“Are you a model?”
A man in shlumpy jeans and a fedora stands near a configuration of chairs in the lobby of my hotel, where I am furiously attempting to cut through a sleep-starved fog to write something coherent about Art Basel. I am, at the present moment, not a model by any means. Right now, I am a writer. Not just theoretically, but physically. My hands hover above the keys of my laptop while I look up at him with a face that used to be pretty all of the time. I consider denying my past (and occasional present) life in fashion and simply answering “no.” But old habits die hard, and that knee-jerk compulsion to cop to some sort of well-compensated vanity still remains. For this I will be gamely punished.
“Err, sometimes,” I admit, which serves as confirmation enough. The man’s eyes light up beneath a pair of rectangular framed reading glasses, but as his palpably enthusiastic body language begins to propel him forward towards me, he pulls himself back, head cocked as he asks my age, as though he’s just remembered some integral part of this whole “discovery” formula. Must be young, beautiful, thin. I lie, making up a number that is already too old to be fortuitously stumbled upon by someone in the lobby of a Miami hotel and propelled to Giselle-like supermodel stardom. Satisfied with my answer, a glaring indication that this man is not a professional, a wave of relief washes over him and he makes his way towards the chair next to me.
“Are you represented in Miami?” he asks. If you knew the business, you could take one look at me – with my skin the color of standard issue IKEA dishware, two small breasts held in a bra I ambitiously purchased in the 7th grade that I have only recently been able to fill out – and you would know that no one in their right mind would rep me down here. Miami wants tits and ass, bronzed bodies with the lithe musculature of anorexic statues. Miami, with its white beaches and eternal sunshine, wants bikini models for German catalogue clients paying in Euro. My look is more that of a person who has been locked in a closet somewhere in Romania — pale, translucent, ill by comparison.
He hands me a business card and sits down next to me. He asks me who my agency is in New York. Again, stupidly, I tell him. “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he says. “I know them.” He retrieves a tablet from his backpack and begins to open his digital portfolio, all while rattling off a laundry list of all of the agencies in all of the world, something he likely studied using flashcards to learn the lexicon of legitimacy. After some high-octane, nervous scrolling, he finds his work. Unfortunately, work, unlike his forced familiarity with the biz, cannot be faked. And this man’s work is bad. Very, very bad.
Holding the tablet in front of me, he proceeds to flick through one horrible picture after the next — girls on beaches, girls in jeans, fat girls, thin girls, girls with shoulders too wide and heads too small, rife with flaws that begin to read as gross deformities when you’ve been in the industry long enough. Having seen the error of my ways too late, I am left with no other option but to lean over my knees, saying things like “Mmm hmm” and “That’s great” over and over again, placating him like an old woman with a wallet full of grandchildren.
“Cool, well, I’ll write you an email,” I say. “I’m just in the middle of work right now.” But he keeps on going, opening another portfolio filled with more bad photographs, having ignored my weak pleas to return to work. But on account of my initial denial of my new life – my literary life – he has no reason to stop. As a model, this impromptu, agonizing, time-wasting pitch is work, which, for me, is good enough reason to get out as any. I’ll be calling myself a writer from here on out.