He immediately turned his attention to unloading the bag. He scattered the contents of a makeup bag onto the table. Then he pulled out two kinds of hairspray, a hairbrush, two different curling irons and three more changes of clothing for the girl.
“Well, don’t just stand there. Help me get her ready,” he barked. I stood there with my mouth open. “Are you the photographer or not?” I nodded. “Well, then do your job and help me get her changed and made up. You’re supposed to know what looks best.”
Keep in mind, this is a basic point and shoot studio set up in the middle of a discount store aisle – not Glamour Shots. There are no walls. No appointments. A small selection of backdrops. Preset equipment. Few special effects. Bare bone lighting. Portraits always consisted of basic head shots or if the child was small enough, laying on their tummy.
I felt defensive and out of my element. I had been a photographer for three months and only begun to feel more comfortable being on display in the middle of store aisles. “I’ve received no cosmetic or hairstyling training. And it would be inappropriate for me to disrobe and dress your child.”
He put his hand on his hip and scowled. “Fine. Where’s an outlet? I’ll do this myself.” I pointed to the power strip the camera and cash register were plugged into. He made a big show of how upset he was plugging the curling irons in himself.
Mesmerized, I watched as the man dusted the girl’s cheeks with blush and attached fake eyelashes to her lids. He whipped out a little brush, pulled it across the top of a rose-colored lipstick and dabbed on the girl’s mouth. He silently tapped his lips together and the girl mimicked him. The dad applied her make-up better than I could my own. I had been doing my own for at least ten years.
He looked at me. “Make yourself useful and put all that back in the make-up bag. It doesn’t take a genius to do that.” I stood open mouthed and froze in place. I said nothing because I needed to keep my job. I couldn’t wait for him to leave. I picked up a mascara and shoved it into the bag.
Then a woman walked up with an infant in a baby carrier. The baby was alert and cooing. I put the make-up bag down, yanked the sign-up sheet from under the duffel and asked her to sign in. As she filled out the information form, I changed the posing table over to accommodate the infant.
The man stopped curling the girl’s hair. “What are you doing? We were here first.”
“And you are still getting her ready. Once I’ve finished photographing the baby, I’ll take your daughter’s pictures.”
“We’re nearly ready. She has to wait her turn or I’m complaining to the store manager.” They arrived over half an hour ago and were cutting into my lunch time. At this rate I won’t be getting a lunch at all and I’m already crabby with hunger.
I reiterated that I would finish the baby’s pictures before taking his daughter’s. He huffed, grabbed his daughter’s hand and stormed away. The little girl ran to keep up with him. The mess was left strewn all over the display table and floor.
“Let’s take your baby’s pictures finished before he comes back. No sense in you dealing with him, too.” She nervously smiled and nodded.
Beautiful first shot. The three-month old boy smiled, even giggled a little. Dimples on display with his gummy smile and sparkly eyes. The second shot didn’t happen. The power strip shut itself off because it overloaded. The man had left two curling irons plugged in. I unplugged the irons, reset the power strip and got five more great pictures of the baby.
The man returned with an assistant manager. “See, she pushed us out of line. It’s our turn.” He looked down at the curling irons and shrieked. “You unplugged them. They were at the perfect temperature. Now they must heat up again.” He reached down and plugged them in.
I tried to take one more picture and the power strip gave an audible pop when it tripped again causing the camera to not fire off the shot. “What did you do that for?” the man snapped. He reached over and unplugged everything but the curling irons and reset the power strip.
The baby began to cry. He probably didn’t like the man’s tone any more than the rest of us. We ended the baby’s session two pictures short of the normal full set. The mother had already bundled the baby back into his carrier. Then nervously looked from me to the man and back to me again.
I looked at the manager hoping for a little help. She shrugged her shoulders. “Will you make sure they’re next?” she asked.
“If she’s ready before anyone else comes in, yes. Also, it is past my lunch time so there may be a few unhappy customers later if I ever get a chance to grab a sandwich,” I said pointedly.
The man muttered under his breath that sounded like, ‘You could stand to skip a meal or two, you fat cow.’
I ignored him and plugged the cash register back in. I rung up the sitting fee and gave the mother her appointment card with the date to pick up the pictures. I thanked her and she gave me an empathetic smile. I nodded.
The little girl scratched at her legs where the crinoline rubbed her bare skin. “Stand still,” the man snapped. “Now look what you’ve done. Winners don’t go around with red marks all over their legs.” He jerked the make-up bag off the table and pulled out a tube of foundation. Then started dabbing it on the marks.
While he was occupied, I pulled out my ‘I’ll be right back sign’ and with a dry erase marker wrote the time for twenty minutes later. Then I disappeared behind the backdrop. I walked down the neighboring aisle lined with comforters and pillows. He still hadn’t shrieked, so I kept going.
I doubled my pace because the eatery was on the other end of the store. I ordered the smelliest foods on the menu – a grilled ham and cheese with a side of onion rings. I might have heartburn later, but revenge by dragon breath on this jerk made me smile.
As I neared the studio, I heard the man bellowing. “You people need to keep better track of your employees. I expect compensation for all the wasted time and receive a full set of pictures for free.” He was yelling at the same assistant manager as before.
I retraced my steps and emerged from behind the backdrop. “What’s wrong?”
“Where have you been?” he demanded.
“Behind the backdrop taking a break while you finished your daughter’s hair.”
“Ugh, that’s disgusting.” He pointed at my plate. “We’re ready. Hopefully, that odor doesn’t upset Angel’s delicate digestion. She has a weak stomach.” The man walked over to the posing table and shoved out from the ring of padded carpet. “Come on Angel, time for pictures.” He motioned for her to stand in its place. He posed her in a standing position with one hand on her hip. She already had a fake smile plastered on her face. “Well?”
I leisurely walked over to the display table and set my plate down, then wiped my hands. I finished the bite of food in my mouth. “Sir, we don’t do standing portraits. If I take them, the lab won’t print the pictures.” I didn’t tell him it would also cost me my job. He would enjoy that.
Diva dad flushed from the neck up. First in a shade of pink that progressed to a deep red. “You made me wait all this time and are only now to telling me that. How dare you?”
“I can’t read minds and you never asked about standing portraits.” I shoved another bite of food in my mouth and wiped my hands. I didn’t care if it made him angry.
He put his hand on his hip and clicked his tongue. “Why else would she be dressed like this?”
“Because a beautiful dress like that would look silly with sneakers.” It was out of my mouth before I could stop it.
“Where’s the eight hundred number for your company? I’m going to make sure you’re fired, Missy.” I handed him a slip of paper with the toll-free number on it and shoved another bite of food into my mouth. With any luck, a mouth full of food would keep me from saying anything else stupid or snarky.
I don’t know if the man never called or the people at headquarters. Joe got Lincoln, NE the next time it came up in the rotation and I was relieved to go to Freemont, NE. He enjoyed going to Lincoln because his cousins lived on the edge of town. And they liked it when he stayed because he helped pay for pizza and beer for a few nights. Lucky, he could pocket the most twenty-six dollar per diem each day meant to defer the cost of a hotel and meals.
The clicking of the footsteps grew louder. “Now remember, you have to smile for the nice lady. Just like we practiced,” the woman’s shrill voice grew louder.
My palms became sweaty, so I wiped them on my skirt. “Welcome to our portrait studio.”
“Yeah, I need a standing shot, a head shot, and a sitting shot,” snapped the mom. The little girl smiled so hard her cheeks must have hurt. I rolled my eyes. Here we go again.