Take a Field Trip

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Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

The room is filled with the noise of other people.  Expensive New Yorkers.  We lean in closely while our voices purr under the din, barely audible with the drunken women laughing and servers asking, “Care for anything else?”  It’s a Friday and I am swiftly getting drunk after a week of work I do not enjoy.  We drink champagne with vodka and it tastes like spoiled apple juice, bubbly and rotten.  He leans in to kiss me and we are kissing and I hear the chorus of the song and nothing else, everything drowned out by me and him and album he has now ruined…



Survivor: Elevator Edition

There are nine of us in the elevator: five models, three petite brunettes who work for the magazine we’re here to see, and one delivery guy.  There were ten originally, but one lucky bitch got off on the third floor right before the elevator stopped.  The doors closed on her and we waited for our 4.5’x6’ box suspended in a shaft buried in the heart of an ancient brick building to move.  Alas, it did not.

“Are we moving?” I ask the person behind me, wondering if my sensory perceptions are just a bit off.  “No,” comes a matter-of-fact, rather glib answer that tells me we’re going to be here for a while.  I groan, pressing my head against the elevator walls – a speckled grayish synthetic material that look all too similar to that of an airplane bathroom.  “Is this really happening?  Like actually?”

Considering all of the elevators New Yorkers go up and down on a daily basis – old, creaking things in older, creakier buildings – it’s a surprise that I haven’t found myself stuck in one before.  There have, of course, been the seemingly near-misses – times when the elevator lurched either up or down in an unsettling manner – but the elevator never committed to stopping its journey entirely, only jokingly made me question whether it was going to drop me however many stories to my death below.  Ha-fucking-ha.

After a minute of not moving, the Asian girl with the glasses presses the emergency button.  It rings like a telephone, connecting us to some guy with a thick New York accent and a too-loud voice.

“Sir?  Sir?  We’re stuck in the elevator,” she says.

“Okay.  Does anyone need emergency attention?”

This question continues to disturb me, as it relays just how freaked out people get while stuck in confined spaces.  And, I mean, I get it.  We’re all shoulder-to-shoulder, breathing in each other’s air and quickly beginning to heat up under our winter coats. There is no circulating air, no fan, nothing.  It’s like being buried alive with eight other strangers.  That is, of course, if you want to think of it like that.  In which case, you’d likely be having a panic attack.

“No, everyone’s fine,” she says.

The man says he’s going to have someone from the elevator company come and get us out.  If the mechanic doesn’t show up, he tells us, he’ll call the fire department.  I am unfamiliar with the chain of command when it comes to elevators getting stuck.  The fire department sounds rather extreme.  This whole experience makes me feel like I am underreacting to a serious situation.

When the man hangs up the phone, we notice that the elevator itself has powered down.  No longer is our destination floor lit up; the illuminated 6 has gone dark.  The Asian girl with the glasses presses it.  Nothing.  She presses another button.  Again, nothing.  Now knowing that we can’t even pretend to imagine we have control over this situation, the sense that we are at the whim of the man on the phone and this stupid fucking elevator begins to pervade the group.

After five minutes, the group collectively strips down to its least-warm layers.  Unfortunately, even the sub-clothing is too warm; one girl is wearing a black turtleneck, another is wearing fur-lined rubber boots, and everyone is wearing pants.

After ten minutes, the air begins to thicken with our breath, creating an almost tropical atmosphere of an invisible fog that rises towards the ceiling in the way that hot air does.

“Glad no one’s gassy,” a girl jokes, though this is not a joke at all.  If someone farted I would likely die, asphyxiate on anything not resembling the precious oxygen that seems to be consumed by the increasing heat.

The delivery guy’s phone rings.  “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” sends the group into highly entertained chuckles.

Fifteen minutes.  Twenty minutes.  At this point, people are visible sweating, especially the delivery guy, who has his higher resting body temperature to contend with.  By the end of this experience – and there is, in fact, an end to this story – beads of sweat have begun to drip down from his hairline and into the neck of his shirt.

Stripping down to our underwear is seriously debated, leaving me with the most beautiful lasting memory of an elevator filled with 5 six-foot-tall models, 3 cute chicks with nicer boobs than us, and one lucky man, trying to – uh-hem – contain himself.

As the minutes wear on, the group becomes more convivial, exchanging a series of jokes to lighten the mood.  The magazine girls come up with the idea of carrying an emergency pack every time they enter this elevator and the rest of us verbally fill it with contents:  canned food, Astronaut ice cream, a Bunsen burner, flares.

“This is like Survivor: Elevator Edition.”

The girl with the bangs rings the emergency line again, this time with a bit of sass in her voice.  “Hello?  Yeah, sir.  We’re still stuck here.  Could you tell us what’s going on?”  We are put in contact with Officer David, a well-tempered police officer that tells us we’re doing a great job and asks that he have one point person with whom he will be communicating.  I feel like I’m going through a miniature version of what a real emergency might look like, except, you know, without all of the blood and missing limbs and panic and stuff like that.

We are asked again if anyone needs medical attention, to which the Asian girl asks for an IV filled with vodka and Jamison.  Officer David does not hear her.

“We haven’t forgotten about you,” Officer David says.  I should bloody hope not. “Don’t anyone worry.  We’re getting you out of here today.”  As if tomorrow were an option? It’s not like we’re stuck in an Argentinean mine, a mile under a mountain. Doesn’t this shit happen all the time?  And, more importantly, isn’t there some sort of idiot-proof method of getting people out? Apparently there is not.

Intermixed with the good humor are fleeting thoughts of morbidity, the best of which being the comment from a model about stories of people being chopped in half when having to crawl out from an elevator in between floors.  All of us venture to pretend we didn’t hear her say that.

After forty-five minutes, we hear the burly voices of firemen on the other side of the wall.  The group nominates the blonde closest to the door to be the one who meets her future husband as a result of this shit show.  The publication we’re here to see is a bridal magazine, which would be the perfect place to run the story.  It is decided that we will all be her bridesmaids.  Fuck, something better come of this waste of my afternoon…at the very least make someone else’s dreams come true.

Something scrapes at the top of elevator, sounding as ineffectual as a coat hanger.  Scrape.  Scrape.  Scrape.  When that doesn’t work, they bring out something that sounds like a crimping iron clamping down on a thin strip of hair with metallic teeth.  Finally, without warning, someone begins to pound at the outside door with what must be a giant wrench or a sledgehammer.  The blonde in front backs away.  I keep imagining I’m going to see a tool-sized dent appear on our side of the wall, that’s how loud and jarring this thing sounds.

“This must be what it’s like when zombies attack,” I say.  But seriously, this is what it would be like.

And suddenly, nearly an hour later, the door cracks open, filling the box with cooler air and the vision of our NYFD heroes.  We send up a cheer, feeling victorious in the culmination of our victimization.  Though I in no way desire to relive the experience, I have to say that, if I did, I would want to be with these fine people – my eight new and temporary best friends.


Bite Me

“There might be a lot of girls when you get there,” my booker warns me ahead of time.  Sure enough, the elevator opens up into a room of models standing and sitting, lining up behind one another and staring around with looks of irritation disguised as patience.  Great.  Totally fucking awesome.

My initial reaction is to turn around, go back through the closing elevator doors, and continue on with my day, knowing that while my bank account risks the potential to suffer, I will go another few days without gray hairs and/or stomach ulcers.  I used to stick around for casting like this.  In turn, I used to waste a lot of my time.

When a client requests to see this many girls it means a few things.  One: they’re inconsiderate of other people’s time.  This requires the assumption that models are, in fact, people.  While it might be one thing for them to be in this office for two hours seeing girls come in and out with their books, it’s another thing to be one of the seventy-five girls waiting for their turn.  Sure, it might be our job to wait – I mean, in addition to looking decent and showing up on time to jobs, castings are really the only thing left on the list of responsibilities this career entails – but such excessive waits can be avoided.  Two: the client doesn’t know what they want.  When you’re standing next to a short redhead, an anorexic blonde, and a zaftig brunette – and all of you are waiting with fifty other chicks for the same job – the likelihood you’re going to be exactly what the client wants gets exponentially smaller.  This is not because you are a bad model; this is because the client in question operates from a planet called Clusterfuck with no place to land their spaceship.  Picking a girl out of this mess is just like throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks.  You can wait around and hope you’re that lucky noodle, or you can just go home, confident in your silent protest.

A friend of mine is standing in line.  “How long have you been here?” I ask, groaning as she responds with an answer of “Forty-five minutes.”  I look back at the elevator like a dog whose owner has just stopped into the grocery store and tied them up to a post outside.  Part of me wants to be a good little mutt and stay.  The other part of me wants to tear at my leash with sharp teeth and liberate myself.  Against my better judgment, I throw my shit down in a chair and prepare to stick it out.

There is no sign-in sheet.  This is also something that makes me mad because it means that for the next hour I am waiting, I will be overwhelmed with the anxiety that some stupid bitch is going to cut me in line.  Usually the girls are pretty good about self-regulating, smiling at one another and asking things like, “I’m in front of you, right?” which is just codeword for  “If you go in before me, I will cut you.”  This underlying tension manages to preserve order.  Still, when a client doesn’t provide a simple sheet of computer paper and a black pen for girls to list their names on, the operation looks amateurish and, well, it just makes me mad.

The girls are a strange combination of models from good agencies and models from bad ones.  The majority of them wear cheap black heels – likely reading “Manmade Upper Leather Sole” on the inside – reminding me of how lucky you are to make consistent money in this business.  There are girls with fat arms and lumpy asses, ones that should be models mixing around with ones that shouldn’t be.  The “better” girls look more expensive than the others; they have no fat on their inner thighs and they carry designer handbags filled with Yves Saint Laurent lipstick and second-generation iPads.

As I look around the room, I think to myself that not nearly enough girls in here have eating disorders.  This thought disturbs even me.

I listen to the girls in front of me talk – something I generally prefer models not do.  An absurdly tall brunette likely around the age of eighteen prattles on about indescribably boring topics of conversation that seem exciting when you first start modeling.  When asked by another girl what she had been up to recently, the brunette responds – with no sense of irony – “My agency’s always wanted me to tone up my stomach…so…that’s what I’ve been up to.”  The girls start talking about another model they knew who apparently wasn’t working in New York or Paris (gasp) and she apparently “got sent to Korea.”  The brunette makes it sound like a war assignment.

After forty-five minutes of sitting in a chair and pretending to read The New Yorker, it is my turn to stand up behind my new favorite brunette who is now making phone call after phone call on her BlackBerry.   Does this chick ever shut the f up? She apparently has an impulsive need to be in constant communication, which confuses me because she never has anything interesting to say.  It’s like a streaming feed of NPR, only if NPR sucked.  There is something about her that makes me want to wretch; I cant decide if it’s her lumpy yellow nail polish or the bizarre scabs on the back of her neck.

Finally, it’s my turn.  I lean against a window ledge as I watch some sort-of hip guy flip through my book.  Flip.  Flip.  Flip.  I listen to the pages flop onto one another as I stare out the window.  The brunette with the loud mouth and the weird neck scabs and the abs that need toning is standing behind me in an Audrey-Hepburn-Made-in-China-knock-off, waiting for him to see her in it.  He apparently liked her enough to have her try something on.  Me, however, after my sitting and standing and waiting and being generally bored, he is not a big fan of.  “Thank you,” he says, and hands me my book.  Ah, well.  Can’t win them all.


A Glass House

She wanted to live in a glass house with a real boy.  There, surrounded by nothing but trees, they would listen to records and the music would fill the cavernous space between the transparent walls that contained them both.  It would fill the air with the words of other people’s love and give their own love a narrative.

This house would be their own world with their own rules.  The boy and girl would only wear clothes when they walked outside, but for no other reason than to stay warm.  Inside, it didn’t matter, as there was no one to see them walking around their glass house but a forest of trees who did not care about their nakedness even a little bit at all.  Adam and Eve, though these were not their given names.

When the seasons changed they could watch summer turn into fall and fall into winter and winter into spring from anywhere in their house, as the house was made of glass and only glass – a modern marvel, seamless, with no wood or nails or other cumbersome realities.  A seemingly sturdy stack of cards with no hearts or spades.

On their floors, which were also glass, they laid woven rugs, threadbare and colorful, charming in their fray.  The rest of the house was equally simple in decoration.  Things were not important, especially when there was not a world you felt the need to impress.  The boy and the girl knew who they were and needed not to express themselves with fancy things.

When it rained, the two lay in bed, their legs crossed over one another, feet touching, moving on occasion.  Lying on their backs, arms crossed over their own bodies, they stared thoughtfully as the falling rain waged a pointless war against their ceiling.  Their dryness would be thusly thanked, for they had built the perfect home in every way.

In the early mornings, as the sun came to visit from some foreign place, fog would try to penetrate their house just as the rain had, creeping over the hill like an oblivious enemy.  Then, the girl would lay there, waiting with her eyes half open, the boy warm and sleeping by her side, watching as it crawled up their hill and reached for their walls.  Its Hitchcockian quality never failed to shake her, reminding her that they were alone here, so deathly alone.  Their dependence on one another was overwhelming.  It made her question her faith in this house and this person and herself, though it was only fog.  For two minutes she was filled with paralyzing doubt until she realized how silly a thought it was to be provoked by a fleeting thing like fog and so she would turn to the boy and bury herself under his chin, close to his chest, feeling the pace of his breath until she fell asleep, only to wake up to a sunny day.

Keeping a glass house clean was a terrible thing.  Once a week, though they stopped caring about the order and name of days long ago, the boy and girl took to it with ladders and rags, cleaning it until the edges glared sharply in the sun like a broken cup, exquisitely shattered.  The girl watched the boy as he cleaned and knew that she was in love and not imagining it.  She would stop to stare at him, admiring with fondness the way his face sunk in on either side beneath his cheekbones, the way his forehead creased in perpetual concern, giving him the appearance of grave severity, making him seem older and more troubled than he actually was.  Then again, who was she to assume such things; he, after all, was not a glass house himself, but a more opaque entity filled with many unknown contents.  The parts of him that she saw were only those which he allowed: the edited bits that took countless things into consideration – considerations that were equally unknown.

And so, they rubbed spots off of their perfect house, sun further exposing their world inside, and the girl was happy to have him, here, in the ever-changing woods, in their house with cold floors and woven rugs, for however long he wanted to stay – a length of time that neither of them could predict with great accuracy.

Photo courtesy of James Welling’s The Glass House on Nowness.com