I Wish I Knew (4: Final)

I didn’t get lost this time, but I ran a little late.

“Where are you?”

“Almost there. On 5th ave. now. Turning on 39th. Are you there yet?”

“Not yet. I’m on 39th now. Hurry up, I need some help carrying things.”

Before the phone call ended I could see Mike struggling down the street. He was wearing a backpack with other equipment slung over his shoulder. I walked up to him and took a long box from under his arm.

“Are you ready?”

I never was. I really didn’t want to be here but I needed the money.

“I guess.”

As we entered a front door that looked like any of the other ones, some other models caught up with us and talked while we walked up narrow flights of stairs and into another apartment turned studio.

The other models knew each other, had worked with each other on different sets and talked about how “they won’t work for free anymore”. They seemed nice enough.

“Put the box on that table.”

Mike opened it, a large sub sandwich meant for us to eat during the shoot.

While they set up, the 8 of us sat in a kind of dining room with a bunk bed propped up against the wall. One of the models; an accented, shoulder length wavy haired model named Eduardo talked about his paintings to anybody willing to listen.

“Here, have look.” He said to me, handing me a sketchbook with landscape and portrait pieces.

“You like?”

“Yeah, these are good!”

“$50.00 each. Which you like?”

Maybe this guy didn’t know that most of us were here to make money, not purchases.

“Oh, uh … sorry. I don’t have any money on me.”

He took the sketchbook from me and handed it to another model. He was met with the same response each time it passed hands.

Eduardo talked for long periods of time. Once he failed to sell any of his work, he talked about spirituality and enlightenment. Another guy who had probably done these shoots multiple times read from a book on the top bunk. Two of the female models talked about shoots they had been on before, people they had worked with. I leaned against the post looking into the living room watching Mike and another man set up cameras, white canvas, and videography equipment.

It took about an hour for everything to get going; finally the other photographer came into the room to greet us.

“Hello everybody! I’m Carl, lead photographer for Dash Magazine. I assume all of you know Mike already. Today we’re going to be shooting for a piece on fashion. We have jeans provided for everybody here, but we will need everybody to be topless during the shoot. Ok?”

I’d shot without a shirt before, but never with other people around. I looked around but nobody else batted an eye.

“We’re just about ready, so we’ll start with the ladies and then move on to the guys. And guys, please don’t look at the ladies during the shoot. Let’s all be professional! Thanks! Mike, anything to add?”

“Sure. Thanks everybody for coming out today. We need quiet during the shoot, but feel free to help yourself to a sandwich while you wait. Thanks again guys.”

With that, they called in Marie who promptly threw her shirt off, propped it over a chair, and stood on the white canvas. I barely paid attention to her conversation with the other female models, but she seemed like a free spirited person.

During the shoot nobody really spoke. Eduardo looked over his own sketches, top bunk read his book. Some of the women ate sandwiches and I just kind of stared into space, bored and looking at the time every few minutes.

“Cheekbones! You’re up!”

That was me. I took off my shirt and stood on the white canvas, nervous as hell. I took off my jeans and put on the ones provided, they fit well.

“You don’t look like you’ve been working out for this.” Mike whispered to me before beginning the shoot. Well shit. I had done two core workouts beforehand, but figured I was thin enough for the shoot. Guess not.

I made the same faces Mike had taught me, the same Yarvis had wanted from me, the same made for Chen with buttered face. After about 10 shots I was dismissed.

“Ok, Michael! Come over please!”

Michael put down his book and tossed himself from the top bunk. I put my shirt back on defeated. I didn’t want to be here, didn’t want to do this anymore, but I didn’t want to disappoint anybody. I felt like I had somehow let Mike down, same way I had felt with Chen when he told me I had big ears. I was starving but didn’t touch the sandwich; I just wanted to leave.

After Michael shot, he walked back into the dining room and looked to me.

“Hey! Anthony, right? Are you coming to Milan next month for Fashion Week?”

“No … didn’t even know about it.”

“I am!” Marie walked over.

“First time?”

“No, second. Yours?”

They talked about their previous trips to Italy and I took this as a cue to leave.

“Hey Mike.”

They had shot everybody and Mike was beginning to pack away his cameras.

“Yeah?”

“Is it ok if I take off? I’m supposed to meet with a friend.”

“Yeah, that’s fine. Give me a call tomorrow.”

“Sure.”

I didn’t say “Goodbye” to anybody, just took off down the flights of stairs and out of the door. I wasn’t meeting anybody, just wanted to catch the ferry back to my comfort zone. Immediately I felt at ease, didn’t need cigarettes this time. Just getting out of the crowded apartment was enough to air a sigh and forget the entire thing.

Though I hadn’t worked out and presumably looked fat, or not chiseled enough, I made it into the magazine. I didn’t care, I had already decided that was the end of my modeling career.

A few days later Yarvis called me from a different agency he was working for, he left a message saying he wanted me to come in for a shoot and acceptance into the agency. I never returned the call.

I tried to get copies of the magazine but only found myself on their website; it was surreal. To me, the nervousness was so easily noticeable in the picture, the stiffness of my whole body; it was the embodiment of my entire time as a model: timid, restrained, quiet, nervous, unsure. It’s the only evidence I have of success in the industry; I never got paid for the shoot.

A few months passed when I decided to look up Mike on Google to see what he had done since the shoot. The only thing that came up with was charges in the state of Florida against him for sexual assault of a minor; he’d become a registered sex offender in the state. It made so much sense, his first words to me on our first shoot: “Are you a cop?” I was blown away.

Thank god I’m out.
Image
(Small photo. Marie is cropped out)

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I Wish I Knew

“You’re not a cop, right?” Mike was skeptical of me. When I was 17 I wore my hair short; I presented myself with a stern, borderline aggressive attitude that seems present in many officers, though I can think of none who are 17.

“No … no. Not a cop.” I laughed at the idea of it. At the time I thought of joining the military, but police work seemed far removed from anything I wanted involvement in.

“I’m only asking because a friend in Florida got caught shooting an underage kid.” I hated when Mike said the word “shoot”. I disliked it when he used it in his email to me on Myspace, “Hey! I was just looking through your page and you are a very good looking guy! I’d really like to shoot you! When are you free?” The word, phrased like that, sent me so far off my center that I decided to carry a knife with me to the shoot; it was the first time I had ever carried a weapon with me.

“Ok, leave your car here. I’ll drive there.” We met in a strip mall ShopRite parking lot, my idea. If anything about Mike was weird to me I could cut loose and get lost in one of the stores or make my way back up north.

“Where’re we going?” The creepy needle was starting to bounce.

“A park nearby. You can drive if you want, but there’s usually limited parking. People fish in the lake.”

“Ok.” I got into his SUV up a dirt road that led to a small parking lot; he was right, there was only one spot open. Looking down beyond the tree line, I could see a lake with small boats dotting the water, lines cast out as fishermen sat thinking or sleeping as the day began to end.

Mike led us down into the trees and began snapping shots. I had no idea what to do, how to act. I was stiff, I looked nervous. Shit, I was. I sat on some broken branches, stood with a hand in my pocket, and made other artificial poses while he told me how good I was doing with one eye closed and the other working the lens. I knew I wasn’t, but whatever.

We shot a few more times before Mike took me into NYC to meet with a business partner of his: Yarvis. Yarvis was partial owner of a model agency down town; we met up with him as he was walking across the street. He got into the backseat of the SUV and immediately glowed at me.

“Turn around so Yarvis can see you.”

“Oh my god, Mike, he’s beautiful.”

“I TOLD you. Didn’t I tell you?” Mike smiled at me. I didn’t smile back; found the entire exchange weird. Didn’t have my knife this time; I was cast far out from center and feeling like a worm on the hook of any one of those boat lines from the lake.

“I want to show him to Andrew. Can you drive us to my place?” More people ogle me. Yay.

Yarvis had a very animated phone call with Andrew; his partner in business and pleasure.

“Yes. YES. He’s beautiful. Oh god, Andrew, you have to see him. I’m bringing him to you right now. You’re going to love this kid. We’re on our way now.”

We made our way up a few flights of stairs and into Yarvis’ and Andrew’s apartment. Andrew sat at their kitchen table as we entered and I was introduced. Andrew seemed less than satisfied with my looks.

“I don’t know.” He said to Yarvis.

“Can we have a minute?” He looked to Mike and me before getting out of his seat and taking Yarvis to a room down the hall.

“They really like you!” Mike was certain this was going well. I wasn’t so persuaded. I liked Andrew more than Yarvis; I liked that he was up front with his disappointment in my appearance. Don’t worry, Andrew, I don’t see it either.

They came out of the room, Yarvis was smiling.

“I want you to come to this address tomorrow morning at 9. Shit. Wait. You’re still in school, right? Ugh. Just quit!” He half joked. “Can you come on Saturday? 9 AM?” Yarvis handed me a large piece of plastic:

F@ Models

You Wish You Knew.

Under was the address: 1499 Lafayette St. The large plastic was actually 3 different layers of transparent plastic: one was just the sun, the next the sea and a guy laying out, the next the elitist text.

“Sure. I can be there for 9 on Saturday.” I said as little as possible. Andrew sat back at the table straight faced. Yarvis beamed. Mike contained some of it. I looked mostly like Andrew.

– – – – –

A few nights before I was scheduled to go to F@, Mike called me.

“I have somebody who wants to meet you. I’m coming up north to pick you up. You HAVE to come. I won’t tell you who it is, I don’t want to scare you. I’m coming now.” His voice was energetic, optimistic. The conversation was so cryptic I barely got a word in, I had no idea what was going on. Mike made his way to me, I got into his SUV, and before I knew it he was pointing at a large building in New York.

“That building. 5th floor. The door’s open. Just go in and meet with him. I’ll wait here.” Though the skeptic in me never really trusted Mike, I was nervous without him by my side. I had no idea what was up the 5 flights of steps; no clue who I was meeting, what they looked like, nothing. I wish I knew.

There was piano music coming from the opened door when I reached the floor. When I walked inside to the kitchen, an Asian woman dressed head to toe in black stared confusedly at me. She was talking to another woman who turned to me, gave a quick glance, and immediately resumed conversation with the woman. Men about my age walked around shirtless with hor d’oeuvres; they all looked at me as Andrew had in his apartment, how I looked at myself.

One of the servers came up to me, “Baked brie, sir?”

“No thank you. I’m supposed to be meeting somebody here …”

“He’s in the living room. That way.” He pointed with his head to a room off to the left and walked towards a different group of talking fashionistas offering his brie.

I was cautious. I was cursing out Mike in my mind. Each step pumped more blood to my brain, made it throb with a force that almost brought me back down the steps and into the NYC night.

In the living room there were shelves of books everywhere. An expensive looking oxblood rug laid in the center of the room, and a man sat in a chair surrounded by shirtless boys. It looked like a weird painting of royalty. Some of the boys stood, some knelt in front of his majesty. He didn’t speak to any of them; just kept mechanically plucking something from a bowl, unwrapping it, and popping it into his mouth.

I made my way closer to him.

“Hi. Uh … Mike said to come meet you?”

He was silent and straight faced through his shoulder length blond hair. He didn’t move at all. He took another piece from the bowl, a Tootsie-Roll, and popped it into his mouth. His face moved up and down me, prodding me with his eyes. He motioned with his hand and I turned around. Stood that way for a few seconds and turned back to him.

“You can go now.”

I walked back through the kitchen, past the funeral-ready woman, and hustled down the stairs. Mike’s car was idling outside, another car pulled close to his; I jumped into the passenger’s seat.

“Can I get your number? Let’s meet up sometime?” The guy in the other car did and we took off. I think Mike got more out of this meeting than I did.

“Well? How’d it go?”

“I don’t know. He didn’t really say anything.”

“Yeah, he never really does. You did great! Did he say if he’d call you?”

“He didn’t say anything.”

Mike drove us back to New Jersey, still optimistic and beaming; maybe it had more to do with his getting a number.

I still have no idea who that man was.

Deadbeat

My days are typically OK until I walk to the boxes, plug in my key, and take the mail back with me to my place.

Dear Patient,

After many failed attempts to reconcile your balance, we have not received a payment in quite some time. We have been patient allowing you to pay off this balance, however since payments have not been consistent, THIS ACCOUNT MUST BE PAID IN FULL. Please be advised that if payment is not received by 4/20/13, YOUR ACCOUNT WILL BE PLACED WITHIN OUR COLLECTION AGENCY AND WE WILL NO LONGER BE HANDLING IT.

Fuck them.

I’m past due on another credit card owing 7hundredsomething. I don’t have the money, shit, I don’t have ANY money. My student loans will be horse kicking me in the stomach soon too, maybe I can give the degree back, get a refund. Two quarters slide into my leg when I sit on the bed; the current balance of my total savings, without looking at my bank account. The last time I took a look, I had -.67 cents in it. They’ve probably closed my account by now; I haven’t received any mail with red and yellow “urgent!” and “sign here” stickers everywhere at least.

Christ. I think I’m a deadbeat.

I run a hand through my unwashed hair, slide it down my face, and try to soberly figure out a way to make enough money to pay back this shit. I could have had the money but I have too much pride. Quit my job because my boss is a child, a pretty dumb reason. The quit made my waterfall income a quickly depleting pool. The dry season is forcing me out of the apartment soon if I can’t think of something. I’d probably be at least tempted to shoot myself if I had a gun, but unless I can rent a gun for one quarter and buy a bullet with another, I’m shit out of luck.

I toss the mail from my lap to the far edge of the bed, I don’t want to think about it. I lay back on the mattress,  a little too firm for me. I’ve had it since I moved into the place about 6 months ago; my father helped me buy it. I picked it out hastily, as I did the apartment. There’s cockroaches in the room and the bed is too hard. I guess it worked out for me though; I don’t have a desk so the bed has been my desk, dresser, office, and dining room table. One night when I came home shitfaced it was my bathroom. Can barely sleep on the thing but at least it’s multi-purpose.

On the floor is a half emptied bottle of 7 dollar Moet and an empty glass that smells like stale wads of bubblegum; a deep red layer of sugar and nastiness from the wine sits unmoved at the bottom of the glass even when I pick it up. I pour a half glass, hold my breath while lifting it to my lips, and chug. Ugh! Jesus! The red stickiness is still at the bottom of the glass; doesn’t even look wet. Next to the Moet is a bottle of mostly drunken water. When I pick it up I knock the wine over onto the carpet and my computer bag. Oh god damn it what the fuck! I have carpet cleaner in the room somewhere. I use it when my cat pisses on the floor, or when I piss the bed. I’ll find it later, fuck this. I turn off the lights, it’s time for sleep. At 4 in the afternoon. Fuck it. I’m a deadbeat.