There's Lipstick On The Toilet Paper
Upon getting engaged, I moved into my fiance's apartment; the very next day in fact. Living in Manhattan, space is at a premium and as it happens, her place was bigger than mine. My apartment, a small one-room flat in a run down East Village tenement building was just not going to do for both of us. Besides, it's full to the brim with all of my stuff. Every shelf is crammed with toys I've designed and samples of toys that never came to fruition. The floor is covered with paperwork, letters and drawings. Forget opening the refrigerator for before it is a gargantuan pile of plush toys, sorted into clear garbage bags. There's nothing in the refrigerator anyway. There never has been. And the one small hallway leading to the bathroom is practically blocked by boxes full of cds and merchandise I'll sell at shows at some point or another. This is clearly not an ideal home for a newly married couple. But it will make a fine office someday if I can get it cleaned up. So despite moving uptown, I've kept this place to work in. In the very least, it's a good place to keep all of this stuff. I shudder at the thought of what my fiance would say if I showed up at her apartment with boxes upon boxes of cds, t-shirts, plush and vinyl toys. So for the moment, my place remains, as I like to call it, "the most expensive mini-storage unit on the lower east side".
It serves another purpose as well. Located near my son's home and a lot of the places I do business, the post office, the copy shop, etc, as well as some of my favorite cafes and other haunts, it makes for a fine pit stop throughout my day. It's a suitable location to regroup, pack an order before heading to the post office or just take a break. Often, I end my day there. The East Village is a vastly more interesting place to eat, drink and be merry than uptown (in the opinion of this one bohemian) so often, when I'm done doing whatever it is that I do all day long, I'll call my fiance and she'll meet me at my apartment.
I should mention at this point that the apartment has a name. When we became engaged and it became obvious that I was keeping my place, we joked about being a two-home family. When people would ask us where we lived, we'd say, in a preposterously pretentious accent, something like, "We have an uptown residence and a downtown one where we summer." It seemed to me that if we were going to be that obnoxious, we should give our residences names, you know, like rich, white people do. So the place uptown became "Wuthering Heights" or "The Heights" for short and my place, which is nestled on a street in the East Village full of Indian Restaurants, became "The Taj Mahal", or simply, "The Taj".
I was at the Taj one evening after a day of working on some toy designs (it was an Adventure Quest /DEADY crossover 8-inch vinyl toy for Toy2R I think). Jayme, my fiance was on her way downtown to meet me. We were going to some party, I think. I can no longer remember. But I do remember that we were running late, as always. Or maybe I just know that because we always are. I also remember that I had run out of toilet paper. I texted her to bring some.
Moments later, she arrived. Since we were both on the run, she didn't bother to step inside. She simply passed me the 4-pack roll of "Charmin extra thick, pleated toilet paper with ass-moisterurizing aloe vera micro particles" (I made that last part up, but seriously, can it be long before it's offered?). I tossed it in the general direction of the bathroom, slammed the door shut and we scurried off into the night.
An image flashed before my mind, something I could have sworn I noticed in the micro-second the toilet paper was in my hand. I turned to Jayme. "Did you kiss the toilet paper?"
She looked at me incredulously,
"Nevermind," I said.
But honestly, I could have sworn I saw, pressed onto the toilet paper, the lipstick print of someone's pursed lips. We dashed off and I didn't give it another thought.
The next day, I was at the Taj again. At some point, I had found a less than novel use for toilet paper and reached for the package that lay on the floor just under the sink. As I picked it up, there on the package, plain as could be was what I had thought I'd seen the night before, a lipstick mark of someone's lips. In a flash, I put together in my mind what had happened. In the last few years there has been a wave of uptown Yuppies who have discovered the charms of the East Village. Night after night, like a swarm of Izod-wearing locusts they descend upon my neighborhood, get drunk and behave in a fashion far less civilized then you would expect they themselves would approve of. Certainly one of the fillies of their flock, some drunken, disorderly, former sorority sister, must have stubbled into the local deli. And for the amusement of her friends, and no doubt the chagrin of the Bangladeshi deli owner, she picked up a package of toilet paper, pressed her prissy, pursed lips to it and planted her red Channel lip print upon it, marking her territory the way a pedigree, and common bitch alike, piss on a neighborhood tree. And this was no doubt done either before or after exclaiming the obligatory battle cry, "Woo Hoo! East Village! Saturday night! Paaaaaaaarty!"
Be wary of those who would use the word "party" as a verb. They go hand in hand with those who "summer". If I may for a moment use a verb as an adjective, they make me very "stabby, stabby", as my son would say.
I went to wipe off the offending lipstick when I was met with a very arresting surprise. I was wrong. It wasn't on the package. It was inside, on the toilet paper itself!
Now here was something truly curious! Who could have done this? I mean, obviously, it had to have been done at the factory while it was getting manufactured. This act had to have been perpetrated by a factory worker. But I thought factories were all run by robots at this point? It gave me pause. Someone, some one, a person, a human being picks up these countless rolls of toilet paper every day and stacks them, four at a time into neat little piles, then shrink-wraps them into this tidy little packet. Sadly, it's not something I had considered. This paper, that one takes for granted that's, and I hope you won't mind me being frank, wiped along the most delicate and vulnerable parts of your body, is picked up and handled by someone right up until it's wrapped. That is a whole lot of trust right there that you are placing in the hands of a total stranger.
So why the lipstick? What did it mean? What was this person trying to say? Was it a threat of some sort? Did this worker wish to point out how vulnerable we are, how directly this faceless factory drone who is so totally dismissed, so undoubtedly undervalued by us could hurt us in some way if they wished to? Or was it just an act of defiance, a raspberry, a "kiss my ass!", a thumbing of the nose to those lazy, fat, spoiled Americans who would literally wipe their fat asses with the very fruits of the factory worker's labor? And one can imagine they are paid little and work so hard at such a tedious, mind-numbing, repetitive task. Or was it something else. Was it merely a declaration of existence, a way to say, "I am here! I exist! Appreciate me!". This toilet paper did not make itself. It was made by someone... for you. And maybe, all they wished for was for someone to know that.
Or maybe, just maybe, the sassy owner of those red lined lips had a sense of humor. Perhaps in the staunch, gray, joyless dirge of the factory's mechanical lumbering towards productivity, she or he (the factory could have been in Brazil or San Francisco ) took a moment to infuse some laughter, some humor, some irreverence and beauty into the world in the way of a red kiss on a roll of white toilet paper.
Either way, I'm not sure I will look at a roll of toilet paper the same way again, or any other factory-made item for that matter. I will always be reminded that behind that item there was a person or team of persons who labored to create it and to bring it to me. I will be reminded that while I have the luxury of living the life of an artist, there are millions of others who toil at jobs they have no passion or love for. And I hope that fact never ceases to humble me. On the other hand I think I will view these items with a little less indifference and little more suspicion. Seriously, why do terrorist challenge themselves with monumental tasks like blowing up battleships or crashing planes into skyscrapers when they could do much more damage by simply getting a job at a factory. There's no security check, anyone can do it, and frankly, one gallon of a skin irritant in the paper-pulp bath of a toilet paper factory would keep all of America scratching their asses too long to repel an attack of any sort.
I have a friend who is a very talented artist and toy designer. His name is Brandt Peters. He has a fantastic line of vinyl toys called Serv-O-Matics that are made by Mindstyle. At one point recently he posted a photo on a toy blog of some of his and his wife, Kathy Olivas' toys being manufactured in a factory in China. I honestly half-expected to see giant, mechanical robot arms pushing paint-drenched pads onto stencil-coverd plastic figures. Instead the photo displayed a very different image. It was of a person's hands and this person was painstakingly painting delicate little details onto a small vinyl figure. I'm ashamed to say I was surprised. I had no idea this is how it was done.
A factory worker paints fine details on a toy by Brandt Peters and wife, Kathy Olivas
I have a lot of vinyl toys coming out this year, mostly of my character, Deady. They won't be the first toys I've made by a long shot. But for the first time ever I have a desire to go to China and visit the factories where they are made. I want to meet the person who's hands are in that photo and maybe, just maybe, when no one is looking, we'll put on some lipstick and kiss a random toy on the assembly line.
ps: You can see Brandt Peter's amazing work here: http://www.brandtpeters.com/
Serv-o-matics vs Scavengers production photo credit belongs to Mindstyle