Archives for March 2013

Sing! Finding the Backbeat and Holding On Tight


Robin Meloy Goldsby has a few things to say about singers, and, this time around, they’re all good.

John and I enter the Burgerhaus Forum in Overath, Germany. Tonight Julia is singing with the Paul Klee High School Choir, a feisty group of kids between the ages of fifteen and nineteen, who meet once a week in the evenings to learn new songs, study new harmonies, and tackle new challenges. That’s what they tell themselves, anyway. Mainly, for the last two years, they’ve been having a hell of a lot of fun with music. They call themselves The Singin’ Pauls.

The concert is scheduled to begin at 7:00 PM. We’re fifteen minutes early and the hall is already full—around 500 enthusiastic fans have shown up to listen to the choir. I look around and see a smattering of parents and grandparents, but I’m most impressed by the huge number of schoolmates crowding into the venue. Kids cheering for their musical friends! In Germany we don’t have school-sponsored athletic competitions. But we have this, and I’m grateful. We root for musicians instead of the athletes. It’s a little like having the halftime show without the football game. No linebackers, no pom-poms, no referees. Just music.

No seats!  It’s fifteen minutes until show time and the joint is packed. What to do. We may have lived in the German countryside for almost nineteen years, but we’ve maintained a few of our hard-won Manhattan skills. John and I can find a cab, a parking place, or an empty seat in just about any situation. We have good “available space” karma—a talent that comes from squeezing into crowded Times Square subway trains during rush hour.

“Look! There. Front row, left side. Two seats. Go.” We advance towards the seats and snag them just in time.

“I don’t know,” says John as he sets up his video equipment. “Julia might not be so thrilled to see us in the first row. Especially since I have the camera.”

What?” I say. “The only other choice is the very last row. We’re American parents. We’re supposed to be pushy, remember?  We’re staying in the front.”

At this point I spot Curtis, Julia’s brother, right behind us, with a couple of his friends. He’s proud of his sister.

Anticipation bounces around the hall. John finishes setting up his Zoom camera and we’re ready to go. The house lights dim. Forty kids march onstage and take their places. All shapes and sizes: Goths and good girls, hippies and Emos, German, Turkish, French, Iranian, Palestinian, and, yes, American. They face the audience. I can’t decide if they look old or young.  Julia stays out front—she has a solo in the first song. She messes with the microphone cable, then turns around. That’s when she sees us in the front row—John with his camera, and me, bursting into tears.  Where these tears come from I have no idea. I could blame it on my mother (she’s a champion weeper and I seem to have inherited this trait from her), or menopause, or the whole circle of life thing, which sets me off pretty often these days, but really there’s no excuse. It’s a high school choir concert for heaven’s sake—a medium sized group of big kids trying to stay cool. That’s it. Their sweet, expectant faces are killing me. This is not casual crying with ladylike tears; these are big shoulder-shaking sobs.

Julia laughs when she sees us. Then she rolls her eyes, just a little. There are 500 people here, she’s preparing to sing a solo, her dad, with his goofy grin, is aiming a camera at her, her mother is having a change-of-life breakdown, and she’s completely calm. She looks like she’s hanging out in a playground with friends. Which, in a way, is exactly what she’s doing.

The audience cheers for the choir before they’re even sung a note. Frau Hövel, the Maestra, raises her baton. Herr Müller, the co-director of the choir and the accompanist, strikes the first notes on the piano. Forty voices join together and the room fills with music. Imperfect, but somehow just right.

**

Della Henderson Rawsthorne, my paternal grandmother, was an accomplished singer—a contralto—and the musical director at the Haven Heights Methodist Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The church paid her a decent salary to show up once a week for rehearsals, to select the music for the Sunday services, and to conduct the church choir. For much of my childhood, I spent Sundays and religious holidays watching her in the choir loft, holding together an aging but enthusiastic throng of warblers, brayers, and chirps, all of them heaven and hell bent on making it through the week’s hymns without a misfire, a croak, or one Hallelujah too many. Grandma, her deep and powerful voice booming through the sanctuary, covered up a multitude of musical sins with her own musical valor. Daring and inventive, she led her singers through an inspired repertoire of Methodist music—”Up from the Grave He Arose!” was my favorite—assigning solos to both the strong and the weak, pumping her arm in time to the organ music, plucking notes like daffodils out of her weedy garden of singers.

I admired Grandma’s skill and her bravery, but the choir itself? High comedy. I might have been nine years old, but I knew funny when I saw it. Whenever Orville Rudolph—a robust tenor who always sang about a quarter-step sharp—stood up for a solo, my brother, sister, and I would bite our cheeks and turn purple in our attempts to avoid laughing out loud. The “fall on your knees” part of “Oh, Holy Night” rivaled anything we had ever seen or heard on The Ed Sullivan Show.  We learned to double over in the wooden pew and pretend to tie our shoelaces during the solo sections, our mother clutching her hymnal and glaring at us, our shoulders shaking with silent guffaws. Mom also thought Orville was pretty funny, but at the advanced age of thirty-two, she knew a thing or two about gracious restraint. My Dad just raised his eyebrows when Orville hit the high notes, which made us laugh even harder.

I feel kind of bad about it now—really, who were we to giggle at anyone’s honest attempt to praise the Lord, or anything else, through music?  I hope Orville made it to his own version of choir heaven. I hope he has gotten to sing lots of solos.  I also hope, for my grandmother’s sake, that they’ve installed auto-tune in God’s control room.

**

RMG, back in 2007, with the kids in the Paul Klee Gymnasium International Choir.

RMG, back in 2007, with the kids in the Paul Klee Gymnasium International Choir.

For five years, I was the volunteer choir director of the Paul Klee High School International Choir in Overath, Germany. I slid into the job when my kids were in Junior High and I realized there weren’t enough music teachers to cover the fifth, sixth, and seventh grade choir. What, no choir? I had little choral experience myself, but I played the piano, I had written a bunch of kids’ songs, and I honestly thought, how hard could it be?

Well.

Every Wednesday for five years I met with thirty kids, most of them eleven, twelve, or thirteen years old. My own kids were in the mix. We spoke and sang in English, mainly because I didn’t want anyone, especially a twelve year German, laughing at my Colonel Klink accent.

Not that I’m complaining, but thirty twelve-year-old kids can make a lot of noise. There was a set of drums next to the entrance to the choir room. Here is a fact: It is impossible for a sixth-grade boy to walk past a set of drums without bashing the ride cymbal. Twice. Nothing, not even bribes with chocolate, will stop a boy from doing this.

Each Wednesday, before leaving the house for our five o’clock rehearsal, I took two Tylenol and a hot bath. Preventive medicine. I developed a thick skin, thicker eardrums, and newfound respect for teachers. I worked two hours a week with these kids; I couldn’t imagine the constitutions of the brave men and women who showed up Monday through Friday, eight hours at a shot.

“Whatever they’re paying these teachers,” I said to John, “It’s not nearly enough.”

“You have a job,” John said. “Why are you doing this?”

I really didn’t have an acceptable answer.

“I have two simple goals,” I told John, dodging the question. “First, I want to teach them to clap on two and four.” German kids are programmed to clap on one and three, which has the undesired effect of turning everything, even the funkiest piece of music ever written, into a Wagnerian march. “Second,” I said, “I want them to sing and say the “th” sound properly. If I can do that, I’ll feel like I’ve accomplished something.”

Getting “two and four” wasn’t so easy—it took months of backbeat practice—but eventually they nailed it. They started to swing, just a little. The “th” fell into place a bit faster. The “th” sound doesn’t exist in the German language, and, most of the time, it ends up sounding like a “z.” I wrote a tongue twister for them to practice: Thelma the thick-headed thief had three hundred and thirty-three thousand, three hundred and thirty-three threatening thoughts.

Zelma transformed into Thelma, we found the backbeat, and we were groovin’.

They sang at many concerts, and I watched in complete amazement as these kids—shy, insecure, and standing on the slippery slope of puberty—learned to take pride in their teamwork. What they lacked in musical ability they made up for in eagerness.  One of the “real” music teachers at the school tried to convince me to hold auditions each year—for the sake of quality control—but I refused. Anyone who wanted to sing was welcome.

“This isn’t about music,” I told him. “It’s about fun. Singing makes for happy kids. It’s almost impossible to sing with a group and be grumpy at the same time. These kids need to have fun. School is serious enough.” I’m sure I sounded a little too American for the system, but, as a volunteer, I got to set the rules.

My choir kids never got much beyond two-part harmony, but they were loud, smiling, and full of joy. We had choreography, a healthy amount of “two” and “four” clapping, and a series of soloists with back-up singers. During the final year we started to look like a sixth-grade Las Vegas act. Instead of sequins and feathers we wore red t-shirts. Curtis would play congas or drums, John, when he was available, would show up and play the bass. Eventually, Julia took over at the piano. Aside from the chocolate, the kids hardly needed me for anything at all. They had found each other. Music was their navigation system.

We practiced, we performed, we had a ball. As a teacher, I was pretty relaxed. I had one firm rule. No one was allowed to laugh at anyone else. Our choir room was a safe place, the sacred ground of artistic expression, a space where the kids could be bigger versions of themselves. No laughing, unless we were all doing it together. Orville Rudolph, after all those years, had come back to haunt me.

Five years, a hundred headaches, and twenty concerts later, I reluctantly stepped down. The music faculty had added several new teachers to the staff, my own kids had moved on to the middle and upper classes at the school, and, well, it was time. There’s not a high school kid alive who wants her mother hanging out in the school music room. We made a big splash at our last school concert, then kept meeting for the rest of the semester, just to sing and finish the term with style. For the final session, I invited parents and friends for a farewell musical soirée. I thought it would be a good excuse to eat brownies and a nice way to say auf Wiedersehen. We prepared some tunes from High School Musical, a few of my originals, “The Girl from Ipanema” in Portuguese (with the help of a Brazilian choir mom), “Kansas City,” “Seasons of Love,” and, because the kids requested it, “My Heart Will Go On,” also known as the dreaded Titanic theme.

Five minutes before we were scheduled to start our presentation, Janina, a very pretty and extremely bashful girl who had been with me for two years, came to my side.

“Robin,” she whispered. “I am ready.”

“Ready for what?” I said. I had discovered over the years that a kid this age assumes the entire world knows what she’s thinking.

“My solo. I am ready to sing a solo.”

If Janina had told me she had booked a round trip ticket to Reno I would not have been more surprised.

“Really? That’s great! Just great! Which song do you want to sing?”

“Titanic,” she said. “The second verse. I practiced it.”

“You’ve got it Janina,” I said. “Kids, stay out of Janina’s way on the second verse. She’s going to sing it solo. Solo!”

They cheered for her.

The concert was a huge success. We sang and danced and stomped. We got to the last tune of the set, the Titanic theme, and I announced that Janina would be the soloist. I saw her mother’s jaw drop. We started the song. When it came time for the second verse, Janina stepped forward, with three girls holding her up on each side. Her voice was Helium-high and tiny, but I swear it was the loudest and proudest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.

**

Four years later, here I am, not at the piano, but in the front row, happy to be a normal parent enjoying the show. Tonight’s concert will offer us a little Cold Play, a Beatles tune—”Penny Lane,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” an instrumental version of “My Funny Valentine,” “Stand By Me,” “Circle of Life,” “Skyfall,” and a few hip songs I’ve never heard and will probably never hear again.

Julia and the choir start the evening with a tune called “Happy Ending.” The Mama Rose in me wants to shout, “Sing out, Louise!” but the close proximity of the male members of my family keeps me in check. I get control of my sobbing about halfway through the song. I look around.  Many of my sixth grade choir kids are now singing with this senior group. They’re young adults now, most of them capable of walking past a drum set without hitting the ride cymbal, all of them stretched out and dressed up and ready for anything.  A year or two short of graduation, these kids face a complicated world, but for now, while they’re singing, there’s reason to celebrate.

The audience claps along—finding the backbeat!—and I sit back and watch time roll by like too many sixteenth-notes, my husband beside me, my grown son in the row behind me, my daughter center stage, Grandma Rawsthorne somewhere in the room. Now I know why I’m crying. When this evening is over, where will the flawed and glorious music go? Poof. I hate when good things disappear. I want right now to last forever.

I hope these kids will hold onto their songs. I hope they’ll keep singing for themselves and each other.

Look. There, in the second row onstage. It’s Janina, just as pretty, but no longer shy. She’s singing her heart out.

**

To see John’s front row video of the choir:

Robin Meloy Goldsby is the author of Piano Girl, Rhythm: A Novel, and Waltz of the Asparagus People: The Further Adventures of Piano Girl.

 

 

 

 

Runway: Tempest Storm, High Heels, and the Adventures of an Aging Model

Robin Meloy Goldsby takes a (cat)walk down memory lane.

Powder pink pumpsavailable from Füsskleider in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany.

Powder pink pumps available from Füsskleider in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany.

Like most odd situations in my life, this one starts with a pair of shoes. Cruising around on Facebook one morning when I’m supposed to be writing, I’m distracted by a fabulous pair of pumps, way too high-heeled and (I assume) way too expensive. Pale powder pink—austere but hopeful—the color of a newborn’s cheek, with a small platform, a little bow on the vamp, thick high heels, and an ankle strap. They would be perfect shoes for a dress I don’t yet own. I haven’t been booked to play for a Parisian garden party, nor have I have been invited for summer tea in Vienna, but if either of these things were to happen, I would be flawlessly dressed if I owned these shoes. I decide to track them down.

I see the shoes on the fan page of a store called “Fusskleider,” a pricey but gorgeous boutique located in Bergisch Gladbach. This swanky neighborhood isn’t far from Schlosshotel Lerbach, where I play the piano every weekend.

I send a message to Dörthe, the store’s owner (and the wife of a jazz pianist I know). She tells me the price. I consider buying them, but I remember we’re paying college tuition for our son, saving for our daughter’s education, and have several record and book projects to fund in the near future. 2012 was my Year of Health. 2013 is our Year of Investment. Investment in pale pink platform shoes doesn’t count. With a heavy heart I tell Dörthe that the shoes are a little out of my budget.

“Well, she says. “We sell more than just shoes. Jeans! Beautiful dresses! Handbags! I’m presenting a fashion show in a few weeks. Want to model? I’ll pay you with the shoes.”

I am no stranger to the barter arrangement. Several times I’ve exchanged my music or writing skills for wine or beauty spa treatments. But shoes? This sounds like a perfect deal.

Then I come to my senses.

“Are you crazy, Dörthe?” I ask. “I am fifty-five years old, not even close to being a size Extra-Extra Small, I am, in fact—gasp—a Medium. I’ve avoided Botox, I have wrinkles, and last time I checked, I have all my original parts.”

“Perfect,” she says.  “Except for the Botox part, you’re like most of my customers.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to hire my daughter instead? She is sixteen, 5’10,” and, you know, model material.”

“If I put a sixteen year old on the runway my customers will not be happy. A sixteen year old looks good in anything. But you, now, that’s another story. If they see you looking good, they’ll figure there’s hope for them.”

I think this is a compliment, but I’m not sure. Just the other day someone told me I looked good in a photograph because the camera was so far away from me. Little things like this creep up in my life all the time. Little stabs disguised as compliments. I’ve gotten used to being over fifty and invisible—I’ve even grown to enjoy it—,but that doesn’t mean I have to wear a burlap sack and hide in the bushes, does it?

There is the issue of my Titanium foot. At this time last year I was recovering from joint replacement surgery on my right foot. I had to go up and down the stairs on my behind. I had to wear a Frankenstein boot for six weeks. How can I possibly model for a store that showcases tight jeans and high-heeled shoes? Then I remember Heather McCartney and her appearance on Dancing with the Stars. I figure if she can win a dancing contest with a fake leg, then I can be a runway shoe-model with a fake toe.

“Okay,” I say. “I’ll do it.”

**

I’m not thrilled about removing my invisibility cloak, but I’m not at all nervous about the show. This will not be my first time on the catwalk, although I am several decades out of practice. I modeled in my younger, thinner years in Pittsburgh, where I did informal shows for the Joseph Horne Company, and passed out samples of cologne and perfume while wearing designer dresses at Saks Fifth Avenue. I even walked in a runway show for Donna Karan, when she was starting out as a designer for Anne Klein. The show was at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Hall, and the clothes were works of art. Donna had it together, even back then. She was nice to me. I was nineteen at the time, and her kindness meant a lot to me.

Then, disaster struck. The events manager at Saks discovered I was willing to wear costumes, that I had no problem at all dressing up as Mrs. Santa Claus, Cupid, or the Easter Bunny. I became the Saks “costume model,” which sounded good, paid better than the standard modeling jobs, but kind of crushed my fantasies of working in high fashion. All the models wanted to wear Dior and YSL, but I was the only  one willing to sport a cupid costume. On Valentine’s Day I pranced through Saks in a red leotard and wings, shooting rubber arrows at unsuspecting customers. What can I say? It was 1977.

The next time Ms. Karan was in town, on Easter, I had to walk the runway in a rabbit suit. Carnegie Hall, in a rabbit suit. There aren’t many models who can boast of such an achievement. But I was eighteen years old, making a living, hopping and hoping that my career in fashion might help pay the bills while I worked on my acting skills. Occasionally the Saks fashion director would take pity on me, scoop a designer dress out of her designer trunk, and toss it at me like a designer bone. But most of the time the fine ladies of the fashion office costumed me in some type of designer synthetic fur with matching ears. I wanted Chanel, I got Peter Rabbit.

When I moved to New York, I hooked up with a modeling agency that booked a lot of B-level runway shows in the outer boroughs, on tacky cruise ships, in Long Island country clubs. Contrary to Pittsburgh, it seemed that every young woman in Manhattan towered over me. They were taller, thinner, had better bone structure, and carried beautiful portfolios of amazing photos taken in exotic places. There I was, the girl from the Golden Triangle, trying to be glamorous, trying to be something, anything, trying to pay my rent.  I knew I didn’t have the looks for print modeling, but thought I might have some runway success. But in New York, there was way too much competition. Even snagging the lesser shows involved hand-to-hand combat. I couldn’t even get a Cupid gig.

Better, I thought, to stick to the piano. There were tens of thousands of aspiring models in NYC, but only a handful of female pianists. Who knew? I like to tell people I quit the modeling business, but it would be more honest to say that it quit me. I escaped from the world of fashion and planted my skinny behind on a piano bench, a decision I’ve never regretted. Now, the only time I wear a designer dress is when it’s black, loose, and easy to accessorize. There’s a surprising assortment of choices if you’re willing to be invisible.

With my runway gig as an elder model here in Germany, I’m making a comeback from a career I never had. I’m thirty years too late and twenty pounds too heavy. I don’t know if the shoes are worth the catwalk down memory lane. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to let that Heather McCartney get ahead of me.

**

I tell my family.

“You? A model? On the catwalk?” say my two kids in unison, a teenage chorus of horror and disbelief. At least they’re not laughing.

“Sure,” says John, coming to my defense. “Your mom is a good walker. Just watch her walk.”

I pull in my stomach, toss my hair, and do a couple of loops around the dining room table, simultaneously sashaying and serving scoops of lentil salad. No one seems very impressed, by either the walking or the salad.

“You know,” I say to the kids, “I trained with one of the best walkers in the world. Tempest Storm!”

“Here we go,” says Curtis, rolling his eyes. “There’s a story coming, I can feel it.”

“Tempest Storm?” asks Julia. “What a name! Was she a model? Was she a Weather Girl?”

“Was she a runway trainer? Like Jorge?” says my son, who is a big fan of Jorge Alexis Gonzalez Madrigal Varona Vila, the Germany’s Next Top Model runway coach with the world’s longest name. Jorge (pronounced Hor-hay), a tall skinny Cuban guy who wears towering high heels covered in sequins, speaks broken German and shouts things like schtrut your schtuff Chica, Chica! at the girls as they schtruggle and schtumble on their platform shoes. It is impossible to not like Jorge.

“Well,” I say. “Tempest Storm was neither a model nor a runway coach. She was different from Jorge. She was, uh, a stripper.”

Silence.

This is not going well.

“A stripper? You took walking lessons from a stripper? Was she also a pole dancer? Mom, modeling in public is weird enough, but if you say you’re going to take your clothes off and pole dance I’ll have to go to school with a bag over my head.”

“No, Julia, no pole dancing. I don’t have the upper body strength. Anyway, many years ago—okay, like thirty years ago—I was hired as an actress to play the part of a stripper in an old fashioned Burlesque show. Tempest Storm was an aging, but very famous, real-life stripper. She was also in the show, and she gave me walking lessons.”

“Like Jorge!” says Curtis. “Chica, chica!”

“A little,” I say. “A little like Jorge. But Tempest had a tad more, shall we say, experience.”

***

Our girl, Tempest Storm, photo by Brian Smith. Tempest just celebrated her 84th birthday.

Our girl, Tempest Storm, photo by Brian Smith. Tempest just celebrated her 84th birthday.

I still remember Tempest standing behind me during a rehearsal at the Folly Theater in Kansas City, Missouri, her hands on my hips, whispering toe-heel, toe-heel in my ear as we coasted in sync—a tag team stripper machine gliding like twin Dorothy Hamills across an iceless stage floor. The spotlight threw blue light on us. Tempest was wrapped in a white satin robe with marabou trim, I was wearing rehearsal sweat pants, a Chatham College t-shirt and high heels. She was fifty-three, I was twenty-three. She had a curtain of red hair trailing over her graceful shoulders, breasts that defied gravity—I could feel them poking into my back—and the sexiest walk I have ever seen. I coveted that walk.

Tempest and I slithered to stage right and slid stage left—the key, she said to me, was to create a flow to my movement, to never let the audience sense my feet were hitting the floor. I should float above the stage, she said, my arms hovering like wings, my pelvis guiding each liquid step to a seamless soft-landing on the scarred hardwood floor.

I stood backstage every night and watched her. She was the opposite of invisible. She was a star, a floating star. I practiced and practiced and never got it right.

“Don’t worry, darling,” she said to me when I expressed my frustration. “You just need another thirty years of practice. I could teach you how to crawl, too, but that’s a lot harder.”

***

“Now’s my chance,” I tell the kids. “I’m going to channel Tempest Storm on the runway.”

“Forget Tempest, Mom,” says Curtis. “Go with Jorge.”

I show up on the day of the show and relax when I see that the clothes I’ll be modeling are hip and figure-friendly. Except for the jeans.  When did it happen that blue jeans, once the comfort pants of choice for leisure time and outdoor activities, became modern day persecution devices? The jeans assigned to me feature spaghetti legs and a zipper that’s about an inch high. Really. These jeans are so low my butt crack is showing. I look like a plumber, or an extra on the Prison Break set.

“I think you need a smaller size,” says Steffi, the dresser for the show.

“NOOOOO!” I say. “These are, uh, perfect. I can’t sit down in them, but they are perfect for, you know, walking.” The jeans are paired with very high green shoes. The shoes are fantastico. I am also wearing a loose orange cotton cardigan. Lucky for me, it disguises the muffin top created by the “waistband” of the jeans. Meanwhile, my actual waist is so far north of the waistband I feel like I’m wearing pants that are in a different postal code.

A festive scarf—bright orange, grassy green!—ties everything together. It’s almost time for the fashion show to start.

Excitement! There’s news. Heidi Klum’s mother is in the audience. I’ve played the piano a handful of times for the Klum family. I like them, mainly because they like music. But the idea of having to model in front of a supermodel’s mom strikes me as bizarre. All of the sudden I feel kind of vulnerable without my piano. I feel sort of, well, visible.

I text Curtis to tell him that Heidi’s mom is at the show.

“Ask her if she knows Jorge,” he writes back.

The other models, Andrea and Anke, are also “real” looking models, but they’re a little less real looking than I am, mainly because they are a good fifteen years younger. Maybe that’s what happens to women as we age. We become more real. The thought comforts me.

These jeans are killing me. I feel like I’m being eviscerated by the crotch seam. Death by denim. But I am double-Spanxed and determined to stay positive.

The things a girl will do for a pair of shoes.

The store is small, the runway is more of a gangplank than an actual catwalk, but many of Bergisch Gladbach’s most elegant ladies have shown up for a glass of champagne, a cupcake on a stick, a strawberry dipped in chocolate, and a chance to see the spring collection.

Here we go.

I fling my scarf over my shoulder—don’t we just love a fun accessory—and plop onto the runway on my green high heels.  The music blares. My titanium foot is holding up, my ankles aren’t wobbling, and I’ve got enough oxygen to suck in the muffin-top for the three minutes that I’m in the spotlight. So far, so good.

“Robin is wearing jeans by So and So of Italy,” says Dörthe. “The ‘boyfriend-jean look’ continues this spring—loose, relaxed, and comfortable.”

I’m glad they didn’t give me the tight jeans. God. These pants might well have been used as a medieval torture device.

Chaos reigns in the dressing room. Three models, one dresser, heaps of clothes on racks, in piles, on tables. It looks like my daughter’s bedroom, times three. Shoes and straw handbags  (800 Euro!) sit on every surface. Somehow Steffi holds it together but she counts on us to stay organized.

Once I peel off the jeans, I’m in heaven. Now I get to wear silky tunics with ankle boots, stretchy dresses with leather jackets, full skirts and linen tops, and oh, oh, oh, the shoes!

I’m in a footwear-induced twilight coma—wondering which pair of these shoes I should select for myself—when I step onto the runway in a taupe silk shift with a soft leather jacket. Gorgeous.  I smooth down the dress and realize I’ve put it on inside-out. Not good. What to do.

“Look—it’s reversible!” I say. No one seems to mind, the champagne is flowing, and to tell you the truth, the dress looks pretty good no matter how you wear it.

I also have a misstep with a shoe that’s not properly buckled. I’m wearing the powder pink pumps with the ankle strap—the shoes that seduced me into this situation in the first place. Once I reach center stage I realize my foot is flopping around in the shoe. I can’t walk properly so I have to slide and shuffle to make my way. Too bad I never mastered crawling with Tempest Storm. It would come in handy right about now.

Chica, chica!

We are scheduled for two shows. On the break in between, I take myself out to lunch. It’s probably not very model-like to have a pig-dog lunch in the middle of a show day, but I am starving. Besides I know I’ll have to put those jeans on again in a few hours and I’ll need the energy to get them over my hips. So I order a salad and a giant baked potato. There.

I sit in the chi-chi restaurant by myself, watching the beautiful women out for a Saturday latte or espresso. There are so many of them here in the land of Heidi Klum, each one thinner, taller, and more picture-book lovely than the next.

The smaller the town, the tighter the pants. The higher the heel, the younger the girl.

They enter the restaurant and look around, waiting to be noticed. I wonder, if like me, they will need three decades to figure out that it’s way more fun to be heard than it is to be seen. I doubt Tempest, Heidi, Heather, or Jorge  would agree with me, but that’s okay.

I dig into my potato, take out my notebook and start writing, grateful, once again, to be invisible.

Next show at 2:00.

**

Robin Meloy Goldsby is the author of Piano Girl, Rhythm, and Waltz of the Asparagus People.