........."Five hours earlier"........
The alarm that jarred me awake today was not exactly the kindest noise. My only GO SEE (audition) for the day was an early one. I slipped into my too tight black skinny jeans (that I was supposed to wear to show off my legs.... Black is very slimming don't you know?) I had worn them pretty much one week straight... Washing them in the sink every other evening and hanging them to dry with newspapers in order to save money. NYC is by far not the wallet's best friend, and I was doing everything I could in order to save a little here and there.
Good didn't reflect what others thought of me. It reflected what I thought of my own experience.
If someone had told me back then that I was going to model professionally either for this short period of time or for a career (wherever this amazing path takes me) I would've ruffled their hair like a kitten and laughed.
Hell no. I wanted to change the world and run an orphanage in Tanzania.... What useful change could modeling bring to the world?
I grumble at the temperature. Negative five degrees outside. NEGATIVE.... As in NOT GOOD. That's the kind of cold that when you go outside, your nostril hairs freeze. In fact you know that expression "don't.... Or your face will freeze like that!" ???? That probably came from two people who were waking down the street together in this kind of weather.
The train is swaying full of sleepy faces. I love it when the commuters are all packed so close together like this... Because they are trying SO hard to stay in their own little bubbles. But their jackets keeping grazing the person next to them, a strangers sweaty palm grips the metal railing inches above theirs, and the best part.... They don't know where to put their eyes. No one wants anyone to think they are a creeper... That they are staring at them. So people tend to dart their eyes around from the floor to the ceiling to someone's shoes etc.... To everywhere but someone else's gaze. It's like a game of Russian Roulette... With your face. Personally, I enjoy intentionally making eye contact with people. I'll let them notice I'm noticing them... And when our eyes meet, they usually smile nervously. Then look away. Then notice I'm still looking, and usually will nod or say hi softly. And I'll flat out ask them how they are doing. It's very upsetting.
You ever see a bird get thrown out of a chicken coop? Their feathers get all poofy. Their heads tuck in a clucking flustered bobbing pattern... Thats the reaction I get 90% of the time. Apparently the best policy is to stand amidst hundreds of people, inches away from each of them, and pretend that they they aren't there. Who knew all of those years of peek a boo as a child would have such a valuable application to my adult life?
The building I'm running into is broken down. The inside is shoddily cemented and the stairs are seemingly made of several recycled materials all kind of screwed together. I go up six flights, and burst through two marred double doors into a short line of well groomed people. An edgy intern asks me to sign in an sit down. I do so and notice that they have almost every copy of a Vogue magazine ever created in stacks about the room. I'm about to pick one up, when a young gender ambiguous person with a fedora comes and grabs one of the girls. Their shirts says they are the casting director.... But they look barely 20.
I look around. It IS the most diverse casting I've been to thus far... In everything except for age and size. There aren't any models larger than a size four. Or over the age of 26. But hey, who's counting.
They finally call me up. I meet the casting director... He wants me to walk twice... Once in male form and once in female. We giggle together and take photos and just like that I'm outside and back on the street again.
The frigid air and the early morning made me eager to move to my next couch surf location in Brooklyn. I was looking forward to a down day to just relax from all the gogogogo of the GO SEES and the stress of working out every day.
As I'm waiting for the L Train in the barely lit station, I first hear then see a homeless man crying out. I couldn't tell if it was joy, pain, anger.... But it was loud. I moved closer to see if everything was ok with him. He is hunched over his cane howling like a wolf to no one. I ask him how he is doing, and he says "not so well Calvin. Not so well. I'm not well."
He says his name is Jeffrey.
Ten feet away an elderly Chinese couple have set up a busking station and are playing on native instruments. Jeffrey excuses himself as if he has a very important appointment. I notice that his socks are nothing but paper bags stuffed into his shoes.
Jeffrey walks towards the music playing couple and begins to free verse. It's beautiful at first, and his words actually inspire me. But then he starts howling like a wolf. He does so over and over again to the sound of the native Chinese instruments... And then when the instruments stop playing... He pauses for half a second and continues until he is forcing the howls out like dry heaves and drool is dripping from his lips.
My train arrives. I tear myself away and get on it.
How can we walk away from that? Anyone?
Just as I'm sniffling away into a napkin, a woman enters at the next stop. She wobbles weakly through the door. Her face is elderly and haggard... Or perhaps just very very worn. She asks for everyone's attention and explains that she is is dire need of financial help. That she's unable to get a job due to her age. That she's unable to feed herself adquately off from food stamps. That she's hungry, she asks for money or train tickets. Everyne keeps their heads down. Bt the minute she turns her back on them, the people she was closest to lift their heads and watch her in pity. (See vid clip)
The homeless/unfortunate woman bursts into tears, and departs on the next stop.
I suddenly feel claustrophobic. Irrationally I get off at the next stop and run up the stairs. I needed air. Now. Immediately.
I've never felt so grateful for a Polar Vortex.
I pace down the street walking semi blindly. Perhaps I'll go to a coffee shop, perhaps I'll go back. I don't know. I don't fucking know right now. Suddenly I pass a man sitting on the ground. He has a sign saying that he's homeless and needs help... The sign also says that his name is Ronnie.
Ronnie is bundled up to the max in dirty scuffed second hand clothing. Only a small portion of his face is exposed, the rest of his body grips itself and rocks back and forth. He's shivering visibly, and having acquired a paramedic license a few years back, I knew someone should check him for hypothermia.
I kneel down and ask him how he's doing.
"Not good. I'm fucking cold. I'm really fucking cold." He glares at me from the peephole in his hoodie like Kenny from South Park.
"Look, take it or leave it but from my medical experience it seems you might be experiencing some of the first signs of hypothermia. From the looks of your cup you aren't really making enough today to cover a medical bill. Why don't you head inside a coffee shop for a moment to get warmed up? Come back out when you aren't blue in the face?" I smile and touch his arm. He flinches slightly then shakes his head.
"I can't go inside any of these places.... They know who I am. They'll kick me out... Say it's not good for business to have me loitering."
"Hmm, well what if you were a customer? I could buy you a cup of coffee and you could drink it inside very slowly?"
He looks at me and shrugs. I laugh.
"Come on its worth a try.... At very least you should keep moving... Get your blood circulating."
He nods and stands up, brushing himself off as if he has invisible dust all over. He doesn't even bother to pick up his belongings or cup. He simply takes his sign and that's that. I offer to grab something but he refuses.
We head into the coffee shop across the street. Immediately the employee tells him that he isn't allowed in there. I explain that I'm buying a cup of coffee for him, and the employee says that while it's a nice gesture, he can drink it outside. I ask "what if HE bought the coffee?" The employee says that it doesn't matter, they have a policy.
I don't bother to argue, there are plenty of coffee shops. I go back outside and grab Ronnie. We go into EVERY SINGLE restaurant, coffee shop, and boutique within four blocks. ALL of them welcome me, and despite my best arguments refuse to let him in. No one feared that he as violent. All just didn't want to encourage him to loiter. I even tried to explain to what appeared to be a soft spoken business owner that this man was on the verge of hypothermia but they got angry at me for "making them feel bad". I got kicked out.
Ronnie is outside, his teeth are chattering.... I ask him if perhaps a subway would be good enough, but he's afraid of getting arrested for loitering there because he's slept in the subways so often that he's a recognizable face. Sigh.
I rummage in my pockets to get him a tissue for his dripping nose, when suddenly my hand brushes something... And it dawns on me. I pull out my gym card. Of course! Why hadn't I thought of it before? Planet Fitness allows me to have a free guest every day while I'm working out. Tanning beds, television, massage chairs, full workout suites were available... And showers! Hot showers!
I rummage in my bag, I have one pair of workout shorts and the Planet fitness tshirt I had received upon signing up just a week ago. I explain my plan to him, and he doesn't think it'll work but is willing to give it a try.
We walk the 6 blocks to my favorite location.... The one with the pizza shop next to it. I'm able to bribe the owner to let Ronnie use the restroom for a moment... And Ronnie changes into the workout clothing before we go into the gym. I hold his jacket, sweatshirt, and sign all in a bundle.
The motto of Planet a Fitness THE JUDGEMENT FREE ZONE.
The front desk girl is judging.
BUT she decides to simply give me a highly quizzical look and allows him to sign in. She says "you know you are responsible for you guest right?"
She gives us coins for the massage chairs, and I take him downstairs. He smells like urine. I tell him that he should get warmed up with a hot shower first, then meet me upstairs.
A part of me is nervous to let him go in the locker room alone. I DONT know this guy. He doesn't seem dangerous, but what if someone harasses him? Or he has epilepsy and goes into a seizure? Or decides to take a nap on the benches in there? Or licks someone's foot? For a moment I almost use my looklikeaboy superpowers to stride in there with him, but I decide not to. To trust... And let go.
I have no work out clothing, just an extra pair of skinny jeans and a tank top. I figure it will suffice.
It isn't uncommon to see someone asleep in these chairs, so I sit outside of the room on my iPad and do some research. I work out a bit. Make several phone calls. All I want to do is go home and take a nap.
I loiter there for three hours, checking up on him periodically.
A new casting call for Fashion Week comes in for tomorrow. So does a request for Runway Classes. I realize that it's starting to get to THAT TIME when I've got to keep moving along. So I pack up my iPad and frolic over to the massage room.
But Ronnie isn't in there.
I ask the front desk if they've seen him leave, they say no. I ask a man if they saw him in the locker room... They say no. I figure he may have voluntarily left already. Damn. And with my only shorts. Now how else are my legs going to get the breath ability they need in order to jog lightly on a treadmill. Ugh. I'm doomed to thigh rashes for the next few weeks because more than likely I'll have to run in pants.
I decide to check the upstairs just in case, and have no expectations. But lo and behold to my surprise not only did I find him... But I found him working out. Hard. Well, for a tired man! He was bench pressing like a madman and blending right in with the rest of the gym. He even had a complete stranger spot him on the weight lifts... And then that same stranger trusted Ronnie to return the spotting.
Little did he know that he just trusted someone off the street... Literally... (Who can't even be trusted to stay in a coffee shop for more than ten minutes...) to prevent 150lbs of weight from crushing him to death.
How can this be? That a small coffee shop will not trust this man on the verge of hypothermia become a PAYING customer in order to warm up.... But the same man is trusted with someone's life.
With layers of hoodies, slight urine smell, and dirty pants Ronnie is undesirable.
But with moderately new shorts, a shower, and a Planet Fitness shirt he is suddenly seen as safe.
Hygiene aside that's the power of clothing. Or presentation.
The more you are able to afford, the more others must be investing in you, the more others must be trusting you with their investments, the more YOU can trust that person.
It was in that moment that I realized the true power of the things I may soon be modeling. These high priced garments, if purchased or gifted to an individual can instantly buy you trust. Approval. Status.
As human beings, we spend our lives seeking approval, either from others or ourselves. With clothing we can buy that and instantly wear SOCIAL APPROVAL on our bodies.
If shorts and a tshirt can change this gyms outlook on this man... Than imagine what a suit and tie would do?
I think back to the man who was howling until he was drooling and out of breath. He needs help, love, someone to howl with him. How can we walk away from people like that in our society? What compels us to not give a damn as we pass by people on the street... Especially handicapped people and elderly folks....who are literally crying out for help.
Doesn't it hurt?
I know we all have different capacities in time, money, resources etc. but that doesn't mean we shouldn't at least offer some kind of movement.
The hardest part to fathom is that someone gave birth to Jeffrey, Ronnie, and the woman on the train. Someone had SEX with someone else... And it resulted in a baby. And then some woman decided NOT to have an abortion and carried that baby nine months. The food they ate, hormones they shifted, and steps they took were one with the being inside of them. That baby was then born and no one threw it in the dumpster. Someone cooked the meals it was fed. Someone bought the clothing It wore. Someone named them. And it's illegal not to go to school in the USA for elementary students at least so more than likely they were someone's study buddy, someone's friend, someone's love interest.... Or if severely mentally handicapped maybe even someone's patient. Either way you slice it... These people were CREATED and NURTURED. They were once cute, giggly, irresistible, pooping babies. And now, they are guttered, trashed, spat upon people that could literally SCREAM for help and no one will soothe their cries. More likely... They would have the cops called on them instead.
We have the power to change this. There will always be transient people... By choice, drugs, misfortune. But we can at least advocate to filter out the unnecessary and aid people that truly need help by perhaps including mental health facilities in Our Universal Health Care act. I KNOW your taxes would pay for it... But your taxes pay for police to put these people in jail, for paramedics to bring them to the ER, for surveillance in heavily impoverished areas, for street workers to clean up their makeshift sleeping areas, for the city put in new sod wear large populations of homeless sleep... The costs would balance out... Easily.
If you lose your mental health you should not lose your country. Your people. Your community.
If I have the opportunity to walk in Fashion Week this year I can promise you... With every step down that runway I will not ignore the privilege and power of a single piece of clothing. And I will use that power to bring more light to this issue.
When you feel intimidated, inadequate, lesser than another person based on their appearance... Just remember- they are buck naked right now. Stark naked. And the only separating them from being the same bare flesh as you, is a thin layer of material that comes on and off with a simple motion, zipper, button. They are definitely still mortal humans depend on the same oxygen as you do to fill the naked insides of their delicate lungs.
So breathe deep.
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