Lots of Leaps, Not Much Faith

It happened the summer after my junior year in college. I was interning in the L.A. office of Hughes Aircraft Company (or, in intern parlance, “Huge Aircrash”), which had arranged summer housing in Loyola Marymount University dormitories. LMU dorms were nothing like ours back East. They were more like the set of Melrose Place, two-story apartment complexes surrounding a pool.

Three summer hires and I shared an apartment which had dozens of unsightly nails protruding from the walls, a gift from the previous occupants. Beer was our dietary staple but because we weren’t very enthusiastic about lugging empties to the recycling bin downstairs we used them as interior decorations. Specifically, we impaled the cans onto the exposed nail heads, solving two problems at once.

Our living quarters now comfortably appointed, we moved to the next order of business: discovering new and dangerous forms of recreation. One option beckoned. I thought it just might be possible to shimmy from the railing of our second story apartment onto the roof of the complex and leap into the pool.

Two physics questions loomed: (1) Was it possible to clear the twelve foot wide walkway below and (2) Would three and a half feet of water decelerate a jumper enough to avert broken ankles? There was only one way to find out: Persuade Bob to jump first. Bob, native Californian, surfer and all-around wildman, hesitated for three-tenths of a second before accepting the challenge. On his first jump his back came skull-clutchingly close to hitting the cement lip of the pool. Clearly the key was to take a running, rather than stationary, leap.

Our lemming routine quickly earned us a visit from the Resident Assistant. But upon entering our apartment she discovered a problem far more serious than courting shattered vertebrae—ohmigod, we were, “nailing beer cans to the walls!”

“No we’re not. The nails, they were… We just… It’s not what it looks like,” I stammered.

Too late; she was already out the door. The eviction notice, effective immediately, came that afternoon. Our suave roommate, C.J., decided to fight this judicial travesty and spent all day in the law library dredging up terms like “unlawful detainer” and “eviction subpoena.” Evidently, LMU could not summarily evict us. We were entitled to a warning, then, if we continued to act unruly, the law allowed us one month to vacate. Armed with this information, C.J. got us a second chance. But first we had to appear before a panel of LMU administrators to apologize, grovel and generally portray ourselves as upstanding residents who wouldn’t even line beer cans on the windowsill, nevermind nail them to the wall.

Contritely we filed into the RA’s apartment on Judgment Day and did a double take. There she sat with three nuns in full habit. Uh-oh, who picked this jury? It never occurred to us that LMU, as a catholic university, would have catholic administrators, that they would be nuns, that we would have to justify ourselves in front of a group whose idea of raucous behavior might be very different than ours, that we would face a Holy Inquisition. We began supplicating. “My name is Ken. I’m an electrical engineering major at MIT and I’m very sorry…” and so forth. I was last in line.

But first, the sartorial situation: I was dressed California casual—knit shirt and my only clean shorts, an all-cotton pair that had shrunk quite a bit in the dorm’s industrial-grade dryer. Pivotally, I also happened to be freeballing. Just as my turn came, I nervously clenched my hands into fists in the pockets of my already-stretched-to-their-tensile-limit shorts. “Hi, my name is Steve and…” Kapow! My zipper ruptured and a certain organ—not the kind commonly seen in church—unfurled.

Mortified, I bolted from the room, ran to our apartment and collapsed in a fetal position in the closet, half laughing, half crying in shock. We were supposed to charm the panel, not whip it out. How many Hail Marys are required for flashing a group of nuns?

Just as I was considering joining the French Foreign Legion, the guys found me. They said everyone had a big laugh about my exploding zipper, our request to be reinstated was approved and all was forgiven. One nun even asked me out on a date. Okay, that didn’t happen. But the rest is true.

So to recap: number of times in my life my zipper has burst open exposing my genitalia: one; number of times I have stood before a tribunal of nuns asking for clemency: one. I still can’t believe those events happened simultaneously.

_______________

This essay originally appeared in somewhat different form in the Fairfield County Weekly.

Posted in Collegiate Capers, Essays, Hijinks

Nordstrom Is My Closet

As a model I have a dirty little secret to confess. No, it’s not the fact that I found Zoolander hilarious. My secret is about dirty clothes—clothes I buy, wear on modeling shoots, then return to the store for resale to unsuspecting customers. But as you’ll see I have no choice.

When stylists call, they invariably request clothes of a type and hue not found in my closet. I do not stock an assortment of grey pin-striped suits (I don’t manage a savings and loan), bright yellow pants (I neither golf nor fight fires), and heavy winter sweaters (I live in the San Fernando Valley, where the temperature seldom dips below “blast furnace”). Yet these are actual requests from the stylists of my last three print jobs. I have the basics, of course—knit shirts, khakis—but as a professional poser, one is somehow expected to stock the entire spectrum of apparel from Speedos to tuxedos.

“We need you to bring an off-white linen jacket, an ecru ribbed cotton turtleneck sweater, olive flat-front cotton twill pants, taupe Merrell nubucks, and lots of watches,” says the impossibly optimistic art director.

“No problem. I’ve got all that.” At least I will after a thousand dollar spending spree at my local department store.

“Great. And bring lots of options.”

“Fine,” I say as if my closet teems with variations on the aforementioned theme. “Just refresh my memory… what color is ecru?”

You may wonder why I don’t admit to the stylist that my wardrobe lacks variegation (I own just one suit and when I find a shirt I like, I’m apt to buy three exactly like it.). Chock it up to painful experience. When stylists pull clothes for me, the only ones they seem to find are size extra large gargantuan, despite my insistence that anything over medium will hang on me like a painter’s drop cloth. And so, just when I’m supposed to look my photographic best, I end up looking like a ten year-old playing dress up in his father’s clothes.

I’m not a total slob. I try not to sweat in borrowed clothes and if I do manage to stink them up I’ll wash or dry clean them. That requires removing and reattaching price tags, a process simplified by my Red Arrow price tagging gun ($21 on eBay). No model—no person—should be without one.

Why not keep the clothes? In a perfect world, we’d earn so much for every shoot that such clothing acquisition costs would be inconsequential. But back on planet Earth I might get three hundred dollars for a two hour shoot. Clearly, the clothes must go back to the rack.

Many stores have a liberal return policy—I’m looking at you, Nordstrom. But that doesn’t mean the register jockeys don’t try to make you feel guilty for being so fickle and saddling them with armfuls of clothes to credit and restock. I used to dread returning the garments, dodging the clerks’ skeptical glares (“So none of these cashmere sweaters worked for you?”), enduring their pained sighs as they unrang their sales commission on yesterday’s Visa-scorching purchase, a windfall they probably spent last night. Then I discovered a way to make returning the stuff fun.

“Was there something wrong with these shirts?” asks the peeved salesman, as he checks the sales tags and circles the various 27-digit manufacturer codes on the foot-long receipt.

“Yes. They’re haunted,” I reply. That generally motivates them to speed the transaction and be done with me. Other responses I’ve tried include:

“I’m a recovering shopaholic and my therapist says this store took advantage of me yesterday.”

“Oh, I won’t need clothes where I’m going.”

“Shh. I’m a secret shopper. You’re doing very well so far.”

Sales clerk scrutiny is compounded for stylists, who pull clothes for many models and end up returning an entire rack. One stylist I know had her charge card cancelled at a department store after too much buying and returning. They figured out what she does for a living and got tired of being her complimentary wardrobe department. Now she slinks from store to store, buying a little here and a little there, hoping she isn’t recognized, like some casino-hopping, black-listed card-counter dodging pit bosses.

I assuage my guilt by telling myself that the clothes I borrow get free advertising by appearing in other products’ advertisements. In fact, I feel better just getting this skeleton out of my closet. And returning it to Nordstrom for a full refund.

_______________

This essay originally appeared in somewhat different form in Today’s Black Woman, Zink, Jazel, and Supermodels Unlimited magazines.

Posted in Essays, Show Business Humiliations

Bullets in the Bonfire

Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, and my father is from Vulcan. If you need a tricorder jury-rigged or a Class M planet analyzed for its ability to support life he’s your man. But if it relates to feelings his stock answer is, “That’s your mother’s business.”

“I miss you and mom. Should I come home for Christmas?

“That’s your mother’s business.”

“Okay. I love you, Dad.”

“That’s your mother’s business.”

He delegates all responsibility for emotions to my mother, which suits her fine.

He has a dignified and stoic manner, prompting many a childhood friend to ask after meeting him, “Is that your butler?” I’ve never seen him casually dressed. In fact, if you’re ever in Fayetteville, New York and you see a man in a business suit mowing the lawn, do wave hello to my dad.

Only twice in my life do I remember him getting upset. When I was eight years old I spent a Saturday afternoon gallivanting through the woods with a group of older teens. What a jolly time I had with this carefree band of hooligans—setting up a fort in an abandoned barn, blowing up roadkill with M-80s, busting soda bottles with slingshots, getting my first taste of Budweiser. Eagerly I told my parents about my new friends with the funny name for their club. “They call themselves the neato nasties or something like that.”

“The neo-Nazis?” my mother asked.

“That’s it! How did you know?”

Now here’s a tidbit about my father I didn’t know at that point in my life. In 1944 when he was twenty the Nazis wrenched him from his family in Occupied Holland and forced him into slavery in a German armaments factory, where besides enduring hellish conditions he faced the constant prospect of annihilation by Allied bombs. He nearly died there.

My father went Krakatoa. As he chased me through the house, all I heard were snippets, “You will never… that group… I forbid… off-limits… from now on!”

I may have been a whiz in math and science, but I had some major gaps in my knowledge of history.

#

Doug Dawson was the perfect childhood best friend. He was a loyal to a fault, he had a house full of dangerous stuff, and he made an excellent fall guy. One day when Doug and I were playing, my mom needed to take me into the village for a short errand. “Stay here, Doug, we’ll only be gone ten minutes,” I said. Plans changed and we spent the day with my grandmother in Syracuse. Twelve hours later we came home and there was Doug, patiently waiting in our front yard. He never complained.

Doug’s father was a member of the John Birch society and had an arsenal in his home. When I was ten years old I found this fascinating and pressured Doug to show me the gun collection. “Hey Steve, if you throw a bunch of bullets in a bonfire, will they pop like popcorn sending bullets flying everywhere?” Doug asked.

“I don’t know, Doug. But that sure sounds like something we better get the answer to right away,” I said. So we grabbed a box of .22s and we headed down to Bishop’s brook where most of our mischief took place. As boys Doug and I were like little cavemen—concerned about not getting into scuffles with larger predators (older teens) and obsessed with fire.

Doug’s dad quickly noticed the box of ammo missing and called my parents, who sprang into action. Just as our bonfire got roaring I heard my father’s amplified voice bellowing through the woods, “Stephen Altes and Douglas Dawson, come home at once!” He kept a bullhorn for such occasions. The bullhorn meant trouble. Doug and I kicked the bonfire into the creek and ran home.

Our parents knew about the bullets so we had to come clean. Luckily, as I mentioned, Doug was the perfect scapegoat. “Oh father, thank God you rescued me in time. It was all Doug’s idea. I had no idea he brought bullets with him. He just tossed them in the fire, cackling like a madman. I could have been killed.” As usual, Doug got grounded, spanked and possibly thumbscrewed, while I got hug from my mother and a stern warning from my father to “be careful around that dangerous Doug Dawson.”

Posted in Essays, Hijinks, Youthful Follies

How to Become an Author

In 1997 I became a published author with St. Martin’s Press. As a public service, I thought I’d share my secrets to making it in this highly competitive field.

The sequence of events which brought my Little Book of Bad Business Advice to print was positively rubegoldbergian in its complexity, but here it is—distilled into four easy steps:

  • Fail miserably at your job causing your boss to lose all confidence in you
  • Brood and write a dark, bitter commentary about the incident
  • Abandon writing to pursue a career as an actor
  • Befriend a Belgian Baroness

Step 1: Flop. I was in charge of sales for a high-tech company which made a laser positioning gizmo. The problem was our product sold for five times what our competitors charged for something similar. After six months I hadn’t made a single sale. My boss ignored the price differential and decided I was to blame: that somehow, I didn’t have the right briefcase or haircut or handshake. So he threw a stack of business books at me and ordered me to read them.

I was stupefied to discover that every book said the same things: “Networking is a good way to find a job. You have to take risks to get ahead. Be punctual.” Blah blah blah.

I felt like writing the various authors: “Thanks for the news flash, Scoop! Hey did you hear? Ben Hur won the chariot race.”

Step 2: Sulk. As an outlet for my growing hostility at my boss’s obstinacy and the business gurus’ platitudes, I started writing my own business advice book. And why not? Everyone else seemed to be doing it: Football coaches, management consultants, Navy SEALs, even Attila the Hun and Winnie the Pooh have business advice books out.

Except my manuscript veered toward the absurd:

  • Judge people at work not by their accomplishments, but by their knowledge of sports.
  • In job interviews, speak ill of your former bosses.
  • Give your file folders descriptive labels like “Boring Thing for Marty,” “Budget Lies,” “Tom’s Nasty Project,” and “Schedule Crap.”

This newfound distraction (writing on the job) did wonders for my already dismal productivity. I quit a nanosecond before I was fired.

Step 3: Give Up. Eureka! I had a manuscript that made my friends laugh. Now what? Try to get published? Nope. Shelve it and try something completely different. I have the attention span of a ferret on amphetamines. I change careers more often than most people change their oil. Before you can say “dilettante,” I was off to New York City to become an actor.

Step 4: Party. I didn’t make it into the big leagues, but I did land a recurring role in the short-lived “Central Park West.” An actress on the series invited me to her Fifth Avenue apartment for a soiree.

At the party was Sheri de Borchgrave: Belgian Baroness, sex columnist, and author. We talked for a while and I mentioned my manuscript. She said, “Send it to me and I’ll pass it on to my editor at St. Martin’s Press.” I did; she did; and three days later I had a book contract and a $5,000 advance. No fuss, no muss, no ugly rejection slips.

But being published isn’t all garden parties and massive doses of self-esteem. I have not gracefully executed a swan dive into the loving mosh pit of critical acclaim, where my every written word elicits a frenzied bidding war. The William Morris Agency is not on my speed dial.

There are chores to do. Like going to bookstores and rearranging the stock so your book faces cover out instead of spine out. Like forging ahead with your book talk when the only people who show up are the Barnes & Noble Event Coordinator and your girlfriend.

Sure there are fun moments. Once I was staking out my book in Border’s, waiting for someone to look it over. A woman started chuckling as she flipped through it so I said, “I’m glad you like that. I wrote it.” She looked at me like I had just announced that I was the Archduke of Ipswich and did she perchance have a zebra I might borrow to make a frontal assault on the Kremlin.

There is one drawback in going from unknown to known. I wrote a sequel called If You Jam the Copier, Bolt and had a hell of a time getting it published. The first time around I was pure potential waiting to be discovered. Now I had a track record that the suits could analyze, extrapolate, and forecast. They could examine reviews of the first book, which ranged from “inventive” (Michigan News-Herald) to “lacking inventiveness” (a reader at Amazon). And its paltry sales (under 20,000) didn’t exactly mean Scott Adams’ days as the reigning workplace satirist were over. Hail Dogbert.

#

I queried dozens of literary agents about the sequel, but no one was interested. Years passed and I completely forgot about it. Then, in June 2000, I received a letter from the Jeff Herman Agency, “Your letter from more than two years ago was found behind my couch. Sorry. Maybe we can still talk?”

Despite his unorthodox in-box, Jeff turned out to be a real mensch and was willing to sign me. He sent my manuscript to twenty-five publishers and received twenty-five rejections. He said he’d give it one final shot. The twenty-sixth publisher said “yes” and offered another $5,000 advance just as my savings bottomed out. Stamps are my lottery tickets; the more I mail, the luckier I get.

My second book hit the shelves in a huge blaze of no publicity on Monday, September 10, 2001. If the world cared at all about it on Monday, it sure as hell didn’t by Tuesday. And I and many others had entirely new definitions of lucky and unlucky.

#

Jeff was less enthusiastic about my next book. I could understand if he felt my second book didn’t live up to expectations. It was remaindered before the year was out. But poor prior sales wasn’t his objection. Instead he simply said, “a memoir like this can only work if the author is already famous, if the author is already someone who appears on the Tonight Show.” Famous in Some Field, now there’s a book. Obscure in Many Fields, who wants to read that?

I hung up with Jeff and cursed the Famous! Not only do the celebrated have an easy time interesting publishers in their memoirs, they win with the book-buying public no matter what they say. If they write something exciting, people are impressed. “So that’s what Bono did when he heard he was being considered to head the World Bank.” If they write about something mundane, people feel a kinship with the star. “I guess Bono has to trim his nose hairs, just like the rest of us.”

Didn’t Jeff realize that, since the Diary of Samuel Pepys, all the really interesting memoirs have been written by the obscure? They had to be worthwhile or no one would have published them. Star power wasn’t a factor.

Jeff’s fanciful suggestion that I get on the Tonight Show was still echoing in my ears the next day when I got a message from my theatrical agent asking if I could do the Tonight Show that evening. Take it easy, universe! Don’t pull a hamstring jumping to fulfill my wishes. In my haste to call back my agent I blissfully ignored the fact that I had no movie to promote, had no impish ring-tailed lemurs to unleash on Jay’s desk, and had not recently pogo-sticked across America backwards. Even though I had no apparent reason to be a Tonight Show guest, for a second I considered the possibility that perhaps my various disjointed stunts had reached critical mass. Maybe Jay was devoting an episode to people who were neither famous, nor anonymous, but rather languishing in the purgatory of obscurity.

Turned out they didn’t want me as a guest, of course. They needed me as a hand model to play the part of Donald Trump’s hands in a skit. Still, as I jauntily walked the three blocks from my apartment in Burbank to the NBC Studios that afternoon it was hard to take it as anything other than a clear sign that my book would be published.

_______________

This essay originally appeared in somewhat different form in The Writer magazine.

Posted in Essays, Show Business Humiliations

Guy on the Box

Once in a while my agent Jennifer calls with a direct booking—no go-see required—causing me to do a conga dance in my apartment. But most of the time, clients need to see models before hiring them. That’s because they’ve all been burned by models who look nothing like their comp cards—women who appear as blonde bantamweights on their comps, but arrive on set auburn welterweights. Thanks, changelings, for ruining it for those of us who picked a look in high school and haven’t varied it since.

The whole go-see process can be incredibly lacerating to your self-esteem. Imagine waking up each morning unemployed, hoping the phone rings. When your agent does call, you’re invited to a job interview with a hundred other hopefuls. You schlep yourself across town and you’re judged on your most superficial qualities, the symmetry of your face, the whiteness of your teeth, your receding hairline. There’s nothing to hide behind. If you’re not hired, it doesn’t mean they didn’t like your work, your blueprint, your layout, your draft. It means they didn’t like you. On the other hand, if they do like you—you lucky dog!—you get to work for a single day, then it’s back to being unemployed. And you better not owe money to your bookie, because it’ll be six months before you’re paid, as the funds trickle from client to ad agency to modeling agency to model. Modeling is absurd and degrading, a vain pursuit in more ways than one. Maybe that’s why I like it so much.

I’d only been modeling for about a year the day Jennifer called to tell me about a whale of a go-see. Combe, Inc. was looking for new faces for their Just for Men haircolor boxes. Eight shades, eight new faces. Hundreds of models were being called in from all over the country. I was living in Virginia at the time so the prospect of traveling to New York City for a cattle call didn’t seem too appealing. Then she mentioned the job paid $18,000. That’s when my limited statistics knowledge came in handy. I thought, Hmm, an 800 to 8 chance at an $18,000 payoff? That’s an expected value of $180. The bus only costs $40, so really I’ll make a $140 profit by auditioning.

I talked myself into it with that unshakable, baseless optimism in the face of overwhelmingly negative odds that only actors, writers, wildcat oil drillers, and other inveterate gambling addicts can comprehend. I know my last hundred auditions/query letters/wells/slot machine pulls were busts, but this time it’s mine. I can feel it.

Peter Pan was my bus line of choice. It was cheap, it reminded me I wasn’t the only one who refused to grow up, and its buses feature a menacing graphic of an alligator snapping at a group of children. The bus broke down north of Baltimore and we were herded onto another bus. By the time the giant alligator squeezed through the Holland Tunnel, I was pretty sure I could have swum there faster.

Spirits flagging, I trudged over to the casting office and stood in the waiting room with scores of other models. The casting agent was so backed up he just stuck his head out of the office and pointed at a few guys. “You, you, and you. Come in. The rest of you aren’t what we’re looking for. Sorry. See ya.” I was not one of the chosen ones. I’d never seen a casting brush-off that abrupt. Normally they invite you in the room and at least glance at your portfolio. What a waste! I felt like writing a book called The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Being a Total Dummy.

Just as I stepped outside, the greenish-yellow clouds unleashed an ark-inspiring torrential downpour with pinball-sized hail. Everyone dashed for cover and I sulked back into the waiting room and waited for the storm to pass. An hour later the skies cleared and I again got in the elevator, directly across from the casting office. Just as the elevator doors were closing, a second agent came out of the office, saw me and yelled—in true cinematic fashion—”Stop!” I wedged my Timberlands between the closing doors. “Why haven’t we seen you yet?”

“Because your buddy flushed me an hour ago,” I said.

“He’s crazy. You’re exactly what we need for the Sandy Blond box. You’re hired.” Talk about pure dumb luck. If it weren’t for that storm I’d have been out the door. I did a conga dance and dedicated it to the rain gods.

Just for Men

Me as the “Guy on the Box”

The photo session the following week surprised me because they never applied the goop to my hair. I figured that as a corporate shill I ought to at least use the product. The photographer told me that being a Guy on the Box is a huge stepping stone in entertainment. Prior Guys on Boxes have gone on to TV shows, soaps, and major national commercials. For me, however, it was merely a stepping stone to continued obscurity.

The most memorable part of the day was the after-shoot walk from Grand Central Terminal to Penn Station with Don Jole, Just for Men’s choice for the box of black haircolor. As a breeder, extolling another guy’s beauty is not something I’m accustomed to, but Don was by far the best-looking man I’ve ever seen. In doll-terms, imagine G.I. Joe’s rugged jaw line combined with Barbie’s long eyelashes and you get a sense of this guy’s warrior/poet, strong yet sensitive visage. It doesn’t do him justice to say he has a perfect smile. If you look closer you’ll see he has perfect lips, perfect teeth, perfect gums. The guy isn’t just handsome, he’s handsome down to the microscopic level. His mitochondria probably wear Speedos. Next to him I looked like an African dung beetle.

On our twenty-block walk, I witnessed the damage extreme male pulchritude can cause. We’ve all seen the carnage a beautiful woman can leave in her wake as she passes a group of men, but who knew the roles were reversible? I saw women trip over curbs, mesmerized by his face; swivel their head and plow right into people; and halt conversations to gape at him in rictal awe. One woman actually froze in her tracks, dropped her Starbucks to the sidewalk, stared, and muttered, “Holy shit.” The unswerving trajectories that New York pedestrians normally follow were interrupted as the bustling midday masses actually parted for this cynosure.

After I pointed out the devastation he was wreaking, Mr. Genetic Powerball Winner swore he never noticed these things. I guess if you always induce this sort of behavior in people, it skews your perception. You probably conclude that women are just sort of naturally clumsy creatures who constantly go around slack-jawed, walking into lampposts. I suppose it would be arrogant to assume they only act that way around you.

But I knew different and was proud to walk next to him and be mistaken for a gay couple. I preened at passers-by with an expression that said, Yup, that’s my lover. Ain’t he a peach?

_______________

This essay originally appeared in somewhat different form in Funny Times, TearSheet, NailPro, and Supermodels Unlimited magazines.

Posted in Essays, Show Business Humiliations

You Want a Piece of Me?

If fashion models are Ferraris, then I am a 1999 Honda Accord with 300,000 miles on it, rusting in the junkyard—far from showroom condition but good enough for parts: hair, kidneys, what have you, but mostly hands.

Back when Internet companies were sprouting faster than chia pets, the demand for mouse-themed print ads surged. Somebody had to click those mice. That somebody is called a hand model. I call it “beats working for living.”

My qualifications were two-fold: First, a lifetime’s avoidance of manual labor has given my hands a smooth, uncalloused look. Second, I was the only guy my modeling agency could find willing to bear the humiliation of going to a beauty salon and requesting a manicure.

Once I learned to ignore women snickering at me while I got my nails buffed and cuticles trimmed, I discovered I enjoyed it. And I’m not putting the “man” back in just manicures. When a foot modeling assignment introduced me to the rapture of pedicures, I got hooked on them too.

Unlike George Costanza, I have so far managed to avoid career-ending mishaps with hot irons. Coffee was almost my Waterloo. Before my first hand modeling gig, I downed my usual quad shot latte. Mistake. It’s hard to hold your hand perfectly still for hours after that much caffeine. The photographer had to muster a C-clamp into service to tame my shaky hand.

A booking begins with a perky message from my agent like, “Hi, Steve. This is Jennifer. Are you free for a four hour hand job on Friday?” Those calls used to give me a lewd thrill until the day I scandalized myself by accidentally playing such a message while my mother was visiting. Over the years I’ve discovered a foolproof method for ensuring that Jennifer will call to offer a hand job: Do something the day before that totally mutilates my hands, like gardening or flea-dipping the cat.

On set, the shoots follow a familiar pattern of gradually eroding expectations. The account executive announces that we are assembled for the momentous task of capturing on film the power of the Internet, the thrill of e-commerce, or perhaps the ecstasy of backing up a hard drive. He gives a pep talk like, “Our goal is to create the definitive mouse photograph—one so beguiling, daring and hauntingly beautiful, it puts all other mouse photography to shame.”

Then the art directors do their part to make mouse clicking seem exciting. They snake the cord in a perfect S-curve. They highlight the mouse with dramatic red and blue spotlights. They paint leopard patterns on the mice. They balance a mouse on my fingertip. They have fierce arguments whether I should right-click or left-click. Right-click? Do we dare? I encourage these on-set debates since my meter is running the whole time.

Endless Polaroids are taken and I am given curious instructions like, “You’re covering too much of the mouse. Can you make your hand smaller?”

“Depends. How wedded are you to the five-fingered hand concept?” I reply.

After hours of fussing, someone usually shouts, “Let’s get on with it. It’s just a goddamn mouse,” and actual photography begins. When the photos appear in print, they generally look a lot like a hand clicking a mouse. Only more beguiling.

#

By far, the wildest call I ever got from Jennifer began, “How are your kidneys? I have a client looking for a kidney model.” I’d heard some urban legends involving kidneys that didn’t turn out so well, so I was a little apprehensive. Jennifer continued, “Meet this doctor at the Sheraton Tiki Bar tonight. He’ll buy you lots of drinks to swell your kidneys, then take you to his room for an ultrasound. If he picks you, it pays $500 for an hour’s work.”

“Meet a strange man in a bar, let him ply me with liquor, go to his hotel room, and let him examine my internal organs?” I said. “No problem. For a moment I thought it was something sketchy.”

Looking forward to doing some serious damage to the doctor’s booze tab, I arrived at the bar and joined two other model-types drinking with the doctor, who explained that a nephrology convention was in town and he needed a kidney model the next day to demonstrate a new ultrasound machine. He gave us his suite number, told us to come up after a half-hour of drinking, and excused himself to prepare the equipment.

We models surveyed each other, all clearly wondering who had the blue-ribbon kidneys. I tried to pull a psych job on them. “I’m Irish,” I said. “We’re known for our handsome kidneys. Oh sure. The original kidney-shaped swimming pool? Modeled after an Irishman’s kidney.” My renal rivals just ignored me. “Jennifer said a biopsy would be needed,” I continued. “If doc’s keeping that from us, I wonder what else he’s hiding. Say, does your drink taste funny?”

At the appointed time we proceeded to the doctor’s room. I pointed at a tube of K-Y Jelly on nightstand and whispered to one of the models, “Told you—butt lube. We’re all gonna be ass-raped as soon as the Rohypnol kicks in.” Punching me in the shoulder was his way of telling me I was getting to him.

The doctor asked the first model to take off his shirt and lie on a portable table. The doctor squirted some K-Y on the ultrasound probe and placed it on the model’s abdomen. When his kidney came into view on the monitor, the doctor experienced love at first sight. “That is the most beautiful kidney I’ve ever seen. Utterly perfect. There’s no need to look any further. You two gentlemen can leave.”

“What? No swimsuit competition?” I protested. The second model grumbled that we should all be given a chance and the doctor acquiesced.

The second model’s innards produced an even larger response from the doctor: “Magnificent! Better than the first. The definitive kidney. Worthy of a medical textbook.”

Next it was my turn to lie down and submit to the cold, slippery, vibrating sensor. I giggled and squirmed, ticklish buffoon that I am. The doctor was underwhelmed. “Now this is a fairly substandard kidney. Note how ill-defined the corticomedulary junction is. All in all, an unimpressive specimen.” Though I wasn’t expecting the doctor to find my kidney as adorable as a basket of puppies, it was discomforting to confirm what I’d always suspected: My beauty really does go only skin deep.

“Well, my corticomedulary junction and I know when we’re not wanted,” I said and left in a huff. I dulled my shame by stopping at the bar and treating my Irish kidney to a few shots of Irish whiskey, compliments of the doctor’s still-open tab.

That night I had an alcohol-fueled dream. I was dead, being autopsied, the medical examiner peering into my chest cavity, saying, “I don’t know what this man did for a living, but I’ll tell you one thing: He was certainly no kidney model!”

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This essay originally appeared in somewhat different form in Funny Times, TearSheet, NailPro, and Supermodels Unlimited magazines.

Posted in Essays, Show Business Humiliations

Bad Move

Consumer complaints against moving companies are skyrocketing. In 2002 the Council of Better Business Bureaus fielded more than 9,000 complaints, triple the number six years earlier. And you can’t say the media has ignored this national scandal. Newspapers and TV regularly run horror stories about moving companies that hold property hostage and fraudulently inflate shipping charges.

I’d seen the stories myself and thought, “that could never happen to me.” I view myself as a pretty savvy consumer. I’ll do research before buying anything that costs more than twenty dollars. So you can imagine my surprise when I got swindled by a rogue moving company.

I thought I did everything right. I checked their references. I called the Better Business Bureau. No red flags.

Here’s how the scam works:

I hired a mover to haul my stuff from Washington, DC to Los Angeles for $1,500. The movers came, loaded up my stuff and drove off. When I reached LA, the mover phoned me and said: “You know what? The storage fees I said were included in the price, well… they’re not. So it’ll cost you $5,000, no make that $6,000, to get your stuff back.”

“But I have a contract,” I said. “Surely this is illegal.”

“Yeah, I know. You could sue me. But you’d have to hire a lawyer, file motions, fly back to DC, rack up hotel bills, and testify in court. That could take months. Meanwhile, I got a driver who doesn’t speak English driving around LA with a truck full of your stuff. I sure hope he doesn’t get lost or confused, and unload your irreplaceable belongings on a street corner in East LA. It would be a shame to lose it all.”

I was dealing with a professional extortionist masquerading as a mover and his brazenness shocked me.

Even more amazing was the long list of organizations that could offer me no help. The local police said it was a civil matter. “Pay up, then sort it out in court,” was their advice.

So I went to small claims court. Unfortunately, they don’t have jurisdiction over an out-of-state moving company. (Hint: The moving companies know this.)

The Interstate Commerce Commission? Sorry, Congress abolished it in a wave of deregulation in 1996. According to Linda Morgan, the last chair of the ICC, intervening on behalf of consumers was a “nanny function” that Congress decided that should be terminated.

The obscure Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration did accept my complaint about the movers. They don’t do anything with these complaints, but they’re happy to accept them.

Next I tried arbitration through the moving industry’s trade association, The American Moving and Storage Association. All they did was believe the renegade mover’s forged documentation.

Weeks passed while I navigated this bureaucratic labyrinth. The more I learned, the more worried I got. I discovered that my situation was hardly unique and that many victims of moving scams never see their belongings again.

Replacement isn’t possible. Who has an accurate inventory of their belongings anyway? Can you list every book you own? Every CD? Every shirt and shoe? What was going to happen to my love letters, my tax records, the furniture I built by hand? The uncertainty drove me crazy. I couldn’t sleep. I got sick.

Moving cross-country was stressful enough. But to have everything I own held hostage for an escalating ransom was infuriating. I could handle being wiped out by a flood or tornado, but the prospect of losing everything because of deliberate maliciousness filled me with rage. And self-recrimination. These crooks stole everything I own and I held the door for them.

As a last-ditch effort, I sent a barrage of emails detailing my plight to every attorney general, consumer protection group, legislator, and law enforcement agency I could find.

Something must have worked because the next day the movers called to say they would deliver my belongings for only $250 extra.

Bitterly, I accepted their offer and later that day, my stuff arrived. Never before has a man been so happy to be reunited with his tax records. These sharks even had the gall to ask for a tip. Needless to say, I stiffed them.

Now I realize that the references the mover gave me were probably cronies. And Better Business Bureaus can be fooled with frequent corporate name changes.

So how could I have avoided this moving scam? A good place to start is, appropriately enough, MovingScam.com. BadMovers.org also has helpful information. They explain the loopholes that protect rogue movers—things like the Carmack Amendment, which prevents consumers from collecting punitive damages or attorney’s fees in household moving cases, even in cases of outright theft.

Can’t remember any of that? Just type “movers from hell” into any search engine. That’ll get you started. Meanwhile, the scammers roll on, operating with impunity.

_______________

This essay originally appeared in somewhat different form as a commentary on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered.

Posted in Essays | Leave a comment

Brad and Me

“How would you like to be Brad Pitt’s stand-in on a movie called The Devil’s Own?” the casting director asked me.

I don’t see the resemblance but who am I to argue? As an aerospace engineer, this couldn’t be further from what I imagined my life would be like. The only stars I expected to deal with were ones with names like Alpha Centauri.

My first morning on the set I was fumbling with the coffeemaker when I heard the unmistakable voice of Indiana Jones ask, “Coffee ready?” I turned and tried to think of something witty and nonchalant to say, but what emerged sounded more like “duh uh um.” I had definitely blown my first meeting with Harrison Ford.

Next I was apprised of a stand-in’s duties. A stand-in does not appear in the film. All your work is done before the scene is shot. You go through hair, makeup and wardrobe and are made to look as much like the star as possible. You do the action and say the dialogue while the director and the cinematographer make final adjustments for lenses, lighting, sound and extras placement. You may rehearse the scene for hours while the star relaxes in his trailer drinking fruit smoothies. When the set is perfect, they send for the star.

What makes being a stand-in exciting is that you are in the spotlight. Crane-mounted Panaflex cameras zoom in on you, fastidious wardrobe supervisors pick lint off your shoulders and doting makeup artists blot away the sheen produced by 50,000 watts of blazing tungsten lights. You stare into that lens and get a small dose of what it’s like to be the star. You fantasize that the director will have an epiphany: “No sense disturbing Brad. Now that we’ve got it all lit and in focus, whaddaya say we lens a few reels with this chap?”

Another term for stand-ins, the “second team,” fuels this Stand-in Syndrome. It has a nice junior varsity ring, as if you might fill in for the “first team” should the need arise. “Excuse me, Mr. Scorsese, someone on the first team isn’t feeling well today. Shall I send for the second team?” In the theater, an understudy may be called to perform in place of a featured performer and get his big break. Alas, in movies there is no such luck. In the cast and crew food chain, a stand-in is ranked slightly above an extra but well below the honeywagon teamster (portable bathroom truck driver).

My first scene on The Devil’s Own was a 4 a.m. outdoor shoot in the quiet suburban neighborhood of Montclair, New Jersey. A horde of female admirers strained against police barricades on that insanely cold February morning, hoping for a glimpse of Brad. With Brad’s hairstyle, identical brown leather jacket and dark pants, I left the holding area for the set. I nearly drowned in the palpable hormonal gush from his mistaken fans. “Oh oh oh! There he is! It’s him!” I’d only seen such female frenzy in old Beatles footage. I tucked my head and shielded my face, as if from the cold, prolonging the masquerade. I sauntered; I swaggered; I savored the moment. “So this is what it’s like to be a sex symbol,” I thought.  Then the crowd got a closer look at me, stopped squealing and grumbled, “Aw, it’s just the other guy.”

Such intense idolatry is scary. One day I wanted to see just how far a fan would go for a piece of BP. When Brad set his half-eaten bagel on the craft services table to dash to the set, I noticed a group of admirers spying the abandoned morsel from behind the rope line. I wandered over and asked if anyone was interested in a saliva-laced souvenir. They went bonkers and I tossed the treasure into the crowd. Now, with people paying $14,000 for Britney Spears’ chewing gum on eBay, I wish I’d kept it.

As the shoot drew to a close, a Washington Post columnist called. She was amused by how I got into acting: I was working for a government contractor when a modeling agent cast me as a German terrorist in Die Hard with a Vengeance. It was a crunch period, but I figured I could take a few days off for a one-shot deal. When people from 12 Monkeys called the next week, my boss gave me an ultimatum: “What’s it going to be, government work or Hollywood?” Well, when you put it like that…

So I quit my day job and began chasing work as an actor.

The day the Post ran their article on me, my answering machine received 28 provocative messages, most beginning with “I never do this, but…” or “I’m not a psycho, but…” Even the TV news magazine Extra was trying to reach me. They wanted to do a “rocket scientist turns Brad Pitt stand-in” segment and shoot me on set.  Devil’s unit publicist had to say no. “Things are pretty tense up here. Lay off the publicity,” he told me.

“If Entertainment Tonight calls, this is going way too far,” I thought. It wasn’t a long wait. The next night the woman next to me at a restaurant turned out to be a stringer for ET. Earlier that day she had pitched the idea of profiling me, but without access to the set the idea was nixed.

My 15 minutes were up. Until Monday, that is, when Newsweek quoted the Post article and the publicist called again. “What are you doing? Holding press conferences? Cool it!”

Even Bop magazine interviewed me. Millennium watchers, take note: when a geeky 35 year old aerospace engineer like me is profiled in a teenybopper magazine, the apocalypse must be near.

That spring MIT invited me to join a panel discussion on “Alternative Career Paths for Engineers” with a handful of alumni who had majored in engineering but subsequently strayed from the nerd herd. I explained to the panel coordinator in advance what a stand-in is and is not. Yet somehow posters all over campus blazoned: “Meet Brad Pitt’s Body Double Tonight!” The crowd that night had an unusually high proportion of Wellesley coeds. I felt bad for the panelist who was a former U.S. congressman. Nobody seemed interested in his tales of genuine accomplishment in our nation’s capital.

Ironically, in 1991 I was the co-recipient of the National Medal of Technology, the nation’s highest award for technological innovation. Past recipients include Steve Jobs and Robert Noyce, inventor of the microprocessor. Did MIT ask me to speak to its student body then? No. But now with a Brad Pitt connection… In a way it makes sense: MIT grads usually go on to do important things. That’s expected. What I had done was something cool.

This whole stand-in experience taught me something most people probably figured out a long time ago: derivative fame is a shallow thrill. Better to accomplish something yourself, even if it is tiny, than to bask in the reflected glory of someone else.

But if you happen to see Leonardo DiCaprio’s stand-in, tell him if I got that much mileage out of being Brad’s stand-in, he should settle for nothing less than his own TV series and a book deal.

_______________

This essay originally appeared in somewhat different form in Salon magazine, the Washington Post, the Ottawa Citizen, and the Syracuse Hearld-Journal.

Posted in Collegiate Capers, Essays, Hijinks, Show Business Humiliations

Famous for Something I Never Did

I was flipping through Mental Floss magazine some years ago and noticed that they listed Leonid Brezhnev as leader of the Soviet Union from 1977 to 1982.  I guess that’s technically true, but he actually ruled the Russian roost quite a bit longer, starting in 1964 when he ousted Khrushchev.  I didn’t have to look up these dates.  I was alive during Brezhnev’s reign and remember it well.  Give that monobrowed, medal-wearing bastard some credit, with an 18 year stint, Brezhnev ruled the Soviet Union longer than anyone except Stalin.

This isn’t trivia, like “who is the prime minister of Canada?”  The Soviet Union was our number one enemy for a long, long time.  In the 60 years between 1922 and 1982 they only had five rulers (Lenin, Stalin, Malenkov, Khrushchev, and Brezhnev).  It’s not that hard to keep them straight.

Everyone makes mistakes, Mental Floss, but you’re not off by a little.  You’re off by 13 years on something that happened in my lifetime.  That would be like me telling my dad that World War II started in 1926.

Furthermore, Mental Floss is a magazine that prides itself on being by and for smarty-pants (motto, “Where Knowledge Junkies Get Their Fix”).  So I wrote Neely Harris, the editor, and let her know the actual dates so they could publish a correction in their next issue.

What does she come back with?

“Sorry, Steve, I asked my fact-checker about this and he seems to disagree with you.  Thanks for writing in.”

Okay.  To put it gently, your fact-checker probably shouldn’t sit by the phone waiting for a call from the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant Committee.

Here’s another example of spurious information in magazines. Last month I came across this graphic in Fast Company magazine — a tribute of sorts to some of MIT’s most famous alumni in honor of MIT’s 150th birthday.  There, on the bottom, am I.

“Steve Altes, ’84 (Brad Pitt’s body double)”

Which would be nice, of course, if it were true.  So why does the world think I belong in the same distinguished company as Buzz Aldrin, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Larry Kahn (world tiddlywinks champion)?

In the 1990s I worked as a stand-in and photo double for Brad Pitt on the movies “The Devil’s Own” and “Sleepers.”  I wrote an article about the experience for the Washington Post.  That led to my being asked to speak at a career panel at MIT.  The gal handling publicity for the panel kept confusing photo doubling with body doubling.  Definitions appear at the bottom of this post, but one key difference is photo doubles work with clothes on and body doubles generally work naked.  I was very careful to explain the difference, but it was no use.  Posters on campus proclaimed me to be Brad Pitt’s body double.  I guess it helped drum up attendance.

MIT’s Admissions Office latched onto the wrong info and published it in a guide to MIT, which was widely circulated, and other people who’ve written about me continue to perpetuate it.

And now that Google’s auto-complete search results link me to Pitt ahead of anything else, there’s probably no killing this myth.  I’ve done a lot of things in my life, but the thing I’m most famous for is something I never did. By the way Google, what’s this “Steve Altes Show” you’re plugging?  That sounds like something I’d watch.

In case you’re curious, here are some definitions (courtesy of Wikipedia).

Stand-in
A stand-in substitutes for the actor before filming, for technical purposes such as lighting. Lighting can be a slow and tedious process. During this time the actor will often be somewhere else. Stand-ins allow the director of photography to light the set and focus scenes. The director will often ask stand-ins to deliver the dialogue  and walk through the scene to be filmed.

Photo double
A photo double will be seen on camera during the movie. Some of these double-acted scenes could be long establishing shots or quick close-up shots involving only an actor’s body parts. The photo double must say the dialogue with the same timing as the lead actor and reproduce the exact physical actions in coordination with the other principal actors in that scene.

Body double
A body double substitutes for the credited actor, most commonly in the context of shots involving nudity.

Posted in Collegiate Capers, Show Business Humiliations

Businessman Behaving Badly

Interview that accompanied the release of my book, The Little Book of Bad Business Advice:

Tired of pretentious business advice books filled with obvious platitudes? Then check out the Machiavellian maxims in Steve Altes’s The Little Book of Bad Business Advice (St. Martin’s Press, 1997). We recently interviewed Steve about his unique opinions on business.

What is the essence of business?
Well, some people will say “to meet customer’s needs.”  Or to create value for shareholders. Or to bring products to market. Those are all interesting answers. But wrong. No, the true purpose of business is to give us an excuse to rent and punish rental cars.

Care to share any secrets of career success?
The first thing you need is a good business card. I get a little nervous when someone hands me a business card printed on a laser printer. And the edges still have those little perforations. And the ink is still smudgy. There’s just no better way to say “I won’t be in business very long.”

More and more people are working out of their homes today. Any advice for them?
Lots of people work out of their homes today. Nothing wrong with that. Except when they try to make it sound like they’re running some huge multinational corporation. Hmmm, Transglobal Management Consulting, World Headquarters, 14203 Prancing Hobbit Lane? Then they try to make it sound more businessy by adding “Suite 200.”  Suite 200. Yeah right. That’s your pantry. I just FedEx’ed my proposal to your pantry.

Any advice for grads who have an entrepreneurial itch?
Why not get a day job, then get entrepreneurial from the safety of your cubicle? Consider the service industry. I think the future lies in super-fast paper cutter haircuts, thumb-tack acupuncture, and white-out manicures.

And if your business takes off, what’s the best way to tell your boss you’re leaving?
I like to invent “imaginary principles” and tell my boss that’s why I’m quitting. “I demand a ten-hour work-week, that beer be put in the soda machines, a corporate helicopter and a secretary for my secretary! What? You refuse? I’ve had it with this den of stupidity! I’m outta here!”  They’ll talk about you for years to come. “Can you believe his demands? Where did he think we were going to find a unicorn skin rug for his office?!”

So you see work as “a den of stupidity”?
Sure. Nobody thinks in an office. It’s like everyone’s on auto-pilot. A bunch of sleep-walking zombies. Don’t believe me? Try this experiment: leave a banana in the office kitchen with a sign that says “Do NOT Remove,” and see how long it stays there? A month? Til Christmas? Until it crawls away on its own?

Sounds like you don’t see yourself returning to the 9-to-5 corporate world?
Nope. Couldn’t handle the commuters. Take the evening commute west on a sunny day. A lot of times the only reason traffic will be slow is because people are driving into the sun, not wearing sunglasses. It’s like they’re saying: “Who knew the sun was going to set in the west tonight? Who knew!?”

What business practices annoy you the most?
So many things. My latest pet peeve is businesses that answer their phones with a long, rambling spiel like, “Good morning and thank you very much for dialing the award-winning Kwalitee Hotel where serving the customer is always our number one priority. At Kwalitee we put you first because we know your time is precious. My name is Michelle and I’ll be your customer service representative. How may I help you this morning, Sir or Madame?”  By the time she finishes, I’m napping in another hotel.

Or office managers who put elaborate locks on the copier requiring special access codes. And when you ask to make a copy, they raise their eyebrows as if you just asked for the launch codes to our nuclear arsenal.

What are some things a person can to get their boss to notice them?
Fed Ex’s get attention. Try Fed Ex’ing your memos to your boss. Even if he is only two doors down from you. Or put your trashcan on your desk and label it “In.”  If you really want to get noticed, mount a paper shredder on it.

Name one thing a business can do to increase sales.
Give your product a stupid name. Like Orville Redenbacher popcorn. Or Otis Spunkmeyer cookies. Some marketing whiz must have decided that the geekier the name sounds, the more people will pity the slob who created it and buy the product. Who wants to buy “Handsome Robert’s Cookies?”  Sell brownies or something. Call them “Lester Bumblesquat’s Brownies.”  They’ll fly off the shelves.

What is the worst business to start?
The worst business in the world has got to be owning a rug store. Every day I see twenty ads in the paper, rug stores having going out of business sales. Drive by the stores, they all have big banners: lost our lease, everything must go. Something’s not quite right though. It’s the same stores with the same banners, week after week, year after year.

And what is the best business to start?
Anything having to do with the Internet. Just yesterday I saw there’s a company that will do birth announcements on the web. It’s called “My First Web Page.”  My First Web Page! I remember when I was a kid. We didn’t have My First Web Page. We had toys like My First Rusty Can, My First Dead Squirrel and My First Blasting Cap.

In your book there’s a photo of you stealing office supplies. Is there anything wrong with that?
Come on, who among us hasn’t stolen a stapler, a fax machine, or a color laser copier from the office? Actually, snatching office supplies from your day job is a time-honored method entrepreneurs use to bootstrap their home-based businesses. Especially if that new business is… selling stolen office supplies.

A lot of companies are wise to this and put clerks between you and the supplies. Don’t let this slow you down. Goad the clerk with “Why do you worry about employee theft? This is an office, not a diamond mine. What do you think you’re protecting? The Hope Paper Clip? The Star of India Ink?”

Often it’s easier to stock up on supplies by raiding your neighbor’s office. That’s why so many staplers these days bear menacing signs like “Return Me or Die Slowly and Painfully, Jagoff!”

What do you plan to do with the profits from your book?
I’ll probably squander it all in a series of foolish get-rich-quick schemes, as usual. Dang!

And if you strike it rich? What then?
I had a loads of money, I’d give it away to charities, but with strings attached. Can you imagine donating $5 million to Harvard to endow a scholarship for The Study of Charlie Sheen Movies? They’d take it too. “Well Johnny, the good news is you’ve got free tuition. The bad news is you have write your thesis on symbolism in “The Shadow Conspiracy.”

Speaking of movies, what was it like being Brad Pitt’s stand-in on “The Devil’s Own”?
Brad Pitt? Hah! I had to carry him through the whole movie. First day on set, I go to Brad, “See that guy? He’s the director. When he says ‘action’ you do your thing.”  Funny, Brad never warmed up to me. So after a few weeks I stopped giving him acting tips. I figured, “He’ll learn.”

Actor, model, author, business consultant…how do you manage to juggle so many different careers?
I live by the motto “Carpe Diem.”  Which as we all know is Latin for “death to carp.”  And why should we let carp stand in our way? I say death to them!

No, actually the key is to set goals, stay focused, and get organized. I’m a compulsive organizer. I get sexually aroused just walking into Staple’s. My last girlfriend ran from my apartment in terror when she saw my shirts hung in the closet by the colors of the spectrum. Pants by Dockers. Shirts by Roy G. Biv.

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This interview originally appeared in somewhat different form in The University Reporter.

Posted in Essays, Hijinks