Picture This

When I left the apartment this morning for the gym, Broadway was eerily calm and quiet. A car passed soundlessly, and I couldn’t even hear my own footsteps. The only sound I heard was that of a bird or two singing (I couldn’t make out the lyrics, though). It was sort of like when in a movie, only one sound is heard — the protagonist’s nervous breathing, or a gunshot — for some special effect or reason.
When I arrived at the gym, I was surprised to see that the top floor, where I do most of my stuff, was barren except for one of the employees I call “floorwalkers”. I thought it was the new one who I just don’t like for some reason — a lovely combination of Jane from “The Beverly Hillbillies” and Mrs. Walsh from “Beverly Hills 90210”, who sports one of those horrid “fanny packs” — but it was someone else who actually knows how to smile.
Anyway, as much as I was thrilled that I was the only one there, I also thought that maybe something apocalyptic had happened overnight and I was one of the very few surviving members of the human race. “Ahhh, it’s actually not that bad, being one of the only people left in Manhattan,” I thought. “I won’t have to worry about all those bitches who give me dirty looks anymore. And I think I can probably get away with not paying for a bottle of water!”
Imagine my disappointment when, at 6:12, I was joined by a guy whose workout usually annoys me. He got on “my” treadmill and started his intense 20-minute walk at the breakneck speed of 3.2 miles per hour. He started doing his usual punching-the-air-with-his-fists thing, wearing weight-lifting gloves on hands that I’ve never seen lifting one.
Of course, because we were the only two people left on the planet (aside from the gym personnel), he obviously thought that meant we would have to converse. I’d never spoken to this guy before, and really had no intention of doing so. But when he caught my eye in the mirror and sorta kinda semi-smiled, I found myself grinning like an idiot. He made an innocuous comment about how he and I should get “special credit” for being there. I lobbied back something just as exciting.
His timing on “my” treadmill was perfect, however, and he vacated it at the very moment I was considering doing some other form of cardio. I, in a strangely magnanimous mood (I figured I was going to have to start being nice to this guy if he and I were the only two people left, because, quite frankly, sometimes I do like to have lunch with someone), thanked him for vacating it, and spouted something off about how it was my favorite treadmill. I daresay I blathered. I may even have blithered, but I’m not too sure.
We engaged in the sort of chatter that I ordinarily avoid. Nothingspeak. Talking just for the sake of talking. He mentioned that he is a photographer, and I thought, “Well, at least the only other person who survived last night has an interesting hobby. Maybe he can finally take those glamour shots of me that I’ve been meaning to get. I wonder if any roses are still around, so I can delicately clutch one in my hand for the portrait.”
Of course, thinking the way I do, I thought this guy was going to ask me if he could take my picture sometime. Because it’s not unusual for guys to use something like this as a come-on. Alas, he didn’t, and I was relieved (but also kind of pissed — what, doesn’t he think I’m cute enough to photograph?). But as I ran on the treadmill, I started thinking about a time years ago when I met a guy who wanted to take my picture. Only the picture he wanted to take wasn’t a still one. No, he wanted me to be in a movie.
That man was Steven Spielberg.
No it wasn’t.
One evening I was visiting a friend (I can’t even remember her name now) who had a posh apartment in a “luxury” building in Philadelphia, and I met this older guy in the elevator. He asked me if I’d ever been in a movie, and I told him I hadn’t (which was true at the time; now, as we all know, I’m an international movie star hiding behind this website as a way of communicating with my public in a way that my agent wouldn’t approve). He told me I was stunning/gorgeous/beautiful (take your pick), gave me his card, and just as he exited the elevator, told me to call him …
So I did.

*  *  *  *  * *  *

When I got out of the taxi, I looked around to make sure the address matched the one on the business card I grasped between my fingers. Surely there had to be a mistake. I turned back to ask the taxi-driver, but he was already gone. So I straightened up, closed my eyes, prayed to some nebulous god that I wouldn’t get killed crossing the sidewalk, and approached the paint-chipped door that was waiting for me.
There was no elevator. I took the stairs two at a time, not too eager to make friends with the rats that I swore would dart across my feet given half a chance. I reached his door, bowed my head, held my breath, and knocked.
“You look even more gorgeous than I remember,” he said as he took a long drag on his cigarette. “Come on in and make yourself comfortable.”
I heaved a huge sigh of relief when I saw that he did, indeed, have cameras set up. He did have one of those big white umbrella-y looking things. There were wires snaking across the floor, black-and-white photos of pretty women scattered all over the place, ashtrays overflowing with cigarette butts — all the cliché accoutrements I’d hoped would be there.
He got behind one of the cameras and told me to take off my jacket. He asked me if I wanted a drink, a cigarette, or anything else. I assured him I was fine, even though I felt like I should drink and smoke just to show him I was a real adult and not the stupid 21-year-old I was.
“Just do what comes naturally,” he said.
So I made stupid faces, flipped my hair, and pretended I was a supermodel. All the stuff I did at home, in the mirror. Fortunately he thought it was charming and adorable. He laughed. He told me I was beautiful. He told me to take off my shirt.
“Excuse me?” I said.
“Take off your shirt,” he said.
“I …” I sputtered, not knowing whether to believe him or not.
“Just take off your shirt,” he insisted, calmly, not removing his eye from the camera lens.
Tears streamed down my face as I slowly slid my shirt from my skinny shoulders. I looked straight into the camera, and then away, unable to look him in the eye anymore.
“Now … suck your thumb like a good little girl …”
And just then the elevator bell “ding” woke me from my daydream and I realized I wasn’t Irene Cara (Coco) in Fame.
Do you still think I’ll live forever?
Baby, remember my name.