- Published on Wednesday, 24 September 2014 16:17
by Raquel Wasserman
Was she cheating on him again?
Come on, she murmured. Let me go, Amadeo. Jesus.
She was a Ford model with sunbaked hair and one quarter Choctaw blood. The next Bridget Hall. Her name was Danny. She was head taller than him. She was real tall.
He was a movie director named Amadeo. He knew Toback and Woody Allen. She was with him because he was hot – half Italian and half Russian with curly brown hair, a white boy’s afro. They fought all the time, and she would throw away her key, but something always brought her back, with a bottle of vino. The soft camel hair coat sliding to the ground. He kissed her and all was well. They listened to Leonard Cohen. He called her his shiksa.
Once, after a fight, she had rushed out of their apartment. As she wandered near Union Square, she saw a man in the deli staring at her. It was Leonard Cohen. Crazy! He had a baseball cap on, and tipped it, at her. It was a testament to New York. And to her perfect and endless beauty.
Her first youth crush had been the nicest boy. Boy, did she love that Michael Thompson. He lived once in the weeping Mississippi mossy trees near the busted-up plantation of their school. She adored those old houses.
How she chased Michael. Beautiful name. His eyeglasses, buttery hair to his shoulder, and one of those aristocrat’s beak noses. She saw him at the middle school dance; she couldn’t get the chutzpah to dance with him. Oh well.
It was the enduring passion of a girl who had never been kissed by anyone but her randy teenage neighbor, Seth. The first man to call her beautiful. She was wearing a yellow dress and jelly shoes. He caught her by her black hair in the back yard and called her Indian princess and kissed her at sundown. What was the use with country boys? Being kissed by your neighbor too early was the story of every girl from Tennessee to Florida.
In 8th grade she moved towns. To a steel town.
And northern accents were hot. Onto Alec and Theodore: two dark- haired, college-age, good-looking Pittsburgh boys who fed her alcohol at midnight. It happened in a BMW car, once she moved up North.
She was 14.
A year later, when she was fifteen and a half, when she moved to the city. She became a model. Because somebody, a friend named Albert, at her retail job at the Five Dollars and Under store, had sent a photo of her to Manhattan, to Ford.
It was a pretty amazing polaroid. But then again, Albert took the picture. He was a superb teenage photographer, with ambition. Even if he did work in a dollar store.
And she got a response back only five days later from Wilhelmina. It was only one line typed on stationary.
Dear Danny, beautiful look, when can we meet you!
The older boys at work, Albert and Angel, were eighteen and twenty-five. They both had goatee beards stained with nicotine. They were kind of attractive to her, but both the boys could not refrain from staring at Danny’s flawless profile. They would talk about geek hobbies – Dungeons and Dragons and tv shows. Angel, the Spanish boy, finally asked her out on a date. He was the twenty-five-year-old.
Danny shrugged and sweetly demurred, no, no thanks, maybe another day.
One of the old ladies Regina at the job despised Danny completely. Danny could never figure out what it was that she had done. Regina glared, huffed, and ignored everybody. Danny figured it was her deeply tanned coloring that bothered the close-minded woman from a rough neighborhood.
In the back, while counting money for the register, she sneered:
“I heard Angel asked you out. Too good for our store, rich girl?”
That was enough for Danny. She quit. She grabbed her black backpack, and walked out with her head high; soon she moved to New York to be a model.
Danny lived in a feisty neighborhood in Pennsylvania. The Poles and Russians were all working class. They were a pretty people. She met a lot of gorgeous Russian girls at the restaurant-bar, Checks.
This one Russian girl Glasha, always let her into Checks bar. Glasha was a dazzling blue-eyed, red-haired 29-year-old bar tender with very thin plucked eyebrows.
Glasha told everyone at home that she was a top model. But the pictures she showed them looked poorly made. It was a lie: she had paid for the photos and as pretty as she was, she could not compete with Danny.
The Wilhelmina Agency sent Danny to the richest beach in Long Island.
It was for a short vignette that they could send to clients at Japanese Vogue. Apparently, a movie director (who was very good looking) named Amadeo Milek was besotted with her polaroid. He’s very Vincent Gallo, the agency claimed.
“Who is this?” he had said, looking at her Dollar Store photo. “I gotta meet this girl! She’s so American! I want to shoot her on the beach, with a big fluffy Calvin Klein sweater and a skirt.”
Amadeo was at least 37, and great-looking. He reminded her totally of Anthony Perkins in Mahogany.
And he took the best photos of her.
He had a big cozy home in Long Island, so they shot in his home on the North Shore.
“You are the face of the decade.” He smiled. “I’m channeling Brooke Shields. Where do you come from? ”
He narrowed his dark eyes.
“Callahanis County, Mississippi.”
He laughed and gathered her in his arms.
“Right, darling. Let’s take your picture.”
And he did.
Danny wore a thin black pantsuit and a fur coat. All her chestnut brown hair loose to the shoulder, the almond eyes forward. They were posing in the dining room, with a sumptuous apple pie on the table.
“You’ll have to diet, Danny,” teased Amadeo. “You’re so damn healthy. You’re getting fat.”
“Take a hike!” she teased back, something the other models never had guts to do.
Then she did something ballsy. She ate the pie. He clapped heartily. They had developed a camaraderie already. He took a polaroid photo of her, eating a slice of pie. It was one of his favorites.
Then Amadeo snapped his gem: the final clip of her poised on the lawn in rusty denim and a big white angora sweater, reclining on the grass before Liev’s cottage, like a Kennedy wife.
The agency pasted that photo, right on their front wall with the words in marker: Marc Jacob’s next girl!?
It’s true, Amadeo Milek had captured a new Danny. The thick eyebrows for RL. In the photos the model showed none of her ethnic ancestry though. Except perhaps in the beautiful black jumpsuit shot with the apple pie.
Amadeo mused a bit over that one: it was his private favorite.
“You look a bit Chocktaw in this photo. ” He said.
“You think? I look cold.”
“No you don’t.”
“Yes, I do.”
“No, no. The hauteur works, it’s that tough, flawless American-ness. Something perfect.”
A week later, Mr. Berg cut and colored her hair gold for the shoot. It was now at its trademark shoulder length, and he wrung out the knots and said: “This girl will make a million.” And they used her in an ad for ash blonde hair dye.
One night began the courtship. Amadeo took her to his luxury apartment in Gramercy . He laced his long fingers with the tattoos across her shoulder – posing her for his camera. Her soft hair was piled on her head in a Chinese-style bun and still dark at the time. Geisha Danny, he teased. They were watching the movie South Pacific, that cloying scene where the American guy falls in love with a ravishing Vietnamese beauty Liat, and sings “Younger than Springtime.” It was such an excruciatingly awkward movie, with its stereotypical parody of Asians. But the song was pretty.
Candles lined the room. And after the dreamy kiss, and the South Pacific song in the background, all of the factors proved to her that she should move in with this rich guy. So she did.
Eight years later, she visited the Five Dollar and Under store in Pittsburgh. Regina Baretto, the nasty senior citizen, was there counting change over her register, like a diabolical Shylock. Albert had left to attend college at Carnegie Mellon and study fine art. He was brighter than folks thought. Angel was still there, though. He was past 30 by now, and there were lines under his eyes.
“Excuse me, who are you?” He kept placing paper plates on the shelf.
“It’s me –Danny Dimitri.” She removed her Ford model sunglasses.
“Oh my word, Danny! Wasn’t you hair much longer?”
“My agency cut it.”
Suddenly, with odd intimacy, Angel reached over to touch a lock of her hair. He gazed at the hair dye.
“That’s too bad. You still look great. I guess you finally grew up.”
“Thank you,” she pressed some paper into his hand. It was one of her model comp cards. She had scrawled her address in ink. “Can you please give this to Albert. I think of him, sometimes. Tell him to call me. Please. Maybe I can help him get a photography job.”
She broke into a smile, a beaming brightness. It was her famous cover girl teeth showing, the kind of smile that proved she was still the same.
It was snowing outside, abrasive Pittsburgh cold. How had she, a Mississippi girl, lived through these winters? She gunned the chic, mint green Lexus in the parking lot. Leonard Cohen began playing on the indie rock radio station.
If you ever come by here for Jane or for me
Well, your enemy is sleeping and his woman is free
And Jane came by with a lock of your hair
She said that you gave it to her
That night that you planned to go clear
Who was Jane? But in a deep place she knew. The beautiful part about the lock of hair stuck a chord in her gut. She thought of the South that she was raised in. The good old girls and boys, the private school, the humid summers that killed you and the town pool, with clean water running over her legs.
Then there came the North and Pittsburgh. A suffocating public school and tough-talking Catholics. Now, Danny was an aging model with a chronically adulterous Manhattan boyfriend, who occasionally slapped the hell out of her.
This was the secret, she kept from everyone.
Partly she wanted him more after he got angry with her. It was a turn-on. Part of her attributed it to his “Vincent Gallo” beauty. For he was a beautiful man.
She dug through her wallet, for a picture of her, that Amadeo loved best.
She was sitting on his rug, in the Gramercy apartment. She was wearing a white lace tank top and leather pants. Four years ago. Before he started cheating. The hits. The bruises. The slaps. She was 19 years old. Just a kid. And she loved him so damn much. She was smiling broadly, he had caught her in a reflexive moment, before they went out for sushi dinner. Her roots looked nearly black and her skin was pale.
She was thinking, which she was later taught not to. No camera angle could belie her beauty though. It was perfect. Hello Kitty princess, American ad, Pittsburgh rich girl. It was a really great photo. Her life was like a line from Tolstoy, the fellow Russian writer who knew the suffering of the bones. Maybe it could live alongside bliss. He knew that even one perfect moment could never really die at all.