Tampa decided to go to the party. It was a going-away for a retired model. She was leaving New York to go to Ohio and be a wife. She planned on doing something domestic, like renovating houses or making furniture out of junk objects and selling them on Etsy.
The model came to the bar Tampa worked in. That’s how they met. Tampa had received the invite to the party with a little too much eagerness. New Yorkers were put off by excitement, which they always interpreted as desperation or neediness. You weren’t allowed to be genuinely excited.
The going-away model was slim but not overly thin. She had brown hair and always wore a hoodie. She still had a nice figure, but now she was thirty, and everyone knew that thirty was too old, and she was bowing out with grace.
Tampa wanted to see the other models and, in a place deep in her toes that she’d never admit to, she wanted to be discovered. Tampa came from the kind of small town where girls walked around the mall in miniskirts and hoped an angel of mercy would rescue them from obscurity.
And Tampa had always been told that she could model. She wasn’t told this by anyone in the industry, but by her family, her friends, men, etc.
The party was at a club downtown, in NoHo. The going-away girl knew the owner. For her party, a part of the club was partitioned off. They had bottle service: vodka, orange juice, cranberry juice.
Tampa saw fried food in the corner. No one was eating. The models were posing with the food, threatening to feed one another, and taking photos. That was all. Tampa ended up chatting with a gender-bender female with spiky hair. She wasn’t the model type, Tampa thought. Then again, she didn’t think the brown-haired going-away girl was model material, either.
Tampa looked around the room and noticed girls with bold tattoos, girls in ripped hoodies, girls with afros and bright eyeliner. She looked down at her porcelain skin, felt her thin blonde hair, and feared that her so-called classic beauty wasn’t good enough. Was there something these models had that she actually didn’t have? She brushed the thought away. For her whole life, she had been the physical embodiment of the Barbie doll.
The gender-bender female started playing with Tampa’s hair and saying how pretty she was. She demanded selfies. Tampa thought about how much she hated everyone in the room and how much she wanted to be like everyone in the room. The going-away girl alternated between crying and laughing and rubbing her nose. Tampa hoped that she would be invited to the bathroom so she could rub her nose, too, but she couldn’t ask outright.
What did the people back home think? Were they waiting for her to become famous, for her move to New York to be meaningful? Worse, were they waiting for her to be a tragic, strung-out failure? Or maybe they suspected the truth, that even New York had a mundaneness, and that Tampa wasn’t going to be a famous star shining bright or a tragic beauty ground into fairy dust. She was only existing, paying rent, doing laundry on her days off, and struggling to think of a way to take advantage of all the opportunity that was supposedly around her.
It was this supposed opportunity that drove her insane. Tampa knew that somewhere, under the surface, like a dead rat in a wall, there was an idea that would make her famous overnight. The mantra slammed in her ears: FAME FAME FAME.
And along with that, the subtext: YOU’RE STUPID BECAUSE YOU’RE NOT FAMOUS.
An entertainment lawyer chatted her up, but he seemed more interested in talking about himself than her. He told her how lucky she was that they met at a time when he was interested in marriage. She excused herself to go to the bathroom and, when she returned, he’d moved on to the gender-bender blonde.
She thought, for the first time, that there was a downside to being tall and fair and blonde with blue eyes. There was, first, the pressure to stay beautiful and thin, or else people would start whispering about wasted potential. Then there was the fact that people assumed she was stuck up and shallow, particularly people with any depth. She felt, somehow, undeserving of genuine company.
The biggest downside, though, was the fact that the most shallow, soul-crushing men kept coming at her with their backhanded compliments, that habit called negging. She attracted terrible people. She attracted people who wanted to eat her skin and throw her away, the kind of people who promised her movie roles and music video cameos. In reality, all they had to offer were drugs, maybe some expensive trinkets, and unpleasant sex that might end up on the internet.