New Use for a Mannequin

Photo: Allan Clark

I’m a minimalist and I’m cheap. My entire jewelry collection consists of my original wedding ring and a Timex watch. I’d live in a one room cabin with indoor plumbing if my family would move in with me. Eating in a restaurant? I order the cheapest item and drink water. Going to the mall for new clothes is akin to the proverbial root canal experience. (Without Novocain!)

Garage sales used to be my favorite recreational activity until I found something even better…and even cheaper. Ever heard of a “$1.00 a bag” sale? Often churches or community groups have large garage sales with contributions from many families. Rather than worry about left-over items, many groups now offer “$1.00 a Bag” sales the last few hours of the traditional garage sale.

I can get a whole year’s wardrobe by spending $2.00 maximum. Last month, at a $1.00 a Bag sale, I filled my two bags with such items as a new Liz Claiborne suit, a Mexican themed tablecloth (for our authentic Taco Bell take-out dinners) new curtains for my office and over 23 baby outfits to donate to a missions program in Peru.

Even with my cheap tendencies, at times even I break down and pay full price. A few years ago, we had extra time before seeing a performance of "Annie Get Your Gun" at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in downtown Seattle. (Naturally we had tickets for the cheaper matinee.)

Strolling towards the theatre, my 13-year-old daughter Sondra shrieked, “Mom! It’s a Quicksilver store! I can’t believe it! I love Quicksilver.” She dashed in the store. I followed, greeted by pulsating music and skimpily dressed headless mannequins. Sondra surveyed the store in typical teenage fashion with a running commentary of “This skirt is darling. Oh, I love this jacket. How cool is this sweatshirt?" I tried to maintain an even breathing pattern while looking at $48 price tags on faded sweatshirts with frayed cuffs.

Sondra, knowing my penchant for $1.00 a bag bargains, pulled out all the stops by asking, “Mom, you know I just brought home my report card with 3.8 GPA. I’ve been doing my chores without being asked. Don’t you think you could buy me this sweatshirt?” My husband, Allan, standing behind me, whispered, “Don’t be so cheap. Buy her the ugly, overpriced sweatshirt.”

In true cheapskate fashion I responded with, “Let me think about it.” Sondra, in true get-on-Mom’s-good-side fashion, left the store without protest. My plan quickly formed. Since Sondra owned few namebrand clothing items, I figured it was time for a treat. While waiting to enter the theatre, I shuffled my way between the crowd, out of sight of Allan and Sondra.

I raced back to Quicksilver and told the clerk, “I want to give my daughter a $50.00 gift certificate, but I don’t want her to know it’s from me. I have a reputation as a cheap, domestically challenged mother to uphold. What can we do to get her the gift certificate when I bring her back here after the show?”

The 18-year-old male clerk obviously had never run into this situation in his customer service training class for Quicksilver. The manager, an “older” woman of maybe 24, overheard my plea, and stepped in. “Sure”, she said. “Let’s see what we can do.” I glanced around the store looking for inspiration. Near the store entrance stood a headless mannequin, dressed in only a mini-skirt. Her bare chest was actually fairly modest, since a full size telephone was implanted in her upper torso.

“Does that phone work?” I asked. The clerk assured me it was an actual phone for free incoming and outgoing calls. I may be domestically challenged, but I know how to use a half-naked telephone mannequin.

“How about this? I’ll bring my daughter back and get her to casually be by the phone. You get the phone to ring because I know she’ll answer it. Then maybe ask her a few questions like you are from corporate headquarters. If she answers correctly, direct her to some location in the store where she ‘wins’ a $50.00 gift certificate.” Both clerks were obviously amazed at this creative use of their store telephone-chested mannequin. I paid for the gift certificate and made it back to the theater just as the show began.

After the performance, I casually suggested we go back to Quicksilver so Sondra could perhaps find a cheaper item to purchase with her own money. Ever the optimist, Sondra entered the store as I silently pointed and mouthed to the clerk, “That’s her.” Sondra strolled through the store, getting closer and closer to the infamous mannequin. Suddenly the phone rang. She looked at me, then at the phone, encased in the chest of a mannequin. No one else was around. The phone kept ringing. I casually said, “When we were teenagers, we never missed an opportunity to talk to strangers on a payphone.” Sondra cautiously lifted the receiver from the naked chest. “H-e-l-l-o-o” she said. The rest of the one-sided conversation went like this:

“Well, yes, I’m in the store right now.”

“You want me to tell you the color of the pants in the window? They are red.”

“The sign above the cash register says “Yearly Sale”.

“Yes, the staff is friendly.”

I noticed the store manager talking on the phone, bent down behind the main counter so she could peek at Sondra. Sondra continued answering several questions and then hung up the receiver. With sparkling eyes she said, “That was a call from the corporate headquarters of Quicksilver. They were doing a customer awareness call. I answered all their questions so they said to go the swimsuit display and look under the stack of flowered suits for a prize. She raced over, lifted the suits and saw a coupon for $50.00. Waving it in the air, she yelled, “I can get that sweatshirt after all!”

And that’s how this cheap mother broke down and helped her daughter buy an ugly, over-priced sweatshirt.