Absolutely adore Michael and beyond excited that he shared his day with us!!! XXOO
MASTER MICHAEL QUINN enjoys creating worlds. His apartments have been featured in Toni Schlesinger’s book Five Flights Up, Stan Williams’ book, The Find, the “Sneak Peeks” feature on Design*Sponge, and in the Beriberi’s video for their song “Fireflies.” As an event planner, Michael designed the Warhol Museum’s “Whole Boogie Woogie” party to celebrate the opening of “Piet (Mondrian) in Pittsburgh.” As a visual director, Backstage magazine praised his “evocative painted set” and “heightened costumes” for 292 Theatre’s production of Tennessee Williams’ In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel. Michael designs interiors, visuals, and flowers for stores, showrooms, weddings, and private events.
6:05 AM “Up with the chickens”
I manage the Rootstein mannequin factory in Park Slope, a job I call “my little knot of sustenance.” Our day starts at seven, so I usually leave my house in Carroll Gardens around six so that I can walk there. I’m not an early riser by nature, but having worked in the display business doing windows and floor moves the last twenty years, I’m used to these hours. I never set an alarm, I just wake up whenever I have to. My body knows what to do.
6:55 AM “Hands across America”
There’s nothing glamorous about working in a factory. It’s hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and always dirty. But it’s hard for me not to romanticize certain proletariat aspects. There are no egos here. Everyone works hard and helps one another. Everything is made by hand, and everyone is trained by apprenticeship. I’m proud to work at an American manufacturer that makes something in Brooklyn that’s not, say, an artisanal pickle.
7:00 AM “Don’t lose your head”
The first hour is always crazy. We’ve got orders going out and supplies coming in. Everyone needs something: boxes, brushes, fittings, fiberglass; the roof is leaking, the boiler’s broken; the permit for the spray booth’s expiring; the toilet keeps running. The telephone rings constantly. My office has doors on either side of it so with people running in and out, it’s like a French parlor comedy. This job is all about creative problem solving, and I’m good at that, but I would be nothing here without my right hand man, Nelson. I always say he is the backbone of this place. I’m like the spleen. I have a function, but without me the business would still live. Nelson hasn’t taken a vacation in years.
8:30 AM “Board Meeting”
Being in charge of production is a bit like being an air traffic controller, except you’re also responsible for how much everything costs. A great system was already in place when I started four years ago. Every order gets a clipboard and they all hang on a wall in front of me. I write all over them in pencil and highlight the changes and move the boards around all day long. I’m also in charge of shipping, so I spend a good part of the morning on the typewriter making bills of lading. The paperwork never ends.
9:30 AM “’We plied an ancient trade/where we threw all life’s instructions away’”
I’ve hated computers from the first time I had to work on one in fourth grade. I’ve heard this is not uncommon for Tauruses; the screen is too much like a wall, where we prefer to get in and root around in things. It’s quite a change for me to be the most tech-savvy person in a room, but even the little I know has revolutionized how we do things here. That said, the computers here are ancient. We still rely on a fax machine and the phone to conduct a lot of our business. So much of this place is like a 1985 time capsule, maybe this job has been given me a chance to start over with my relationship with technology.
10 AM “Coffee Break”
I like my coffee piping hot, and for someone else to put the milk in it. Whenever I go someplace and have to fix it myself, I always suffer a split second of irrational irritability, like, “If I wanted to make it myself, I would’ve had it at home!” That two seconds of someone else’s time really makes a big difference, I guess! La Boulangerie Lopez (5th Avenue & 18th Street, Brooklyn) has some of the best coffee in the neighborhood. I’ve been having a love affair with their butternut squash soup lately, behind the back of my first love, chilaquiles with scrambled eggs and green sauce. They serve eggs all day, which always gives me such an optimistic feeling. Mary Gaitskill talks about the hopefulness of eating eggs in one of her stories.
11 AM “Guess who?”
Speaking of Mary Gaitskill, in her short story “Secretary,” the title character talks about being “attracted to the bland ugliness” of her work clothes. I know the feeling. I like a uniform. I wear overalls almost every day of my life: striped ones in the summer, solid denim in the winter. When I get to work I change my shoes, Mr. Rogers-style, and put on this pair of coveralls over whatever else I’m wearing. The guy who ordered them put my name on them to be cute. I still think of “Mr. Quinn” as my father, but some people call me that here. The guys who work here are all about respect. With some affection, they also call me “Mike” and “Mikey.” I don’t go by any of these names anywhere else.
12 PM “Everything you REALLY need”
We get half an hour for lunch and everyone takes it at the same time. It’s just easier to run a factory this way. Since I’m at desk a good part of the day, when it comes to actually eating, I usually brown bag it and graze throughout the day. I use those precious thirty minutes to zip around the Slope taking care of errands. For me, going into a chain drugstore is akin to an anxiety attack. That’s only one of the reasons I love going to Neergaard (5th Avenue, near 9th Street). There are discoveries to be made in every aisle; just today I found this little corner stocked with Botanica supplies. I still haven’t found where they stock the toilet paper, though.
12:25 PM”Second Time Around”
I do some freelance styling and am pretty well-acquainted with most of the city’s thrift stores. Vice Versa (5th Avenue, near 15th Street) is part of a little chain that operates under different names around Brooklyn. I’ve been to three or four locations and they’ve all been great. Very organized, superb selection, and excellent price points. As thrifting goes, it’s more of a hunt-and-peck than a dig. If I’m looking for something specific, I can duck in and out of here in less than five minutes satisfied that I’ve seen whether they have what I need.
1:10 PM “Finishing Touches”
Barbara Graff is a fine artist who’s been doing mannequin makeups for over twenty-five years, so it’s no surprise that a lot of her personal artwork incorporates faces (barbaragraff.com). There’s a joke about “life imitating art” somewhere in there. It’s amazing we’ve gotten as close as we have since we only get to talk for about five minutes a day. Everyone is that busy.
2:30 PM “”Everybody’s workin’ for the weekend”
We have pickups and deliveries throughout the day, but the frenetic energy usually takes a real dip around this time. We’ve made our peace with today’s problems. Things feel quiet and manageable; we’re focused on finishing up, and what we have to do tomorrow. We use a lot of auto body supplies in mannequin production, so at Christmas time, those vendors all send us calendars for the New Year. Note how the days are ticked off. Everyone uses markers and pencils for the work they do; it’s almost impossible to find a pen around here.
3:25 PM “When the Buzzer Rings (Oh-Aye-Oh)”
We keep to a very tight schedule. I clock in and out just like everyone else. A bell rings to signal the start of the day at seven, the coffee break at ten, lunch at noon, and quitting time at 3:30. Everyone lives for the warning bell at 3:15. That means it’s time to clean up. On Friday afternoons, everyone is ready early and queues up to watch the clock change and punches out at the first possible second. I always think of the opening credits of “The Flintstones,” everyone making like Fred sliding off the back of the dinosaur’s tail. There’s lots of whooping on the way out.
4 PM “The Chosen One”
Whenever possible, I like to head straight home after work to reboot and recharge for at least a half an hour. I like to sit in my chair, or lie on my back on the floor with my cat Buffy. I look into her eyes and tune into her energy, then meditate. Sometimes I fall asleep, but if the intention is there, I still think it counts. The best part about an early schedule is after a nap, the night feels like a second day.
5 PM “Pause & Reflect”
People always ask me how I got into the mannequin business. Years ago I read this New Yorker profile about Kim Hastreiter, the founder of Paper magazine. It mentioned her veterinarian used to be the secretary at Andy Warhol’s Factory when she was in high school. For some reason this made a big impression on me. I thought it was cooler to be a more obscure part of a colorful history than to be, say, Edie Sedgwick. I wanted to get out of the corporate rat race and get involved in something that felt uniquely New York, so I took a job at Rootstein’s showroom as a receptionist about eight years ago. I showed up for my first day with a bagged lunch, a thermos of coffee, and this old cartoon book. I didn’t move up so much as over, from their showroom in Chelsea to their factory in Brooklyn. I experienced a kind of culture shock at first, but I think working at the factory has knocked out a lot of my prissier, more pretentious tendencies.
6 PM “’If you love me like music, I’ll be your song’”
I try keeping a night or two free as “floaters,” so I can just sit and read, or do laundry and clean the house. Otherwise I have different regularly scheduled activities. My role models are the kids in The Royal Tenenbaums, cross training their way into genius-ness. Once a week I have a voice lesson with Dave Hall (rowhousemusic.com); I struck gold when I found his flyer in the laundromat. I also make music with Jeff Szwast (gttan.com) and Danielle Cardona (daniellecardona.com); our combined sound is like a torch song from a Spaghetti Western.
7 PM “Old school”
I study writing with Joyce Johnson, and am also part of a writing group that meets every three weeks at the Hungarian Pastry Shop (Amsterdam near 110th Street, across from St. John’s the Divine). They have these old milk glass wall sconces hanging above most of the tables, which is both atmospheric and good for working. Years ago I was one of those types who never went north of 14th Street. If New York City has a central essence, right now I find it most concentrated on the Upper West Side.
9:30 PM “’Mistress of the Dark’”
I used to go out all the time, but now it takes a lot for me to leave the house for a social obligation. During the week, it’s unusual if I even shower or shave. When I do venture out, I get all tarted up in lots of layers of everything, finished with a spritz of “Elvira.” My closet is full of relics from all of these different past lives. I have beautiful people in my life and it’s fun to dress up and make the night feel like a special occasion. I always joke that “my favorite plan is a cancelled one,” but there’s some truth in that, I’m afraid.
11 PM “’Well, if it’s free, then I ain’t stealin’.’”
Randy Cohen, who used to write “The Ethicist” column for The New York Times, once praised the public library as “a marvelous institution.” After I read that, I started thinking about the library that way, and using that same word to describe it. All that information available to anyone who’s interested, and for free! I like the crapshoot quality of reserving things; you never know what’s coming in, or when. I never used to watch movies, but now it’s my favorite way to end the night. Lately I’ve been on a Fellini kick. I don’t have a set bed time. I’m like a cat: when I need sleep, I just curl up.