The email for the casting says specifically “do not be late.” I imagine my booker sitting on the other side of the computer writing this, wagging her finger and squinting her eyes menacingly. Must be important, I think.
I wake up at 7 and wait til 9:30 to get ready for the casting at 11, which I’ll have to leave my apartment for at 10. I spend the morning incapable of getting anything done. That’s how it goes; when I’m modeling, everything else falls to the wayside, as though my brain has to prepare itself for not being used, has to start the slow process of stifling the frequencies. Flight attendants, please prepare the cabin for landing.
From about 8 til 9, I watch Radiohead’s “Lotus Flower” about twelve times and crawl around the floor of my bedroom, wondering if the neighbors beneath me have any idea what I do with my spare time.
When I arrive, there are already three girls ahead of me on the list. The client isn’t here yet. So much for that previously mentioned urgency.
I stand in the hallway.
I squat against a wall, talking to a girl who has obviously been modeling for a handful of months not yet amounting to a year. She still has that dumb, fruitful excitement that I recognize in myself as being three or four years dead. She’s babbling about some test shoot she has that afternoon, about modeling in Miami, about getting into a row with her mother agency and redoing her book. God, I hate these conversations.
Music from the late nineties is playing overhead. Soul For Real “Candy Rain.” Mariah Carey “Fantasy.” I’d say something to the tune of “This song reminds me of 3rd grade!” but I’d be dating myself. Most of the girls in here were still crawling when all these songs came out. They have no vivid memories of Mariah Carey rollerblading on a boardwalk wearing denim cut-offs and wrist protectors, singing into the camera with lips painted brown, her eyebrows tweezed into insignificance, cheeks covered in matte, shine resistant powder.
Shoo do do do do do do do yeah…
The client arrives. Twenty minutes late. By now, there are thirty of us flanking the walls, waiting patiently because that’s part of our job. Waiting. Waiting and looking pretty and being thin. That’s about it.
The first girl goes. Ten minutes later, the next one follows. It’s 11:40 and we’re only on the third model. I look around the corner to see what’s going on. The client, a man, is talking with a model wearing gray jeans. I can tell immediately, without even hearing him, that he is insane. He’s talking too close and too much. No one talks with a model this much at a casting. In fact, you are hardly spoken to at all. She stands there nodding her head, not having the foggiest idea as to what is going on.
“I think this guy is a lunatic,” I say to Betina, the model sitting next to me. “Just look.” Betina crawls over my legs, stretching her long pale neck to catch a glimpse.
Eleven minutes of straight talking later, the victim emerges, bewildered.
I walk in and place my book down on the table, trying to convey a sense of urgency because I’ve decided to wear heels all day and I don’t feel like standing here for fifteen minutes.
“Tell me who you are?” he says.
He scrolls down a list on his smart phone, telling me he needs to see who he has written down and who he doesn’t.
“I’m assuming you know about this job,” he starts, “which is to say, you know nothing.”
I resist the urge to tell him that’s pretty much how it always is. Show up now, find out later. I don’t give a shit about what I’m doing; I just care about the money. You could have me dancing around with three hundred monkeys in a trailer park wearing fur and carrying an assault rifle and you wouldn’t have to tell me what I was doing ahead of time. If you pay me, I’ll do it. This is where the line between modeling and prostitution becomes a gray area.
“So the show is on Saturday. We’ll have a rehearsal on Friday from 6:30 to 9. It’s 100 dresses,” he continues. “Have you ever done runway?”
“Yes,” I say.
I list off a handful of designers.
“Okay, you don’t have to say anything else,” he responds, my answers somehow validating my career. “So ordinarily, there are only 30, 40 dresses in a show,” he continues. “And we’re going to have, like I said, 100. To keep people from getting bored…”
He starts drawing out the staging formations he has planned for the show with a bejeweled pen, moving his hand over the table like he’s making up football plays. Part I is this. Part II is this. Part III is this. He says something about a hair change.
By now, I am highly disturbed, because everything that’s happened over the last four minutes indicates that this person is not professional and has never casted anything in his life. And yet here he is, standing in my agency, meeting models, taking their names, shaking their hands. There should be background checks before we go on these things, some sort of security procedure to keep us away from psychopaths and pedophiles.
But there’s not.
He explains to me that he’s a press photographer during fashion week. Indeed, a laminated press pass hangs around his neck. But it’s not fashion week anymore, and I find this highly strange.
I look at his hands to see if there is any evidence of his possibly being homeless. He’s a rumpled thing, this man, and anything’s possible. He reminds me of this other photographer who stands outside the Starbucks on Prince and Spring, waiting for pretty girls to walk past so he can say, “Hey, you’re a model. Can I take your picture?” No matter how many times you’ve seen him, he never remembers you, only asks the same question and hands you a business card that takes you to a bizarre beta site with unedited thumbnails of countless strangers.
While he’s talking, I assess him further. His hair is unnaturally brown, given his age, and hangs around his face in bluntly chopped streams, everything contained by a white baseball cap. He reminds me of Iggy Pop dressed up like Anthony Kiedis for Halloween, wearing clothes two sizes too big and a brown wig. Each of his teeth is hugged by the blackened lines of inattentive hygiene. And his eyes, indeed, are those of a crazy person.
He’s still talking, telling me that they have money in place for the show, that the agency will invoice him on Monday and everyone will get their money right away. “I’m a freelancer, too,” he says, “I know how it goes.”
Each sentence that comes out of his mouth further diminishes the legitimacy of this job. In fact, I’m fairly sure there isn’t a job at all. All this time, my book has been sitting on the table, completely ignored. He hasn’t stood back from me at a distance to assess my body type, looked at my measurements, judged me in any useful way. Real casting directors exact with the ruthless precision of a newly sharpened scythe. This guy cuts through the task like a dull and rusty butter knife.
He’s wrapped up his spiel. “So,” he starts. “Do you want to do it?”