Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hanging with the Fashionistas

Friday afternoon I listened to a message on my answering machine from Gloria, the animal agent in California who got Bugger his Tidycats ad.  Gloria sounds like she's been smoking since she was twelve and bit loopy.  She was bidding on a job in Manhattan that needed a Maine Coon for a designer's fashion shoot.  The job requirement was for a brown or "orange" Maine Coon that could sit, stay and be held by a model at the very upscale Carlisle Hotel.  Remembering my last fiasco with a $115 parking ticket, stuck in traffic for four hours on the way home, and having to bug Gloria for my $250 check, I hesitated.  How much?  $350 for a four-hour half-day, $500 if we went over four hours plus paid parking.  The client pays the agent by credit card immediately so she could send me my check the next day.  I was interested.

Not having a lot of details, I envisioned a photo shoot in the vast lobby of a grand hotel.  I needed a cat that wouldn't get freaked out in the arms of a tall, skinny woman in heels and expensive clothes, clawing his way out of her arms.  I also wanted to bring a cat of my own breeding, born in my house.  My boys aren't good at being held.  My girls are pretty amiable.  Of the brown tabbies, should I take Olivia or Myra?  Olivia has a better head type and is very feral looking, but I looked at Olivia's coat.  Even with a bath, she would look scraggly.  Olivia had to have a major trim with her last litter and she doesn't look too regal.  Myra, on the other hand, has a warm brown, low maintenance coat that wouldn't even need to be bathed.  I submitted professional pictures that Helmi Flick had taken of Myra years ago and at 10:30 that night finally got confirmation that we had the job.  They wanted a cat whose color went with the earth tones of the background.  Be there by 1 pm tomorrow.  Good thing because I'd already packed up the large travel cage, litter box, food and grooming supplies in the van.

Myra's portfolio shot at 8 months old - photography by Helmi
Myra and I made the uneventful 2 1/2 hour trip with one stop to clean up poop and another at PetSmart to grab the black harness and retractable leash Gloria recommended just in case.  Black doesn't show up on camera as much and all I had in the way of a harness was bright purple.  Fortunately, I had remembered how much Myra drools in the car and had put two bibs on her prior to leaving. 

We parked in the garage adjacent to the hotel on 76th Street and found our way to the 22nd floor.  A man with a foreign accent named Mark who fit the stereotype of a male designer let me in the suite complete with kitchen, two bedrooms and a major sitting area where the photo shoot was to take place.  Everyone else was in Central Park and should be back in an hour.  I took Myra out and we made ourselves comfortable in the majesty of the room.  The pictures I took with my cell phone don't do it justice.  It had a 16-foot ceiling, fireplace, antique furniture, built in bookcases, grand piano, views on three sides, bouquets of flowers, book collections on art and photography.  Mark got me a glass of sparkling water, invited me to share in the food they'd had brought in, showed me around then left me there alone while he went outside to smoke a cigarette.  Me and my cat, my bags, cat hair already covering my navy pants, carrier that smells faintly of cat pee.  Everytime after I combed Myra I had to dispose of the gob of hair that she was nervously shedding.  I admit that a few times I just tucked the hairball under the skirt of the upholstered chair.  I'm sure they have people to take care of a little cat hair.  Yep, I belonged here.

Myra tries to relax in her luxurious surroundings

I sat in the room on a comfortable chair with Myra and as different people entered the room, each introduced him or herself as if I was important.  A blond lady named Poppy told me she worked with Serge, like that meant something to me.  I found out later that Serge is the designer of the Paule Ka brand that was paying for all this.  When people noticed the cat, they lit up.  I got lots of attention as they petted and admired my reason for being there.  If you're visiting another country, trying to get around in Manhattan, something as real and down to earth as a cat brings out the best in you.  I heard about every one's pets at home and growing up.  A model from Japan who lives in New York told me about her puppy and asked my advice on how to handle him as she's pretty frustrated with his constant barking. 

Several times, three or four people would join me in the sitting room; apparently not much to do but sit and wait in the fashion world.  I had a very funny conversation with three gay men I can't go into details about.  One woman played and sang at the piano for half an hour.  She was good, but the piano was loud and Myra was scared.  I tried to discreetly keep her ears covered with my hands. 

Although everyone spoke English, when together some spoke their native language which I recognized as French; I took Spanish in school, not French.  Fortunately, none of them smelled like the French citizens I remember from my trip to Europe in 1987.  I felt like a minority American in New York City.  In the surroundings with the accents, I could easily have been in Europe.  I only met two models, the rest were photographers, assistants, lighting, make-up and hair people.  There were also extra people who just seemed to be there to hang out.  All European, of course.  And here I was...American, short, frumpy, not-so-slender, heterosexual, covered in cat hair, and probably sporting residual chicken poop on my shoes.  

I was told that after the photo shoot in the park was over, they would then have to shoot in the hotel restaurant.  Restaurant management was being really particular and granted them exactly one hour, starting at 3:30.  Myra and I got pushed back.  Fine.  I knew if I was there past 5 pm, I was getting more money.  I fed Myra turkey from the finger sandwiches so she was relatively happy.

Then Kelsey called to report that our 5-month-old black kitten, Lulu (formerly "Alice Walker" of the Poet Litter), couldn't walk without falling over and had her head tilted to the right.  It sounded serious and Kelsey was home alone.  I called my husband Jay.  He should be home in 10 minutes and would look at Lulu.  Our vet's office closes at noon on Saturdays, but I knew that the answering service would page the vet-on-call for that weekend and have that person call back in an emergency.  It's nice knowing that a vet who knows you will be there for advice so the only choice isn't an emergency vet clinic where the costs go up and the care is usually a shot in the dark.   I had Jay take Lulu's temperature so he'd have something to tell the doctor.  It was normal.  My vet called Jay and spoke to him, concluding it didn't sound like an emergency and if it were neurological he couldn't tell anything without an MRI anyway.  Jay said Lulu didn't seem to be in any pain when he moved her legs and she was eating.  He confined the kitten to Kelsey's room so she wouldn't try to walk around.   I breathed a sigh of relief and tried to put Lulu out of my mind as it looked like Myra's moment was finally coming to pass. 

Myra, who had looked so calm and relaxed in the chair for the past four hours, tried to hide under my arm as the room filled with equipment and lighting guys manipulating noisy reflectors around the lights on 8-foot stands.   Music was played on the stereo which further frightened the cat, but since Serge the designer himself had arrived and requested it, I didn't feel it was my place to ask them to turn it down.  The human model, whose name I don't remember, was from Hungary.  A beautiful girl, probably 6-feet tall.  She looked like a model should look, but I took pleasure in noticing that she had an overbite.  Not a lot of orthodontists in Hungary, I guess.  The model talked to me and petted Myra while they fussed over her hair and make-up. 

Myra's human model is prepped.  Designer Serge Cajfinger is in the background by the window.

After the model was situated on the couch and the hair spray had settled, I finally got to do what I came there for.  I was officially titled a "cat trainer".  Some of them even asked me how many animals I train.  Hey, I just breed and show Maine Coons.  I don't know what their expectations were, but I placed Myra on the back of the couch, her tail hanging down luxuriously and told her to stay.  Myra looked at me, eyes wide, but she stayed put.  She would remain where I put her for about five minutes at a time until someone unintentionally frightened her.  If a person came in through the door behind her, she darted under a chair.  If the hairdresser rushed in to fix the model's hair, Myra bolted.  The photographer finally realized the problem and ordered everyone away from the doorway so Myra wouldn't get spooked.  She tried to get the hair dresser to slow down, but he never got it.  After about an hour of posing Myra, getting her to face forward, fetching her out from under the chair and placing her back on the couch, lights flashing until they blew a fuse, we were done.  Overall, Myra did very well and stayed put long enough for them to take well over a hundred shots. She looked great, although she kept her ears sideways for most of the shots so she appears angry. 

I got home around 9 pm.  My immediate diagnosis of the kitten Lulu is that she has an ear infection so I've started her on amoxicillin until she can see the vet. 

Meanwhile, I'm SO proud of Myra.  Taking her out three years after she's finished showing when all she's done since is stay home and have kittens is asking a lot of a cat.  Myra is normally a very passive cat, somewhat on the shy side, but always very tolerant of what I've asked of her.  She's in a children's book, but that was an easy photo shoot at a cat show when she was very young.  I was told that the ad should be in Vogue, along with other fashion magazines, around September.  I'll keep you posted.


  1. I love it! I used to work at a big advertising agency and spent many a long day at photo shoots. So proud of sweet Myra. It can't be easy for even a grown human to behave for that long, let alone a kitty! I'm sure she will be beautiful!

  2. Great post! Can't wait to see the final ad! Please post it on your blog when it comes out. Also..... how's Lulu?

  3. Thanks Anon. I'll be sure to put Myra's ad up when it comes out like I did with Bugger's Arm & Hammer ad. Regarding Lulu, thank goodness I was right and it was just an ear infection. Lulu is feeling much better now. Thanks for asking.

  4. She looked like a model should look, but I took pleasure in noticing that she had an overbite. Not a lot of orthodontists in Hungary, I guess.

    As I understand it, in Hungary and a number of other countries, people pay attention to the other parts of a model's body than her teeth. It is a testimony to United States orthodontics that they have managed to convince Americans to look a girl in the mouth. I have noticed an increase in the last few years in products concentrating on pet teeth and breath. I hope Myra brushed and flossed and used a good breath freshener before her photo shoot.

  5. Great story! Very interesting writing. And I am, of course, taking credit for having more than one famous grandcat. Not to mention a wonderfully creative daughter!

  6. Hi Sharon, Have been following this blog and laughing at the NYC dialog (we were there this weekend also with cat fur intact and feeling rather frumpy vis a vis NYC) but also worrying about Lulu. Her brother continues to grow, be very wonderful and very responsive to humans and generally be a super animal. Hopefully Lulu is now 100%. Tell her that her brother managed to identify and knock off a bat flying around our house tonite - a hard act to follow!

  7. going back to Howard's comment - in some countries an overbite is considered sexy. here, it isn't enough that the teeth must be straight, but there is this overemphasis on teeth whiteness.
    Can't wait to see the ad (and glad no parking issues).