It’s the story of a Midwestern boy on a physical and psychological journey which takes him from Illinois to New York to Milan to Paris. It’s a first hand look into one of the world’s most misunderstood professions. And it’s a story that just may challenge what you think you know about the modeling world.
Kane flashed his white teeth and said, “You ready to do this, bro?” calmly with a tinge of excitement in his voice.
“Yes,” I answered, pleased with the thought of leaving the pensione for a few days to work in Paris.
We walked two streets over to find a cab and flagged down a beige Mercedes taxi with his lights on.
The driver looked back at us in the mirror as Kane told him in Italian to take us to the airport. He flashed his tobacco stained teeth in the rear viewed mirror as he shifted his gaze from Kane to me. He seemed to be happy to get out of Milan as well.
Kane ended with a sincere, “Grazie,” as the cab pulled smoothly away from the curb and blended into the light, early morning traffic.
“I can’t wait to meet some French chicks in Paris,” Kane said while leaning towards me as if he had some really important news.
“Yeah,” I said with little enthusiasm, as I thought about the prospect of meeting women while shooting with Fabrizio in Paris. I thought about speaking about Marpessa to Kane, but changed my mind before the words slipped out of my mouth. I felt selfish and jealous about Marpessa, and talking about her seemed an easy way to lose what I didn’t have. My mind worked hard to deceive my heart into forgetting the willowy siren with some magic trick of memory. I was not successful.
Kane had squared off shoulders that went at right angles to his neck, making him look larger than he was. He had a loosely defined swimmer’s build, lacking the six pack abs that many of the models had. Kane didn’t possess a body that would be photographed without a shirt. Fabrizio had shot one photo of Kane without a shirt in the Chariots of Fire shooting, but Kane covered most of his body with a large white towel draped strategically over his shoulders. He didn’t have a bad body, just not the cut, works of art that I saw on the photos of the male models that plastered the walls and cards of our agency. He had long arms that ended with the large, well-formed hands of a professional baseball player, freckled brown from the California sun. He dressed comfortably in faded t-shirts, flip-flops, and well-worn jeans or Op shorts. His blond hair was cut short at the back and sides and left long in the front. The surface of his hair was bleached blond from the sun, leaving the hair beneath the same dark blond color as mine. His long face stopped abruptly at an overly squared off cleft chin, giving him the look of a poorly drawn comic book super hero. Kane was not classically handsome. I think he was aware of the limitations of his face, knowing that beautiful women wouldn’t slide across a crowded night club bar to whisper into his ear the things they wanted to do to him. To get there, he knew that he had to do most of the talking.
###We boarded the plane and Kane sat across the narrow Air France aisle and ordered coffee from the slim stewardess with shapely calves and dark hair pulled into a very tight pony tail. She bent over until I imagined Kane could smell her sweet breath as she handed him his hot cup of coffee and then poured the cream and gave him a handful of sugar packets. They got lost in each other’s eyes for a moment before she turned abruptly and moved to the next row. His hunt had started already, I thought to myself. I carefully stretched my stiff right leg into the aisle and drifted off into a drooling, dry-mouthed and dreamless sleep as the plane throoshed noisily through the sun filled morning sky.
Fabrizio hustled around the studio readying the camera, testing the lights, and explaining things in French to a thirty- something woman with a clear plastic clip board in the crook of her left arm. A new French assistant stood casually near the camera, waiting for Fabrizio to order him into action. He was wearing baggy jeans with holes that were made by machines in strategic places to make them look old and chic, and a loose t-shirt made of a material finer than cotton, maybe silk. Fabrizio circled away from the lights and approached Kane and me with wide eyes and fast moving hands.
He looked like a sixth grade teacher giving last minute instructions to the young actors ready to walk on stage for the school play, nervous, and not particularly confident. I was puzzled by the change in his demeanor, but went with it and walked over to the temporary changing room, with the white fabric walls and polished chrome racks filled with men’s clothes lined up on the long walls.
Within ten minutes Kane and I were ready for the first photo of the day. We met up with Jay in front of the lights and began the first picture standing side by side in our fine clothing and looking into the camera, like an old time portrait from the eighteen hundreds.
Christian Dior Monsieur 1982 campaign, Daryl Janney and Kane Sickner by Fabrizio Gianni
Fabrizio was very excited when he walked out from behind the camera to show us the color Polaroid of the picture he was shooting. The lighting was dim and the camera focus was soft, as if the lens were looking through a light fog that had settled on a stone bridge in the early morning hours. Jay immediately asked if he could have the Polaroid picture with an attitude of entitlement as he extended a well-manicured hand, palm facing up while waiting impatiently for Fabrizio to hand him the picture.
Fabrizio turned his back to Jay and answered no as he turned away from us and tucked the Polaroid securely into his photographers vest pocket. I was secretly happy that Jay had been shut down by Fabrizio with the Polaroid request. I got the feeling that it was more the way that Jay asked that got him rejected than the request itself. Fabrizio was funny that way. I could see that Jay was visibly annoyed.
We shot three more photos on the first day, two with Kane and me together and one with Jay alone. When I was not shooting, I sat slouched with my legs stretched out in front and crossed at the ankle in a metal folding chair near the dressing room. I watched the scene unfold before me, working hard to conceal the yawns that seemed to spread from my mouth to my body with some regularity as I worked to keep my eyes from closing in the darkness of the windowless studio. Kane sat near me and leaned back in his chair with his hands clasped behind his head and looked blankly at the high dark ceiling of the studio.
We stopped work at about four, and Fabrizio sent us to the hotel with the instructions to meet back at the studio at seven thirty the next morning. Kane pushed the panic bar on the studio door and we walked from the dark studio into the blinding light of the late day sun. Within ten minutes we were getting our keys to our rooms in a hotel that was so ornate that I was half expecting to be asked to leave before I could get my laundry bag of clothes safely into my room. We each had our own room with high ceilings and giant beds covered with plush comforters and cylindrical pillows that stretched across the head of the beds. We agreed to meet in the hallway in an hour.
###We walked out of the hotel dressed in jeans and button down shirts with our wet hair combed straight back.
“This is great!” Kane said as he grabbed me by the shoulders and gave me a playful shake, “We are definitely gonna meet some French babes tonight, Doc.”
I nodded with a big smile as I thought to myself that it couldn’t be that easy for Kane and me to execute his plan for the evening. It didn’t help that I didn’t really want to meet some babe that I would never see again and do things that my mom had told me over and over was a sin since I was ten years old. It seemed pointless to me.
###Deep down I knew that I was a sinner. I knew better than to do some of the things that I did. I always seemed to stumble off the narrow path to righteousness that Jesus talked about in the Bible. I seemed unable to resist the voluptuous beauty that made a woman so irresistible to me. I was rendered powerless when faced with a nude female body, the curve of her hips as they flared out from a small waist, the full, upturned breasts capped with large nipples that pulled me in to explore with my tongue, mouth, and lips as she moaned with pleasure.
I had never been hung-up on perfect tens; I always found beauty in a wide range of sizes and ages, not rejecting a woman for an imperfect face or wrinkles around her eyes, so long as she possessed a quality or feature that made her sexy. This left me with a large portion of the female population to lust after.
I saw the confusion in the eyes of Carrey, a redhead with thick round glasses whom I had met at the student union at Monmouth College. She had clear, pale skin covered with freckles and walked with the stiff- legged gait of the chronically shy, keeping her books tight to her chest and her eyes cast towards the ground. She wore loose, bulky sweaters and shapeless jeans that were almost successful in hiding her beautiful curves. I asked her out to a movie one Friday on a quiet night in October. She smiled shyly when we talked after the movie and we somehow ended up in her brightly lit dorm room. We kissed while standing in the middle of the room. She quickly turned from shy to hungry as she placed her glasses on the desk near the end of the bed and let her thick red hair fall from the ponytail to her shoulders as she shook her hair loose, then pulled her thick sweater over her head to reveal a plain white bra with sturdy white straps that attached to the cone shaped cups containing her full, round breasts. She watched me looking at her and we met in the middle of the floor before struggling to take her bra off from the hooks on the back. Her breasts settled onto her ribs and I silently took a deep breath. Marveling at what had been hidden beneath the layers of clothes and the old fashioned bra that had held her full breasts unnaturally high on her chest, I drank in her form as she stood in the bright light of her small dorm room looking nervously at the ground, trying to find a place to put her hands.
I held her gently by her shoulders as we sat on the edge of her bed. She was even less experienced than I was; we ended up kissing and holding each other until it was so late that I had to leave, knowing that her roommate would return at any moment. I felt guilt and shame at liking someone that the guys at the fraternity and all the hot girls had determined was an outsider, and left the relationship with Carrie before it even really started, lacking the courage to choose who I liked without seeking the approval of the masses.
###I walked with Kane while looking at the stores with the bright lights as couples and groups of tourists went strolling by. I felt like a shameless tourist glancing quickly at all that there was to see while watching the people walk by, trying to determine who they were and where they came from. I tried to catch everything and everyone that was there, snapping countless scenes and taking pictures to store in my mind. It felt good to pull my guilt-ridden mind away from chewing at the bone that was my self-esteem and value in a world that didn’t seem to know that I existed.
Kane stopped abruptly and said, “This place here. This is good,” as he gestured towards a loosely defined arrangement of small round tables surrounded by round-backed metal chairs with plastic covered red cushions. The tables were lit by strings of small white lights that hung carelessly from the green and white striped canopy that defined the space outside the restaurant. Kane chose a table close to the sidewalk as he held up his hand to attract the attention of the lone waiter standing with a round tray at his side.
“This is perfect, my man, we can see every chick that walks by,” he continued with the enthusiasm of a ten year old boy getting a new bike on Christmas morning.
“Great,” I said flatly, as I raised my eyebrows and smiled broadly to make up for my lack of verbal enthusiasm. Kane did not look at my response as he started to scan the people that walked down the street from both directions.
The drinks were expensive. I ordered a Coke with ice. It came in a small bottle with worn glass, no glass and no ice. Kane ordered an eight dollar bottle of Heineken and started taking long drinks from his dark green bottle of chilled beer as soon as the slim waiter handed it to him. He ordered another before finishing the first, starting in on it without taking a break. I attempted to choke down the warm, syrupy Coke, but gave up before reaching the half-way point and ordered a Heineken.
Kane called out loudly and clearly to any woman or groups of women under thirty that walked by. “Hey, do you want to join us for a drink? Hi, what’s your name Beautiful? Bonjour, can I buy you a drink?” he would ask with a face-crinkling smile between long slugs of beer.
I watched their faces. Mostly they would look down at us as if we were in a zoo somewhere and then shake their heads from side to side and begin to laugh or talk loudly in French while pointing at us.
It seemed that every French man or woman that looked my way took the opportunity to point and make some nasty sounding comment in a sing-songy French voice while they cackled out a forced laugh that seemed as rude as it was unnecessary. Their snobbish glances were enough to get their point across without all of the laughing, pointing and talking. The sideways sneer that seemed to be programmed into the facial muscles of most of the French people that I met was all that I needed to understand about their dislike for all things American.
The sun fell behind the buildings to the west and cast a wide shadow across the Champs-Élysées. The cool shadow reached our table quickly as the street lights brightened to push away the darkness that had fallen so quickly on the busy street. Two girls with oversized purses and loose fitting jeans with high-heel shoes paused as Kane extended the same invitation to them that he had used since we sat down.
They looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders and replied sure to his warm, un-original invitation. They sat down and ordered a drink from our waiter, then casually turned their attention towards Kane and me.
“I am Simone and this is Jeanne,” the one with the black hair tucked behind her ears offered in a strong French accent.
“I’m Kane and this is Daryl. Nice to meet you,” Kane said with too much enthusiasm as he extended a hand to shake, first to Simone and then to Jeanne. I silently did the same.
Kane quickly explained that we were famous models from the United States as I fought back the redness of embarrassment that spread quickly from my ears to my face at Kane’s white lie. Their faces brightened as Kane continued, telling them about the Christian Dior campaign that we were shooting nearby at The Pinup Studios.
Kane spoke directly to Simone and did his best to pretend that Jeanne wasn’t there. Simone had a beautiful face and a lithe body. Her bright smile was ever present beneath sky blue eyes.
Jeanne had light brown hair and a face that just barely sat on the wrong side of beautiful. I did my best to keep her involved in conversation by asking her about her school and the night life in Paris, but she only offered partial answers as she sipped her bright colored drink with a look of almost complete detachment. She disinterestedly alternated between looking at me, Kane, Simone, and the people who walked by on the sidewalk. I did my best to serve as Kane’s wing-man as it became increasingly difficult to talk to Jeanne.
Kane did all of the talking to Simone. After thirty minutes Simone started to steal glances at me while Kane talked. Jeanne had her arms crossed tightly at this point and only loosened them to reach for her drink. By her third drink Jeanne was smiling and almost seemed to be enjoying herself while Kane was beginning to rush and slur his words as he continued to drink cold bottles of Heineken at a fast pace. He was trying very hard to sweep Simone off her feet. It crossed my mind more than once that both girls were only with us for the free drinks. I quickly realized that they viewed us as dumb Americans who didn’t understand the way things worked in Paris.
Kane invited both of them back to our hotel, and to my surprise they both agreed. Simone gave me a long look from across the table as Kane looked away to summon the waiter to our table to settle up the bill. I tried to give Kane a fifty-franc note to help with the drink costs, but he refused as he held up his right hand and shook his head from side to side.
“I got this, Doc,” he said gallantly with a buzzed, white toothed smile.
I shoved the wrinkled note back in my pocket and stood up from the shaky table.
###We arrived at the ornate lobby of our hotel within five minutes. The girls seemed very impressed; the hotel had a fine reputation in Paris.
Kane had a running dialogue going with them as we crossed the lobby; “yes, huh , what do you think, pretty nice, eh? not bad… am I right ladies?” he said drunkenly as he gestured towards the marble floors with a flourish of his hand and a slight bow towards the statues of nude men and fair maidens standing in the bubbling fountain that took up the center of the of the uselessly large lobby.
We entered the gilded elevator with the roman numerals and the ornate clock hand that pointed to the floor number and stopped at the fifth floor. Kane slipped his arm casually over Simone’s shoulder and pulled her tight to his side as we rode in the elevator. She gave me another look as she tried to lock in something with her eyes. I pretended to not understand what her eyes were telling me as my stomach flip-flopped up into my chest while the weightlessness of the elevator lifted me off the floor. I was struck dumb by a beautiful woman’s choosing me without words. I looked down at the ground in an attempt to break the spell that was being cast on me by her blue eyes and lithe form, but knew it was already too late.
Kane unlocked the door to his room and we all walked in at the same time. Kane flopped down onto one of the king sized beds and said, “Not bad, huh?” as he stretched out on the bed and laced his fingers behind his head, continuing, “C’mon guys. Hop on!”
Jeanne sat down tentatively on the corner of the bed as I slouched down in one of the overstuffed arm chairs near the window. Simone sat in the middle of the other king sized bed and leaned back resting on her elbows and looking directly at me while saying quietly in her accented voice, “This is very nice.” I got the message that she had been sending all night as Kane took it all in stride, starting to notice Jeanne for the first time, as he realized that Simone was no longer available.
Simone focused on me as we talked about and around all of the topics that couples talk about when they have already decided to do something together; a banal, space filling conversation that marks time until they are alone. Jeanne and Kane moved closer together on the bed, then Simone looked over at them and gave me another playful look and asked, “Can I see your room, Darriiilll?”
I looked over to gauge the reaction of Kane and Jeanne. They weren’t paying attention to us and had moved closer to each other on the plush bed, looking as if they were about to kiss.
“See you later Kane,” I said as Simone and I got up and walked out the door with her reaching for my hand.
In my room we continued to talk for a few more hours. At around midnight, Jeanne banged on the door, walked in and told Simone that she was leaving. Simone smiled and said, “Okay, Cheri.”
Jeanne said something in French through clenched teeth, turned and slammed the heavy door.
“Don’t you want to go with her?” I asked stupidly.
“No,” she said, while giving me a knowing smile.
Kristina greeted me with a smile and a strong hug at the end of each day. We would sit together in the cool shade of the softly lit agency and talk about the day or the girls that she had worked with. She was never too busy to talk to me and I felt whole and happy in those moments. There was warmth without heat between me and Kristina, an older sister who thought nothing of squeezing her younger brother around the waist and talking about any subject that came into her beautiful head.
On a quiet, hot and sunny Wednesday afternoon I found Calvin and Kristina gesturing and talking frantically to a silent and slumped Kenny in the agency. I walked over and waved hello without speaking to everybody and stood at a distance, waiting for them to finish with Kenny so that Kristina could give me the appointments for Thursday.
“Kenny, you cannot take pictures with Fabrizio with those eyes,” Calvin whispered loudly as he took a close look at Kenny’s eyes.
I looked at Kenny and saw the reddest eyes I had ever seen. There was no white, only red with yellow crust at the corner of his right eye. His face was a mask of pain and frustration, his hands clenched into fists in his lap.
Kristina shook her head slowly back and forth with her arms crossed in front of her small hard breasts while hunching up her shoulders as if she were cold.
“Kenny, Kenny,” she repeated softly with the worried face of a mother waiting on the side of the road for her child to return late from school.
“We need to call Fabrizio and tell him,” Calvin said to Kristina as he wiped his sweating face with the palms of his hands.
“But Calvin,” Kristina protested, “This is a very big job. Maybe we can get some medicine for Kenny and he will get better before the job starts tomorrow.”
“What did you do?” Calvin asked as he suddenly turned to face Kenny.
“Nothing!” Kenny lied as he continued to look at the floor, trying to hide his face from Calvin.
I was not a doctor, but I knew that Kenny had a bad, bad case of conjunctivitis, most likely from smoking, drinking, sleeping with dirty girls, and staying out in the nasty, dark clubs that pumped out loud music throughout the night as people danced on the floor and groped each other in the dark corners, hoping to find someone to spend the night with. I rarely saw him at the pensione at night and he always looked bleary and puffy in the morning when I passed him in the hallway. I was not a saint, but I rarely drank, and I never smoked. I was more than a little afraid of the clubs where nothing good ever seemed to happen. I didn’t want to go looking for trouble; it always seemed to find me eventually, anyway.
“Darrilll!” Kristina said suddenly, clapping her hands together loudly.
“Yes!” Calvin said with an equal amount of enthusiasm, “We can send Daryl with Kenny to Rome.”
“No, no, no,” Kenny said with an exaggerated shake of his head, “I’m not losing my ticket to the big time because of this shrub. I’m going to Rome to work with Fabrizio, and I don’t need this loser tagging along.”
“Listen, Kenny,” Calvin said in a buttery- smooth voice, “Daryl is only coming with you in case you are not able to do the job. You can ride together on the train. If your eyes are better, then Daryl will come back to Milan in the morning.”
“Fabrizio wants me to do the job!” Kenny countered angrily like a child having a fit while turning to point at me, “not this guy.”
Calvin picked up the phone from the desk and started to dial with a long index finger. He waited as the phone rang on the other end,
“Hello, Fabrizio?” Calvin said, “We have a problem. Kenny’s eyes are a little red. We are sending another model with him just in case,” he waited and listened before replying.
“Yes, yes. That is the one. From Chicago. He did the shooting with you for Vogue. Okay then. Ciao, Fabrizio.”
Calvin settled the receiver onto the European style phone and turned to face Kenny and me with his hands clasped in front of his mouth, as if in prayer.
“Do you know how to get to the train station Kenny?” Calvin asked.
“Yeah, yeah,” Kenny replied impatiently, “this is total bullshit,” he spat out as he grabbed his backpack and rushed out of the agency.
Calvin ignored his comment and said to me, “You need to follow Kenny to the train station. You need to take the express train to Rome. Fabrizio or his assistant Pasquale will meet you at the train station in Rome. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” I answered, “can I have some money for the train?”
“Don’t you have any money?”
“Okay,” he replied reluctantly, “ here is one hundred thousand lire. We will take it off of your account.”
“Of course, Calvin. Thank you,” I said as I turned and ran down the marble steps to the street.
Kenny was walking to the corner where the tram stops and I ran to catch up with him.
“Kenny, wait up,” I said as he began to jog to keep ahead of me.
He flipped me the bird without looking back.
We arrived at a large stone building with enormous statues with soot stained faces on either side of a large entrance with a roof held up by gigantic fluted columns that seemed to be carved from a single piece of stone. The statue faces puked out a greenish water from their open mouths into a pool filled with cigarette butts and paper wrappers floating around the surface of the water.
Kenny stood in line for the tickets and I walked up to him and said, “Calvin wants us to take the express train to Rome.”
“Fuck Calvin,” Kenny said in response.
“Hey Kenny, can we just cut the crap?” I asked. I was beginning to get tired of his everybody is picking on me bullshit.
“What the fuck does that mean?” he answered , turning around to face me.
“Let’s just get to Rome and see what happens. I’m sure Fabrizio will find a way to make this work for you.”
Kenny stared silently ahead.
###The train was an open windowed passenger train with filthy floors and grimy windows. The air smelled of unwashed bodies, stale bread, urine and spilled wine. The people on the train did not look like the nicely dressed men and women I had noticed walking hurriedly in the train station; they looked like farmers and laborers with gnarled fingers and stooped backs. Kenny searched the sleeping berths for an open bed, but they were all taken. He settled into a seat at the end of the car and began to smoke as he stared blankly out the window. I stood in the narrow aisle near the pull down seats and tried to keep from blocking the steady stream of passengers that walked through the car as the train slowly jerked itself into motion.
The train sat very low to the ground, more like a car than a train. I looked out the dust-covered windows as the scenery changed from tan and red brick buildings with small windows to open fields with randomly placed dirt roads. All of the men and women that walked by or sat were built low to the ground with stubby fingered hands that looked as if they had never played the piano well. I watched two old men dressed in layers of dusty clothes worn thin at the elbows and cuffs and a very old woman in a shapeless gray dress with an apron that sat upon her full lap. They were talking and gesturing to each other, flashing easy smiles with discolored and missing teeth whenever they spoke.
They laughed easily and seemed to touch each other on the knee or shoulder for emphasis when they spoke. They passed around a green glass bottle wrapped in colorful string with a flat topped cork that one of the men held in his hand while taking long slugs from the bottle. One of the men with a full face furrowed with rows of deep wrinkles from years of sun motioned for me to come closer. I silently walked towards the small group and he smiled and began to speak to me in Italian. I shook my head to indicate that I did not understand and he said as his small eyes brightened, “Ahhh. Americano, no?”
I nodded my head and he offered me the bottle of wine. I held my hand up and said, “No grazie,” with a smile meant to show that I was not trying to offend.
He smiled broadly and said something quickly to the others that I didn’t understand and gave me a salute with his right hand.
“Bottilia” he said to me while pointing at the bottle, “Vino,” he said slowly as he swirled the wine around.
I nodded and smiled back and said slowly with as much accent as I could manage “Bottilia. Vino”
They all clapped their hands together and said, “Bravo, bravo.”
I looked around to see where Kenny was and saw him squatting down with his back pressed against the side of the train. He held a cigarette between his right thumb and index finger and had his other arm pressed against the wall to keep him from falling over as the train bucked and swayed down the tracks. He stopped smoking and dropped his lit cigarette on the floor before standing up to grind it into the grooved rubber mat.
“Hey,” he said to me as I walked towards him. His skin looked pale and sickly in the harsh fluorescent light of the train. There were scars that came from acne on his cheeks and down his neck that I hadn’t noticed during our shoot last week. His eyes looked very red and the infection had turned his right eyelid puffy, looking like a black eye that happened to be red.
“How’s my eyes look?” he said with a desperate, pleading look plastered on his face.
I looked closely to see what I could easily have seen from ten feet away and answered with a serious expression to accompany my serious words.
“Not bad, not bad. Have you put any medicine on them?”
“No,” he said defensively, “Just some Visine.”
I knew it would take days for his eyes to clear, maybe even weeks. He gave me a tight-lipped smile as he tried to hide from me what could not be hidden. He looked at the floor at his feet.
The train stopped every few minutes and never seemed to get up to speed. I realized after a long two hours of this that we had gotten on the wrong train; this train was definitely not an express. After three hours of people loading on with boxes tied up with twine and live chickens held upside down by their legs, I resigned myself to the fact that the trip would probably take all night. I started to look for a place to sit down. I left Kenny alone and began to walk from car to car in search of an open space. There was not a single seat on the train. I returned back and found Kenny pacing up and down the aisle nervously while puffing on another cigarette.
He approached me fast as I walked through the door and asked frantically, “What are we going to do?”
“This train is a fucking local,” he spat out.
No shit. Mr. Genius of all things Italian, I thought to myself. I calculated that at our current rate we would get to Rome first thing in the morning, around seven.
“Try to get some rest,” I offered uselessly, trying anything to calm Kenny down.
“Yeah, right,” he said before hurriedly sucking in more smoke from his cigarette. “What are we going to do? Sleep on the fucking floor?” he asked with a look of contempt.
“Don’t know,” I replied quietly as I began to think about what he just said. That could work, I could sleep on the floor under the jump-seats. It would be a little dusty, but it was worth a try. I was feeling as if I had nothing to lose. Finding a spot to sleep on a crappy local train was not the biggest problem I had ever faced
the time between breaths, making the entire process last much longer. My mom never went to the pool with us during family swim and my older brother went off to swim while I was struggling to survive by surrendering. This became a standard part of my summers for four years. Each time that the warmth of summer followed the rain and mud of spring, I would silently dread the time at the public pool with Dad.
Finding a way to spend time away from Dad became a full time job for me. The understanding that I was safest when I was alone, even at the age of seven, stays with me still. Finding a place to rest on a local train in a foreign country where I did not speak the language and had no chance of getting any help from the locals seemed to be a relaxing evening to me in comparison to parts of my childhood.
I looked down at the filthy floor and tried to reconcile in my mind that I would be sleeping there for the next six or seven hours. The only space that was not occupied was beneath the jump seats that lined the narrow aisle. I bent down to survey the amount of space under the passengers’ legs and decided that it was worth a try. I took off my backpack, pulled out my blue LL Bean pocket anorak, and put it on, pulling the hood over my head and pulling the drawstring tight until only my eyes and mouth were exposed. I put on my sunglasses to protect my eyes from the dirt that puffed up from the floor as the passengers tromped by in their rawhide laced work boots. I placed the front of my backpack on my chest and wrapped the straps a few times around my fore-arms to keep my pack from being stolen while I slept.
I did my best to communicate my desire to sleep on the floor beneath the seats with a combination of English and an exaggerated form of mime motions, trying to get them to understand that I wanted to crawl under their legs to sleep on the floor. They all looked at me as if I were a leprous lunatic, with wide eyed expressions that indicated their disbelief and resistance to my seemingly insane request. The five people who needed to move so that I could squeeze beneath the seats eventually complied and allowed me to get under their seats as I smiled graciously while offering a slew of grazies in return for their cooperation. I lay down, stretched out my legs and folded my arms across my chest. I felt like a corpse in a coffin, but except for the sickening smell of the sticky floor and the bumping of the train axles beneath me, I was quite comfortable. In less than five minutes I had fallen asleep.
It was sunny when I awoke to the commotion of the passengers exiting the train. The cool of morning pushed in through the open windows. It felt good on my face as I rubbed my puffy eyes with my knuckles, trying to speed up the waking process. All of the passengers were getting to their feet. A small group of wrinkled peasant women with dark clothes and sturdy, bowed legs spoke with wildly animated gestures to a slim conductor that stood with his hands on his hips. They all pointed at me as I struggled to get out from under the seats and stand up in the narrow aisle, my right knee was almost completely locked in the straight position. I looked up at the scarecrow conductor from my bed and struggled to untie my backpack from my forearms while I scooted sideways on my butt to get out from under the seats.
He started to yell, “al-ey, al-ey!” to me in a loud, shrill voice while adopting a stern look that pulled at all sides of his face. He motioned impatiently with both hands for me to get up from the floor while he continued to screech at me in Italian. I had figured out that sleeping on the floor was probably against the rules and the slim conductor wanted to either scare me or levy some stupid punishment that involved holding my passport and shaking me down for fifty thousand lire. He wore a blue suit with a small fabric covered cardboard hat on his head. He looked at me with disdain as he rained down a string of nasty sounding Italian words that I could not fully understand. I turned my backpack around and slung it over my right shoulder as I slowly stood up in the narrow aisle without talking, but keeping my eyes focused on him as I returned his stare without speaking. He watched me stand up and seemed to abruptly stop talking as he realized that I was much bigger than he was.
I held my hands out with my palms facing him and said slowly in English, “Okay, now what Sergio Valenti?”
He shook his head as if someone had slapped him hard across the face and turned to walk out of the car, either rethinking if it was worth it to continue yelling at me or searching for some beefy reinforcements for simply sleeping under the seats. I stumbled towards the exit, still more asleep than awake and tried once more to rub the sleep from my eyes. I slowly walked out the door and onto the brick and concrete platform. I scanned the crowd on the platform for Kenny and found him hunched over and leaning against the corner of the brick building with his arms crossed tight across his chest. He looked nervous; flicking his fingers up and down, as if playing an imaginary piano. I walked over and quietly stood next to him with my arms limp at my sides and waited.
CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVEA stumpy man with an ill- fitting black suit coat, too tight pants and thick, black rimmed glasses held up a brown piece of cardboard with the word Kenny written on it in pencil
I nudged Kenny gently with my elbow and said, “I think that guy is our ride,” as I pointed to stumpy holding the cardboard sign.
“Oh yeah,” Kenny replied without looking. He looked like he was going to vomit on my shoes at any moment.
Stumpy led us across the narrow parking lot to a white van and we both climbed in the back. After a short ride in the small van with no windows and tiny seats without padding, we arrived at a small building with a red canopy and flowers growing from large clay pots that were placed on each side of the steps that led into the building. Fabrizio stood at the top of the Hotel steps like an army general with his arms crossed on his barrel chest, his sleeves rolled up to the elbow to expose his hairy forearms. He slowly walked down to meet us as we stepped out from the van. He ignored me and went straight to Kenny.
“Let me look at your eyes my young friend,” he said with a paternal look of skepticism mixed with sympathy.
Kenny reluctantly slid his dark sunglasses down his nose and then off his face. Fabrizio looked closely into his eyes and sighed loudly while shaking his head from side to side. He said something to the short driver in Italian and the driver nodded.
He turned back to Kenny and said in a voice devoid of emotion, “Kenny, you must go back to Milano. Ciao, andiamo.”
Kenny really looked like he was about to vomit as all the remaining blood drained from his face.
“But Fabrizio, can’t I do some photos with sunglasses or something? C’mon! Please, Fabrizio?” Kenny pleaded with a twisted expression of pain stretched across his pale face that pinched his eyes until they were almost closed.
Fabrizio shook his head quietly and rubbed the back of his neck, turned to me, and said without emotion; “Okay, Mr. Chicago. Get your things into your room and meet us in the lobby in thirty minutes.”
I looked over to Kenny and extended my right hand, preparing to say I am sorry and all that feel good crap, but Kenny wouldn’t have any of it and he hissed out quietly through clenched teeth for my ears only, “Fuck you, asshole. You fucking suck.!”
I turned to walk away and took the steps two at a time into the lobby. I didn’t turn back to watch Kenny leave.