Go see, go see, go see. I ain’t good at this. And even if you are good at this, what exactly are you good at?
The room smells like chicken chow mein. “Do you mind sitting over there while we finish lunch?” he asks, a little fairy with glasses sitting in front of a plate of greasy Chinese food, a plastic fork in his hand.
Countless girls sit in cream plastic folding chairs, none of them a day over 21. I need to ramp up my eye cream regimen, or perhaps start falling asleep in bathtubs filled with Botox. Someone passes around a chart filled with names and agencies and ages. Eighteen, nineteen, eighteen, twenty-one, eighteen, twenty, nineteen. Some poor sucker has actually cited herself as twenty-six. A model dinosaur.
The longer you do this, the more important you realize it is to lie. We lie about where we’re from. We lie about the size of our pants. Numbers on the page affect the vision in their head. And so we lie. “You’re no spring chicken,” some booker’s assistant once told me. “It’s not like you’re going to do Prada.” I was twenty-one.
The gay guys holding the casting talk about grilled soy burgers and conditional lactose intolerance.
“I can eat solid dairy. Like, cheese I consider a solid dairy. But I can’t eat anything with, like, a spoon or a straw.”
I wait for someone to suggest the name of their therapist. Instead, the room goes momentarily quiet and I listen to the rumbling of an overworked air conditioner.
Outside, rain floats in between midtown buildings, misty and thin. I take the time to contemplate what the best exit strategy would be were there an emergency; the room is in the penthouse of an ancient building, one that you have to exit at the last stop on the elevator and then proceed to walk up two rather confused staircases to the top. There should be a sign that reads “IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, RESIGN YOURSELF TO DEATH.” In a fire, I would surely die. The next day, the New York Times would do a kind write-up on my noble death. “Model Dies in Fire Valiantly Trying to Book Runway Show.”
I listen to an American girl sitting behind me navigate New York City on a map for a foreign chick whose only known vocabulary is limited to the following:
“Don’t need a transfer.”
“Go to here.”
They have obviously been put in charge of one another by some agency mandate. Two eighteen year olds, parentless and alone in New York City for the first time, both the shepherd and the sheep. The English As a Second Language Girl is a bizarrely attractive Asian with 3.5-foot-long femurs and a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt thrown over her delicate shoulder bones. The other is an American blonde, dressed like a third-grade teacher or third-grade student, I can’t tell which, bringing to mind DIY craft projects involving popcorn necklaces and vests made out of painted paper grocery bags. She’s wearing MC Hammer pants with an oversized Fresh Prince of Bel Air-era shirt and a pair of seven-inch heels Alexander McQueen might have dreamt up in a capsule collection for Target.
Other girls speak in Russian. I sit, bored and incapacitated, in my Made Well boots and a shirt I got for trade, a pair of shorts in need of washing. When the boys are done talking about eating healthfully while consuming plates of MSG-laden goop and fried chicken skin, they have the girls walk back and forth between the mirrored and brown painted walls of this room, which was likely a dance studio back when people cared about things like dance. Now we only care about looking cool, getting famous, being rich while we’re still young. We care about fashion.
One of the boys makes the girl with the preying mantis body walk twice. Her legs and arms and jutting hipbones move like a study case for an old Tim Burton movie, limber and sickly-looking. He takes a picture of her against the wall. He smiles at her when he passes her back her portfolio. He likes her. Figures.
When we’re done, we walk through the corridors, down the stairwells, and into an elevator. The girls change into their sensible flat shoes – sneakers, flip-flops, ballet slippers – knowing that the need to perpetuate the illusion has gone, left alone for the next thirty minutes, forty minutes, an hour to be real girls, normal girls, to be ourselves until we walk into another room filled with people waiting to judge our faces and our bones. We reach the street and disperse, a ragtag gang of beautiful little liars, holding maps showing the routes to our next performance.
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