"Do you have any previous modeling experience?" asked the receptionist at Oregon College of Art and Craft.
I'd hoped to avoid that question, but was prepared to lie in order to reach my goal; I craved a situation that would challenge my confidence and my ability to improvise. I cradled the phone between my ear and shoulder, cleared my throat, and responded: "Yes."
I hesitated, then remembered my story.
"I used to model for life drawing classes at a university in Washington, and spent some time at a small art school in Italy."
"Really?" she asked suspiciously. "Well, how long did you work as a model?"
I wasn't ready for that. I grasped for a unit of time that reflected adequate experience without promising too much capability.
"I worked for about a year." Maybe that was a bit much.
"Oh, okay, so you know what you're doing."
I didn't respond.
"Well... let's see... unfortunately it doesn't look like we need any more models right now. I'd suggest contacting the Portland Models Guild, they could probably help you."
Part of me wants to rejoice when one of my nerve-wracking performances fails because it means I can just say "Thanks anyway!" hang up, and forget about it. On the other hand, if it's an attainable goal that makes me nervous--like presenting my naked body to a room full of seasoned artists for three hours--I just have to do it or else the unfulfilled possibility will haunt me forever.
"Can you keep me in mind just in case there are any model cancellations?" I asked. "I just moved here and I'm really trying to find some more work as a model."
"Well, okay, let me see... " I listened while she sorted through some papers. "Oh! Wait a minute!" Her sudden enthusiasm frightened me.
"We actually do have a model cancellation, for an upcoming life drawing class. It's on a Saturday; that's usually the day when we invite a model we haven't used before. So if you're available then--"
"That sounds great."
It sounded terrifying.
"Awesome." I heard her pencil me in. "Okay, so, that's from 10 to one on Saturday."
"Saturday?" Her acceleration from a Saturday to just plain Saturday disarmed me. "This Saturday?"
"Yes. Will that work for you?"
"Of course." I sounded dumbfounded. I realized then that I had never expected my plan to succeed, never expected her to believe me.
But then again, why shouldn't she? The illusion of her authority became apparent to me: even if she suspected me, this person would never call me a liar to my face.
"Okay," I told her. "I'll need directions to the school."
I SING THE BODY ELECTRIC
Saturday. That only left me two days to prepare myself. My nerves began to crawl.
Comfort with the overall appearance of my naked body wasn't the issue. I could manage that. The problem was this: being an artist's model has nothing to do with being traditionally beautiful. Their job is to pose, to contort themselves into a visually interesting objet d'art again and again.
And I had no idea how to do that. I would be flying by the seat of my pants, and my pants would be nowhere in sight. In my worst fantasy, the instructor would be a temperamental master. He would lambaste me:
"What is that? You call that a pose?"
The students of drawing would sneer at me, spit on my trembling flesh.
"You're not a real model!"
A healthy body image would get me nowhere. My task was to spend three hours in the theatrical role of art object; a test of endurance longer than most plays. My task was to deliver a three-hour monologue using only the gestures of my body.
I was selling them fool's gold.
So I vowed to spend several hours practicing poses in front of a mirror the night before the class. I was nervous, and could barely hold still for a minute at a time. After hitting several passable poses in a row, I convinced myself that the poses would just come to me, in the moment. That was it: the poses would come to me as I stood, naked, before a dozen strangers. Like a gambler on a winning streak, I decided to throw fortune to the wind for another round: Why prepare poses when I could raise the stakes of the game?
I turned away from the mirror, turned off the light, and climbed into bed.
THE HUMAN BOWL OF FRUIT
The next morning, I showed up at the school in a loose white T-shirt and a pair of athletic pants. I approached the front desk and smiled at the receptionist.
"Hi, I'm supposed to model today."
"Oh, right. You're Evan?"
"That's right." She handed me 40 bucks, a registration form, and a sample copy of the evaluation sheet that the students would fill out to determine if I would be invited back.
"Okay, here you go. Just go down that hall and through the doors of the drawing studio."
I walked into the drawing studio. I noticed the model's platform, positioned uncomfortably close to the artists. Close enough to feel them breathing on my naked body as they drew me.
About a dozen students arrived and set up their easels. I stood in the corner and stretched, thinking that's what a real artist's model would be doing about now. I paced, waiting for the instructor to arrive. Some of the students glanced in my direction.
Ten o'clock arrived, but the instructor didn't. What was going on? Maybe he was sick, I thought. Maybe he wouldn't show up and then I could just take my wad of cash and walk away. Just then, the secretary opened the door and poked her head in.
"Oh, Evan, didn't anyone tell you? There's no instructor."
"There's no instructor; you can just get started." Start what?
"Oh, I had no idea. Okay, that's okay."
Suddenly my situation seemed totally absurd: Not only did I have to fake being a model, I had to fake being an instructor at the same time.
I took a deep breath. I couldn't back out now.
I walked over to the platform, pulled my shirt over my head, dropped my pants, and climbed on. I looked out at the students, their charcoal poised in anticipation.
"You usually start with shorter gestures poses?" I asked, trying to sound like I knew what I was doing. They murmured in agreement.
"Okay, then. Here we go. I'm going to start with five one-minute gesture poses, then move into a longer pose."
I clasped my hands together and stretched them behind my spine, craned my neck back, and looked at the ceiling, bending one of my legs. Then I prayed I could hold that pose for an entire minute.
The room throbbed with silence; I heard the scratching of charcoal and pencils, the brush of fingers against the paper. My body shook.
Was it working? I moved through the gesture poses and announced some longer ones. Standing still is harder than it looks. By the time I'd worked up to a 20-minute hold, my body ached all over. I'd accidentally chosen a standing pose with my arms held behind my head; at the 15 minute mark, my arm felt totally numb. The room was hot, and a bead of sweat slid down my temple. I couldn't hold the pose any longer; I dropped it at about 17 minutes. Nobody seemed to notice.
"Now we're going to take a five minute break," I declared. I shook my arms out while the students walked out of the room or finished up their drawings. My confidence grew; my performance was convincing.
I opted to lie down for the next pose--35 minutes. I thought a prone position would be easier, but it presented its own problems: I got so relaxed that I started to nod off. One of my legs dropped several inches until I realized what was happening and snapped it back into place, opening my eyelids as wide as possible. Then the worst possible thing happened: I felt a stirring in my genitals.
NO. You can NOT get an erection right now.
I figured that the tension of being naked in front of a dozen people would ruin any chance of arousal; I hadn't planned on getting so relaxed. My penis budged a little and my face took on a momentary expression of shock. I tried to focus on the image of a particularly ugly woman I know. For the next half-hour I teetered on the border of arousal, saved only by repulsive fantasies of saggy-breasted crones.
A SUCKER IS BORN EVERY MINUTE
I don't know how I lasted three hours, but I did.
"That will be all for today," I said, and rose from my final position.
My body felt sick of all this unprecedented stillness. Being naked in front of a group of my peers hadn't liberated me; my body felt rigid and knotted with stress. I slipped into my clothes and shook the tension out of my arms.
A good show, I told myself. Never let on that you don't believe in yourself, and the audience won't let on that they don't believe in you.
One of the students approached me just as I was leaving. "Hey, you gave us some really great poses. Thanks."
"I take it you've done this before?" That was all I needed to hear.
"Yes. Yes, I have."