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.
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.
“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.
“No, second. Yours?”
They talked about their previous trips to Italy and I took this as a cue to leave.
They had shot everybody and Mike was beginning to pack away his cameras.
“Is it ok if I take off? I’m supposed to meet with a friend.”
“Yeah, that’s fine. Give me a call tomorrow.”
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.