You may not need a recap of three previous parts of ‘Deus Ex Machina’, particularly if you are a binge-reader… I do, just because I’m struggling to balance a short attention span and a long interruption…

Back in February and March, I had gotten myself into serious trouble at Giovanni’s culminating in a ‘Step II disciplinary meeting’, which was essentially a meeting to convince management that I still wanted my job and that I could, if given another chance, ‘straighten up and fly right.’  Difficult.  On one hand, even on bad days, waiting tables is both profitable and interesting.  Given my A.D.D., the constant mental stimulation as a waitress may actually be more important than my tips.  Although as a spendthrift with a fashion addiction, the tips are pretty damn important.  On the other hand, I had been crashing rather than flying because I was completely overwhelmed as a single parent with no support net.  Trying to be a good enough mom for Piper was burning me out and exacerbating my A.D.D, which only left me even more overwhelmed.  So while I desperately wanted another chance, if I had possessed the slightest clue on how to regain control of my life, I already would be doing it… another chance was only another chance to make the same mistakes.

One of the ways I had tried to regain control was interviewing for the job at Thatchtower gallery, but after the interview, Cao Richards had been avoiding me.  The day before my step II, she sought me out (part I) to introduce me to Conner, the man who actually got the job for which I interviewed.  She also let me know (part II) that I actually had a second chance at the same job if I interviewed a second time with Carlton Thatcher.  That night, (part III) I met up with Carlton at a Thai restaurant in the Oregon District, and the interview went well.  I got the job!

Casually dressed to meet my fate…. Firefly BBQ Softball Jersey by Sn@tch Laica Pants from LC's World of Fashion

Casually dressed to meet my fate….
Firefly BBQ Softball Jersey by Sn@tch
Laica Pants from LC’s World of Fashion

I actually felt pretty good, possibly even sassy, as I bundled Piper with me into the Step II meeting.  I still needed and wanted my job at Giovanni’s, of course.  The Thatchtower job is part-time, and the base pay isn’t much more than minimum wage, although whenever Carlton makes a sale, the bonuses trickle down nicely.  In addition, I have very good insurance through Giovanni’s; the restaurant even pays half of my premiums and a quarter of Piper’s.  As a part-time assistant, I wouldn’t qualify for insurance through Thatchtower.  What Thatchtower did have was on-site daycare that they would even let me use when I wasn’t actually on the clock.  I was overwhelmed as a single parent with no support net, but Thatchtower offered me some rudimentary support.  I had been frustrated because I couldn’t see a way to regain control of my life, to break the pattern of one-step-forward-two-steps-back that haunted everything I tried to do since Piper was born.  I just had to tweak my Giovanni’s schedule a little bit- cut out my weekday lunches so I could work at Thatchtower, work three or four nights plus Thursday and Saturday lunch so I could keep the twenty-five hours a week to keep my insurance going, and everything would finally be working out for me.

Sitting at the party table in the corner of the restaurant with Stefano, Jonas, Joe, and Justin before the restaurant opened, I explained that.  I’m sure I bubbled pretty enthusiastically, both because I was excited about the game-changing prospect of decent daycare and because poor filtering between impulses and words is an A.D.D. hallmark.  So I felt a little ambushed when Stefano didn’t share my enthusiasm.

“Let me get this straight.  You’re in Step II because you’re generally late, because you’ve missed shifts, because you’ve manipulated and altered the schedule without permission, and your solution is you want to rewrite the schedule for your convenience.”

The words, “You make that sound like a bad thing,” were already forming on my tongue, and probably wouldn’t have helped the situation, so it’s just as well Stefano continued on relentlessly.

Hair & Headband: Despina from Tameless Hair Bollywood Make-up from Errant

Hair & Headband: Despina from Tameless Hair
Bollywood Make-up from Errant

“Everyone knows dinner shifts are more profitable than lunch shifts.  You’ve been unreliable enough to put your job in jeopardy, and you think I should ‘punish’ you by giving you the best shifts, you think I should take night shifts away from servers who haven’t screwed up so you can have them, you think I should be grateful that you still deign to work one lunch a week when that’s just to keep me paying for your insurance…  Where do you get off, Emily?!?”

I glanced quickly at Joe and Justin.  Justin looked like he shared my opinion that the meeting had grown painfully awkward very quickly, but he also looked like he’d just rather be elsewhere, not like he was going to stick his neck out for me.  Joe and I butt heads a lot, so Joe was actually smiling at my discomfort.  Jackass.  “Steve, I’ve worked here almost five years, and I thought you knew me by now.  I invest a lot of ego in being good at whatever I do, and I’m competitive enough to define ‘good’ as ‘better than my coworkers’.  I bust my ass to make sure that Giovanni’s is the sort of place customers want to come back to, to make sure my tables have the dining experience I would want, and to make serving look easy even when the kitchen is a train wreck and the host stand is a cluster fuck.  Yeah, I do it so that customers want to tip me, but I also do it from sheer bloody-minded, arrogant pride.  I know I’ve been off my A-game since Piper was born.  I want to be just as good a mother as I am a waitress, and I’m not, and I’m burning myself at both ends trying to make things work.  I’m in this inutile meeting- pardon my French, I meant to say fucking- because we both know I’m too valuable an employee to just fire, and you wanted to make sure I knew that if something doesn’t change, you will have do exactly that.  Well, I found a way to change things, because I love my job, and I’m good at it, and I want to make it work, and I thought you’d appreciate that.”

I must have been a sight as I finished.  Red-faced, eyes flashing, so angry I was trembling.  Stefano drew a deep breath, ready to blast back at me with both barrels, only to be interrupted by something neither of us expected.  Jonas clapped a few times, slowly, and said “Bravo, little firecracker.”

Body: GiGi shape by Kids5B Skin: Celine II from LC Fashions

Body: GiGi shape by Kids5B
Skin: Celine II from LC Fashions

Stefano, Justin, and Joe all stared at Jonas with mixtures of stun and confusion on their faces, and I’m sure my expression matched.  “Stefano, we’ve got a good crew.  We’ve got a turnover rate that other restaurants should envy.  Our staff is competent and comfortable and consistent and content, and those are all very good things.”  The stun was clearing from everyone’s faces, but the confusion was only strengthening.  “But for most of our staff, Giovanni’s is just a job.  It’s a better job than most, which is why they stay, but it’s still just a job.  Emily is passionate.  It’s not ego or arrogance, it’s pride and that’s something we need, and something you can’t train into people.”

I’d like to claim it was my sense of maturity that kept me from sticking my tongue out.  Truthfully, I didn’t think of it at the time because I was too busy being scared about what would happen next.  Stefano disagreed with his father’s view of my ethic, and argued that reliability was more important than pride, and I wasn’t reliable anymore.

“Pshaw!” scoffed Jonas.  I thought ‘Pshaw’ was a literary convention, an exclamation only used by writers to represent more generalized impatient disdain, but Jonas actually pshawed his son.  “Machines and tools should be reliable, Stefano.  People can’t be a hundred percent reliable, but proud people are more likely to rise above than to let you down.”  Stefano tried to interrupt to classify me as one of the let-downs, but Jonas overrode him.  “You weren’t here the day Emily went into labor, and I was.  Her water broke in our restroom, she was freaking out, and she was still worrying about taking proper care of her tables.”  I  remember that day well, and I would say it was probably shock not dedication driving my worries about getting table 302’s order in, but this was no time to argue with Jonas.  “Emily will move mountains to give customers the experience she thinks they should have.  Look, Stefano, she doesn’t even realize she’s nodding agreement.”  I stopped, a little self-consciously.  “It would be better if she would move mountains to give customers the experience we think they should have, if she was driven by pride in Giovanni’s rather than pride in herself, if she would be a little quicker to follow instructions and a little slower to question authority.  But she’s right: her pride, her initiative, makes her too valuable an employee to just fire.  If Emily was like most employees in Step II, sniveling for one more chance, I’d say give her the one more chance and then fire her ass.  If she tried to deny she had a problem, or claim that other servers were a bigger problem so we should let her slide, I’d be the first to throw her ass to the curb here and now.”

Ah, yes.  There was the warm, fuzzy Jonas I generally expect.

“But Emily didn’t just show up today, she tried to find a solution to the problem.  She just wants us to work with her so she can continue to work for us.  That’s fair, Stefano.”

Another surprise.  Steve didn’t argue with Jonas.  He just sighed a little.  “Maybe it is fair to work with her, but Emily still wants to move away from shifts I already have trouble finding people to work, particularly while college is in session, and towards shifts where I don’t have enough openings on the floor for the servers who want to work.  I don’t have full time hours to offer her with that kind of availability.  I can work her part-time for a while.  The insurance is based on average hours per week, so it will take time for average to fall below twenty-five hours per week, and then take some more time for the paperwork to notice her average fell and to cut the insurance off.  Sooner or later, though, she will lose her insurance.  Maybe someone will move on or change schedules so we can up her hours again before that happens, but maybe not.  I’m not going to fuck someone else over to give more shifts to Emily, particularly while her dependability is in doubt.  That’s not fair, either.  And two lunch-shifts, one, maybe two dinner-shifts.  That’s under twenty hours, under fifteen hours a lot of weeks- it won’t take long for the insurance to go bye-bye.”

“What about that computer stuff Emily does?” asked Jonas.  “You’re the one talking up why Giovanni’s needs social media, so why not hire our blogging waitress to do social media stuff for us?”

I’ll admit I briefly zoned out of the conversation.  I was startled enough that Jonas knew about my blogging that I jostled Piper and she started to fuss and I had to rock her back to sleep.  Plus I was growing a little sickly pale as I tried to remember exactly what I’ve written previously about Giovanni’s in general and about Jonas and Stefano in particular.  ‘An asshole with some redeeming values’ no longer seemed quite the deft turn of phrase it once did.  When I zoned back in, Steve was saying Giovanni’s still had a very small digital footprint, and that they wouldn’t need enough computer time from me to get me to full time status.

It was Justin who exclaimed ‘Billable hours!”

Jonas verbalized the thought everyone was thinking: “What the fuck are you talking about?”

“If you take your car to the mechanic’s, you pay both for parts and for labor.  If you hire an attorney, you pay for the hours that go into working your case.  But you don’t pay for how long your specific job actually took, you pay according to a list of how long general tasks will be assumed to take.  For example, changing brake pads might be assumed to be an hour or an hour and half’s labor.  Most of the time, an experienced mechanic with a full shop can do it in fifteen to thirty minutes.  Occasionally, something is really screwed up and it might take two or three hours.  Regardless, the job takes the hour as far as the bill is concerned.”

“Um. Can I refer us all back to Jonas’s previous question?  I’m still not sure where you’re going, Justin.”

“No, look.  We’ve talked about this is some of the marketing courses I’ve taken.  A salaried, full-time social media marketeer makes fifty or sixty thousand a year.  If Giovanni’s hires a free-lancer, we’ll have to pay him twenty dollars or more an hour.  Emily lacks the marketing degree of the true professional marketeer, so she can’t expect to make as much.  Conversely, she knows our business better than an outsider and she’s going to stay in contact if she’s coming in regularly to serve.  So we have to negotiate a little on a fair rate to pay Emily to be our marketeer anyway.  So why don’t we just say she will officially receive minimum wage, and instead negotiate how many hours she will bill us for.  It won’t make a difference on her pay check if we pay her two and half hours at eight bucks per hour or one hour at twenty bucks, but the extra padding on hours will help her keep her insurance intact.  After a few months, once we see how she’s doing, we can keep going, renegotiate, or call the experiment off.  Worst case scenario, we’ve still postponed the point where Emily’s insurance expires and given us more time to rearrange the schedule.”

And that’s how I ended up gaining a second hat to wear at Giovanni’s, that of ‘social media consultant.’  I basically tweet about our specials twice a day, occasionally post pictures of meals on Instagram and Facebook, help write copy for each month’s ‘Monthly Specials’ insert in the menu, and sometimes send shout-outs to some of our regulars.  If I’m nearby, I’m probably drafted for anything in the restaurant that involves the written word, so there are lots of random little chores in the job as well.  I’m also the only waitress who has permission to be on my phone while I’m waiting tables, which is a cool perk.  (Mind you, most of the waitresses still read and send texts and update their Facebook from the side stand when they think nobody is looking.  But I’m actually supposed to find at least one thing to send out during my shifts…)

…Info about tagged vendors is in my closet

I’m interrupting the ‘Deus Ex Machina’ series, which explains my current work situation, to bubble enthusiastically about a recent ‘mommy’ experience.  Tammy, another research assistant at ThatchTower, has two boys, Dean and Mikey, who are complete handfuls.  Mikey recently turned six and Tammy threw him a pool party at the local rec center.  She invited several kids from Mikey’s class at school and their parents, but didn’t get much reply, so she also invited the other Thatchtower moms.  I was going to decline.  As the newest research assistant, I don’t really know Tammy that well yet and Mikey hardly at all.  As the newest mom, I wasn’t all that keen on bringing Piper to the party either.  One of the few things I know about Mikey is that he loves babies.  When he’s in the nursery at Thatchtower, he wants to help and to hold Piper or Brooklyn (the other baby in the nursery, about nine months old, not as cute as my baby, however!).  Given that Mikey doesn’t seem to understand that babies are fragile and doesn’t listen well, however, his ‘help’ must always be very closely monitored.  Plus, Piper isn’t even six months old, and doesn’t walk or crawl yet.  She definitely doesn’t swim.  She wiggles and rolls well enough to get herself into trouble, she just doesn’t have enough mobility to give someone else time to get there and rescue her.  So I foresaw a pool party as spending an afternoon on high alert doing over-protective mom-watch of my baby, something neither relaxing nor fun.

Fun and relaxation: what pre-Piper pool parties were like… Jewelry: Graffiti Bangles (Grumble, Grumble); Black Choker (source unknown)

Fun and relaxation: what pre-Piper pool parties were like…
Jewelry: Graffiti Bangles (Grumble, Grumble); Black Choker (source unknown)

It was Tori, Brooklyn’s mom, who persuaded me to come.  Like me, she’s a single mom who doesn’t get out much.  She also has a warmer heart than I do, I think.  I figured Mikey doesn’t know Piper and I well enough for us to add much to his party, that inviting us was probably a polite gesture on Tammy’s part or less likely a “more guests = more presents” calculation.  Tori pointed out that people’s motivations are rarely one-dimensional, so either or both of those might go into the mix, but that Tammy’s biggest motivation was to make Mikey feel special and loved, to be a ‘winner’ at his party.  Ideally, more of his school friends would have been coming, but for Piper to be there was still an indication that other kids and small people wanted to be around Mikey to help celebrate his special day.  In many ways a bad party- one where Mikey didn’t have anyone with whom to play and share his new six-hood- would be more tragic and painful than no party, and Tori and I could help make sure Mikey had a better party by giving him the chance to share his birthday with Brooklyn and Piper.  Put that way, how could we not go?

The party was at the local rec center that Saturday.  Tammy had signed out a room from three to five so everyone had a place to eat cake and watch Mikey open presents.  The indoor pool would actually be open until eight, although Tammy said she and the boys would probably only stay until about six.  I worked a quiet lunch shift at Giovanni’s, getting out around two thirty, scrambled to get Piper and myself ready, and tried to slink quietly in about quarter ’til four.

Skin: something (somebody) Tattoo: Bad Girl (somebody) Swimsuit: Green Mini Bikini (Grumble, Grumble)

Skin: Britney (WoW Skins)
Tattoo: Bad Girl (UtopiaH)
Swimsuit: Green Mini Bikini (Grumble, Grumble)

‘Tried’ is the operative word.  Mikey had started opening his presents, so everyone was watching him.  Which meant every one saw Mikey yell, “Baby Piper came!  Look, Mommy, baby Piper came!” and put down the present he was in the middle of unwrapping, grab up a Nerf ball sitting next to him, and come rushing to where I was struggling through the door with Piper’s carrier and a gift bag, asking, “can I show baby Piper the ball Uncle Conner got me?”.  So much for a discreet entrance.

The high point of the party for me, however, was definitely taking Piper swimming for the first time.  Well, really, holding her while I waded into the pool.  I was hoping to see her love the pool, splashing and kicking while she jabbered her cheerful, happy noises.  I wasn’t going to be surprised if she instead hated the pool, going zero to tizzy and crying and fussing.  Although Piper is generally a happy baby, she isn’t at all slow to let you know when something does displease her.

Hair: Britney- chocolate (from Freebie Fever) Shoes: Aloha Pink Scarf Sandals (Grumble, Grumble) Shape: Gigi Teen (Kids5B)

Hair: Britney- chocolate (from Freebie Fever)
Shoes: Aloha Pink Scarf Sandals (Grumble, Grumble)
Shape: Gigi Teen (Kids5B)

Instead as I lowered her into the water, she got very quiet.  Her eyes got super wide, two huge circles in her little tiny face.  She looked at the pool, then looked up at my face.  She looked again at the pool, and then looked at me again.  As a mother, I constantly talk to Piper, and often put words in her mouth, making up what I think she would say.  Her facial expression clearly announced, “WTF?!?  This is the biggest kitchen sink I have ever seen…”

…Info about tagged vendors is in my closet

I had expected Cao Richards to tell me a get-together with Carlton Thatcher, owner of Thatchtower Gallery, her boss, and potentially my future boss, would have to wait until I had a sitter lined up.  Instead, she had laughed warmly.  “Children are like roller coasters to Carlton.  They terrify him, but he loves them anyway.”

With rapid fire efficiency, Cao orchestrated a plan for me to meet with Mr. Thatcher.  On Mondays, her boss had a standing reservation to dine at Thai 9, a smallish Thai food and sushi restaurant downtown, about ten minutes from Giovanni’s.  Cao would call and revise his reservation to two people eating and a sling for Piper.  She would send Eddie, Thatchtower’s security chief, to bring us to the restaurant in his Crown Vic, and have him arrive a little early so there would be time to install the base for Piper’s carrier.  I had a little under an hour to get ready, and I should wear something sophisticated to impress Carlton.

'Something sophisticated to impress…' Outfit: Thai Passion (in pink) by [SINTIMACY]

‘Something sophisticated to impress…’
Outfit: Thai Passion (in pink) by [SINTIMACY]

As if on cue, Piper started screaming, bypassing standard “I-want-my-bottle-now” fussiness to go straight into a full-fledged “I-wanted-my-bottle-ten-minutes-ago,-why-am-I-not-already-drinking-it?” tantrum.  With an apologetic sigh, I released Cao from the line and plunged into a blur of activity.  As I record this after the fact, I have a mental image of whirring into a small tornado like the Tasmanian Devil, my arms reaching out to rock Piper, do my hair, apply lipstick, what have you.  Although I barely managed to get ready on time, I actually did it by the expedient of bad parenting.  I rushed through my shower, doing my hair, getting dressed, applying make up, and whatever other sundry details were required with Piper screaming hoarsely the entire time while I babbled and begged for her to, “Just be patient, little bucket, Mommy will be there shortly.”  Worse, whenever I let Piper have a protracted tantrum, her screams develop a gurgling quantity and I’m left envisioning pneumonia from getting tears into her lungs.  By the time I prepared the bottle, she was too upset to drink from it, continuing to wail even as I put the bottle’s nipple into her mouth and blew shushing noises at her.  Still, she eventually noticed I had surrendered and let her win the battle of wills.  Graciously, she deigned to drain about half a bottle of formula before falling asleep, smiling gently around the bottle still in her mouth.

The doorbell rang as I was easing Piper into her carrier.  I didn’t remember ever knowing Eddie’s name, but I recognized the muscular African-American with the shaved head and ill-fitting sport coat as somebody I had seen in Giovanni’s, occasionally with Cao but usually eating alone with some over-the-top paperback for company.  It was interesting watching his eyes as I let him into my apartment.  His gaze flickered around the room, taking a quick stock of my apartment.  Only then did he allow his gaze to travel up and down on me.  “Damn, girl, anybody ever tell you that you clean up nice?”

Skin: Meiko by Starrfox Tattoo: 'Love 2 Death' by Hell Doll Inked

Skin: Meiko by Starrfox
Tattoo: ‘Love 2 Death’ by Hell Doll Inked

I could have been offended, I suppose.  In another context, the line might simply be an under-impressive pickup line.  In the context of a company officer bringing a prospective new hire to dinner with the company’s owner, it was probably an actionable case of sexual harassment.  Instead, it was just what I needed to hear, someone telling me that even though I felt rushed and frazzled, I looked like I was put together.  The line even helped alleviate my guilt a little.  I still felt guilty about putting Piper on hold to deal with me-stuff, but there was less guilt about leaving Piper upset and accomplishing something then if I had left her upset while I spun my wheels pointlessly.

Thai 9 was … interesting.  I’m not an adventurous eater, and I don’t like a lot of sauces or seasoning.  Rather then appear indecisive before Carlton, I admitted I’d never eaten Thai and asked him to order for me, with the caveat that simple was better.  His response was to order a broad selection of dishes for us to share.  I made sure I tried every thing, but I can now honestly report I’m not a fan.  The one dish I truly liked was ‘American fried rice'; it isn’t really an American dish so much as a Thai idea of how an American would make a Thai dish, something invented for American service men during the Vietnam war.  Fried rice with ketchup, hot dog, bacon, and fried egg.  It sounds weird, but it is weirdly delicious.

Our conversation was mostly innocuous.  We started with some ice-breakers to put me at my ease: light discussion of basketball since the tournament was coming up, some discussion about the menu at Giovanni’s.  Although Cao and Eddie were both regulars, Carlton had never dined there.  He’d eaten- and liked- carry-out, he’d just never made it inside.  We then moved into what I thought of as ‘Interview 101′.  I often feel like, instead of an angel and a devil on my shoulders, I have a little critic sitting on my shoulder, making a running commentary on the world around me.  Even while I was answering Carlton’s questions, the little critic was observing that Carlton must not conduct as many interviews as Cao because his questions tended to be more general and predictable.  Questions that could be recycled for any interview for any job. “Where do you see yourself in three years?”  “What would you say is your biggest strength?”  “How do you think your coworkers describe you?”

Hair: Geisha Chopstick Hair by dede Maximus

Hair: Geisha Chopstick Hair by Dede Maximus

Which made it all the more jarring when he asked me the question, “Tell me about your family.”  Not in the ice breaker section, but in the middle of the interview.  And there’s not much to tell.  There’s me.  There’s Piper.  My dad, who’s a night sergeant for the Dayton Police in 6th district.  My brother, Norm, who is a Marine stationed in the deep south.  That’s it.  I suppose you could stretch a point and mention Norman Landings, my dad’s old partner who went into the private investigations and security business.  When Norm and I were growing up, we were encouraged to call him ‘Uncle Norm’ and he is Norm’s godfather.  (And unofficially, mine also, since I didn’t get a formally named godparent when I was a baby.)  I know Cao had mentioned me not mentioning contacts I had, but my family doesn’t count as contacts unless you need information about guns or police procedures.

“What about your mother and her family?”

“I don’t have a mother.”

Carlton frowned at me.  “By that you mean she passed-”

“By that I mean she is not a subject of conversation or interest.  I was nine years old when mom left.  The last thing she ever said to me was, ‘Tell your father I’m sorry,’ and then she walked out of our lives.  I don’t know where she went.  I don’t know why she went.  I don’t know if she is alive or dead.  I kind of hope she’s dead, which is a horrible thought, but the alternative is that she never sent Dad and Norm and me some kind of message in over fifteen years.”

I forced myself to stop, because I was raising my voice.  Carlton looked like he had just been pole axed.  It could have been an awkward moment, but Piper fussed in her sling, disturbed by the tension.  As I pulled her out and held her on my shoulder to soothe her, I continued quietly.  “I am sure I have repressed mommy-issues to sort out, but I generally just keep that kind of negative, non-useful emotion bottled up and shoved out of the way until I have a better time to process it.  There’s a whole painful mix of guilt and doubt and grief and hurt and shame, and bottled up, the mix has a tendency to ferment and distill into anger.  I’m actually ok with anger, because anger is a fuel.  Anger motivates and drives me to prove I can accomplish something or prove someone wrong, where all that other stuff just bogs me down into a morass of indecision.

Shape: Gigi Teen by Kids5B

Shape: Gigi Teen by Kids5B

“Piper is the single most important thing in my life.  If I let myself fear that I’m going to let her down the same way mom let me and Norm down, if I worry she’s going to somehow leave me like mom abandoned me, I’m worthless.  When I plug into my anger and my pride, when I’m determined to prove I’m a better mom than my mom was, when I’m demonstrating why I’m the best damn waitress in Giovanni’s, I’m amazing.  If I get hired for Thatchtower, I’ll need a little time to get my feet under me, but my ego will drive me both to get my feet under me quickly and to start outperforming my peers once I’m off the bench.  That way, I’m both providing and providing a good example for Piper.”

As I spoke, Carlton was tapping something into his phone with a stylus.  As I finished, he nodded.  “Obviously Conner was mistaken then.  The Cathmogha,” He paused, looking skyward as he tried to find the right phrasing, “a family he has worked for in the past, as well as a frequent buyer and seller of folklore related rarities, are a wealthy and reclusive Irish family.  Their middle daughter, Primrose, ran away to America almost thirty years ago.  I’ve seen pictures, and there is a strong similarity of feature between you and her.  The photographer, Elyssa Innes, also has some connections with the Cathmogha, as they have bought some of her pieces that Thatchtower has sold over the years and commissioned her directly from time to time as well.  Conner was certain that you were Primrose Cathmogha’s daughter, and I was wondering why you hadn’t mentioned your involvement with the Cathmogha or with Miss Innis in your initial interview.”

Remembering what Cao had said about Carlton liking children but not necessarily being good with them, I offered him the chance to hold Piper now that she had calmed down.  “I didn’t have either involvement to mention,” I explained while Carlton gingerly held Piper in the crook of his left arm and made silly faces at her.  I’d never heard of the Cathmogha, and I could laugh at the idea that Rose Bowmer Marik of Kentucky was secretly Primrose Cathmagha of Ireland.  As for Elyssa Innis, I’d actually met her responding to an ad on Wordout.Com a couple weeks after my interview with Cao.  I silently watched Carlton making silly faces for a brief pause.  Piper was smiling and drooling back at him, which was definitely a vote of approval on her part.  “Miss Richards said babies make you nervous, but you’re doing just fine with Piper.  You should relax a little more.  You know, Cao said you were looking for someone who already had connections in the world of art and rarities, and I have to confess that I’m not even strictly sure yet what constitutes art and rarities, so I know I have a strike against me.  But I work hard and I forge connections to strangers in my station on a daily basis, so I think I can do it.  I really hope you’ll give me the chance to prove myself.”

For the rest of the meal, we were back in small talk territory.  Carlton told a very funny anecdote about an argument with a customs officer about whether a Victorian bronze butter knife was a weapon or not.  I shared some stories about odd or silly customers I had waited on.  We both laughed a lot at the silliness of people.  Around eight, as Carlton was telling me some of the stranger Egyptian myths he knew about bones and spirits, his phone buzzed.  Cao was calling to usher him on to the next step in his itinerary so that he would be ready for his business trip the next day.  Eddie had been lurking outside the whole time, and brought me and Piper back to our humble abode.  Even as I insisted I could handle Piper’s diaper bag and carrier, Eddie carried them both into our apartment.  Again his eyes scanned the apartment before he relaxed enough to make eye contact with me.  “Good luck, girl.”

I hadn’t even been home five minutes before my phone buzzed with a text.  It was from Cao, and it said “Congratulations!  Call me and we’ll work out when you start.”

…To be continued one last time…

…Info about tagged vendors is in my closet

After my shift at Giovanni’s ended, I picked up Piper from my neighbor’s apartment and went home.  I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do that evening.  I nestled Piper on the couch in her Boppy pillow- she’s a bottle baby, but she loves using the nursing pillow as a miniature lounge seat- and flipped on some cartoons because the bright primary colors seem to soothe her.  As I sat next to her and sorted out my apron contents, I rediscovered the card with Cao Richard’s private number.  ‘Sooner rather than later,’ she had said.  I think I sat and stared at the card for fifteen  minutes or so.  Long enough anyhow for the cartoon I wasn’t watching to be replaced by a puppet show I still wasn’t watching.

I entered the digits into my cell, and stared at them a little bit longer.  Taking a deep breath, I pressed ‘send.’  And immediately thought, oh, shit, oh, shit.  I should have figured out what I’m going to say so I don’t sound like a stammering, dithering idiot if I have to leave a voice mail.  I should hang up now before it goes to voice-

My plus-one and I Dress: Cherie by Augusta Creations

Dress: Cherie by Augusta Creations
Jewelry: necklace by JStyle; rings/bangles by Loka Designs

“Oh, goodie, Emily, I’m so glad you called.”  Ms. Richard’s voice was warm and welcoming as she answered on the second ring.

“You did say ‘sooner rather than later’.” I replied.  “Can’t get much sooner than now.”  Inwardly I cringed at the banality of that particular conversational gambit.

“And in fact your timing is excellent, although I need to be brief because I still have three more calls to make.  So here are the important points: I interviewed a dozen candidates for the research assistant job.  My ideal candidate for the research portion of the job would be mentally flexible, good at multitasking, be willing to work in a team setting, and show initiative in anticipating Carlton and I’s needs.  For the gallery portion of the job, my ideal candidate would be pretty enough to distract potential buyers, good at soothing tempers or stroking egos when needed, and service customers based on long-term satisfaction rather then short term interests.”

I interrupted with a snort, “So far, you’re describing any half-way decent waitress.”

Hair: 'Saskia' in Black from EdelStore Flower: 'Gardenia Flower 1.2' (source unknown)

Hair: ‘Saskia’ in Black from EdelStore
Flower: ‘Gardenia Flower 1.2′ (source unknown)

“Exactly,” purred Cao.  “Which is why you were my first choice for the position.  Carlton favored Conner, however, because Conner has already developed contacts and associates within the social circles where we buy and sell.  Carlton thinks that networking is the most important trait in a candidate, because it both indicates existing aptitude for the job and serves as a multiplier, allowing them to leverage the talent they have more effectively.”

“I’m not plugged into anyone’s network. So why..”

Cao cleared her throat, interrupting my interruption. “I already know better than that, Emily.  Conner told us about your family and Elyssa told us some more.  In addition, Conner is keeping his other job, some kind of security consulting thing, so he negotiated to be on straight commission- not even a draw- rather than hourly.  Which means Carlton is open to paying someone else the hourly wages that would have been Conner’s if he is sufficiently impressed.  Carlton leaves tomorrow afternoon to try to purchase some bones that were recently dug up near Cairo, and I’ve been ordered to arrange interviews with you and two other candidates when he returns. You’re still my first choice, however, so I’m trying to stack the deck a little bit.  If I connect you with Carlton tonight, and schedule the others when he gets back, I’m hoping he’ll make you an immediate offer rather than wait.  Do you have any plans you can’t break tonight?”

Shape: Gigi Teen from Kids5B Skin: Lany by WoW Skins Jewelry: necklace from JStyle; rings/bangles from Loka Designs

Shape: Gigi Teen from Kids5B
Skin: Lany by WoW Skins

“No plans, but also no sitter.  How will Carlton react if I bring my plus-one with me to an interview?”

…Still to be continued…

…Info about tagged vendors is in my closet

I mentioned last post that my employment situation has really changed over the past month.  It’s time to start filling in what happened…

The old saying is that it’s always darkest before the dawn.  In a literal sense, that’s bullshit, of course.  Before the dawn, you already have a faint shimmer of encroaching daylight lurking in the east, whereas at, say, 3.00 AM, it’s nothing but night.  In a metaphorical sense, it just means things look worst before things start to improve.  Which is true, if somewhat shallow and obvious, which is why it is cloaked in a figure of speech to sound artificially profound.

It's always darkest before you flip the light switch...

It’s always darkest before you flip the light switch…

My darkest hour was while I was awaiting my Step II disciplinary meeting on March 10th, which is pretty much just as ominous and formal as it sounds.  Giovanni’s is a rather casually run restaurant, and the owners generally prefer a battle plan of ‘We’ll just play it by ear.'; when they go out of their way to follow a procedure, it never bodes well.  I could have just ripped the scab off with a rushed sit-down before or after my shift.  I chose, however, to schedule the meeting for a day off.  Punctuality wasn’t a strong point for me even before I had Piper, and as a sleep-deprived single mom with ADD, I struggle just to be not-that-late, so coming in early for a meeting about my employment fate was not a good plan.  As for meeting post-shift, not only am I usually trying to rush to pick Piper up from whoever’s sitting, but it doesn’t suit the owners’ schedules well either.  I had one other reason for scheduling the meeting on a day off, a manipulative reason on my part.  Jonas Giovanni is kind of a thug, and his Italian temper is a scary thing to behold.  He does, however, have a soft spot for children in general and for Piper in specific.  He was there when she was born, holding my hand when Piper’s father is unknown and my father was unavailable.  I gave Piper her middle name, Jonasina, because Jonas was there.  I wanted the meeting on my day off so I would have to bring Piper along and hopefully put Jonas in a protective mood rather than an angry one.

On my last shift before the meeting, something odd occurred.  I was already on egg shells, dreading the meeting and flustered because I had been late, again, that morning.  Not late enough to get in any additional trouble, but also not helping my case in the upcoming meeting.  Cao Richards came by for lunch, along with two coworkers I recognized and a rather effeminate young man I didn’t recognize.  Ms. Richards, one of my favorite regulars, had strongly encouraged me to apply to be a research assistant for her employer, the Thatchtower Gallery, and conducted the interview herself.  I was supposed to have heard back by mid-February, but instead Ms. Richards had been ducking my calls and avoiding the restaurant for almost a month.  Then out of the blue that Monday she comes in and asks for my section.  That’s already a little awkward, but then she introduces me to Connor, describing him as “our newest research assistant.”

“Oh, it’s very nice to meet you, Connor.”  I’ve stated elsewhere that for servers, hypocrisy isn’t a character flaw but a job skill.  For three weeks, I tried to reach Ms. Richards to find out if I got the job.  I never get through, but instead she brings the man who actually got the job to Giovanni’s.  And requests my section to make sure I have to learn who he is.

Shape: Elvira Shape from Alady Island Skin: Gothic Lolita by Skin Doctors

Shape: Elvira Shape from Alady Island
Skin: Gothic Lolita by Skin Doctors

“I assure you, milady Marik, ’tis I who stand fulfilled by our meeting.”  Oh, my.  Is there such a thing as love at first hearing?  On top of his archaic phrasing, Conner also has the faintest trace of an accent that I simply cannot place.  Imagine an Harvard don being played by Sean Connery and you come close.  His gentle tenor has a hint of ruffle, like a deep plush blanket I just want to wrap around every inch of myself.  My train of thought completely jumps the rails.  Vaguely, I noticed the other two research assistants staring kind of doe-eyed at Conner and realized I probably have the same blankly wistful expression on my face.  I’m pretty sure I blushed as I shook it off, stammered some kind of polite noise, and forced myself to take their drink order.  Only as I’m grabbing two waters and two ice teas at main station does it occur to me that neither Ms. Richards nor I used my last name in the conversation, so why does Conner know it?

I’m busy for the next few minutes, cashing out a couple of tables, taking orders and getting them started in the kitchen, quickly tossing a couple Caesar salads myself so I don’t have to wait for the pantry cook to have time.  Once I’ve dealt with everything urgent, I grab a couple soups for Conner and one of the other assistants.  As I deliver them, I ask Ms. Richards if she has a second to talk.  With a raising of my eyebrows and a slight jerk of my head, I silently add the qualifier “away from Conner, thank you very much.”

Cao smiles, “I have a second, but I don’t think you do.”  She also raises an eyebrow and jerks her head slightly, her non-verbal communication indicating, “There’s a hostess standing behind you, about to give you another table.”  It’s amazing how detailed non-verbal communication between two intelligent women can be.  She also produces her business card with a quick, almost slight-of-hand, gesture.  “You already have the office number, but I wrote my personal cell phone number on the back.  When he learned you already have dealings with some of his gallery clients, Mr. Thatcher asked me to arrange a meeting with you.  I believe he may be considering making another research assistant position available.”

Hair: Ronnie by Tameless Hair Scar: Wicked Scar by Fallen Doll

Hair: Ronnie by Tameless Hair
Scar: Wicked Scar by Fallen Doll

“Which means you and I may yet become comrades in arms,” adds Conner.  I’m torn between irritation that my business is being freely conducted in front of him and the desire to keep Conner talking so I can hear that lovely voice some more.  It’s not often you meet a man who can make a request for his ice tea to be topped off sound sexy.  As I turn away, out hostess flashes two fingers and then four fingers at me.  “I need you to take table twenty-four.”  I nod at her.  “O.K.  I’m on my way.”  Really, with all the non-verbal communication going on, it’s astonishing how loud Giovanni’s gets during the rush…

The rush stays busy, so the rest of my conversation with Cao and her party is limited to what I think of as ‘standard restaurant script’.  “Let me get some refills.”, “Does any one need a box?”, “Did anybody save room for some homemade tiramasu today?” and the like.  There is one interesting moment when I bring the check.  I didn’t bother asking about separate checks before I bring one check and give it to Cao.  It’s the benefit of familiarity.  Although I don’t know whether it is Cao or her expense account being generous, I know that when Cao brings her coworkers to eat, she treats for the table.  The young lady research assistants with her are also used to this; they no longer make even a token attempt to get a separate check or take the tab.  Conner deftly reaches across the table and grabs the bill from Cao’s hand.

“You know my other patron would insist I do the honor,” states Conner, pulling one of those heavyweight black credit cards from a lavender nylon trifold.  Ms. Richards attempts to reclaim the bill, but Conner easily swings the check away from her grabs.

Cao actually sounds a little irritated as she replies, “Carlton and I, however, work with your patron, not for her.  I understand why she wants the privilege, and I hope she earns the right, but it’s only proper I pay this bill.”

“There are many kinds of propriety, madame Richards.”

“But I would hope hospitality is universal.”

Dress: Elvy from Augusta Creations Shoes: Jane (night-colored) by Tesla Jewelry: Heart Bangle by Grumble; Pink Chain Collar by Pekka

Dress: Elvy from Augusta Creations
Shoes: Jane (night-colored) by Tesla
Jewelry: Heart Bangle by Grumble; Pink Chain Collar by Pekka

I took the bill and credit card from Conner.  With my left hand, I also accepted Cao’s card from her.  I then tucked her card into the tip tray and handed Conner’s card back to him, glancing at the name.  “Here you go, Mr. Dreenan.  I don’t want to imply that Ms. Richards has better connections at Giovanni’s than you do, so I’m going to explicitly state it instead.  We know Cao, and Giovanni’s is the sort of place where it is good to be known.”  I dropped a quick smirk at Connor before returning to my formal, I’m-working voice, “I’ll be right back with your card, Ms. Richards.”

Not quite right back, since I loop into the kitchen to call for french onion soup on my way to the computer and refill water at table forty-three on my way back.  I’m busy enough that I again just stay on-script when I drop off the charge slip to be signed, “I just need one copy back with your signature and the other slip is for your records.  Thanks for stopping in today, Cao, and I hope we see you again.” Again, spoken in my I’m-working voice, as I continue on to another table to check off the next task on my to-do list.

When I finally get back to finish clearing the table, Cao has left a note on her charge slip: Don’t forget to call me.  Sooner is better than later.  There was also a small pebble and a note on a twenty dollar bill (which is an over thirty percent tip!) which read, “I’m told this is a good introduction to a waitress.  I would love to be known.  Sincerely, Conner Dreenan.”

The nicest thing about the whole confusing encounter… Well, really, the nicest thing was the sound of Conner Dreenan’s voice.  If you could bottle that sound, you would make a mint.  But the second nicest thing was that trying to figure out what just happened distracted me from what would happen the next day.

…To be continued…

Gallery  —  Posted: April 2, 2015 in Uncategorized
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Spoiler Alert!

Posted: March 25, 2015 in Sponsor Posts
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My last post took me so long to write- partly sheer length (over twice my normal verbiage) and partly awkward subject matter (posing for naughty pictures)- that I’m now backlogged on subject matter, particularly since March so far has definitely been interesting.  As in the Chinese curse, “may you live in interesting times” sort of interesting.

From a narrative viewpoint, I should tell you some things from the backlog.  My last two posts left a few loose threads dangling, and I would like to tie those off.  I also did a couple of things that may have repercussions, and I should report those  so I don’t have so much explaining to do when or if those repercussions come home to roost.

Bear with me: Cutie Cub-Bear Hoodies, 35 L$ each...

Bear with me: Cutie Cub-Bear Hoodies, 35 L$

From a business viewpoint, however, I’m going to go shopping instead.  A month ago, I essentially had two jobs.  My full-time job serving was on shaky ground (Step II disciplinary action is definitely not a pat on the back and a raise…) and currently I only have one client for my freelance fashion writing, Grumble, Grumble, since I haven’t really had time to seek out and properly tend new clients.  So I would say that job was also on shaky ground.

March has been interesting, as I said.  I now have four part-time jobs and no full-time jobs: computer consultant at Giovanni’s, art and rarities saleswoman at the Thatchtower Gallery, a regular modeling gig with Elyssa Innis, and I still have only one client for freelance fashion writing.  Which is why it is a bit of a relief that Luck of the Irish ’15 is going on through the end of the month, so I can let you know about some cute goodies being offered there by Grumble, Grumble while you still have a week to get down there and see for yourself.  (Here’s a taxi, btw…)

For those who aren’t familiar, Luck of the Irish is a gacha fair, sort of slot machine shopping.  I’m sure you remember the gacha machines for little kids that lurk near the entrances of grocery stores and sometimes restaurants.  Put a quarter or two in, twist the knob, and receive a little plastic bubble with a random sticker or candy or crackerjack price.  Gacha machines are the same concept, using modern technology to take a larger price and give a larger prize, faddish in some circles.  Many of the places I shop have one or two tucked in a corner somewhere; most short run fairs have a gacha aisle to attract shoppers from those aforementioned circles, and some events- like Luck of the Irish ’15, a second engagement of last years successful Luck of the Irish gacha fair,- are nothing but gacha machines.

Bitchin': Bitch Bubbles, 25 L$

Bitchin': Bitch Bubbles, 25 L$

Grumble has three machines at LOTI ’15.  The machine selling ‘Bitch Bubbles’ is probably the most entertaining of the machines.  I’ll admit I don’t really understand the technology.  There are thirteen bitchy sayings, any of which would make a great bumper sticker or T-shirt.  Instead they are projected in a caption bubble over your head, like you are in a comic strip.  Cute, fun, and funny, these are nifty little party favors for a quick cheap laugh.  There is also a machine selling psychedelic piggy banks, decorated in groovy the-dye patterns.  Your new bank is set out in your home or business to collect donations- hopefully for a charity or a worthy cause, but ultimately I suppose that is between you and your conscience.  Grumble’s one clothing gacha at LOTI ’15 is selling Cub-Bear Hoodies, little hoods/hats that pull over your head like a ski mask and have adorable little teddy bear ears.  If I’m totally honest, I have to admit these aren’t really practical hats.  Spring is here, so we are running out of cold weather, and these aren’t the sort of hats you wear to be suave or fashionable.  On the other hand, they are so damn freakin’ adorable, that everyone should run out and get at least one anyway…

Since I was going down to LOTI to report on Grumble, I wore an outfit made mostly of Grumble purchases as well.  The blue sweater dress is a cute spring or fall item, pairing a winter-weight fabric and a summer-length cut.  The shade of blue also matched the cub bear hoodie I received as part of my blogger’s pack, which was an added bonus.  The high boots are Grumble’s Black Cyber Stud boots, very urban and edgy.  The slashed latex leggings actually serve dual purposes.  Not only do they accentuate the edgy urban look created by the short dress and tall boots, they help keep my legs warm since spring is still a work in process at my latitude.  The lace wristbands are also from Grumble (My inner brat is dying to make a ‘Fifty Shades of Grumble’ allusion).  And just to swing the pendulum away from edgy and back towards cute, I also have the ‘Love Me’ face Tattoo from Grumble.

Pig in a poke: Groovy Pig Donation Jars, 35L$

Pig in a poke: Groovy Pig Donation Jars, 35L$

I’ve confessed elsewhere that I’m not a huge Gacha fan, but I still struggle with my shopping addiction.  (Being broke is less of a defense against impulsive spending than strict logic would dictate…)  So after scoping out Grumble’s machines, I went a-wandering.  I looked for clothes, my favorite weakness, but it was mostly poses and photo-props that caught my eye.  My last step before polishing off my post is to photograph a few of the new items…

Bunny chair from Mooh- what every house needs...

Bunny chair from Mooh- what every house needs…

If necessity is the mother of invention, does it follow that desperation is the father of stupidity?

Semi-creepy decrepit warehouse… just the place a reputable agency does interviews!

Semi-creepy decrepit warehouse… just the place a reputable agency does interviews!

In my last post, I mentioned I’m currently on thin ice at work, and that it looks like my interview with the Thatchtower Gallery isn’t panning out either.  Another blogger I respect suggested I take the time to search for other employment leads, so Piper and I spent the afternoon doing job-hunter 101.  You know, the basics.  I tried to polish up my resume a little.  Sadly, no matter how hard I buff my words, I cannot add shine to only two-thirds of a college degree, almost two years without touching a textbook, dead-end current employment, and no manager recommendation.  I worked my laughably thin network of contacts to see if anyone knew of any openings.  I scanned a bunch of online ad sites, both job sites like Monster and RegionalHelpWanted and generic classified sites like Craigslist and the local paper’s website.  I even looked for ads on WordOut, which is kind of like Craigslist’s lesser-known creepy inbred cousin.

Piper isn't so much my executive assistant as my executive distraction...

Piper isn’t so much my executive assistant as my executive distraction…

I learned two things.  Firstly, that one handed typing is not very efficient.  I used to have a typing speed of just over forty words per minute, which is average.  That was back when I was allowed to use both hands for typing, rather than attempting to type one handed while I hold Piper in my other arm.  Secondly, WordOut really is creepy and inbred.  ‘Employment’ ads included ads for escorts, strippers, and- I kid you not- an adult body builder who wanted to buy breast milk.  Enough strangeness and sketchiness that I should never have looked twice at the ad seeking a ‘tasteful pin-up model.’  On the other hand, desperation impairs judgement even more than exhaustion, and I’m living with both…

The ad asked for the model to be fresh-faced, and adventurous.  Prior experience, although a plus, would count for less than attitude and enthusiasm.  I didn’t just call straight away; I did my due diligence and googled the photographer, one Elyssa Innis.  I learned she had two websites, one as part of a collective of local portrait photographers, one a personal site.  The samples she showed for her work were very compelling, very vibrant.  I can’t put my finger on quite the right word, but her portraits had a quality like that really attractive stranger you first glimpse out of the corner of your eye in a crowded mall or theatre.  The one where for the rest of the afternoon, you find yourself watching him or her.  You don’t really decide to, but your gaze just keeps settling on that person like they’re somehow magnetic.  And every time your gaze lights anew, you feel like they’ve been watching you and just looked away.  Innis’s works had that same enthralling quality.  The sites made it clear she was a real and established portraitist, not some horny serial rapist using a camera to entice women’s clothes off.  In hindsight, there were a few red flags.  Not so much on her site for the collective, but the portfolio on her individual site was very sensual and passionate, even while avoiding any gratuitous nudity or titillation.  Likewise, Innis’s lengthy list of corporate clients, including retailers, ad agencies, and a couple magazine publishing houses, assured me she was business-like and professional.  If I thought more about why she listed less-identifiable company names rather than explicitly stating the magazine titles, or what sort of shoots an internet lingerie retailer or a skin lotion manufacturer might commission a photographer for… Instead I focused on the fact while models who get enough shoots to make a living at it are rare, a single shoot could earn as much as two or three dinner shifts, maybe even a week’s worth of the mostly lunch shifts I’ve been getting at Giovanni’s.

I think this is what I imagined: elegant background, tasteful pose, maybe show a hint of sexy...

I think this is what I imagined: elegant background, tasteful pose, maybe show a hint of sexy…

The risk-opportunity calculus seemed kind of obvious.  Having ensured Innis was a real photographer, I wasn’t setting myself up to be victim of a crime.  The worst probable result was that I wasted the time involved in the audition.  That’s not quite as no-cost as it sounds.  I would have to use up some chits to get someone to watch Piper, and given my very real time shortage, there would be an opportunity cost of something else I couldn’t do, something that I might regret more.  Still, it was a very minimal risk.  Conversely the best probable result was I would use up two evenings, one to try-out/interview,  one for the actual shoot, and make about what I would make in two evenings serving, so I would cover the shift I lost for the Step II discipline.  I also ascribe to a school of thought which says hard work and skill allow us to create our own luck.  Getting that first photo shoot creates the possibility of getting subsequent invitations to model, of turning that first shoot into a ‘lucky’ break.  Little to lose, strong possibility of minor gain, real possibility of a big win… the logic was clear that I should at least give it a try.

I wrote a polite e-mail to Ms. Innis, in which I admitted how little I knew about modeling, but also directed her here to Time Well Wasted so she could see how I look.  Apparently it was the right approach to take, as it only took her a couple of hours to call me and tell me she definitely wanted to shoot me, and set up a two or three hour session at her studio.  The next evening, I dropped Piper off with her grandfather and a promise to pick her up by 10:30 and to bring dad some take-out to eat before his shift started.

I suppose this was another chance for caution and common sense to overrule desperation and exhaustion.  Ms. Innis’s studio is in a small warehouse district slightly north of town.  Most of the warehouses lie fallow and empty now, victims of manufacturers’ flight from the Dayton area.  Go a little further north and you find a sad little strip of pawn shops, strip clubs, and no-tell motels.  Go a little south and you find a residential neighborhood in a state of decay, nearly as many houses standing empty and foreclosed as occupied.  The warehouses district feels ominous, particularly to a young lady by herself after dark.  I’d already made arrangements for Piper, however, and made the trip over.  I’d done enough that it seemed foolish not to follow through, particularly with no new information to change the risk-opportunity analysis that seemed so obvious when I wasn’t wandering along in a creepy warehouse district…

Or maybe something like this...

Or maybe something like this…

Ms. Innis’s studio looked a lot nicer on the inside than the outside.  The warehouse has been converted into a stage set at some point, suitable for shooting video or photography.  Over a dozen ‘diorama box’ sets, partial rooms that were missing at least one wall, probably a second wall and part of the ceiling, were arranged in the warehouse floor.  One of the sets was a very modern contemporary office, and the number of legal pads and file folders scattered on the glass table made it clear that it was used as a real office more frequently than as a set.  A closed door blocked access to offices along the south wall of the warehouse.  Innis indicated that was where she kept her darkroom and editing equipment.  The other sets included a dungeon, a doctor’s examination room, a locker room, a class room, a couple living rooms, a kitchen, and several bedrooms.  In the aisles between the sets were various tripods and wheeled camera stands, racks of clothing- mostly women’s and leaning heavily towards costumes and lingerie, large leather steamer trunks, and folding canvas chairs.  One of the trunks was open, and I saw a number of ropes and straps and chains inside.

I almost stammered my apologies and bolted then and there.  Miss Innis (“Never a Ms. or a Mrs., my dear.  Men have their uses, but I refuse to be yoked to an unequal partner.”) must have seen the look in my eyes, for she directed me to sit down and listen before I made any decisions.  For all her studio looked like a mad pornographer’s laboratory, any director would cast Elyssa Innis as a successful corporate executive or possibly a certain model of discrete governess.  She was wearing a simple yet elegant black skirt suit with a cream blouse, low black heels, and minimal makeup.  There was a hint of Boston in her accent, and genuine warmth as she made her spiel.  She was looking for a model capable of looking urban, attractive, and vulnerable.  She said there was a touch of ‘faeness’ in my blog pictures that she wanted to capture in her work.  She stressed two points.  Firstly, although the goal was to show my vulnerability, I would have complete control of how that vulnerability would be demonstrated.  Secondly, the nature of this particular shoot catered to prurient interests, and I would earn more per shoot and have more modeling opportunities if I was willing to accept and accommodate those prurient interests.  However, Elyssa insisted that if we were going to be able to work together, I would have to accept that her focus and passion was artistic and esthetic, and be willing to focus on the artistic rather then commercial aspect of what we were doing.

Ready, set?  Then go!

Ready, set? Then go!

After the fact, as I recount the evening here, it sounds absurd.  I was being asked to model adult pictures in what was obviously a building operated for that purpose, to accept that they would be adult pictures, and yet to be focused not on titillation or on mercenary motives but on the art and beauty that would go into the adult pictures.  I cannot explain it the way Elyssa did, even if I could remember and recite her exact words, but at that moment, I felt like it would be my honor and my privilege to pose for her pictures.  Secondly, I’ve often joked that as a waitress, I am cheerfully mercenary.  It is a little embarrassing to admit how quickly I homed in upon the phrase ‘earn more per shoot’, and asked for that ‘more’ to be quantified.  There is an old joke about a billionaire meeting a girl in a bar and asking if she would sleep with him if he paid her millions of dollars.  She thinks about it and says that she would.  Immediately, the billionaire asks her if she would sleep with him for five dollars.  Offended, the girl demands, “What type of girl do you think I am?”  The billionaire replies, “We’ve already established that, now we’re just haggling over price.”  When I zeroed in on the money, I somehow managed to skip straight over the question of should I take ‘art’ pictures at all to the question of what price would overcome my qualms.

It is thus with mixed emotions that I confess that Elyssa offered a price that overcame my qualms.  I sold some of my virtue today.  I got a good price, and I got that price in cash, which means the specific details are for me, God, and the IRS to quibble over.  It was enough that I will be able to bridge the shortfall my landlord was hounding me over, enough that I can trade up from ramen noodles and tv dinners to some fresh meat and produce and still keep Piper in formula and diapers.  I don’t feel guilty about the piece of virtue I sold, well, not that guilty.  I will not- at least, I don’t think I will- feel guilty if I have to discuss it with Piper once she is old enough to understand.  I do hope I won’t have to discuss or defend my decision before Piper is old enough to understand.  I am praying, however, that I never have discuss these photos with my father.

The actual photos were an interesting experience.  First Elyssa and I did my make up.  Between soccer and skateboarding, I collected enough oopsies as a teen that I got experience using make up to cover a bruise or injury, but using make up to create a shiner and a few lash marks was a new experience.  While she did the make up, Elyssa discussed safe words with me.  Folks that do bondage for real use safe words to distinguish a true call to stop the scene from one that is a pretend call, ‘in character’ within the scene.  The same is true for one of Elyssa’s shoots. She wanted to get pictures that showed vulnerability, needed me to act properly anxious and scared.  I had to get into a role, just like I was on-stage or playing in one of my ex’s D&D sessions.  Unfortunately, that means if I say, “This is freaking me out, I need you to untie me,” or whimper “Let me go,” or just yell, “Stop,” Elyssa doesn’t know if I really mean it, or I’m acting the part.  The solution is to inherently assume that I’m acting the part unless I use the safe word, a distinct sounding word that has absolutely no reason to naturally occur within the scene.  The safe word Elyssa gave me was ‘motley’.

Elyssa gave me choice on wardrobe.  She had planned to just let me pick something from one of her many clothing racks, but she really liked the dress I wore down to her studio, a clearance cheapie I had picked up at LC’s Fashion World ages ago.  Since she planned to rip the dress, we did a quick little side negotiation.  She added a fifty dollar bonus onto my modeling fee, not enough to replace the dress retail, but more than I paid for it and enough to get another clearance outfit or two.  I also got to select an outfit off her rack to wear home, which I would return the next time I modeled for her- or keep if this ended up being the only time.

Then we went up to one of the bedroom sets in the studio.  I was shoved into a large standing wardrobe, my wrists tied with heavy twine to each other and to the hanger bar.  Even having discussed everything before hand, I was still nervous when Elyssa pulled out the knife to cut the top of my dress off. “Motley, motley, motley,” I babbled in alarm.  I had expected scissors, maybe a kitchen knife.  Elyssa’s knife was an ornate silver knife with black braided leather on the handle, an elaborate crosspiece, and a onyx sphere at the end of the handle.  It looked like a movie prop for an evil cultist, and I realized I had just allowed someone I didn’t know very well at all to tie me up so I could neither run away or defend myself.

Fortunately, Elyssa stopped what she was doing and smiled calmly at me.  “Don’t worry, my dear, it’s fairly typical for new models to test the safe word a few times before we really get started.  Do you want me to untie you?”  She laughed when I said the knife scared me.  The reason it looked like a movie prop was because it was a prop.  Although it was a real knife, and quite sharp, it was just another of the weird odds and ends in the studio.  She offered to find a knife that didn’t look so ceremonial, but warned she would either have to leave me hanging while she rummaged for one or untie me to help her look and then retie me after we found one, and that either way it would take longer than simply using the fancy knife.  Nervously, I told her to go ahead and use the scary knife.  With a few deft strokes, she savaged off the top of my dress and my cotton sports bra.  “Motley, damn it!”

Elyssa arched an eyebrow and dropped a shoulder.  “What is it this time, my poppet?”

“We didn’t discuss my bra.  One, I would have liked to wear it again.  Two, this shoot is still technically our first date.  Call me a tease, but I generally like to get to the second date before getting to second base.”

The photographer gave me a very evil grin as she pointed out, “You should have said that before you were tied in a wardrobe.  If you must use tired baseball cliches, then I can go ahead and steal second.”  She laughed warmly.  “Oh, Emily, that look you just gave me, that mix of outrage, anxiety, and disbelief, is exactly what I want to capture on film.”  She studied me briefly, her lips pursed.  “I know what we need to protect both your modesty and my vision.”  Another evil grin.  “Don’t go anywhere.  I’ll be right back.”

She was indeed right back, although it felt longer while I dangled in a wardrobe.  When she returned, she leaned in close and gently stuck a black duct tape ex over each of my nipples, blowing gently in my ear as she did so.  It was a really confusing moment, as reactions of ‘how dare she?!’ and ‘don’t stop!’ clashed in my mind, my skin breaking out in goosebumps, my breath catching.  Before I could even finish processing how I felt, Elyssa stepped back, grabbed her camera, and began taking pictures.  For a minute or two, while I swayed and dangled, and Elyssa glided left and right and to and fro, her camera whirred and clicked.  It was an expensive digital model, so they were digital whirs and clicks purely for ambiance.  She then paused, cocking her head slightly as she reviewed the pictures on the camera’s view screen.

This is unlikely to be my 2015 Christmas card photo...

This is unlikely to be my 2015 Christmas card photo…

“Well, little poppet,” she said, “we’re done early.”  She grabbed the scary knife and cut the twine binding me into the wardrobe.  “I don’t want you to think a shoot like this is normally this quick.  There is normally a lot more work, several different poses to be done, several different angles and lightings to be tried.  For each photo, there are multiple attempts, all to generate three dozen or so pictures I like, so that the editor of Distressed or whatever rag commissioned the shoot can then pare the set down to twelve to sixteen pictures in a five or six page spread.  I still need a photo shoot for Distressed, and I hope I can schedule that shoot with you.  But I just got- and on the first go, no less- a picture I don’t just like but absolutely love.”  She showed me the picture on her camera view screen.  It wasn’t how I normally picture myself, but I expressed a polite appreciation.  “So I’ve created a small conflict of interest for myself.  I have a high-end exhibition coming up soon, a chance to sell larger pieces to collectors, and this picture will be perfect for that exhibition.  Technically, my contracts specify I’m only selling the serial rights, so I can and do still exhibit photos even if they are from one of my magazine shoots.  However the exhibition is soon enough that I would be exhibiting before the magazine has a chance to publish.  Legally, I can, but it isn’t necessarily polite.  So I’m keeping this picture for me, and we will use a different costume and different set to do the shoot for Distressed.”

We discussed my tentative schedule, and I agreed to call her in a couple of days to finalize plans once my Giovanni’s schedule was posted.  Miss Innis even offered to have a younger cousin come to the shoot to watch Piper for me, although she warned I would need to pay her cousin thirty or forty bucks, depending on how long the shoot lasted.  I grabbed a raunchy T-shirt and a fake letter jacket to cover myself up, and headed to my dad’s with a bucket of fried chicken and enough time to sit down and eat with him.

Which made it a shame I only remembered the artificial black eye I hadn’t cleaned off when my dad opened his door, looked me up and down, and said, “Emily, I think you should tell me more about this interview…”

Gallery  —  Posted: March 21, 2015 in Uncategorized