By Alison Satterwhite
Part 2: The Masquerade
The music went black, the lights went interrogative. I quickly put on my masquerade of cool, confidence mixed with indifference and hardness. Underneath were raw, unabashed doubt and insecurity. Palms sweating, I steadied my wobbling knees. It was my turn. Suddenly a whirlwind of thought invaded my mind. What if I fall? What if they don’t like what they see? What if I forget what I’m doing? The worst of these being the disapproval of what I deemed the final voice in the matter. I took courage and one step in front of the other, paraded down the runway with all the sway I could muster. I hoped they didn’t see in my eyes the real me. From that moment on, I determined it would be best if I not look anyone in the eye. The eyes after all, are a window to the soul. I much preferred to let the mystery remain–I was someone to be reckoned with. There they were: Elite, Ford, Click, LA Models, Wilhelmina, the best of the best. Each like a laser, studying my every move, every hair strand, every curve…my every flaw. Furiously making notes in their journals, my two minutes of fame were up.
My mother and I waited impatiently as the minutes ticked by. Would I be lucky enough to be called back? Or would I go home empty-handed, with no plan for the future? Girls filled every corner of the conference hall. Nerves and impatience spilled over at every slight. It was time, “Everyone meet across the hall for final call-backs”. The crowd stammered to see the results, each hand shaking as they searched for their name on the list. As I stepped forward to witness my fate, I prepared myself for the worst. I would deal with the emotional fall-out later, I told myself. First Elite, then Click, then LA Models…..in total, eight agencies had asked to see me again. Could it be possible? Ecstatic, I ran to tell my mother the good news.
That day, I signed with Mitchell Model Management. “She is very Marie Claire,” and “We’ll have her on the runways of Paris by November,” were the exact phrases that influenced my choice. The more ethical Elite wanted me to stay home and develop my image and book before signing on, as well as others. But I was ready for an adventure, ready to make my mark in the world, ready for a do-over. That summer I would spend flying back and forth to San Francisco to develop my portfolio–every model’s passport to work. The vivid and seedy images and smells of the Tenderloin District where I roomed will stay with me forever. It was a less than desirable location for a young girl to stay, where prostitutes and vagrants made their homes each night. I continued to put on an air of confidence, determined to fake it until I made it, and luckily, none of these people preyed on my vulnerabilities. The eerily old hostel was home mostly to the mentally disturbed, down and outers, and lost souls. My room consisted of an old, squeaky, iron bed and small closet, only 6 feet by 6 feet. The mattress was thin and reminiscent of a jail cell. The stale carpet clashed with the beautiful, dark Victorian trims and finishes that adorned the doorways and floor lengths. There wasn’t air conditioning to quell the sweltering heat or even television, and I was often afraid to leave my room unless I had a specific place to be. And so there I laid, hour after hour, thinking and dreaming of what was to come.
Funds and inexperience limited by ability to explore the city, and when I did, I was met with vultures on every side. Distanced spiritually, I felt alone and homeless, without a friend or protective cover. It was not uncommon for people to stop me on the sidewalk in passing and ask if I was a model or what magazine they had seen me in recently. I felt naively flattered and it only served to bolster my shell of a self-image. On one particular day as I rummaged through the corner drugstore seeking some necessity, a mysterious old Asian man approached me. His long beard was spotted with gray and was tied neatly at the base of his chin. Who was this exotic and intriguing man? Uninvited, he proceeded to read my past with striking accuracy. So curious was I, that my youthful sense of adventure led me to see what else he might have insight into. I foolishly followed him to his “business” where he promised he could “help me”. I imagined a small, dank room filled with herbs and chinese medicine, but was instead met with none other than a massage parlor. The place seemed legitimate at the time, clean and well established, and in a far better neighborhood than I was now accustomed to. “Mr. Miyagi” seemed trustworthy, to a young, unsuspecting eye, and there were regular people milling about. Despite this, the red flag tried to signal several times, but I forced it down, just as I had done so many times in recent months. Angels around me tried to SOS, but I had gone dark.
He pointed to one of the many rooms in a long, well-lit hallway and asked me to go on in and wait for him. As I opened the door, the spa-like atmosphere immediately disarmed me. The soft, inviting tones and calming essential oils wafted in the warm air. In this great deception, was a fresh, unsophisticated child, just ripe for the picking.