Good Jobs and Worthless Boys

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I check in with the front desk, the showroom buzzing from beyond a swinging white door, people talking in foreign languages, flicking through unending racks of clothing, taking pictures of bored models standing 7-feet tall and weighing no more than 110 pounds.

“Hi, I’m here working for [Blank],” I say.

It feels nice to say it.  I AM WORKING FOR [BLANK BLANK BLANK], I want to scream.  I HAVE BEEN MODELING FOR A DECADE AND I AM FINALLY WORKING FOR [BLANK].

“Just a minute,” the woman says, seeming confused, which actually makes me a nervous.  Maybe I’ve had this wrong all along.  Maybe, just as I suspected, I am not special enough to do e-commerce for an expensive department store.  This is a similar kind of logic to one a pretty girl develops who has been dumped often enough that she has scaled back her perception of self-worth, left scraping the proverbial barrel, freaking out about that the 19-year-old barista who doesn’t speak English WHO WON’T FALL IN LOVE WITH HER EITHER!

Not that I’ve been there before.

She comes back, followed by a sales rep.  “Oh!  It’s you,” she says.  “I was so confused.”  The front desk assistant assumed I was one of the buyers, not a model.  I probably look ten years older than 14, which makes me ten years too old.

We walk through the doors and I am assaulted with that all-too-familiar frenzy, thankful to not be a part of it.  Someone tells me to have a seat, grab something to eat, have a coffee.  I sit on the sidelines, espresso in hand, surveying the scene like an All Star Player on the injury bench.

This is how it always works in modeling: the easiest, most pleasant jobs pay the most.  Fuck off, supermodels.  You and your fruit plates you won’t touch and your business class seats to the Dominican Republic can all go to hell.

The showroom girls drag their pointed heels across the cement floor, lamely turning for buyers requesting photographs.  I recognize the look in their face – that deadened, I-fucking-hate-life face.

“They’re making 1,200 Euros a day,” Becky says, “I don’t know what they’re complaining about.”

I know what they’re complaining about: Paris agencies take 70-percent of everything they make, they’re spending a couple grand to live in a shitty models’ apartment with bunk beds crammed into small rooms like prison cells, their feet are flared and pink and likely undergoing permanent damage that will show up some fifty years from now.

But no one cares about that.  No one cares unless you know, unless you’ve sat at the edge of a bathtub with your face against the tiled wall, soaking your feet in Epsom salts and praying for a swift and sudden death.  “Psh,” Becky says.  “Come on.”

Becky is the leggy and long-limbed assistant to someone but I don’t know whom.  She runs around with strides too long for her frantic pace.  There is something cartoonish about her, a character of a girl living in New York, working in the fashion industry, getting drunk at parties and running late to work.  I have come to love Becky for what she is.

I am lead to the model’s area, a stuffy, subtropical holding cell where everyone sits around naked or changes into clothes, bitching in foreign accents when they don’t have anything else to do.  Most of the models are Russian.  Most of the dressers are from Italy.

It’s late in the afternoon and most of the appointments are already done.  The girls are splayed out half-naked on the beige sofas with an end-of-day listlessness.  My outfits are there for me, hung one at a time, twenty-five in all.  Becky is steaming shirts with some shitty handheld European thing that only serves to soften the hard-edged wrinkles, not rid the fabric of them completely.  All night, I put on cold, damp garments, thankful that they are numerable, that there is already an end in sight even though we are just beginning.  For the first time, I am the one with the better job, unlike the showroom girls who have to look forward to seven more days of a never-ending deluge of pants and shirts and jumpsuits with skintight sleeves and broken zippers.

They glare at me with an understandable jealousy.

Becky asks me about the guy from LA.  “Are you still dating him?” she asks, and I have to think back to who she is talking about because even calling what we were doing “dating” seems generous.  There should be a word that exists somewhere between dating and not dating, a word that accurately encompasses semi-meaningless sex and a few free meals.

L.A…

L.A….

Oh, Trevor.

It comes to me from the depths of some buried place, having selectively blacked out the memory of him.

“Oh, that one?  That ship sailed a loooonnggg time ago…like in a blazing, horrible inferno.”

“Yeah,” Becky says, “I’m not dating the French guy anymore, either.”  She squats on the sofa, holding the steamer against a poplin button-up.  “Ugh!  Fuck this thing.”  And throws it on the sofa, leading me out the door to stand against a white wall and pose like a person without problems, a girl without baggage.  A pretty little thing that looks nice in clothes.

Photo courtesy of Fashion Lover

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Saint Denis

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It’s cold outside, the heat from yesterday already established as a fluke that will not occur for another ten days.  Until then, the blue skies will be obliterated with a typically Parisian dome of gray clouds and misty rain.  At night, that same sky will soak up light from below, absorbing the amber hues and turning the midnight sky an undulating mass of mauve and purple shadows.

I walk past department stores spilling out heat and perfumed air while people sit outside cafes wearing their winter coats, smoking cigarettes and talking with all their pauses and “uhhhs.” 

Tabac.

Tabac.

Tabac.

Red signs denote places selling prepaid phone cards and cigarettes that will end up being one of three-thousand butts nestled in the gutters along narrow sidewalks, next to trodden-on wads of gum and mountains of dog shit some Parisian was too chic to bother picking up. 

This whole place sounds like accelerating Vespas and honking cars, giggles in foreign languages.  Boys drink Jim Beam and Coke on green benches, beneath a city that seems lit up at night as though it were telling a ghost story, the edges of windowsills catching shadows and throwing them upwards.

Nighttime betrays the privacy of apartments and palaces.  Libraries and indoor plants, the underside of thick velvet curtains, massive hanging chandeliers and rococo molding, bedrooms and ballrooms.

I follow directions to the restaurant through the snaking cobblestone near Saint Denis – not the part with the PARIS SEXY sign and the sex-toy shops selling poppers and porn, their doorways covered with heavy plastic flaps like the entrance of a meat locker.  I am more north, away from the swathes of tourists and the overpriced food stands selling burnt crepes and long baguette sandwiches filled with sad-looking vegetables and gray meatballs. 

All of a sudden I realize that I will not be given this day again, how life and the living of it is so much of a willingness, a state of mind.  I am here, now.  Here and never here again, not in the same way.  And so I stare at every scratched surface of Paris, finding wheat-pasted acts of anarchy tucked between the joints of pretty walls, walking off the gains from too many hastily had coffees.

 

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Paris and Postcards

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The highway to Paris is lit up in its familiar shade of red, the brake lights of cars slowly leading the way into the city while suicidal maniacs on motorcycles weave between semi-trucks filled with non-GMO produce and lukewarm milk.  The adrenaline that propelled me out of the plane and through France’s absurdly casual and laissez-faire customs process has magically evaporated and the habit of my previous time zone forces me into sleep, my brain black and empty.

An hour later, I wake up to a running meter and the gray streets near Republique.  Five years ago, I was on this same road with Kelly and thousands of teenagers surging towards some unknown destination while electronic music pumped through speakers in the distance.  Shirtless boys stood on the roofs of bus stops, dancing like boneless Gumbys with their spinning spaghetti arms and feet that never stopped moving, everyone like a featured extra in an old Yelle music video.  The statue in the center of the Place de la Republique was covered with sixteen-year-olds holding homemade signs, dancing in the foreground of a summer blue sky.  It looks strange this morning, the metal and marble barren and overexposed. 

My life will forever be driving through familiar streets in very different ways, rehashing old memories to be layered with the newer ones.  My aging existence like decoupage.

The cab drops us off in the Marais.  We’re staying in a different apartment this time, just a few blocks away from the one we left just a month ago at the end of a cobblestone cul-de-sac.  How spoiled I am to come here so often, to own a vague familiarity with this place. 

The key doesn’t catch easily in the lock and my fingers struggle to turn everything at the right time while my other hand rattles the door handle, hoping for some magic trick.  Ali and I laugh.  “Please, no.  You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” I say, too tired for complications and too delirious for effective problem solving.  And just when we’re about to give up and call the landlord, the door opens.

A mustard-walled elevator takes us four floors up and into a hallway with emerald carpet and Alice in Wonderland doorknobs.  The building is filled with the scent of perfume and in a silly, stupid way, I miss the last apartment, with its deepest-blue lacquered doors and the hallway that smelled like a museum or a library filled with old books.

The apartment is massive, with dusty purple walls and renovated bathrooms.  Ali and I laugh when we walk towards the back and into where the master bedroom is.  Again, spoiled.

I fall asleep for what is supposed to only be an hour-long nap and wake up around 3 in the afternoon.  Ali and I spend the rest of the day walking in the direction of the Palace Vendome, stopping to take jumping pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower like a pair of idiot tourists.  The day is blue and the air is warm and we walk along the Seine, sitting at its edge next to couples obeying romantic clichés, napping next to each other like puppies. 

Every building is perfect, the horizon blighted by nothing unfortunate looking.  Even the trees, shaved into perfect and unnaturally controlled geometric shapes, look beautiful when bare.  Paris is like a fucking 3-D Hallmark card and I am the lucky little bitch some illustrator decided to paint into the picture.

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Paris 1

My flight’s at 9:30.  Another redeye to Paris.  Another cheap subway ride to JFK.  Dusk rests and darkness sets in, the light from inside the Air Train reflecting images back at us, everyone sitting across from their own ghost, shadows clearly painted.  I stare at me, pale and excited in a subdued sort of way.  My fall coat, my leather boots.  So much winter possibility.

The fashion camp is here.  Wardrobe stylists talk to hair stylists who talk to bloggers who talk to makeup artists.

“Oh, hi!”

“Hey.”

“What’s up?”

They all know each other, this secret society of girls who look like boys and boys who wear designer zip-up hooded sweatshirts.  Skull and Bones, only less educated.  Skin and Bones, wrapped in an Alexander McQueen skull-print scarf.  People with articulated haircuts and clothing with a point of view: skintight army pants, Dior trench coats, Helmut Lang hobos.  Everyone’s already dying for their post-Atlantic cigarette and we haven’t even left yet.

I board the plane behind a man and a woman, though the woman is actually a man dressed up as a woman.  The first thing I notice is the ass, or lack thereof.  Jeans hug onto nothing while he moves with an exaggerated feminine sway to overcompensate for the curves he does not naturally possess.  Next, his hands – affected hands swooning with a false delicacy to thwart the likelihood you might see them for what they actually are: the hands of a boy.  He kisses his Dockers-wearing boyfriend and turns left towards Business Class, silky black hair trailing behind him, his Louis Vuitton bag hanging in the bent crux of his arm.  Straight Boy Man Candy makes his way with me towards steerage, a purple bottle of Milk Chug in hand.

My seat is near the back, row 20-something-whatever.  My knees cram up against the tray table in front of me, the cabin already uncomfortably cold.  The most beautiful boy I’ve ever seen walks down the aisle with his floppy hair and his nice jaw line, his brown coat and his black shirt.  If God were a director, he would sit next to me.  Instead, God is a comedian, and the boy walks past and sits down in the last row in the seat next to the bathroom.

The plane fills up and they close the doors.  We speed down the runway and Manhattan disappears.  I pop half of a Xanax I scored in the Dominican last week and listen to the engine roar against my left ear for seven hours while I “sleep,” crushed next to the window like a bent sardine.

I wake up with the inconvenient screaming need to pee and contemplate navigating my way across the laps of the two men trapping me in, their legs like indomitable tree trunks.  I stare longingly towards the open aisle for a good three minutes, plotting plans of escape as though they were mathematical equations, my brain fuzzy from blue pills and sleep deprivation.  I give up.  I poke the man in 29C.  Move.

Light rings around my closed window as they begin to serve some terrible continental breakfast of sugared yogurt and a yellow banana.  Everything tastes like recycled air.  I open my window shade as we approach the jagged coast of France.  Farms lay out like shattered glass, a mosaic of greens and browns, the patchwork quilt of an incompetent seamstress – little towns sewn into the places between, quaint hamlets filled with people speaking French.

The rural countryside gives way to the more closely compact suburbs and our wheels touch down.  Another flight that I survive.  Another week in Paris.

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