I’m finally here! I’ve dreamed of this place since I was a kid, I can’t believe this is even REAL! I’ve done D.C., Miami, I’ve lived abroad in France, I’ve seen so much, but now, New York! The city that never sleeps, the place that dreams are made of, Broadway, Coney Island, Brooklyn, baby! I made it! I’m SO enthralled with what I see already, this must be love at first sight, a sparkling arrow straight through my heart! I love New York!
Sure, these first seven months have been rough, and my mother’s agreed to pay my rent until I find steady work, God bless her, I really want to stay. I’m interning at a major modeling agency for $75 a week and have even been optioned for Givenchy’s Spring/Summer show thanks to being in these power agents’ faces all day every day! I’ve had a major photo shoot with famed photographer Patrick Demarchelier, and I’m being taken more seriously as a model now. This is what I wanted, I know it’ll pay off soon. I still love New York, I just have to work even harder, I guess.
OK, so that whole intern/model thing didn’t really work out. I can’t believe my boss/booker dismissed me via text after seven months of blind loyalty … I thought NYC would be a bit more professional? I thought this was working? I guess I was wrong. Maybe I’m wrong about everything. Mom is still paying my very-expensive rent, and I live in a one-bedroom apartment with two other girls I barely even know. I am far from comfortable, but this is what everybody wants, this is city life. Time to suck it up, work more and get what I came here for! New York is really kicking my ass, though.
My previous life in Miami has certainly paid off as I got my old visual merchandising job back without question or interview at French Connection’s SoHo location. This will forever be remembered as the time in my life where I wore clip-in extensions to fit the FCUK “look” every single day because I couldn’t afford the real stuff. I am test shooting for new pictures weekly and nearly starving to death making $11.50 an hour before taxes at FCUK. I eat bags of baby carrots that I spice myself every day in a sandwich bag to stay on budget with my shitty wages and scary living costs. I’m happy though. Aren’t I? I did what everyone said I couldn’t do. I was surviving in this tar pit that swallowed so many whole, I knew I could keep this up, I just knew it! I’m a New Yorker!
I’ve been “Employee of the Month” for each of the four months I’ve been back in the retail game, and they’ve rejected my request for a raise for the third time today. Shit. I’m taking my break. “Anyone need anything while I’m out?,” I aim at my coworkers. “Liquor! I’m having a party, and I can’t get it myself!” explained sweet little innocent Aaron. What do I have to lose? I’m broke and too old for this job, but somebody should gain something for me being here since I’m clearly not? Fuck the law, I’m tired, hungry, and NOT paid enough to care about rules. “Sure, babe, I’ll get you a handle of vodka,” I promised. I’m just going with the pulse of the city at this point I suppose, I guess this will be our relationship, New York? I’ll be the jaded helper to others, a mother hen of sorts, while just barely getting by myself? I don’t know if I love that, NYC what’s going on with us?
I’m out to buy the contraband when I get a call from my former boss/agent, the one who dropped me unceremoniously through text message not so long ago. “Hey gurrrl!, how you doin’?” he says as if no time had passed. “I’m fine, just leaving work and providing alcohol to some underage friends of mine, how are you?” I reply without an ounce of sarcasm. “You betta werk! Ugggh, I live, you are so crazy! Well bitch, are you sitting down?” he asked giddily. “I can be, I believe I see a curb ahead,” I said flatly. I was in no mood to talk to a man who made 15,000 times what I did for his own amusement and no gain of mine. “Girl, I’ll give you $40K a year to be our office manager here at the agency, we fired what’s-her-name, and you have a fashion degree, right?!'” he exclaimed rather enthusiastically. I agree to his terms as professionally as I can muster, I’m caught completely off-guard. I thought he had forgotten all about me. I confirm to start bright and early Monday morning, hang up the phone, fall on the curb and cry my eyes out. I am literally going to make four times what I was making now to do one quarter of the actual work. Jesus Christ, if this is my big break, I’ll take it! I knew you loved me, you crazy city!
After my raise a few months later, I was making well over $50,000 a year in my new position, and modeling was more of a bonus check at that point, so that dream hit the back burner quick! I’d even worked my way down to one roommate in a one bedroom! City life was suiting me well now, money makes a world of a difference! I was teaching younger girls how to walk the runway at a few agencies across the city at $150 an hour freelance, I made time for my friends at various happy hours, brunches and rooftop parties. I had Christmas gifts and cards for everybody, I threw parties and get-togethers, I’d maintained close relationships with the scene’s best promoters, it-girls, designers, I was a REAL city girl now, a winner, I made it!
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. After an agency revamp, all of the major bookers quit and all of us “little people” are let go. I understand this will cause a major adjustment in my lifestyle and my winning streak. I already miss that paycheck. Three years behind that desk was too long for my spirit anyways, I need more freedom than they allowed. Yeah, I can find a silver lining in this fall from grace. Now I can take my modeling career seriously again! I put my book bag together the same day I was released and started shopping agencies again. I sign with the first agency feigning interest and get to work almost immediately. New York isn’t done with me yet, I’m back already, baby!
I’m shooting every week now, walking in Fashion Week, booking editorials, living at the gym but not really making any money. Good thing I’ve got that savings from when I was doing well, but what happens when that runs out? Maybe this next gig will be my big break! Oh, you’re paying me in clothes again? Jesus, I live at Buffalo Exchange trying to get actual cash for this crap, when do I get my big pay off? Why do designers think that models don’t have bills? I really do work hard for the money, my God, this is far from easy. I guess it’s back to spiced carrots again for a while. I can make this work. I won’t give up on you, New York, I know we can make this work.
My lease is up, I can’t afford where I live anymore. Modeling still isn’t paying what it should for how hard and often I work. I mean, people are starting to recognize me from my work in the streets and subways, why aren’t I getting paid what the regular girls are? I’m tired and starting to feel genuinely run down now.
New York, baby, we have to talk. It’s not me … it’s you. I love you, but I can’t keep this up. Not at this pace, not at this cost, not with this pay. I gave you three unconditional years of devotion, always trying to make us work, always putting you first, I rarely ever left the island. I can’t keep putting my parents through this, I can’t keep working for free or putting on a happy face for my friends pretending I’m OK. I never quit, I always hustled, I followed all of the steps to stardom, even made some of my own, and I came out dry. Thank you so much for the nice things you did for me, I’ll never forget you. But you’ve burned me for the last time, you bastard.
For all of you kids trying to make it in the Big Apple, remember, there is a HUGE difference between “giving up” and “having enough.” I’ll always remember the good times, love, I hope you’ll remember me as the fighter I was. I promise to stay in touch.
Until next time, Ariscestocrats!
Arisce Wanzer is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.