They wanted to send out a car — for my dress. It had been a year since I’d worn my baby blue gown, among a sea of sensible black dresses, to a fundraiser at the Waldorf Astoria. I’d subsequently written about the night that I tried to get my mommy groove back in that dress, and the editor of the national magazine that bought my essay wanted to know if I minded sending the dress into the city for a photo shoot.
“How about I come with it?” I suggested, and she relented.
The morning of the shoot, I put my kids on the school bus and climbed into the town car with my blue dress, which was still covered in dry cleaner’s plastic. It was 2004, back when magazine budgets were still flush with enough money to transport a part-time writer from the Manhattan suburbs to the editorial headquarters in midtown. In the lobby of the high-rise building, I showed my driver’s license to the security guards, and then went upstairs to an empty conference room to slip into the dress, grateful that it still fit.
While the makeup artist chose which eye shadow to best play up my blue eyes, she commented, “It’s so nice to work with someone who’s a normal size.” I smiled politely, but inside I winced at the back-handed compliment. What she meant was that I’d gone and let myself go — to a size six, which was actually the result of obsessive working out, good genes and a recent stomach flu. In other words, I was too ridiculously large to be a real model.
When I was ready, two editors escorted me and the makeup artist down the elevator and out the lobby door to a waiting town car, which brought us to the Waldorf. I felt a little silly rushing through Manhattan in the middle of the day wearing the dress that I’d described in my essay as “Black Tie Barbie.” I’m a housewife from New Jersey, I thought. Quit staring, people.
A publicist for the hotel greeted us in the lobby. Well, she greeted the folks from the magazine. She effectively ignored me, and no one bothered with introductions, either. That’s when it hit me: She thinks I’m a model! I was at once indignant for models everywhere – we’re more than a pretty face! – and yet also thrilled to be pegged as anything but the mini-van driving, soccer coaching mom from the suburbs that I was. Later, I’d point out that the whole reason for the shoot (and therefore, the publicity for the hotel) was because of something I’d written. But by then, I’d have my thunder stolen by a much prettier, far more famous girl (or perhaps, boy.)
The art director chose a spot in the middle of a busy staircase where I would stand and smile for the next hour while the photographer shot me from below, reminding me to tilt my head to avoid a double chin. Meanwhile, an older black woman in a gray and white housekeeper’s uniform buffed the brass handrail between us.
“I’m sorry I keep putting fingerprints on it,” I apologized as she rubbed the handrail with a white rag once again. She smirked and shook her head, “S’alright.”
As the photographer readjusted his equipment, I waited on the steps, watching the people walking up and down beside me. Suddenly, an old white woman in a smart suit and coiffed gray hair appeared on the other side of the handrail to observe, “All dressed up and nowhere to go?”
“Pretty much,” I replied.
“Well, you look nice anyhow,” she said before disappearing into the lobby.
The photographer asked me to come downstairs to try a different shot.
“I want you to run half-way up the stairs and then turn and face the camera,” he advised, clearly never having attempted to run in back-less heels in a floor-length gown.
I was about to start sprinting when I saw her (him?) at the top of the stairs, hair combed to brown and white perfection, poised and professional: Lassie. Not the original Lassie, I presumed, but the great-great-great-great grandchild of Lassie. Or at least, the latest Collie to fill the movie star’s, er, paws. Lead on a slack leash by none other than June Lockhart, Lassie made her way down the stairs confidently and effortlessly, as though in slow motion. People rubbernecked as they parted to let Lassie through. When she finally padded her way to the bottom of the stairs, I rushed to grab the train of my gown and move out of her way.
So much for my groove. On the day of my big magazine photo shoot, I was shown up by a dog.
When I got home that afternoon, I changed into shorts, sneakers and a T-shirt and met my kids at the school bus stop. A group of boys soon gathered in my driveway to observe a dead frog, apparently the victim of a certain town car. I watched them try to flip it over with a stick, feeling overdone for the occasion in my photo shoot makeup.
The next morning, I read The New York Timesover breakfast with my boys — Cheerios and some pre-cut supermarket cantaloupe that I’d splurged on. There, in the Arts section, was a photo of Lassie eating lunch at Tavern on the Green. I assumed that a town car was waiting for her out front.