Handy Man

Damned if my hands didn’t look good around Claire’s throat. But then, my inability to perceive an act so visceral with any subjectivity was the very reason I was finally giving my agent the throttling she deserved. It sent me into a rage that there was a part of my mind, even then, that wasn’t focused entirely on squeezing with every ounce of strength I could muster. I could just hear the photographer’s direction: “Now lace your fingers behind back there, and turn the hero head just a little so we can see your thumbs. Nice!”


It’s impossible for me to lose myself within any activity, particularly anything involving my exceptional hands. You’ve probably seen my hands—the tools of my trade—fondling various products over the past decade or so, though you’d never know me on the street. I am a plain man, it’s true, but my hands are widely-held as the finest the advertising world has ever known. My introduction to hand modeling came early, sparked by an off-hand comment during a visit with Mother’s best friend Claire.

“Will you look at that?” said Claire, swirling her martini glass so that the ice cubes tinked against each other.

Mother looked up from her nails, “Mm?”

“The boy’s hands,” she said. Just like that: the boy. “They’re like little porcelain spiders.”

I looked down at my hands as if I were wearing them. At the time I was holding the chocolate bar Claire had brought me, still wrapped. It had melted in the summer’s heat, and I’d been squeezing it between my fingers, enjoying the fluid resistance within the candy’s foil sheath.

“Jeffrey, don’t play with your food,” said Mother. “It’s rude.”

“It’s not food, it’s candy,” I said. I put the bar in my pocket where, incidentally, it would melt even more.

“The boy could be a hand model,” Claire said. She turned to my mother. “I’m serious. Have you ever thought about bringing him in?”

I didn’t like the sound of that. In my limited experience, “in” was not a place to be brought. The thought of small severed hands on black conveyor belts had me massaging my wrists.

Mother shook her head. “All children have perfect hands,” she said. “You forget. That’s what hands look like before you’ve worked a job, or done your drugs, or been divorced-“

Claire chuffed. “Maggie, stop.”

“I’m serious, Claire. My hands used to look like that. ‘A pianist’s hands,’ that’s what Daddy used to say.” Mother held her fingers up for Claire to see. Then, after consideration, “I could be a scar model, what do you think?”

Claire rolled her eyes. “Look at the boy’s hands for a second, Mag. They’re positively… cherubic, like doll hands. They’re like alabaster flower petals.” I was feeling quite self-conscious by then, but I was afraid to move my hands from the table. I picked out a hangnail.

“Jeffrey, stop that,” Mother told me. Maybe Claire had something, is what she was thinking. She wasn’t about to let me spoil it.

“His fingers are long, for his age, you know? And vein-less, too. The photographers at the studio call that ‘vascularity,’ and it’s one of the most important things.”

“That so?” Mother was lost in thought.

“Look, let me ask around,” Claire said. “Why not? I don’t have any real pull, but we have photographers in all the time for product shots, and it couldn’t hurt to put a bug in their ear.”

“I don’t know, Claire,” said Mother, getting up to retrieve the ash tray from the counter. “Another martini?”

Claire leaned toward me and I noticed that her eyebrows had been drawn on. “All you would have to do is hold things, the things that people desire,” she said seductively. “And then we take pictures of your hands, and those photos go into the catalog where we sell those things. How would you like to do that?”

“Does it hurt?” I asked her.

Ad agents exclaimed that they had never seen such hands as mine, and one of the photographers burst into tears when I swiped his fallen lens cap from the studio floor. As I held it out to him he took a step back as though coming too close might set him ablaze. It put me in a curious state of mind, as if I had awoken one morning and realized that I had two wondrous, if ungainly, white wings sprouting from my back. That might have been preferable, in fact, since I still had to use my hands for such mundane tasks as sharpening my pencil, or zipping up my zipper, or picking my nose. These are the other things that hands do, I thought.

While most kids my age were digging holes in their yards in which to bury Barbie heads, I was combing Barbie’s hair in front of a white cyclorama. While my friends burned ant colonies with magnifying glasses, I held saucers of cereal and white glue under hot studio lights. All the while I was fawned over and preened, each hair tweezed from my proximal phalanges as I drank my Hi-C. My instinct for presentation was something that couldn’t be taught, they told me, and once that thought fully took root I forgot what it was like to grab things just to have them.

This methodical tactile dissociation was physical as well as psychological. During breaks I wore moistening gloves that whispered whenever I touched something. Mother made me shield my precious hands from the sun at all times, and they became ghostly pale as the weeks drew on. My hands no longer seemed like they were mine. When I touched my own things I felt like I was stealing them. And when I bore my mother’s casket years later I felt I surely must be selling it.

Though my hands, bathed in lotions by night, and artfully lit by day, had become the things of legend, they were prone to all manner of deviant practices when I was left to my own devices. Yet my actions were those of a desperate man, always. In time I began to shoplift—an inevitable act of treachery, one might say—but always with the hope of regaining some feeling of visceral causality. The fact that I was never caught made me feel even less responsible for my own actions, however, and I eventually abandoned the practice. In the years that have passed I’ve never yet managed to break through the cold assessment with which I regard anything that my hands come to rest upon.

This brings us to this morning, and my little altercation with Claire. For a moment I was hopeful that there would be poetry enough in my act—in suffocating the woman who’d set me on this path—to allow me to reach back through the years, if only briefly, to more intimate times. I wanted to feel a splinter after clambering over the neighbor’s fence, I wanted to touch a dried out cat corpse stuck in the sewer drain. But as the tips of my thumbs disappeared into the old woman’s neck, I could only admire my perfectly-maintained cuticles. In her last gasp for breath I could hear her telling me that it’s the fine details like that, and not knowledge or experience, which really sell a concept.

Related Tales

» “Hair” (21 of Dec, 2004)
» “Reality” (22 of Jan, 2004)
» “Figuring It Out” (11 of Jan, 2004)

My hands were prone to all manner of deviant practices when I was left to my own devices