It’s not what it seems. That’s what I keep telling myself, but what do I know? I’m just a skinny rut standing in front of Valentino as he tells me to take my shirt off. The dame sits there smiling, going through our collective books, flicking through each page, pausing for a second, smiling to himself, but mostly flicking like an annoyed child. My shirt back on, I now walk out of his studio and back into the street that will take me back to place Garibaldi. Where I am is in some pony tale town called Milan, Italy – undisputed champion of young men’s dreams and fashion ennui. Who I am is yet to be discovered, but for the time being I am a male model looking for the visage of a camera.
It’s fast approaching eight p.m and that only means one thing – free pizza at Deco. This is what you get when you’re an expatriate of the supposedly photogenic kind. I look into the mirror, pump on the gel, and strut out onto the street to get my first meal of the day. When I arrive, I am surrounded by hundreds of other models, mostly Americans, a few French, and English. It’s the Americans I like – even if they are always the loudest, the brashest, and most conspicuous. We sit there, line up for our drink tickets, margarita pizza, watch some imbecilic movie before the club opens to the general public and a bunch of Guidos start swarming the place.
The Americans and I leave, except for some of the girls – they’re always getting invited by these Guidos to fancy restaurants. Let’s not even talk about the money the agencies are making simply on behalf of the promoters who are peddling us on a random basis. What do we care? We now make it to Hollywood, some glitz of a place with miles and miles of people begging to get in. We just walk in, because we are suppose to be glam (even though I am just some skinny rut living in a broken down pensione with tin foil for furniture).
The music is always techno and fast. Without trying, I am already hooking up with some girl who said she saw me in a magazine. The truth is that I have yet to have book anything in Milan since I got here 2 months ago, even though my booker Patricia keeps telling me Mondo Uomo and L’uomo Vogue have me on first option (again). I take a drink, and finally leave without the girl at four in the morning. Because I have no money to catch a ride home and all the Americans are still hanging out, I am forced to wait for the number 7 tram.
I go back to Paris, still skinny, with a few gigs and shows under my belt, trying to figure out where I am going to stay. I am hauling my suitcase from one hotel to the other. It’s a drag, because the agency really can’t do much for me and probably won’t until I book a few of the collections. I know it’s nothing personal, just work. I finally find a place with Scott, a Canadian male model.
Scott is the biggest drinker my naïve self has ever seen. What do I know about dysfunctional people? I come from a beach city, twenty hours away by plane, where my childhood was idyllic and sunburn-carefree. “Go to Milan,” people had said, “Go, you’ll kill it. What have you got to lose, you’ll make it!”
So here I am a year and a half later, still surprised I am alive and making it day to day. Scott, on the other hand, wants to throw it all away. He can’t stand it. He doesn’t know what to do, and whether if he’ll ever work again. The truth is that Scott will end up becoming a major male top model, three years later, but not before first becoming a seasoned alcoholic.
For the next two months, Scott becomes my best friend. Everyday I learn about how his father used to abuse him as a young kid, and the shame that he would impart upon him. Scott got married when he was seventeen, but kind of lost it when his wife ran off with some other guy when he was nineteen. Anyway, we’re both twenty-two now, and having what one day will be the memory of a lifetime.
We finally make it through our heavy casting load and have dinner, half a baguette with ham (breakfast was the first half of the same baguette with strawberry jam and milk, and lunch was just wishful thinking). We finally make it to Bandush, a glamorous night club where the likes of Linda and Naomi hang every night. We never say anything to them, we just stand there looking for some promoter to give us free drink tickets.
Tonight I have met some English girl ( a University exchange student). She’s a real sweetheart, and of course that doesn’t mean I will treat her that way. I end up going home and sleeping with her and losing her number the next day. It’s only when I accidentally bump into her two weeks later at the Bandush that I end up making out with her again, and go back to her flat before leaving once again in the early morning.
By the end of three months I have yet to have booked anything in Paris, and I can tell my bookers aren’t particularly thrilled. It’s all a pot shot really, and no matter how you look you can never really tell what the client wants. Maybe if I was blonde and blue eyed, I say. Then again, I don’t play that game of lying to myself (not that I didn’t in the beginning).
I’m sitting at some café in Place de Bastille when some crazy woman comes up to me. To be sure, I am just enjoying the sunshine and my book, something written by Sartre (it’s not true all models are stupid, just most of them…) when she insists I stand in front of some camera. The next thing I know, I am suddenly starring in some German commercial. The guy they had booked never showed up or something like that, so there I was instead. It’s all a laugh in any event, and quite a farce. By the end of the evening I am being seduced by the producer – she has a husband and two kids and a scrawny twenty-two- year-old getting insanely drunk on the fourth bottle of Merlot she bought for us.
Fortunately, my bookers in Paris have just told me that they found me an agency in London that would like to work with me. I kind of understand that they want to get rid of me so I don’t begrudge them. I say good bye to Scott, get on the ferry at Calais, vomit my heart out on the way over to Dover before immediately booking my first editorial in a while the next morning.
London, to be sure, is dreary and utterly depressing. That doesn’t stop me from spending the next year or so here, working fairly consistently but becoming increasingly irritable and lonely. It’s been three years since I have seen my family and maybe that’s good, because it’s true that when you set out to become a star there’s always a part of you that you’re always trying to run away from. It’s just that I am tired of running, and keep seeing this tired and forced look in magazine tears. In a way that’s what fashion is all about – the desire to re-invent this image of yourself so you can stand yourself the next day.
In any event, I’m back in Milan, standing there in the back rooms watching some divas faint and resurrect themselves moments before we are suppose to hit the catwalk. Everywhere I look it’s big name guys, and I know I’m so out of place, but I don’t dare tell anyone. The music finally starts and we all start thumping out in single file like alien androids. Some of us are coked up, but to tell you the truth I never knew that then – I only discovered that years later. For some reason, I was so earnest about it all. I finally thump out on the stage, a scrawny twenty-four-year old kid, my mind on the beach and the damn photographers, all four thousand of them on me.
I finally make it out of there and start walking home, love sick for some American girl I recently met, ambivalent to all the mania surrounding the collections. I pass by where all the trannies exist, laugh for a moment, and grow suddenly sad in the realization that we are all, in some sick way, in the same line of work: a look, an intangible for hire.
It’s a few years later now, and I have moved onto something more my speed, still in the public eye, but working from behind the scenes – content on being my own person finally and very content that I went through the whole bizarre experience.
Sometimes I wonder about Scott. After all, we used to write to each other, but that kind of stopped after he made it big. I’m glad one of us really made it, whatever that word really means.
I still love Paris, London, Barcelona, Vienna and all the other great towns I anchored in – but for some reason or another, I can never bring myself to go back to Milan.
Pizza night and drink vouchers, and transvestites by place Garibaldi. Sometimes I still wonder if it still goes on…