"Yes, you may sit down," said the scrawny man, nearly hidden by the huge desk. "Let me see your profile. Yes, you're a good type. We have many women your type and your age range.
"Come back in a year."
I was not seated long enough to cross my legs.
I had finally lost the 28 pounds remaining from pregnancy. I was feeling good. I was buying clothes, size 10 in cheap brands, which means I could squeeze into a 6 if I could afford better stuff. So when a friend suggested I try to become a fashion model, I was intrigued.
The population is aging, she told me over salad. The world needs senior models, she said, as we sipped black coffee. She's 46 and has been modeling for three months. Her life has improved drastically, her husband's interest has been rekindled. Try it, she said in the ladies room. What have you got to lose?
On the other hand, could I actually earn bucks from my body without doing something illegal or self-destructive, like surrogate mothering? Me, the perennially overweight girl-next-door?
From the Yellow Pages and classifieds, I selected three agencies. Receptionists wanted to know my height. I wanted to know if a 44-year-old who's never modeled should hang it up immediately. All three agencies scheduled appointments to look me over.
My husband Ed, who fell in love with a larger me, is ecstatic. I'm dialing modeling agencies, and he's worried they won't let him come to Aruba on a fashion shoot. He's acquiring the lingo.
Ed calls me his model -- his model airplane.
Then there's the voice of reality. My college roommate (with whom I used to swap clothes), signed with the Ford agency. She, too, got a late start -- at age 26. She acknowledged a demand for senior models but said most of them have been in the business since they were junior models and have good cheekbones. "You'll be pushing hemorrhoid products and refrigerators, of course."
For days before my first appointment I'd been telling myself that since I had nothing at stake, I wouldn't feel crushed if they turned me down. I didn't believe myself.
The agency is in a small suburban office building, and at 8 p.m. there's no one around but janitors. Plus two leggy blonds in the agency's reception area.
"Patricia, please," I say in my attractive voice. "Your name?" ask the blonds. They give me a clipboard with mimeographed inquisition. I write my name, address, age, marital status, height. They want to know what I weigh.
Honesty here is a milestone. For years, at the beginning of each ski season, I lied about my weight when getting bindings adjusted, even though weight determines how bindings will release if you fall, and I was risking my own limbs. Finally, rather than lie again, I just quit skiing.
I check boxes indicating my willingness to learn about posture and makeup. I leave blank the spaces demanding an account of my most serious flaws. I return the clipboard to the blonds, who give me a newsletter to read. In a few minutes, blond No. 1 takes me into an office, hides behind a desk, and offers me a chair.
We talk for 10 minutes. I'm alternately curious and defensive. She talks of runway training and composite photos. She says there are two types of models: fashion, which is mostly in New York, and commercial, which includes me "at least by virtue of your age." She makes no reference to airplanes.
She says people identify with models. She says I'm prettier than the average woman my age. I ask if she would tell me honestly if I were not. She says no.
"But you wouldn't have been here this long," she explains. There are few commercial modeling opportunities for old ladies, even old thin ladies. As she escorts me out, she apologizes for Patricia's absence. "Patricia was in a serious car accident last night."
On the first Friday morning of the month, another agency holds "open call" for never-evers in their office in a downtown Philadelphia high-rise. Having been scrutinized once, I'm much more laid back.
There are three women in the office, all jazzy blond. One of them is a vision. She's early twenties and has nice features buried under layers of makeup. Her body should be as covered as her face. She's wearing a denim skirt, slit to way above the imagination, a metal-studded polyester-and-denim cowgirl blouse, and denim spike heels. And hair teased to a bouffant twice as wide as her face. I'm feeling like a 747.
To cut the tension and assess the competition, I try to make conversation. This blond, who has done runway modeling, sits near her plain girlfriend. I sympathize. I asked my friend Marie to try modeling with me. Marie said she could never do it unless there was a need for adult women with their thumbs in their mouths. But this blond's friend is there, not as a model and not as moral support, but because blond couldn't find her way into the city alone.
Portfolio in hand, she wobbles into the corner office and closes the door. She's gone for 10 minutes, then comes out, all smiles, and tells the blond receptionist Mr. Maroni wants her to fill in an application and make an appointment next week.
My turn. I'm in there barely long enough to sit, he admires my profile and tells me to come again in a year. Nice.
For reasons that are still unclear, I go to the third agency. It's a rainy Monday, and I'm dressed in black and feeling blue.
Again a blond greets me, but a blond with character and brain cells. The agency hired her to expand their commercial business. She wants me.
Pause. Let it sink in. She wants me, aging mother of young men, to model. Send photos.
Fortunately I never mention this self-indulgent fantasy to friends. Two weeks later, my photos arrive in the mailbox with a note saying the agency changed its mind.
All is not lost. I'll call the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum. Maybe they need an extra airplane.