I am on a private plane with Monique Lhuillier, headed to Nashville for a runway show. It is not as big as I would like for it to be; it seats about 6 people comfortably, 8 if anyone cared to sit in the 2 jump seats behind the pilots. Nearly every turbulent bump sends my head into my hands. “God, protect us and keep us safe…God, protect us and keep us safe…God…” This is a mantra I repeat over and over and over until the need to vomit reluctantly fades away. I developed this phrase when I was 13 and began flying regularly to Reno for family snowboarding trips. I am not certain that it makes me feel reassured but I am a creature of habit. I ate tuna for lunch every day for 3 years until I began to feel that the mercury was substantially hindering my cognitive functioning.
At times I feel a bit arrogant in willing the plane to stay in the air on my own account. “But I have so much more to do!” I think. I try to explain to myself that I am being completely irrational, that driving a car 50 to 60 miles a day puts me at a higher risk of premature death than flying does. But even then I argue with my calmer self that the statistic only holds if you are an occasional flier, which I am not. I’m airborne practically as often as my rubber meets the road. Many times I like to recall a few incidences in my life, mostly involving psychics or other knowledged persons, that reassure me that I will live to a ripe old age of…well, not right now. I think about the turban wearing gentleman in the Long’s Drugs parking lot who told me I would be famous and that I would die at 89. This prophecy does not entail me falling to my death in a blazing inferno. Another psychic recently predicted that there would be a script in 3 years that would inspire me to continue in that direction and would be quite big for me. And, here, I live again! But no matter how vividly I can recall these words, I break out into a cold sweat whenever the wind currents shudder my plane.
My least favorite ride was a cramped hell hole of a Delta experience from Newark to Fort Lauderdale. I was literally the only passenger under 65, aside from 3 grandchildren and someone’s caged parakeet. I couldn’t help but think that if God had some sick quota to fill under the “Freak Accident” category of human calamities, this plane would certainly be the easiest target. I survived that trip, as I have survived all others, but developed a strong distaste for the disintegrating body so much so that 89 might just be too long to wait.
I walk into a shop that displays confederacy paraphernalia, cowboy hats, and Marilyn Monroe coffee cups in the store window. The tall, elderly shopkeeper is in the middle of an order: 4 Elvis shot glasses, 6 Elvis driver’s licenses, hot sauce…bacon and bar-b-q…maple pineapple, 4 tins of… The list continues, each order ever the more ridiculous and entirely appropriate. I stifle a laugh multiples times. He hangs up the phone and says, “Damn it, I forgot to order the Bacon Band Aids.” A few minutes later he follows up with an “Oh, I know what to do!” I am assuming this is in regards to the band aid debacle. He apologizes for talking out loud and I offer to brainstorm for him while I am there.
It doesn’t take more than a few steps into the store to realize that this man is a patriot with a capital “P.” There is a wall dedicated entirely to military related pins: POWs, fake purple hearts, eagles holding snakes, stars of various sizes and metals, I (Heart) My Vietnam Vet, an entire series of scantily clad pinup girls labeled as “Wartime Airplane Decals.” My favorite is a naked girl holding up a towel to cover her naughty bits titled “The Home Stretch.”
I do not feel American enough to be in the same room with this man. He is obviously tied in some personal capacity to the armed service and while I am inclined to ask him about it I sense that he would throw me over the cash register and bellow “Who sent you?!” while brandishing a knife with a menacing depiction of a pointy fingered Uncle Sam on the handle. And if such violent means were never resorted to, he could easily just go into a dissertation on his “time in the war” exploring every bullet hole and every dead comrade until my ears bled.
When I place the pack of confederate flag playing cards down on the counter I try to play it cool, like I am an actual racist who still upholds the uber American tradition of cross burning in my spare time. If he suspects I am doing this solely to play an ironic game of Gin Rummy with some bearded leftist hipsters, I imagine he might toss me out of the joint. I throw in a sweet looking pin with the word “Nashville” riding along musical notes for good measure.
Social progress is highly overrated.
1. Vibrant colored plastic glasses. Now, I doubt that these have any UVA/UVB protection embedded in their cheap little lenses but if you want your outfit doused in a good measure of irony these are the shades for you. My brother owned a pair of these when he was about three. I remember them well because he was wearing them when he whacked me on the head with a flute. I bled. He giggled.
2. Marijuana and MDMA. It might just be me, but it seems as though mushrooms dipped in popularity this year. Apparently the kids just want to feel good and rub each other, not stare at the sky and see God riding a unicorn.
3. Bare ass cheeks. I caught quite a bit of bum at the shows. It came in many shapes and sizes, with cellulite and occasionally without. It peeked out from under short shorts and sequined daisy dukes, a little crescent shaped piece of booty. There was one jumper-clad girl whom I could see her cheeks from the back as well as the front (time for some squats m’lady!). But my favorite pieces of ass was most definitely that of the girl whom walked past me while I was seated on the ground waiting for The Kills to play. Her acid wash denim shorts were essentially summertime chaps; they were torn and shredded and had two holes connected by two strings, top and bottom, through which her bikini bottoms poked through quite prolifically. I was dazzled.
4. S.U.S.Ds (Sweaty Ugly Sugar Daddys) Paying for your own ticket is highly overrated. If you’re a girl and you’ve got some boobs, all you have to find is a boob of a man to mooch off of. They’ve got houses with pools on lock down, free drugs, full-time chefs, backstage passes, etc. All you have to do is ignore the nagging suspicion that you might get raped in your sleep by some out of work investment banker. And don’t worry when people give you that “nothing is free” speech. You won’t have to blow the guy because someone else will inevitably be taking one for the team.
5. War Wounds. A testament that you truly weathered the Coachella storm, these little scrapes and bruises give stories to tell until Neosporin is no longer necessarily. Three friends came away wounded after hopping the fence having convinced an off-duty Marine cum security guard to give them 10 seconds to attempt it. A friend of mine scraped his shoulder and elbow falling off of a golf cart. The beauty of this tragic tale is that it simultaneously illicit sympathy and jealousy, as people that “know” know that golf carts are only found shuttling stars and rock stars around the backstage area. Sadly, all I came away with was the plastic shoe induced double blister on the bottom of my left foot. Target shoes are cheap for a reason.
6. Bootie Sandals. Not a sandal, not a boot. These puppies give you the illusion of sensible ankle support, the slouchiness of a your favorite de-elasticized leather gym sock, and the freedom of a flip flop. Thank goodness for these. I couldn’t imagine another year watching those poor girls walk around in cowboy boots in 100 degree heat.
7. Public Boob Grabs. Apparently the security guards didn’t catch the P.D.A. hidden in people’s nap sacks. The boys reached around, reached under, and reached in. I had to light a cigarette afterward, I felt so personally involved in the act.
This recession has put everyone at a bit of a loss, myself included. So when I actually have things to do throughout the day which pertains to accumulating wealth, I should (in theory) get excited and you know, do my job. But sometimes you just don’t feel like it.
1. Wake up.
2. Drive to casting for a Black Eyed Peas music video. We are asked to be funky, edgy, and wearing lip gloss. This is described as “euro”. I decide on an uncomfortable multicolored Alexander McQueen jumpsuit that I bought a year ago and have only worn three times. I put on some sassy lip gloss.
3. The waiting area for the BEP casting is loaded with girls that look nothing like me and are all under 5’6. This is a room of trashy looking dancers. Not so coincidentally my agent sent a picture in which I look like I’m dancing over to the casting director. I am number 16. I wait around for about thirty minutes until I decide that I do not look hip enough or urban enough to make this worth my while. I leave.
4. I start my drive to Santa Monica. This is for a fairly big money hair job. This only means that you are being compensating for pain and suffering, not actual time working. The last time I worked for this client they told me I was going to be dyed “a nice caramel and honey” which translated to an orange base and a banana stripe down the side of my head. I make two attempts to turn around and head home after recalling the shade of green my hair turned after dying it back brown but finally decide to man up and just go anyway. When they ask if they can layer my hair and dye it back brown again I grit my teeth and say “yeah” through the side of my mouth. I am a liar.
5. I come home and watch an episode of 30 Rock. I want to be Tina Fey.
6. I stop by my agency for them to take polaroids to send to some agencies in Greece. I take off my shoes and put on a bathing suit and pose and pose and pose. My feet are cold on the concrete floor.
7. I have another two hours to kill in which I sit around and pretend to read. My audition is close enough for me to walk but I drive anyway because it is cold and I am lazy. I have been told to be approachable and fun. I am to be lip syncing “Pretty Fly for a White Guy” which I haven’t heard in its entirety since it came out when I was twelve and I thought it was funny. As I sit in the casting office, I can hear the people before me singing through the walls. I am embarrassed for them and when I get up to go inside the people in the hallway say they can’t wait to hear what I can do. It is a fishbowl scenario, only more violating. I go inside, slate my name, grab a microphone and have at it. Apparently I am good at acting like an asshole because they called me back for a director’s session tomorrow.
8. Come home and try to figure out what I’m really supposed to be doing with my life.
Before I knew any better, I spent some time as as “model” with a C-rate agency in Los Angeles. This was during a time in which I classified myself as a student taking some time off who happened to go on castings where other girls booked the job. I was simply going through the motions of what these girls did, minus the payoff. In fact, at the end of the year my expenses outweighed my income so heavily that the government payed me money for even attempting to model. I should have jumped ship entirely after my booker got me a job working at a restaurant to subsidize my lack of income, but I continued pretending with them for a few more months.
I was hired as a hostess at The Spanish Kitchen on La Cienega at a $10 per hour salary plus tips from the waiters. Considering my situation, this was a goldmine, a wondrous opportunity for growth. The day shift allowed me time to work on calculus homework while scheduling birthday parties for people who still thought the place was cool. The food was hit or miss, which didn’t matter because the employees were never given free meals and working two hours for a plate of mediocre chicken mole never seemed worth it. Occasionally one of the bussers would sneak me a doughy white tortilla filled with homemade guacamole. But after the original guac man was fired, it never tasted the same and I refused many a tortilla roll going forward.
There were perks to the job, if you counted D-list celebrity sightings as interesting fodder for dinner party lore. The celebrities themselves were never awe-inspiring. What did amaze me was the ability of the place to draw in only nobodies on a routine basis. I seated Shannon Elizabeth’s bulldog of an ex-husband in the center booth at the back of the room. I asked SuChin Pak what she majored in at college while handing her a sticky, leather bound menu (Berkeley: Political Science). Fred Durst came in with a lady friend wearing a hat that had the dual task of camouflaging a premature receding hairline as well as remaining needlessly incognito. He did an admirable job pretending he hadn’t sat next to me at dinner parties on a few occasions months before.
By far my favorite encounter, the one that sticks with me like my distaste for all Mexican restaurant ambiance, was with Ananda Lewis and her even bigger nobody friend. The pair came in during a busy Friday night, with a standard wait of about thirty-five minutes. When I informed them of this inconvenience, indicating that five years on MTV would not be exempting them from the squalor of delay, the friend leaned across the hostess stand and said, “Don’t you know who this is?” Of course I did. I grew up on MTV. Fashionably Loud, Road Rules, The Real World when it wasn’t as slutty, TRL, the whole shebang. Even in my youth I got excited when Kurt Loder and that blond chick with the short hair came on and tried to tell me what was going on in Bosnia. Yes, I knew who she was.
“Sorry, it will be thirty-five minutes. Can I have your name please?”
The friend sneered, bitter that her vicarious arrogance tactic had failed.
Apparently Ananda had lost her voice since leaving MTV for a life of relative irrelevance. Thank god this woman doubled as her PR girl or I would have missed her entirely.
It was fifth grade. I was tall already, much taller than my young male and female collegiate counterparts. In our class photo I was put in the middle, as always, part of the giant pyramid made out of squinting faces and the occasional pair of giant glasses. The girl next to me was named Courtney and as we waited under the 1950s awning she told me how her mom put flour in her hair that morning to take out the grease. Around the same time, we started rehearsing for graduation ceremonies: bad poetry, essays about “the future”, etc. It was also planned that were to subject our families to group square dancing, which would be practiced laboriously in the auditorium until the big day.
What came with this wonderful mockery of country bumpkin dancing was an opportunity to bond with a member of the opposite sex, one that would put me closer to a boy than I had ever been in my whole short lifetime. I held my breath as the teacher began to pair us up. “Please Greg. Please Greg. Please Greg…” Greg was my fifth grade crush; before him had been Joey and Brian. He was puny, tiny, bird boned. I think I was in love with how delicate he was. His brown hair was always crisply gelled and combed over from the side, left to right. His blue eyes were bluer than my own. They had more of a piercing brightness in comparison to my own, which have always had an unremarkable deep lake quality to them.
For whatever stroke of luck, I was paired with Greg. I am fairly certain it had something to do with our last names being in the beginning of the alphabet. We looked ridiculous. I towered above him. My head was much bigger than his, my arms much longer. I relished the rehearsals that came. I never said one word to him. There were no coy giggles or lingering glances. I was eleven and my eyes danced from the teacher to the floor, watching its brown and tan laminate surface moving slowly underfoot.
I waited in some casting studio south of Santa Monica Boulevard , where the big rig trucks pull in and out, loading and unloading lighting equipment and such movie nonsense. This is the same area that a friend of mine was hit by one of those aforementioned trucks and nearly killed. I was there for some commercial audition that probably required I pretend to splash around barefoot in a giant fountain a la La Dolce Vita, only with cheesy smiles and in English.
The casting studio was also having a session for a children’s spot. I was surrounded by three foot tall people and their similarly sized parents, of whom most looked sunburned and paranoid. The children themselves were cute in a boring, accessible way. I find that “pretty” kids are simply those who possess certain adult qualities or standardized qualifications of beauty, but as they grow up and grow older these attributes are no longer adorable or charming. They grew out of that moment of beauty, as we all do in varying speeds, and thus doomed to exist in visual mediocrity. All of this made more difficult to deal with having been so lavished with compliments and attention as children.
This absurd scene continues in front of me, the crossing of potential with expired potential. I continue to silently attack them in my head. A little girl moves over to a white wall where it is her turn to be polaroided. The assistant counts down…1…2…3…And before he gets to three, the little girl hiccups out a giggle and smiles. The assistant says something about the picture not coming out so he goes to take another one. And on “3” comes the same exact contrived giggle from this five year old. It was more offensive than canned laughter on a terrible sitcom. This was the industry equivalent of an invisible cattle prod searing into veal in the making.
Today I participated in a fashion show in which kids were also involved. It was for Juniors and Super Juniors; at twenty-five I am apparently fresh faced enough to sell clothes intended for seventeen-year-olds wielding their parent’s money. A few silent little girls get their hair curled while they stare around the room at the big girls, the real models. I’m sure they think we are all thirty with husbands and children and a house with a dog; the same way I saw baseball players when I was young, unaware that I was watching twenty-three-year-old children knocking balls around.
I can’t help but think that these kids should be in class somewhere, reading Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery and pushing boys’ heads into water fountains. They should be planting sunflower seeds and eating cookie dough, leaning about cumulus clouds and scraping their knees on black asphalt. I look around the room. We’re in a windowless basement of a makeup room. The bathroom door as a handwritten note taped to it that says “Please Knock. Lock Broken.” The silver chairs are stained and dirty. This is categorically a toxic environment for a child’s spirit. Nothing about seems stimulating for children unless you count the premature development of body image disorders and egotism.
To be fair, a few of these girls seem to have a particular and unfathomable zeal for the limelight. One wearing low heeled Mary Janes and tight jeans practices her runway walk in front of her mom. She sprints across the blue carpet like Tyra Banks on crack. I express my distaste for all of this pageantry and a model friend comes to its defense, says she did it as a child and couldn’t get enough of it. The pictures, the clothes, the whole environment. And as much as I do respect her experience, all I can think of was that bitch in elementary school who would be inexplicably show ponied from room to room belting out “The sun’ll come out…to-MAR-OW…” and how much I loathed her.