She walked west on Samson Street on the block half-taken up by the Baptist Church that hosted Al-Anon meetings. On the pavement sat a man who may have driven somebody into those meeting. Cripes almighty, she thought, how can you be sitting down and still weaving? She shifted the bag with her large crab soup to her right hand and crossed – no…watch – traffic – waited to cross to the north side of the street. The guy stank of urine from twenty feet. She negotiated the narrow street, and the odor faded.
It was nearly 1:30, and she hadn’t actually eaten yet because she’d done this weird thing for $200. Her friend Barbara had put her onto it…some guy, a photographer, who had seen her at a party, wanted to photograph her. Her initial reaction had been: absolutely not. No way. Nope. Barb assured her that the guy wasn’t a perv or anything, but still had to ask three times before she’d given in, and even then she made her friend walk her to the guy’s studio, and wait while she checked things out a minute.
She turned right toward the office and was nearly run down by a giant with a green Mohawk. Boy, she thought, there’s somebody this guy should shoot…no fantasy there. Just an honest-to-god 6 feet, 6 inches, and 275 pounds of, what? Punk rocker? Native American sympathizer? One thing was sure. He couldn’t have any kind of regular job. Nobody actually let anybody wear a green Mohawk and a t-shirt that read “Dallas Sucks” on the job. At least any real job. She crossed over Chestnut and figured that would probably be “indie rocker” now…or just “Eagles fan.”
The guy had wanted to shoot her in different costumes, and she’d nearly bolted. Made Barb stay while she changed into the first one:
“You know. I don’t know you and all.” She looked him in the eye, then Barb.
Benjamin had readily agreed – his name was Benjamin, not Ben, apparently – and he didn’t seem to make any attempt to edge near the dressing room he had in the corner of the studio while she was in there. He just chatted with Barb, who complimented a huge blown up photo of a street vendor that she realized she hadn’t even seen coming in.
“I know that guy,” she said.
“Yep. He’s right down the street.”
“How much does it cost to blow a photo up that much?”
She emerged from the dressing room in a waitress’ costume that was a little too big and a little too threadbare. She decided that it would be polite to comment on the street vendor shot: “Boy, it makes him seem…bigger than life, huh?”
“The guy’s only about 5-4. I sort of, well, I’m going through a transforming stage with my people.”
She felt a little more comfortable and told Barb: “Hey, I’m OK. I’ll see you back the office.”
Benjamin quickly shot maybe 40-45 photos of the waitress, then two dozen or so of her dressed in a business suit. That took all of fifteen-twenty minutes, including changes.
The last costume had made her hesitate. It was one of those, what the hell are these called, she wondered – outdoor teddies? Street lingerie? Although she always tried to look good, she really paid no attention to fashion terminology. The problem was there was no skirt or pants. Only a bit revealing – actually not at all – its bra structure was…”highlighted” was the right word – pinkish cotton or something. Most of those things were made that way.
She looked at Benjamin, puzzled.
“Oh, just put on your business pants – slacks, whatever,” he said. “I’m just shooting from the waist up. And don’t worry – I’ll be twelve feet away.”
OK, she thought, and did that. He asked her to dance, or strike dance poses. They put on CDs for about ten minutes, and she got into it a little bit for Alicia Keys’ “No One.” But still felt kind of stupid.
He showed her a couple of the shots on the digital camera, however, and one wasn’t bad. It wasn’t embarrassing, and she sort of looked OK. Her head was thrown back, she was smiling, she looked like she was having fun. Her hair looked all right, and one of her earrings was flying up at just the right angle.
The problem was, she thought, it was all against a gray background…oh, it was all lit up perfectly…all the lamps and all, but she thought, who dances alone against that background? It looked like a sheet of pearl. It needed a bunch of people, or even a drunk at a dancehall bar to be – whatever – real. Not posed.
Benjamin was very pleased, though, and he paid her $200 instead of the $150 agreed to. He said he was going to group several of the last shots together and call them “Dancing Queen.”
She turned into the tallest building in the city. In the lobby there was a blown-up photo on one wall nearly as big as Benjamin’s of the street vendor. It was another dress-up thing, she thought – a happy, 1954-style family, right down to the argyles and tray tables, but in front of a way modern flat-screen TV that displayed her employer’s name. They appeared to be eating Swanson’s frozen dinners, but seemed ecstatic about either the food or the TV image. Maybe both. She turned toward the elevator and instantly pirouetted to head to the newsstand – avoid Dave, the smarmiest sales rep on earth. Snapped her fingers as though she’d forgotten that vital copy of the Daily News. This move was totally successful. Dave was busy giving the guy he was walking with an earful.
She’d been almost right in front of him.
Seven minutes later, and four minutes late, she sat down and put on the headset. The first call came in. She said, “Comcast Customer Service. Vikki speaking….” She worked up some perky: “May I help you?”
As she opened the soup, she thought she sounded smooth as a pearl.
Portland, Benjamin. “Dancing Queen” . Wikimedia Commons. 22 April 2010.