This day is simply so incredibly beautiful that I have to take a moment for a brief commercial break about the Crystal Coast, where we are lucky enough to live. 80 degrees, Carolina blue skies, miles and miles of pristine beaches, the friendliest people on the planet (no one ever honks or shoots you the finger if you miss the fact that your red traffic light has turned green! Honest to God, I think Eastern North Carolinians are so kind and patient they might sit through 3 or 4 green lights before giving even the lightest tap to their car horn). When my son Wyatt was quite young and we had just moved here from New York, he misunderstood the newscasters when they said ‘Eastern North Carolinians’, and for years he called these good folks North Carol Indians. I sent an email to our local baseball farm team, the Kinston Indians, suggesting a possible name change but seven years later I’ve still received no response!
If you love charming and picturesque you cannot go wrong with historic Swansboro, just 3 miles down the road and located on the magnificent White Oak River and the Intercoastal Waterway. One home after another on the Historic Register, storefronts brimming with wonderful finds that you may not need, but will most definitely want, and languid Southern hospitality and manners. When we lived in Westchester County outside of NYC and would come to visit my parents who lived in Swansboro, I would cry buckets all the way up to Virginia when it came time to leave. Moving here was definitely on my dance card!
Booger had his first trip to the beach this week; I was apprehensive but he barked at the waves, jumped into the tide and never looked back. Pooter has been enjoying the water since she was a baby but as a part Lab mix, that was to be expected. I was unsure of how Walter Matthau would do with his little smashed face, but I assume it went well, as he did sign up for surfing lessons on the spot!
But I bet you are wondering what wonderful things occurred when I became a Ford model; was I shooting my first magazine cover within a week, jetting off to Paris the next month, or flirting with Mick Jagger in the Ambassador’s Lounge at the airport in London? Not quite, dear ones, though that would have been my preferred scenario. No, in actuality I was sitting in a waiting room with several other would be model hopefuls, feeling like I must surely have a turd slingshot in my belt due to the raised eyebrows and whiffs of disdain drifting in my direction. When at last my name was called and I entered an office of no distinction, I was surprised to see only one bored lady, who was most definitely NOT Eileen Ford. She rifled through my pathetic handful of photos, eyed me up and down, and yawned. “Listen, you seem like a nice enough kid, but my advice to you is save yourself some heartache, go get yourself a nice job as a secretary somewhere, settle down, make some friends. This is not the business for you. You are not tall enough, not that pretty, and if these photos are any indication, not too photogenic either. Thanks for stopping by!” I was flabbergasted but adamantly related the story of her boss and the meeting in front of Tiffany’s; she was skeptical but when I pulled out the business card from Eileen she started to rethink the situation and began to hedge her bets. “Mrs. Ford is in Scandanavia at the moment recruiting new talent so there is no way to confirm your story, but I could give you the names of several smaller modeling agencies that you could contact until she returns at the end of summer. At the very least you would acquire some better photos, perhaps gain some experience, and then we could see you again in the fall.” Moments later I was back on the street heading for the address of the first agency on my list.
As I entered the hushed offices of Eve Shelton Models (yes children, some names have been changed to protect the terminally guilty!) I was impressed, now this was my idea of how a modeling agency should look, thick white carpets, white Louis XV furniture, pale blue satin chairs, French doors with a very tall, angular, elegant blonde woman sitting behind them. OK, this was MORE BETTER!! At the end of an hour I again found myself on the street clutching a piece of paper with the name and number of a photographer she thought I should see to have “test shots” made. This is a win-win for both model and photographer she had explained, as we both acquired more photos in order to build a portfolio. It had been determined that as a Newbie my rate would be the lowest starting amount for a new model, $60 per hour or $300 per day! She seemed chagrined and slightly embarrassed by those amounts but I thought I was steppin in high cotton because the minimum wage at that time was $2 per hour. I discovered that Eve had been one of Eileen Ford’s top models in the 1960’s and had opened her own agency when that inevitable moment arrives that every model dreads; the photographers stopped booking her as the lines on her perfect face began to appear. Despite my glee at how this day was turning out, I would soon learn that in life there is a hierarchy to everything, including the fashion industry, and that things that gleamed the brightest sometimes had a dark and tainted side.
It was with a pounding heart that I entered the phone booth on Fifth Avenue, inserted my dime, and tried not to inhale the stench of fresh pee (after all, where else were the homeless and disenfranchised to go ?) as I dialed the number of Alberto Rizzoli and prayed that I could convince him to take test shots of me. I am determined as a terrier when I make up my mind to do something and that morning I had set out to become a model, and by God I would become one before this day was out! After a brief phone interview Alberto asked if I could come straight away to his studio, as his afternoon had just “opened up due to a scheduling change”. This was a common occurrence in Alberto’s life I would soon learn, as he was a down-on-his-luck loser and a terrible photographer who was perpetually behind in his studio rent. I was extremely nervous when I knocked on the door of his 29th Street address; it felt as if everything might be riding on this single moment, success, failure, triumph, defeat; it was all possible in that eternal moment I waited for him to answer. Unsure of what to expect, I was still surprised when the door opened to reveal a tiny little pocket man standing there. You already know that I’m from Texas where we grow our men tall and big, so a petite, vertically challenged man was an anomaly. At the same time he was extremely handsome, with high, cut-glass cheekbones and penetrating black eyes, thanks to his South American mother and Italian father. He was smiling as he took my hand to guide me into his studio, “Miz Scarlett, I presume?” he attempted with a syrupy Southern accent. For the next two years he would play Henry Higgins to my Eliza Doolittle.