Passive girl that I am, I often find myself at the whim of others. Take for instance my agency. I become quite docile in their presence, my phone voice rises, and sometimes I bake cookies. If I am nice, I work. If I am mean, I work, too. This is only because I am hired on the basis of my buns and legs, not my attitude generally speaking. But we are told not to bite the hand that feeds, and the hand that feeds me first feeds my agency which makes the agency look like the hand when in reality it is just the little man between the hand and me eating (the feed).
A few months ago, a heated conversation with another model about “taking some bastard client to small claims court” inspired me to do a fiscal follow-up of my own. The job in question was for a small German boutique on Rodeo Dr. I had worked for them before; the first time being Black Friday of 2006. This was one of those real glamorous jobs I dreamed about when I thought I was going to be a super model: I stood in a store window for twelve hours while Japanese tourists took pictures with me “the living mannequin.” Two fellows from high school managed to recognize me under a thick layer of drag queen makeup and ratty hair that the client had originally intended to interweave with Christmas lights. I protested, stating that being plugged into an electrical outlet didn’t seem like a terribly safe idea. The then emensley popular Pussy Cat Doll’s album played the entirety of my stay, watching real-time commerce and tourism displayed in front of me. Whenever I hear “Loosen Up My Buttons Babe” I remember the superficial burn I got on the left side of my pasty, SPF 55 managed skin from the movie-size wattage bulbs lighting me.
While I was paid for this first experience as well as the next day that they decided to bring me back (apparently my mannequin services were as popular as a Disneyland ride), I was not compensated for the third time I worked for them a few months later. Two years of complaining to my agency later, I was told I was “shit out of luck.” Thus taking the matter into my own large hands.
I arrive at the Beverly Hills Court for my December 4th, 1:30 PM appointed time. Apparently I am not the only one, because when I exit the elevator there is a mass of chatting and not chatting people surrounding the four different court rooms like flies on shit. I am fly. I see my defendant. Shit. Since I got out of my car and put five quarters in the meter I have been sweating more than I care to. I begin to sweat more. I think that I am going to ruin my teal and white striped silk shirt that looks like it could be expensive but I bought it at The Wasteland for $25. When I see the German man who is screwing me out of my money all I can think about is the night after work when he invited me to dinner with his wife, baby, and Jose Eber. I don’t feel empowered. I feel like an asshole. He looks up and sees me coming. Oh, dear God save me. The conversation that begins with an awkward wave of recognition is a combination of his German accent telling me about getting woken up by the sheriff at 6 am to serve him papers and me stumbling over “I’m so sorry for doing this” type nonsense.
To make a long story just nearly as long as it is, my client tells me that he never meant to hurt me but to punish the agency for another job that involved sixty grand and a flaky model who botched the operation. Whoops. While we are having this conversation, a woman in a red hat covered in ink black feathers approaches my German. Apparently they are friends. Phoebe is a D list celebrity who I can’t recognize for the life of me but she obviously feels like we’ve all been friends for years as she unloads what she’s been doing the last year. Said everything includes her hair accessory line and her upcoming E! channel show in which she is going to be paid “triple what everyone else is being paid” because she “the biggest celebrity there.” She’s got crazy eyes and a nose that’s surely seen the Knife. She is suing the Ivy for crashing her white C Class Mercedes into a Buick. Her lovely frumpy mother pulls out photographs of the scene: Phoebe in a pink, purple and white dress surrounded by paparazzi running towards her crashed car with an acting class version of despair on her face. Each photograph is watermarked with a bright pink “PHOEBE” over it, obviously from her personal website.
Finally we are called into the courtroom by a bleached blond lady deputy. I sit down next to the German, although my initial instinct is to sit on the other sides. Are we supposed to be so amiable? I am existing in a constant state of confusion. The deputy comes up to me.
Blond Deputy: Miss?
Blond Deputy: Are you a witness or do you have a case here?
Me: I’m the plantiff in a suit.
Blond Deputy: There are not shorts allowed in a courtroom and when the judge gets
here she is going to embarrass you.
Oh, dear God. I sweat some more. I run to my car to get black jeans out of my trunk. My inner dialogue continues as such:
“No shorts in the courtroom? But these aren’t really shorts. They are tasteful, high waisted and black with a slight sheen to them. I look completely respectable. These people just don’t understand fashion.”
By the time I return the courtroom the judge is speaking in front of the forty people seated in rows. She is stern. I am terrified. She starts talking about labeling evidence, speeches, etc. I stare at my random email print outs and internet articles. Nothing highlighted, blacked out, starred, labeled, stapled. Next to me is a man with a binder and pages marked with those arrow shaped Post Its. Fuck me. We are all dismissed outside again to exchange evidence, which we have already done. When the German and I get back outside I ask him if we should just settle it without the judge since we have both agreed that I provided a service and should have been compensated. He agrees. I am thankful that he has never been to Small Claims Court before and even more thankful that he is awkward and German. We ask Blond Deputy if we can just settle without seeing the judge, the judge gives me a paper, I sign, it’s done.
The German and I share the elevator down to the lobby. He tells me he will call me on Monday. When we get to the sidewalk on Burton, he offers me a cigarette. I decline, shake his hand, and scamper back into the real world where I can be flighty, ridiculous, and wear shorts.