (and uninsured) fingers playing a game of flag football in front of Morrison dorm in the spring of freshman year. We set my pinky with a Popsicle stick and masking tape and went on with the game.
Then I broke two fingers on one of my first dates with my now husband, when I swore that I could handle the 80 mph batting cage, after all, I’d played a year of little league when I was eleven and had a successful hit in the Channel 9 softball team’s route over KCBS. After he cut my rings off my fingers with pliers he borrowed from Castle Golf, he kindly got the rings repaired and cunningly took note of the size for future use.
I broke another finger attempting to “rescue” my son from falling off a rock into a river rushing through Zion. I ended up falling in myself. My fear had been unfounded. The water was only six inches deep. Had my son stepped in it his socks and shoes would have gotten wet. Instead, I was soaked and had to hike down the mountain with a ring finger the size of a kielbasa.
And if age and oddly angled fingers hadn’t rendered my once graceful, power tool-worthy hands obsolescent, my latest hand snafu a couple weeks ago ended any distant dreams of a comeback helping to pay for my kids’ college.
I was making a squash soufflé for a long-planned dinner party. It was a minor miracle that all these people were able to come together and I wanted to make it nice. But I had five minutes to get the soufflé into the oven if I wanted dinner to time out just right and this pesky piece of squash was stuck in the immersion blender. I reached in to flick it free and my wrist accidentally hit the power button. I yelped and my daughter came running into the kitchen. No blood. I thought that was odd because I definitely felt pain. I went to the sink and glimpsed a white line and then it just opened up. Blood was flowing as my daughter grabbed for band aids while calling a friend in medical school. She showed him the gashes on Facetime.
“You need to go to the ER,” he declared, “You’re going to need stitches.”
He talked my daughter through bandaging the gashes. Then I talked my daughter through the next steps of getting my soufflé in the oven. I wasn’t about to ruin my dinner party and Google said I had 6-8 hours post-injury for stitches to be effective. And really, who want’s to brave 5pm traffic and the germy crowds at Urgent Care? They were closing at 9. As long as I got there by 8:55, I’d be fine. Wine helped with the pain. As did my dinner guests jokes as I kept my finger elevated above my heart. “Did you have a point you’d like to make Suzanne?” they’d ask as the conversation bounced between subjects. I left before dessert and made it to urgent care just in time. Ten shots to numb my finger and eight stitches that I felt despite the shots later and I was home feeling like a fool.
Clearly with all that experience holding power tools, I never learned the cardinal rule to unplug them before touching their sharp mechanisms. As my father, who never did witness my grace in any Teen Board fashion shows, said after my latest debacle, “Oh Suzanne, you’ve always been such a klutz.”