For quite some time, I'd yearned to try my hand at modeling, but every shoot I checked into wanted someone younger than my twenty-two years or taller than my five-seven or thinner than I'd ever been in my life.
In the meantime, I had to work, or move back home and accept the negative comments from my folks, something I was not about to do.
I took jobs that were way below my skill level for a while but one Saturday, while having lunch with a friend, she remembered a classified ad she'd saved for me.
"Take a look at this, Sandi. As soon as I saw the ad, I thought of you. It's exactly what you said you dreamed of," she said. "You have an amazing fashion sense, and you've had some experience in retail. You should go for it."
The more I read, the more excited I got.
"Oh my god, Traci,it's perfect; maybe too perfect, but I'm going to apply anyway. If I don't get it, I'll know I did my best. Working at Malken & Drake would be so sweet."
Malken & Drake is where every fashion conscious sales person in the world wants to work. They are one of the hottest fashion stores in the country, and most of all, the absolute best path to meet all of my goals. Their "Intimate Moments" department is famous for its exclusive selections of intimate apparel and sl**pwear, designed and created just for them. Of course, they also featured the top designers and offer the highest level of service anywhere. Of course, you pay for that level of commitment so they cater to the nouveau riche as well as the more sedate 'old money' individuals
Since I wasn't scheduled to work until two that Monday, I got up early, showered, and slipped into the designer business suit that I'd bought at a resale shop for less than fifty dollars. I looked good. I mean I looked really good. Very professional to say the least.
Pausing outside the offices on the fifth floor, I took a deep breath and focused on being mentally prepared to present my best executive look and attitude.
There were quite a few women waiting but I was determined to make the best effort possible. After all, numbers mean nothing. I picked up the application and moved to one side where there I found some chairs with writing surfaces. As I filled out the app, I occasionally glanced around the room at the other women. Over half of them were not going to get past the first door because they didn't dress for the job.
I slipped the app in the folder where I had my resume and cover letter outlining my goals. When I leaned over to give my papers back to the receptionist, I whispered to her. "Have there been a lot of applicants?"
She nodded but spread out eight fingers and twisted her hand back and forth to indicate they were pretty much so-so. I gave her a questioning look and she smiled as she bent three fingers of her right hand to let me know that there were just two that made any impression on her. After about fifteen minutes my name was called and I was ushered into another office
The woman doing the interviews was in her thirties, rather attractive and dressed in a very expensive business suit. She looked up and smiled and I felt a lot of tension flow from my body. She stood and held out her hand.
"Hello, Sandi, I'm Debra Hastings, the Human Relations Director at Malken & Drake. Please relax and give me a second to review your application."
I sat and watched her face as she read it. Occasionally, she would make a little sound or gesture that looked like she was pleased by what she saw.
"So, Sandi, why Malken and Drake?" she finally asked.
"I have my goals set rather high, Ms. Hastings. I intend to be in top level management within five years and if you don't want to team up with the best there is, why bother?"
"I like that," she said. "So you know about our company then."
"Yes ma'am," I said. I then proceeded to give her an encapsulated version of the history of the company and the prestigious rankings the fashion world gave it.
"Well done, Sandi. You've done your homework."
"Ms.Hastings, I've lived and breathed fashion most of my life. I even considered modeling but found that my body type didn't fit the mold."
"Have you considered designing?" she asked.
"I have," I replied, "but I'd have to get a lot more education and experience to pursuit it. I have a small portfolio of a few of my designs if you'd care to see them."
"I'd like that very much," she said.
I passed her the portfolio and studied her reaction.
"You're quite talented," she said. "I notice that your interest seems to lie in the intimate apparel and swim wear fields."
"Yes ma'am," I said. "It's what I do best."
"There's nothing wrong with that," she said. "Of course, it is one of the most competitive areas in fashion design"
"Yes ma'am," I said. "That only means that if I am successful at it, I've beaten the best there is."
She smiled. "I like your attitude Sandi. How soon could you be available?"
"Immediately," I said.
"If I call you by two, could you come in for a second interview it that becomes necessary?"
"Of course," I said.
I can't explain it, but I left there with a very positive attitude.
She called me at one to ask if I could be there by two. Of course, I could, since I was at a café less than two blocks from the store.
When I got there one other girl was there and another was coming out of Mrs. Hastings office, I was the last to go in.
"Come in, Sandi," she said. "Please," she said, motioning to the chair in front of her desk. She went to stand right behind her desk. "Sandi, the job we advertised is in our "Intimate Moments" department as assistant manager. While you lack some in actual retail experience, you excel in natural ability. You handled yourself quite well in the initial interview and your knowledge of the company impressed me. The thing that tipped the scale in your favor is your extensive knowledge of fabrics and design as well as a natural sense of color."
There was a soft knock on the door to which she smiled and invited someone named Sharon in.
The woman that came into the room was about the same age as Mrs. Hastings, but tall, slender, and drop dead gorgeous.
"Sandi, this is Sharon Cottell. Sharon is in charge of our training and development team. Go with her, and she'll walk you through the rest of the paperwork and get you scheduled for training. Let me be the first to welcome you to the Malken & Drake organization. I'm sure we'll be hearing great things about you."
I thanked her and walked from the room, maintaining my professional attitude on the outside, while my heart was doing handstands. I'd found my dream job and now I was hired.
"You can scream now if you wish," she said, as we headed down the hall. "I can see the excitement in your eyes."
"Is it that obvious?" I asked.
She smiled and nodded. "Let me guess, this is just what you wanted."
"I've been waiting for this for years, and to get this opportunity with Malken & Drake is way beyond my wildest dreams."
"No one else ever had a chance," she said. "Mrs. Hasting was absolutely thrilled when she saw your application. We are very selective of the people we hire, which is one of the reasons we don't lose our personnel to the competition. We hire the best and make sure we keep them. The girl who had the job you are taking over has been promoted to middle management due to the retirement of Mrs. Gage, who was with the company for thirty-one years. "
"Oh wow, that's a long time," I said.
"It is indeed," she said, "but not at all unusual here. Did she discuss wages and benefits with you?"
"Not yet," I said, "but the company has an excellent reputation for paying fair and competitive wages and the benefit package is rated as number one in the industry."
"Yes it is," she said. "I can let you have a peek at your starting wage package if you wish to see it."
I nodded and she passed me a slip of paper.
"Oh my god, Sharon, you're k**ding. That's a lot of money."
She grinned and nodded. "Of course that's a salary so you'll work a lot of hours to earn it, but they take good care of us here. There are ways to make even more but that will be explained to you as opportunities arise. We also have an excellent bonus program as well."
By the time everything was done, it was past lunch time so Sharon took me to get a sandwich and a salad in the executive dining room. Boy, those people know how to eat.
When I left the store, I walked slowly down the street, stopping to check out the window displays, until I got to the next block. Then I raced to stop at the same café, ordered a latte' and took a deep breath. Once I got control of my heart, I called my friend Tracy. She was at work so I had to sound real important when I asked to speak to Ms. Tracy Caruthers.
"Tracy Caruthers, how can I help you," she asked.
"Act real cool and sound like we're talking business," I said, not wanting to get her in any trouble.
"Yes, Mrs. White, how are you?"
"Mrs. White is a piece of shit," I said, "but Sandi is floating above the clouds."
"I take it that you are pleased with the package then, Mrs. White?"
"I got the job, Tracy. I got the freaking job."
"And were you pleased with the pricing, ma'am?"
I told her what my starting wage was and I thought she was going to scream. She choked for a few seconds and regained her composure.
"I'm sorry, Mrs. White, but I had trouble catching my breath for a minute. Is there anything else I can do for you?"
"Yeah, you can hurry up and meet me at Dillinger's after work. I'm taking the day off and then I'm quitting. I'm buying, so whatever you want, even that shit you drink that's seven bucks a pop. My treat."
"I'll take care of that, ma'am and thank you for allowing us to serve you."
I spent the next hour on the phone, making reservations at Dillinger's, and quitting my job which came as no surprise to my boss, who was ecstatic for me.
- 2 -
My first day at Malken & Drake was mostly spent with the operations manager, a thirtyish redhead with an awesome body, showing me around the stock rooms and offices and introducing me to various supervisors and individuals I would be working with.
By the end of the day, my legs ached and my mind was spinning. The last woman I met with was Desire' the assistant manager of the sports fitness department. She handled exercise clothing, swim suits, and athletic wear such as a gymnast wears. As I headed for the exit, she offered me dinner at Danner's, a local grill famous for their salads.
"The first week is the worst," she said. "You won't get a check for two weeks so money gets tight, and it can be so confusing. There's so much to learn and so many people to remember."
"I just discovered that," I said." I feel like I ran a marathon. I can't wait to get into that hot shower."
"Each day gets easier," she said. "I've been there just over a year so I'm still a work in progress, but it isn't as stressful as it was."
I told her of my desire to do some modeling.
"You'll get chances to do that at Malken & Drake with your body. I do it about eight or ten times a year now.
There are other opportunities too."
"Such as..." I said.
"Make up a portfolio and be sure the advertising and promotions department gets a couple of copies. Give them to Jeanine and she'll make sure they get to the right people."
"Thanks, I'll do that."
When I started feeling the weight of the day, she paid the bill and I headed for home and the shower I'd been thinking about for hours.
She was right about one thing. Each day got easier and everyone in the department was so kind and supportive of my efforts that I began to look forward to getting to the store each morning. I got my final check from the previous job that Friday and sat down at lunch to figure out how to make it go as far as possible. I'd had a conversation with the condo manager and he was willing to work with me so I wrote a check for a little over half of my rent, which left me enough to survive with a reasonable cushion.
I invited Desire' to dinner at Danner's and insisted on paying over her objections.
"I'm not in bad shape right now," I said, "but I maxed out my credit card to get the clothes I needed and I only bought three outfits."
"Didn't you say you were having car trouble?" she asked.
"I don't want to think about it," I replied. "I think something else goes out every week. This morning I heard a grinding sound coming from the brakes, and I've had a vibration in the motor for months that sounds louder every day. I'm trying to get another few months out of it but I think I'm going to have to find something else while I still have some trade-in value. My dad wants me to get a new one and even offered to help with the financing but I really don't want to turn to them right now. They're trying to get ready for his retirement and that might just screw things up for them for a few years."
"Been there, done that," she said. "Mine took a dump about a month after I started here."
"Did you buy a new one?" I asked.
"Yeah, I did," she said. "I got a really great deal on a Toyota SUV. They gave me a good deal on my trade and I gave them a couple grand down. It's a dream to drive."
"I wish I had two grand for a down payment," I said. "I'd start looking tomorrow."
She seemed a bit pensive for a few minutes so I asked her what was on her mind.
"Oh, sorry, "she said. "I was just thinking of how I got the two grand. Man, I can't believe it's been over a year now."
"You're talking in riddles, Desire', I said.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I do some modeling on the side, and just realized that I've been there over a year."
"Oh," I said. "I didn't know. I never even thought about outside modeling, but you have a much better body for that than I do."
She smiled and looked down at the table. "These people aren't all that fussy, Sandi. We call them skin shows."
"Are you talking about strip clubs?" I asked.
"No," she said, "Some of the smaller stores have fashion shows of their own and they hire girls as needed. Some of them are run by crude or downright nasty managers if things aren't going just right so you have to swallow your pride and bite your lip but if you're strong enough, the pay is good and they pay cash the next day. You can get tips from the customers and a bonus if your items sell well."
"What type of garments?" I asked.
"It's almost all bikinis, bras, panties, Victoria Secrets type stuff."
"Oh I see." I said. "Do they call you often?"
"About once or twice a month, but I don't always accept. It depends on my finances at the moment. "
"What's the most you ever made off one show?" I asked.
"Oh, about six hundred or so."
"What?" I said in amazement.
"Of course I got mauled pretty good and had to put up with a lot of shit from some of the customers but I paid my rent the next day and had enough left for a good meal."
"What does Malken & Drake think about you working part time for a competitor?"
"You don't work for the store," she said. "You work for an independent contractor. They just rent the space for the shows. The store gets their money by charging outrageous prices for the merchandise and VIP tickets. It's totally a win- win situation for everyone."
"Can you recommend any to me? "
She seemed to hesitate for a minute.
"It's not easy work and it's not pretty, Sandi. Nothing high class about it at all. I'm not sure you'd have the stomach for it. "
"I might not have a choice though, Des," I said. "If the car goes, I'm screwed."
"Well, the one I work the most is at Sanderson's but it's not your usual fashion show. They call it Club Sanderson's and it's run by a group of women with a penchant for young women in their underwear or less. It's usually one night a month, but sometimes they have two a month. The clothes all come from Sanderson's intimate apparel department or from sports wear for the swim suits. Its all quality merchandise but not Malken & Drake quality. I make the most money there but I earn it too."
All that night I considered the information she'd given me, trying to balance my need for immediate cash with the description she'd given me about the shows. I'd done a quick calculation and if I were to dress well at Malken & Drake, my initial cash outlay could be as much as two thousand dollars. I also had to consider the fact that my car badly needed some maintenance. I did have some left on my credit card but the interest rate was outrageous. I could borrow from my Mom, but she was juggling funds too,. Of course, there was no guarantee I would be accepted or when the next showing would be.
Two days later, Desire' told me there was going to be a showing at 'Club Sanderson' if I was interested. I took down the name and number of the woman in charge and put it in my purse.
"Hey Des, I've got a question for you?"
"Sure, what do want to know?"
"You said something about 'if I had the stomach for it 'and 'if I was strong enough'. What did you mean by that?"
"Well, for one thing, you have to be able to take a lot of shit out of some weird women on a power trip. Most of them are all right but they aren't the warm fuzzy type we deal with at Malken & Drake," she said.
'Is that it?" I asked.
"It varies from show to show," she said. 'At Club Sanderson's, the customers are allowed to touch the models whenever they feel the urge. It's something you have to get used to."
By 'touch' are you saying in an intimate way?"
"Oh yeah," she said. "That's why you get the big tips, Sandi. It's a bunch of wealthy older women that get their jollies that way. Makes them feel young again, I guess."
"Oh," I said, trying to sound calm and collected while I was anything but.
"You get used to it, "she said. " A couple hours of touchy-feelie , a little one on one and you walk out with a few c-notes tucked in your bra, if you have one."
"That doesn't sound like anything I'm interested in," I said.
"I wasn't either but I needed rent money and I got that and more."
"Well, thanks for letting me know," I said. "I'll probably try to borrow from my mother."
"Okay, that's cool," she said, "but remember that you'll have to pay her back. The second show I did, qt Sanderson's I made enough to buy four suits from the bargain store and pay cash for them, About three grand worth of high fashion for less than seven hundred and I didn't have to charge anything but a silk blouse."
"I don't know," I said. "I do really need some cash right away, but that sounds incredibly gross."
"It's not that bad, Sandi, and you get used to it after while."
I paced the floor for over an hour that night, trying to imagine some old women pawing at me. Could I stand there and pretend it didn't bother me? Did I need cash that badly?
The honest answer was either I call Mom or try the shows. I picked up the phone to call my mother, but never dialed her number. Eventually I talked myself into trying it one time, but that would be the end of it.
At lunch the next day, I called the number she'd given me.
"Have you modeled for us before?" the woman asked.
"No "Ma'am," I said. "Desire Watkins gave me your number."
'Oh yes, I know Desire' "she said. "I'm not sure if she's working this show or not. Well, if you think you've got what it takes, come by my office at six and we'll do a quick interview."
She told me who to ask for when I got there, and where to park and told me to be on time or don't show up.