Before anyone gets overwhelmed by images of catwalks, raining money, national commercials, and maybe bulimia, this was all local stuff; the work was not even unionized. And, to be honest, even locally I was not very popular. My brother was the popular one. He even had an agent before me. He is six-years younger than me, did a lot of local theater and had cute long curly hair. He played the camera, I stared dumbly at it.
So in a way, I was the twofer. “If you need an older brother for the cute kid, we have one ready for you!”
The first ad, I ever did was for a holiday commercial for Meijer. It was around GI Joe action figures, and for some reason they had me and this other boy dress in matching camouflage (because boys did that, coordinate their clothing with their toys). And for about 15 minutes, this stranger and I played with army toys on the ground (that was turned into less than five seconds on TV). Knowing me as a kid (and now), the image of me dressed like that playing with that kind of toy is kind of hilarious. That’s acting, that is!
Most of the work I did was around print ads, I would be brought into a photography studio, put on shorts or a shirt I would never consider wearing and pretend to laugh with strangers. Then on Sunday, my family and I would grab the newspaper, and scan for the local ad and image…. That would be followed by phone calls with family, pats on the back and then the ad being cut out for a scrapbook.
I didn’t like being in the spotlight (still don’t to a certain extent), but I liked the check. Sometimes I would buy a toy or book with it, many times I put it in an account (I would use most of it later in high school to buy a new alto saxophone). It was all a perfectly fine arrangement… until the night I decided I wouldn’t model again.
Being 13 is never easy. Being 13 and a band nerd and shorter than most of your friends is even less easy. I grew up in West Michigan and it seemed most residents had a genetic makeup to reach over 6 feet tall. That was never going to be me. Also, besides events at school, I had only a few things in common with other kids. I was reading Shakespeare, the books that kids my age were reading I tackled at 8, which I would sometimes point out to them.
My mom booked the print ad for me. The catch was she wasn’t going to be able to drive me to it. I don’t remember the circumstances exactly, maybe my brother was doing a play and she had to drive him to that, or my dad was taking a college class, but the family car was booked and I was going to get a ride with a stranger. A teenager actually, who I will call Valerie; because in my mind she looks like a Valerie.
When Valerie pulled up at my house, my initial feeling was to run and hide. She had to have been about 17 and was pretty much the kind of young beauty boys my age would fantasize about. In any other circumstance I could not imagine anyone like her ever being interested in talking to me, let alone driving me someplace in her car. Honestly, she looked a lot like Elizabeth Shue in her Adventures in Babysitting days, and considering this was in the 1980’s, Valerie did have a very similar haircut.
Yes, this was a dream weaving moment, and just made for an awkward teenage film, probably written by John Hughes.
I immediately felt my place in the world (not recognizing the movie possibility of the situation yet) and moved to sit in the backseat, planning to use my homework I brought as an excuse to avoid making this more awkward… but Valerie stopped me. “No, you are sitting in the front. You don’t want me to feel lonely, do you?”
Yes, I remember her saying those words to me. Those exact angelic words.
You can almost hear that “Oh, yeah,” song from the Ferris Bueller soundtrack kicking in, can’t you?
The drive was over an hour, and I was freaking awesome! On fire!
I had her laughing. I was telling jokes and stories, talking about my teachers, etc. At that moment, I was the Scott my 13-year old self knew I could be. No, I was not just the older brother of that other model; here I was charming and smooth, my own man. My own sophisticated adult man. If it wasn’t early evening, I would have been wearing shades.
When we got to the studio, we were friends and I was floating on cloud nine, imagining us staying in touch, maybe seeing the occasional movie together. Maybe even, dare I say, in time her seeing me as something a little more than a funny kid?
The photographer greeted us and explained that this was going to be a fast night. Valerie was going to do three shots and I was going to do one. Valerie’s would be first. He then casually asked if she wanted to see the lingerie first before agreeing to it?
If anyone had been paying attention to me then, they would have noticed that my mouth was hanging open.
No, Valerie responded, she would be fine with whatever. (Yes, she said “whatever.”)
The photographer said I could wait in the waiting room or come back to the studio.
I decided to come back to the studio. I may have even sprinted.
For forty-five minutes of teenage hormone bliss, I watched behind the photographer as Valerie posed in one romantic outfit after another… after another.
She laughed and joked throughout, I think at one point someone even tried to talk to me, but I could not hear. For me, everything was going in slow motion and an 80’s love ballad was playing.
For a boy of my age this was the stuff that daydreams were constructed out of. This was the stairway to paradise.
When the photographer finally said he was done and it was my turn, my initial feeling was to punch him so very, very hard. Wasn’t there something else she could try on? Maybe I could bump into his camera just right, exposing the film?
The photographer, not noticing my disappointment, again said it was one outfit for me and my clothes were in the dressing room to the side.
I rose from my chair sadly and stumbled in the dark over to the room much like a drunkard would have. I was not sure at all what I would be seeing in their (hopefully something that would be a little cool), but my worst nightmare was waiting for me, ready to pounce on me and mock all of my little delusions.
It was children PJs.
It was children PJs with the 80’s character of Max Headroom on the front.
When I exited the dressing room, I could not have felt more destroyed. I would have taken prison over that moment, that humiliation.
Of course, what made it worse, is that no one else there saw it as humiliation. It was perfectly reasonable for a kid my size to wear PJs like that. And, after all, I was still a kid, right?
“Smile,” the photographer said to me.
It was the most difficult thing in the world to do.
On the drive back to my house, I decided to sit in the backseat and do my homework. Valerie knew something had changed and even offered to pick me up McDonald’s, but I said no thanks. I just wanted to get home. She tried talking to me a few times, but realizing that I was uncommunicative, turned on the radio instead. I just pretended to read my book, not even bothering to turn the pages.
I remember Valerie saying after I got out of the car that it was nice meeting me and maybe we would see each other at other modeling jobs. I thanked her, but immediately went into my house and up to my room, only briefly saying hi to my family.
And that was the last modeling job I would ever do.
Looking back now, my modeling days were probably coming to an end anyway. Pimples were starting to set in (I always seemed to be trying a new treatment or cream to get rid of them) and my schedule was starting to fill up with after-school activities.
Little of my modeling days has stuck with me, except one thing. It forever affected my smile.
See, those lights and photographers made me think more about my smile than a person ever should. I see the ramifications of it in almost every picture since. Yes, now and then I get a picture of me I like, but many times I appear wooden, the same smile, perfectly trained into my facial muscles.
It is always the same smile I saw looking back at me from that PJ advertisement so many years ago…
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