My Career as a Model

The people I stayed with in Lima were connected with El Comercio, one of the more respectable Lima newspapers. The Saturday supplement, called Somos, was going to have a headline article on foreign backpackers in Peru. One problem: they needed someone for the cover who looked foreign. Guess who got the summons.

I have to say, there are few things I'm less likely to do than model. A small, little issue is that to model you need to be good looking. I know that Calvin Klein experimented with skinny heroin addicts as part of the modern trend toward realism, but even so, "bookworm" and "computer geek" are perhaps a bit esoteric, even for Calvin Klein. I understand the "foreign" angle, but I'll humbly suggest that if they spent a little extra time looking they would have done a lot better.

I'll go along with just about anything, so I showed up for the session. The photo shoot was at Germán's apartment, which is a small studio that looks like something from "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown". They had made it over as a tiny photo set, with a totally bogus simulation of a woods. I admire the nerve… er…. boldness of conception that went into this exercise.

For the floor of the woods, they had crumpled brown paper for earth, and had pulled a bunch of fronds off a tree in the back yard. There was a black cloth over the back wall. Behind the cloth was a huge self-portrait, with Germán wearing a crown of thorns and showing a hand with a wound. He had nailed barbed wire all around the thick, wooden frame. In front of the television against the other wall, there was a row of tripods and flash units. The camera was a cheap Canon from the 1970's.

My costume was equally bogus. They gave me jeans and a checkered shirt. The problem with the jeans was that they were a good four sizes too small, and after repeated tries to close them, I started feeling a bit faint. We decided that it might be better if I wore the shirt over the jeans and didn't truss them up. I may be a little full-of-figure, but the real insult came when they gave me a woolen cap to wear. "Nothing personal", said one of the photographers to me in English. I was also issued a backpack (naturally), and a set of pan pipes, which the photographers found particularly hilarious. The more ridiculous I looked, the more they congratulated themselves.

My partner was Betty, Jorge's cousin. She's Peruvian and not foreign, though she's Jewish and has been mistaken for foreign her entire life in Peru. This is where it finally paid off. She was wearing her own clothes and they fit, but she felt as ridiculous as I did, and we took to laughing for no reason at inopportune moments. Modeling, it turns out, is time-consuming, tedious, and hard work. The glamorous bit comes after it's done.

At least, that's when the glamorous bit came for me. Later that week, the day I left, my face was on the front of every newspaper in Lima. To my amazement, there was no trace of Germán's hysterical apartment, and the set actually looked like a woods. As we drove to the airport, I saw people on the street hawking the magazine. Again, the thing I like about Peru is that all of my corny jokes are new there, so I would roll down the car window and tell the hawker that I would never buy a newspaper with such funny looking people on the cover. The more astute hawkers were surprised – the less astute ones thought I was simply strange.

I took several copies of the magazine as a show-and-tell of my trip. Somos is a great magazine if ever there was one. Besides the feature on backpackers, there were some other enlightening articles as a wedding in Monaco, "Are you a Love Addict?", and my favorite, something entitled "Ratones de peso", about mice and obesity, with a scantily-clad, skinny model whose photograph was there for no particular reason. I thrilled to the recipe for chicken soup in a half-hour. What's more, I shared the same magazine with Hugh Grant, though he has more to deny than I have to prove.

There's no business like show business.