Ah the pitfalls of looking back; you start to remember things. The good and the bad – the sad and the funny. When I first arrived in NYC, I was 17. I’d just graduated high school, gotten hired at a jewelry wholesale showroom, gotten fired for not sleeping with my boss, and turned into a punk.
That summer, every afternoon, my sister and I would jog around Gramercy Park. This was just before the pooper-scooper laws, so it was like jogging through landmines. Then one day the law passed, and the poop vanished from the sidewalk. People walked around with colorful plastic shovels (pooper scoopers) and ladies would be hanging out their windows watching, and if the dog pooped on the sidewalk a loud voice would yell “You – yeah, you down there with the ugly dog. Pick that shit up or I call the police!” Yes, New Yorkers were cool. And speaking of cool – I’d gotten fired, gotten a boy friend, and had started modelling. At first, jobs were scarce and money tight. I had to pay back the hotel where I’d spent the summer, so I didn’t have money for clothes, and that was tough because Winter Was Coming. But right now, it was Summer, Summer of Sam in NYC and there were heatwaves, and a lunatic was shooting couples parked in cars, and I was 17 going on 18, and one night we couldn’t sleep because of the heat. In the middle of the night someone rapped on our door – it was a friend who whispered that the pool was open. At midnight we walked to the public pool and slipped through the fence where someone had cut the wire and sat in the water with about a hundred other people – we just sat and dozed, and when the dawn came, we walked back to our baking apartments. It was surreal – because no one spoke – we were all too tired and worn down by the heat. The next day a storm broke, the heatwave broke, and we went back to normal.
When winter came that year, it crashed in like a runaway train. My boyfriend gave me his old ski jacket (silver, held together in places with safety pins) and a pair of old snow boots (the toe was separated from the sole so I used duct tape to hold it together). I went to my “go sees” with a paper bag holding my Candies sandals, and when I got to the “go see”, I’d quick change and take off my boots and put on my sandals. Two feet of snow on the ground, and I walk into the casting room wearing my high-heel, summer sandals. “I’m from the Virgin Islands,” I told them – and this seemed to satisfy everyone. “Ah – yes!” The casting director would nod, as if that explained everything. I remember going to a ritzy hotel, sitting in the lobby and slipping off my boots, stuffing them under my chair, putting on my sandals and going to the casting, all the while praying no one would find my old boots and throw them away! My first paycheck went for a pair of boots, a long sleeved white blouse, and a woolen skirt. I stopped off at the studio of a friend photographer, who had just set up a snowy set for his pictures, and he used me to get the lighting right, then gave me the photos. Sing-Si Schwartz* was a great photographer and a wonderful friend.
One day I was booked for a shoot with a photographer in a theater near Times Square. That evening, a snowstorm roared down from the north and dumped three feet of snow on the ground. I called the agency to make sure the shoot was still on, and they said to just “go see” (the words a model hears most…) so I sloughed through hip-deep snow to the subway, took it uptown and got off on Times Square. The shoot was in an apartment in a theater, with Duane Michals for Vogue, so I was very excited. I walked out of the subway and stared at Times Square – pristine – the streets were gone, he sidewalks were gone – there wasn’t a soul in sight except a lone policeman standing under an awning just behind me. It was glittery and beautiful. I stepped out of the subway, heading for the other side of the street, walked off the curb and fell, disappearing beneath 3 feet of fluffy snow.
The policeman hauled me to my feet and helped me make it to the right address. I was the first one there, and the owner of the apartment gave me a hot cup of tea while we waited for the crew to show up. What I remember most about that shoot was the hairdresser took three hours to do my hair – tiny curl by tiny curl, and we sat around and looked at the snow, drank tea, and then when it was over, the snow had been trampled and there were paths everywhere – I followed the one leading to the subway, & waved at the policeman, still standing under his awning. The photo was taken in November, and didn’t come out until May. Looking at it, I can still see the snow & hear the policeman’s laughter. (And the stylist took so long to make the curls -my hair is dead straight – I was sad to wash them out!)
*Sing-Si was a wonderful person and talented photographer. I met him in NYC, and we became good friends. He came to visit me in St Thomas, spent Christmas with us one year, and took some amazing shots of the islands. When he passed away, it came as a terrible shock.