When someone asked if I wanted to make a quick hundred bucks four years ago, I said ‘yes’ before I knew what obtaining said Benjamin would entail. It turned out to be modeling a low-budget, punk rock clothing line for a magazine spread. The clincher, though, was the photographer: the singer and lead guitar player of a band I’d worshipped since high school.
Have you ever met one of your idols? Not just any old person you admire, but a long-standing icon; the kind you deified growing up, despite knowing next to nothing about them. Musicians and actors are prime candidates, but an author or other pop culture denizen will do.
I was living in Los Angeles, working too much and under the impression that a good living can be had on less than $30,000 annually. (And it can — but not by an entitled white girl on her first sojourn into adulthood.)
It was summer and my un-air conditioned Honda Civic got caught in traffic, a slow-moving toaster on the California freeway that led to the warehouse where the shoot was taking place. I hauled a bag filled with slutty punk rock staples and uncomfortable shoes into the ersatz dressing room — a handicap-accessible, single-occupant industrial restroom strewn with the clothes and heels from every model on set.
As a teen, posters of the bright-eyed and slightly grizzled punk rock vocalist had adorned my walls. I was taken aback when we were introduced. Though he’d been sober for years, it was clear that substance abuse had taken its toll. He had aged out of the lean, snarling expression he used to pull on the camera, trading it for a fedora and pudgy belly barely concealed by a black tee shirt. I don’t know whom I expected to meet, but it wasn’t the man before me, more reminiscent of Dopey of the Seven Dwarves than the steely musician I’d envisioned.
When it was my turn in front of the camera, the stylist handed me a boxy black vinyl dress. I felt subpar in comparison to the other girls; they exuded confidence, hair perfectly coiffed, makeup applied with a sure, steady hand. They were experts at showcasing their finer features. And there I was, teetering uncomfortably in cheap heels, wearing little more than a glorified trash bag, with no lipstick to put on.
The weighty black camera clicked and whirred. I listened as the assistant coached the fallen rocker through each shot — suggesting angles, changing settings and swapping lenses for his clueless overseer. Dopey made it clear that his interest in significantly younger women had not waned over time, demeanor just goofy enough for his leering not to be unsettlingly offensive. I liked him better on CD, pumping out of my stereo, raspy voice cracking as he screamed the lyrics that served as the soundtrack to my adolescence.
The outfits went from bad to worse, until they settled on shooting me sitting on a beat up leather couch in a wife beater, clutching the singer’s guitar.
“I have no idea what I’m doing,” I said. I’d never played a string instrument in my life, and it showed.
Dopey handed the camera to his doting attendant, then positioned my fingers on the guitar’s frets. “Just rest your hand on it like this,” he said. “Stretch out your thumb — like you’re strumming it. Perfect!”
Observing the girls waiting in the wings, I was disheartened and a tad embarrassed. From the look on his minions’ faces, it was painfully clear they thought I was wasting everyone’s time. My photos weren’t going to be used in any promotional materials — not when there was a set full of porn-ready princesses, eyes smoky, lips plumped and glossed — altogether better-equipped to advertise the company’s wares. I wanted to take my money and run.
When we finished, Dopey peeled several twenties off the hefty wad he produced from his pocket before wordlessly heading off to shoot the next girl.
Imagine my surprise when the singer texted me later that afternoon. After admitting to snaking my number from the model release form I’d filled out, he invited me to join him for dinner at his house in Silver Lake.
At first I entertained the idea that we could just be friends, but the steady stream of texts indicated he had other plans. My reluctance intensified when I confirmed he had been dating an acquaintance of mine for the last few years.
I said I had other plans. I never went to his house or replied to him again, but kept his number in my phone, a weightless memento of the 138 minutes spent in his presence.