Brooklyn IKEA and the Three-Hour Tour

A Three-Hour Tour It’s 2 PM on Saturday. I don’t have work and I don’t have castings either. The beauty of a weekend. My friends in town from LA are all back in LA and I have had an entire carafe of my Kings Road French press. I’m staring at my bedroom – frozen by my frustration that I don’t have curtains yet and everyone can still see in my room, irritated that my roommate’s dog is taking over my life, wondering when my platform bed can get built already. You know, general debilitating impatience.

I call my mom because I know that she misses me and I know that she will listen to me rattle on for forty minutes about how pissed I am about this or about that, my irritation amplified by my excessive abuse of caffeine. I remind her about Erika Smith’s house back in elementary school and how filthy it was. There were three kids and six something dachshund. On the few times that I braved a sleepover there, I learned quickly that if you were the first to wake up you won the awesome opportunity to step in dog turds. They were everywhere. Apparently, these animals were nocturnal defecators; using the cover of darkness to crap in the family room right next to where we’d be playing Dr. Mario later that morning.

My mom laughs and I laugh but it’s not that funny because right now that house reminds me of my current apartment – a beautiful, freshly renovated walkup with 12 foot ceilings and a bathroom with tiles I dream about in my sleep. Munch has pissed and shit multiple times and it’s killing me. I’ve given up on house socks and moved on to house shoes; I was dragging around more hair than I cared to in my Costco elastic topped numbers. The shoes seem to me less of a vehicle for dog particles. Rubber soles protecting me from filth. It’s ridiculous that I wear them for the ten feet back and forth between the bathroom and my bedroom. I’m aware of this.

When I become bored with my own pacing around the apartment, contemplating what bleach does to wood floors and what window I can throw Munch out of to make it look like an accident, I decide that a trip to IKEA will quell my anxiety – generally an odd and unorthodox way of thinking about trolling a windowless megabox fighting for shopping cart space with families of nine.

The IKEA is in Brooklyn and they provide a complimentary mini-cruise liner to cross the murky Hudson. I take the subway and mess up on transfers along the way. Of course. I try not to slug one of the MTA guys in the face when he talks to me like I’m a tourist. “Does this go down to Fulton?” I ask after another woman has finished babbling on with a question while she flips her map over and over and over again saying “Ummmm…God, you know…I’m trying to find…I’m trying to find….Oh, ummmm…..” I wait patiently for her to stop being an idiot. I’m waiting for his answer to my simple and easy question. “NO.” Not “No, and would you like to know what train does?” Not “I’m sorry you’re in the wrong place.” Just “No.” This is when I hate New York.

I finally take the right train down to the right exit and emerge on Wall Street. People are taking pictures outside of the NYSE and other buildings with lots of limestone stairs and bronze statues erected in front of them. Forefathers. People that did more important things than I ever will. Unexpectedly, the whole block makes me mad. All of the disaster that went down in this small stretch of Manhattan, how much havoc was wreaked from the bowels of this place by mere handfuls of individuals.

When I see the pier I start running. A giant dog leaps into my comfort zone and if I could have seen its face I probably would have been terrified. Judging from the size and color of its shape, I would imagine it was a charcoal Great Dane. I keep going. The IKEA boat is there within view and it comes on a schedule and if I miss it I will be screwed and my boots clack clack clack on the concrete and cobblestones and I’m running and I’m running and now I’m on the wood dock and then I start slowing down because the stupid boat is full steam ahead and I am not on it. Damn it. I let out an “Argh” for my own personal benefit and go sit on a bench, staring at bird shit scattered all over the place and talking to a friend on the phone.

Forty whole minutes of waiting in the cold and the IKEA ship arrives. It is yellow and blue and they play a stream of crack-cocaine happy 60s and 70s hits. Think Abba. Lots and lots of Abba. The “captains” are a pair of knuckleheads who pick up a paper yen off of the ground and start asking the IKEA-goers what a yen is. I haven’t read The Economist in awhile and my brain has been filled with important things like getting the right woven rug for my bedroom and wondering when the hell my duvet is going to get delivered. I offer something like, “Uh, a yen is from China.” Thank God I don’t say it too loudly and no one I know is around to hear me. I’m just another idiot stranger to a boat full of people. Fine by me.

We pull into the IKEA dock, the big blue and yellow box looming in the not too distant distance. Buy me. Shop here. Thankfully, you can also eat here. I’m starving after all of this waiting around and running through a city while wearing layers and boots. I scan the board of options and settle with the child-size plate of Swedish meatballs. There was a girl I used to work with who swore by them and would come on the weekends just to eat them. After assessing these puppies for myself, I would like to tell her she was wasting her time. A man serves me seven little brown grease balls of an indiscernible quality along with a softball of mashed potatoes. I ask him to hold the cream sauce. I just want a snack, not a Goddamn heart attack. How do people eat like this? The plate weighs heavy in my hand. This is for kids? I look over at the plates of adults ordering the adult-sized orders and it’s no wonder this country weighs nine billion pounds.

After force-feeding myself something that I suppose qualifies as sustenance, I grab a shopping bag and lead myself into the belly of the beast. Apparently, me and every other family for fifteen from Long Island are in dire need of cheap mattress pads and cream vases that weekend. Kids tear around screaming and jumping in beds, none of which are kept made in any of the example décor rooms. I shut my brain off and attempt to focus on the matter at hand, not that the fact my rising blood pressure at this sight is most likely a fairly accurate indicator that I should wait to have kids for another few years.

I give up on my paltry yellow bag and upgrade to a cart, adding to it a bounty of Made in Nowhere goods. Two floor rugs for under three dollars apiece. A canvas blanket that’s going to look good but scratch like hell. Two roller blinds that don’t end up fitting in my windows exactly but at least the firemen across the street won’t be able to check me out while brushing their teeth from the third floor window. Three balsa wood paper organizers. One road-cone-orange tray that I will figure out what to do with later. One set of nicely textured cream tea towels. I like tea towels. I’m not sure why. One set of screws, varied in size. One silver lamp for next to my bed. All of which is put into two giant plastic bags that I pay 59 cents for. As I fill up them up I wonder how the hell I am going to get all of this stuff home. I know that a taxi ride is in order but of course this isn’t what I am going to do. I am a glutton for punishment.

The wait for the next boat to the mainland does not take as long as on the outbound trip. I negotiate my way around the waiting area, trying not to take out small children with my rolled up window treatments. The knuckleheads greet us with “Welcome back” and joke, “Did you get IKEA or did IKEA get you?” I understand what he means; I left my apartment at 1:30 for the start of this whole thing and now it’s 5 PM and the sun is disappearing to the other side of the world.

We pull off of the dock and set sail. The world is a hazy purple and Manhattan sits off beyond the water. Past the leafless trees of Ellis Island and under developing clouds. The remaining light that peaks from the last minutes of sunlight glare against five buildings, blinding and golden. I look over at the Brooklyn Bridge just as a silvery pink stretch of metal crosses under a road of moving cars. The subway catches the sun so beautifully. New York has the most amazing way of making the totally mundane inspire. All of a sudden I forget about the MTA guy, I forget about how my back is going to ache tomorrow when I try to take these bags on the subway, I forget about my red nose and my cold hands, about the meatballs, about the kids and the jumping and the beds. I just sit and watch as the subway glitters its way into Brooklyn and out of my line of sight.

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Go See. Go F’ Yourself.

An Asian woman with black hair, black pants, and black Uggs spots me immediately through the glass doors as I get out of the elevator.  Usually I have a moment to gather myself, fixing my hair and putting on chapstick before I see a client; I am still wearing my Natasha and Boris rabbit fur hat when she opens the doors.

“You’re Tatiana?”

Her question is more like an assumptive demand than an actual inquiry.  It’s the type of tone that makes you think it’d be easier to just play along and tell her that’s who you are and you’ll do anything she wants.  Besides, we all just look the same to other people.  German.  Russian.  Polish.  Eastern Block.

“I’m Jenny.”

She scans her memory bank.  She’s flustered and has barely looked me in the eye for more than two seconds since I arrived.  Her mind is somewhere else, namely getting a model in here for a last minute appointment with WWD.  I doubt she even remembers asking to see me even though she’s only asked to see two girls.

“What size are you?”

She’s squinting and looking at me and I already want to tell her to fuck off because it would have said all of my sizes on the website and I wasn’t the right size, she shouldn’t have called me in.  I don’t.  Instead I tell her I’m a 2.

“Could you take your clothes off?”

We’re still in the lobby when she asks me this.  Usually it’s customary to at least be led into another conference room with racks of clothes or perhaps a door of sorts.  The fact that I’m naked almost as a profession doesn’t change the fact that this question/demand strikes me as a bit odd.  I realize as I pull off my giant jacket that she must just be referring to removing my outer layers: coat, hat, scarf, gloves.

I got this casting last minute and I am entirely unprepared.  I left my house with no makeup and only decided after much deliberation that I should take off the smeared mascara that I didn’t manage to get off in my shower that morning.  Makeup removal isn’t my thing.  Neither, for that matter, is application, of which I did none before I walked over to get coffee.  My skin is splotchy and discolored from the cold and my own bad habits.  I wish I had at least been able to put on some lip gloss.

As I take off my leather jacket I remember that this outfit is not intended to be disassembled.  Without my coat and giant cream scarf from Catherine Malandrino, I look like your average run-of-the-mill lesbian in an oversized black shirt from American Apparel and a pair of high top sneakers.  Some people might be endeared by this utter lack of pretention and finery.  I do not think that these are those people.

The Asian girl leads me to see who I assume is the designer but she never introduces herself.  She is wearing a leather poncho that easily took two cows to put together.  Her boots are knee-high and have a patent leather strip running up the back.  The designer stares at me and tells the Asian girl to get some dresses for me to try on.  That’s the first test; they could have just let me go right then and there.  That being said, her lack of enthusiasm is palpable.

“Did you bring your book?”

It’s the Asian girl again.  At this point I feel like I’m running down a conveyor belt at a meat processing facility, being taken apart and chopped up, moved aside, assessed for quality.  Before I was told to rush all the way up to midtown to see this client for a job happening that afternoon, I was sitting on the wooden windowsill of a coffee shop, sending emails off to people who matter, who could change my life so that I don’t have to subject myself to this shit anymore.  So no, I don’t have my fucking book.  And aside from that, this is showroom modeling.  The people are coming here to make sure the clothes look good on a body and that people will perhaps buy them in real life.  Buyers aren’t coming here to double check whether or not I’ve been in Vogue.

“Oh, God.  No, I’m so sorry.  They called me so last minute, I didn’t have time to go home.”

But she knows this.  She’s the one who called me in.

The woman I am still just assuming is the designer tells someone to pick out the smallest dress available and have me try it on.  It’s a Litmus test for fashion’s required BMI (ideally in the negatives).  Admittedly, I am nervous.  The girls out here are tiny and clothes are molded to their bodies.  Zippers give me anxiety.  Measuring tapes make me want to vomit, which would probably be a good career move if I just committed to that impulse every time.  I’d fit into everything.

A woman hands me a silver dress with a lace top and a silk jersey bottom.  Silver.  The woman is overweight and think she knows more than I do.  She tries to readjust the direction I am going into the dress but I know what I am doing; I try on clothes for a living.  Literally.  Later I will renegotiate the terms of my temporary hatred of her when she gives me a bathroom decorated with cherry blossoms and Chinese birds so that I don’t have to stand around an empty office naked and barefoot while someone tries to find me another tiny outfit to try on.

For now, we are still getting me into the silver gown.  The neck hole is small and I take my ponytail out in order to get it over what is probably an unusually large skull.  The woman comes to my left and starts with the inside corset zipper.  I look down and notice that it buckles in a way that only means I’m probably an inch too wide for this dress.  The dresser notices, too.  “Uh, oh.  This isn’t going to fit.”  I tell her to try. I’ve seen miracles happen.  I exhale and squeeze the ends of the fabric together and just like magic, I’m in.

The designer comes in.  “Oh.  It fits,” she says.  She is surprised.  She tells me to turn around.  I rotate slowly and turn back to her face.  She stares at me like people stare at paintings in the Louvre, sizing me up, assessing my value, determining just how much she hates my look.  Her body language makes me think that she would have preferred it to not fit as she would have had an immediate reason to release me, but since they’re in a pinch and this job is supposed to start in less than an hour I know that she’ll hold on to me just as a last resort.  Flattery knows no bounds in this sterile hell hole.

I am sitting on the floor tying my shoes when the next model comes in.  Tatiana.  The real Tatiana.  I worked with her years ago, but I don’t say anything.  She is half my size and she always has been.  There is no fat on her thighs and she reminds me of a Russian version of those African tribesmen that blend in easily with giraffes.  Well, that’s it for me, I think to myself.  I put on my shirt and tell the Asian girl that I’m going to just wait in the lobby.  “Yeah.  Yeah.  Okay,” rushes out of her mouth.  No one here gives and shit and I hate them.  I want to put my jacket on and just leave but I don’t.

I wait in the silent lobby with its brushed chrome colored laminate floors and white walls, listening to a janitor mop the corridors.  ShushShushShush.  Across from me are two chairs that remind me of knock off Andy Warhol “art” in 3D.

The door opens and Tatiana comes out wearing a sequined mini-dress with sheer sleeves.  It hangs on her and she looks like an emaciated bird, a look that has ever eluded me because of my Dutch and German bones and a childhood dedicated to sports.

The designer comes in and just says, “Oh.  She’s too small.”  It’s like Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  They leave her in the room to change into her own clothes.  No one says thank you for coming.  Similarly, no one has told me what they want to do with me.  The Asian girl told me earlier to please just hold on a minute, which I’ve currently been doing for the last ten.  Tatiana comes back out of the office, blonde and thin and foreign like every other girl here with cheekbones and big eyes.

She walks through the doors and leaves, probably annoyed that these people have wasted thirty minutes of her time.  I sit on the red velvet bench and wait for someone to instruct me as to what to do.  No one’s confirmed that they actually wanted to keep me here and I’m in a model holding pattern.  After a few minutes I hear the Asian girl ask the receptionist to print out the card of Evelyn at Supreme.  At this point I know they don’t want to keep me because if they’re still looking for girls and they only have ten minutes left and they still don’t want to use me…well, I’m not an idiot.

I start pulling on my jacket and when I catch the Asian girl’s eye for the third time in thirty minutes I ask her if it’s alright that I leave and if they want me they can call my agency.  The Asian girl says, “Yeah, thanks. Okay.”  I know they won’t.  I walk into the elevator, annoyed and rejected.  I get rejected every day, but generally you don’t see the inner workings of it.  People flip through pictures and cards of me without me in the room, liking me, not liking me – but I never see it.  When you do see it, however, it shakes you. It reminds you of your place in this world.  Your lack of control.  Your total and utter replaceability.

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I.HEART.NEW.YORK

Colin, Brantley and I walk out the doors of L’Almo.  Halfway through dinner Colin looks up and muses an observation that it’s snowing.  I turn around to see it for myself but I can’t and I wonder if Colin has some sixth sense that develops when you live in a city for a long time.  I noticed the way the air changed earlier, around 5 PM.  The clouds rolled in over the city in the time I had been indoors and the air felt damp against my cheeks.  Snow threatening to descend like welcomed locusts.

And it is snowing.  Softly.  It disintegrates on impact with the concrete, leaving evenly blackened sidewalks in its wake.  It’s so light that it doesn’t fly in my face or stick in my eyelashes; I cut through it like a breeze.  When it snows, the whole city feels padded and quiet, like everyone is observing some strange reverence for nature and other things we have no control over.  Or maybe it’s just me.

My apartment is only a block away and as I round the corner I hear some Sting song drifting into the air somewhere.  I smile to myself and think about moments like these in the same way that someone falls in love with another person.  The small, quiet moments.  The random things that stay with you until the day you’re not here anymore.

Munch is anxious when I open the door.  She’s probably needed to pee for hours.  I click the metal end of the blue leash to her collar and she whimpers and wheezes.  We walk through the two metal lobby doors and I’m back in the snowfall.  “Listen to Your Heart” replaces Sting as the song of the moment, which I find oddly appropriate.

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Please Forgive Me

…If I’ve been a little distant.  You haven’t done anything wrong.  Jenny B still loves you.  She’s moved to New York and is waiting for Time Warner to hook up her wireless internet.  Fret not, she’s been writing the old fashioned way and you will be bombarded with posts come the end of this week.

hearts from NYC.

jb

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