I was walking down the street one day, Prospect, in La Jolla, in the merry month of May, when I was taken by surprise: a woman calling after me, "Sir. Excuse me. Sir. Sir!" But this lady on Prospect was persistent. Had I dropped my cell phone? Did she think I was someone she knew? I stopped and turned around, trying to look good and roguish. An out-of-breath, middle-aged woman had caught up to me, and she was brandishing a business card in her outstretched hand. "Sorry to chase you like this," she said. "But have you ever thought of being a model?"
Was she joking? (The business card argued otherwise.) I mean, I was 33 years old, and I'd gradually come to accept the fact that I'm generally worse-looking and less desirable than I think I am (a conclusion drawn from countless unsuccessful seductive glances in bars and nightclubs over the years). I've got, shall we say, "difficult" hair, spaces in my teeth, okay skin, and although my body can be aesthetically pleasing, I don't usually work out very much, so I was a little scrawny as I strolled and tried to mind my own business on Prospect Street that fateful late-spring day.
"A model?" I said, trying hard to sound as skeptical as I felt. I scrunched my face. But it was too late. Rising within, from some deep root of myself that must have been ready to flourish and blossom in the sunshine-of-a-compliment, grew this feeling of being flattered. She'd better not be joking.
"You've got a great look," the lady said. "Very wholesome and 'American.' "
Okay, I thought. Whatever that meant. But it must be a good thing. And now I was letting the skepticism go so I could focus on the flattery. But wait. What's the catch? (Back to skepticism again.) She must want something. What did she want?
"All you have to do is visit the office where I work," she said, pointing to the card she'd handed to me. On the card it said "Scott Copeland International." She went on, "Scott will have a look at you there, and he'll tell you everything you need to do."
"Thanks." And I continued on my merry way, pumped up, perhaps, a little. A lightness to my step. Honestly, I had visions of catwalks in Milan. Of pretty girls recognizing me from black-and-white cologne ads. Of not having to work hard anymore to bring home a decent wage.
Anyway, now, years later, my modeling career hasn't exactly, um, taken off. I think I've worked 11 jobs, total. Mostly obscure print stuff. But I did do one thing for a Jacuzzi company where I sat in a hot tub and chatted and laughed all day with two unbelievably beautiful and charming women and took home $1200. I remember frolicking on camera in the bubbles, gazing and thinking, "Today is a good day to die..."
But I'm too short for runway work, too old for high fashion, and too young to be a "mature" male model, saying nothing of my marginally better-than-average looks. My agent calls me, oh, once a month, and I trundle off with comp cards and portfolio and stand in line awkwardly, mug for a moment, then hope to be picked. Not once have I been able to entertain the possibility of giving up my day job.
And truthfully, I'm not sure that I would. The world of modeling is alien to me.
I filmed an infomercial once, for an unheard-of product, some abstraction at best (and, I suppose, one deadly pharmaceutical mistake at worst). Yet there I was, contributing to this mystery product's image and public perception.
I still laugh at myself on two a.m. TV from time to time. In the whole half-hour infomercial, I appear on precisely three seconds of film. Eight hours of work, one compromised set of ethics, three seconds of exposure, $800.
About a dozen times, I've heard modeling agents and photographers refer to models as being "talented." The first few times, I felt like a foreigner who'd caught a native using his own word incorrectly. Wasn't "talent" the natural ability to undertake certain acts exceptionally? Playing piano concerti required talent. Skiing black diamonds at high speeds was talent-entailing activity. But standing in front of a camera and pouting? Was that really, in the strictest sense of the term, talent?
And then I had to admit it. Yes. It was talent. Maybe not the standing-there-and-pouting part, but the incredible beauty of certain people does fall precisely in the realm of t-a-l-e-n-t. It's God-given, not everyone possesses it equally, and when it's there it needs to be nurtured to flourish. If you have aesthetic talent, then learning to pose is like a piano player studying her scales (musical talent) or like a skier practicing the slalom (athletic talent): you do what you must to maximize your abilities. Otherwise, those abilities go to waste.
And so I was walking down the street, minding my own business, and this lady (an angel?) had chased me down and delivered a message unto me that I had talent! Charisma! Aesthetic talent!
Okay, I thought, excellent, so I was ready to model.
Um, wait, no. No, I wasn't. First I would have to join a gym: chest size up two inches, abs into washboard shape, biceps bigger, and so on. First I would need to whiten my teeth. I'd have to procure more, ahem, professional haircuts. I'd require special shoes that would lift me inches taller. I'd be taught how to walk and how to project in front of a camera. I'd have to find particular skin-care products, and certainly I'd have to go tanning more. But that's all! Almost there!
Almost there? I hit the weights. I bought the best products and used them. I visited the people I was supposed to see. I was a sellout. I compromised myself in the name of my physical appearance, and I did so half-soullessly and half-studiously. And every month or so, I'd return to visit Copeland, and he'd tell me, "Almost there."