Fading glories to a fifties beat

City Diary

May 03, 2000|By Mary Vivian Pearce

THE TEACHER hugs herself and asks me if I think the classroom is too cold.

I'm a menopausal nude art model. "No," I say, getting ready to take off my clothes. "I have hot flashes." The students, older teen-agers, say nothing and continue setting up their easels. One frowns. Perhaps they don't know what a hot flash is.

The teacher, Sue Lowe, a slim striking blonde in her early fifties, who starred in John Waters' Desperate Living, knows, of course, what a hot flash is and doubles over in helpless mirth.

There is never a screen to change behind -- and I have to undress in front of the class. I take off my black beret, jeans and black turtleneck (I'm such a rent-a-beatnik) socks, sandals and (I hope) clean underpants.

I drop my clothes in a heap on the floor. Now I walk across the room and my bare feet pick up dirt, debris, paint, adhesive tape, charcoal, sometimes a thumbtack.

I guess I could wear slippers, but the only slippers I have are the ones Mother gave me, and I just can't wear slippers my mother gave me when I model nude. She just recently found out about my nude gig (a mildly tipsy sister snitched) and confronted me with it: "I understand you're modeling ... in the nude." Why is it always in the nude? I'm not in anything; the only thing I'm wearing is the dirt on my feet.

Sometimes art teachers get my name from a pool, call me sight unseen and ask me to model for their classes. They are unaware that they are calling a 52-year-old model who has the left side of her face paralyzed from recent brain surgery. Perhaps they get nervous when they hear my speech is slurred. I talk out of the side of my mouth, and I had a tough time spitting out my one line in John Waters' new movie, Cecil B. Demented. Also I'm a little thin because I never regained the weight I lost after surgery, and my other job -- bike courier -- creates a caloric deficit. My look is more prison camp inmate than Playboy centerfold.

I seldom speak when I'm modeling. One teacher complained that some models talk too much. I daydream usually, but Ms. Lowe lets me read.

"How can you read?" one friend asked. "I'd be too nervous."

Still, even though I know modeling for art is not about beauty, youth and sexiness -- and, for sure, diction -- I'm a little paranoid about the possibility of age discrimination. But that could just be, to paraphrase a line from "Pink Flamingos," menopausal nude paranoia.

A teacher from a high school in Baltimore County called me recently and asked if I would model for his class. I said I would.

"Could you describe yourself'? "the teacher asked.

"I'm tall, thin and old," I said. The teacher laughed. "I'm 5-foot-9 and weigh 135," I said.

"You really are thin. My last model was fat. The kids like to draw the heavier models," the teacher said. "What do you mean by old? The teacher asked with a laugh.

"I'm 52," I said. There was a moment of silence.

"Uh, I have to ask the kids," the teacher said with a stutter. "I'll get back to you." He never called back.

And I thought you couldn't be too thin.

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