Archive | October, 2012

Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting in Japan

It took three flight attendants six days to reach Thailand. Inbetween getting bumped from flights left, right and centre, was Japan. We could have been there four days prior, as a much closer Asian pit stop towards Thailand, but nooooooo. Fatima warned us that Japan would blow our whole budget. We made that decision four days ago, NOT, to fly to Japan when we got stuck in Detroit, albeit, free breakfast at our airport hotel. And Los Angeles, where we we had to con our way through a drive-through at 2 in the morning, seeing as we were pedestrians from across the motel way.

And you know what? After being bumped off with our stand-by passes, once again, here we were, exactly where we didn’t want to be. On our way out of the Japan airport I spotted a small cue card and an old-fashioned hotline phone with a shuttle to the White, or maybe it was White-house airport hotel, and they picked us up. Airport identity in hand, we asked for the best price considering our “status.” They countered with, $99, 3 beds, one room. Well within our means, and robes included in our stay!

We never did see Japan beyond the robes, and this hotel because we were so busy trying to get to Thailand (shame on us for not going with the flow.) One thing I learned, was that nothing I planned on this trip was going to happen. Originally, I had planned to do the trip with my friend Audrey, who had left 7 days earlier. I wasted alot of time trying to figure out how I could catch up to her in Thailand. I was preoccupied and completely not into the trip I was in, because I didn’t think it was the trip I was “fated” to be on. It took weeks, maybe months, before I realized that where I was at each moment, was exactly where I was supposed to be.

That night, the whole room shook with an earthquake, which set us into different coping strategies. Carmi, calmly took the “earthquake emergency binder” from the desktop, and we scrambled for the door frame entrance. Then it was over. I called downstairs, and I received a polite confirmation.

We were too fatigued from the earthquake to explore Japan, so we headed back to the airport the next day for a second chance at two flights that would draw us nearer on the Asian map. And then…we got bumped again, from both flights, and ended up, fully robed back at the same hotel.

After two nights in a Japanese Airport hotel, we finally scored a flight to Singapore. We spent the night in the airport and bought tried and true confirmed tickets to Bangkok, Thailand for the same eventual morning.

The truth is, we weren’t stuck anywhere. Everything that happened fell into place. Just not the place we drew in our limited brains. The trip was nothing I expected. The road to Thailand exceeded all my expectations. Maybe lowering my expectations is not the right mantra. Being more open to change and going with the flow would have been a better choice. But again, if anything had happened any differently, I wouldn’t have grown into the person I am becoming now. In the words of my friend Alexis, sometimes you discover through interacting with others, “you’re not as easy going as you THINK you are.” Enough said.

Skiing The Slippery Modelling Slope

The truth is that I was pigeon-toed. To remedy my abnormality I was prescribed blue suede shoes with a leather strap attaching them at the back so my feet pointed outward. As I hopped around the house every evening and slept in them, my knees ached. I hated sleeping in them, as I could only sleep on my back, and longed to turn over. At some point every night, I kicked them off from agony. When my feet grew, toe holes were cut for me to poke through. Every time they got remotely comfortable, and I use that term loosely, the screws situated at each heel were tightened with precision. I was sure that I had never seen anyone walking like a duck in real life, so why was I doomed to sleep in these suede life-suckers?

To help me out, my parents enrolled me in Verna Williams school of modelling. Her studio was a mirrored runway in the basement that ended in a three way mirror. I was too young to make notes in my binder so Verna made notes of each pivot, with detailed instructions, hoping to improve my gait.

After dinner, my father would open the binder, and read out all the instructions as I walked balancing a book on my head from one end of our basement bungalow to another. One foot in front of the other (sans suedes), pivot, shoulders back, don’t drop the book, turn, walk, chin up, and pose. It felt dutiful and soldier-esque. I think that I have always been self conscious about my walk since I went from Pigeon-toed, to duck-toed, to book balancing, to hip slinging one foot right in front of the other.

In my still pre-teen years, I hit one more modelling school aptly name X-Plosion. By this time, I had full on braces, this time, on my teeth. I learned to swing my hips to “Boogie Woogie Woogie Woogie Dancing Shoes…Keep me dancing all night…” It was a little fast tempo but it was funky. Ever since then, I cannot walk in any mall or lobby or plane without timing each step to the beat of the music. I also learned to count my poses from head to toe and sway side to side to hit all the possible photographic angles. I have no idea what my brace face was doing. I was too busy counting the poses, all 25 of them. You know, showcase the earrings, point at the necklace daintily, the fingers through the hair move, the flip your collar up move. This was followed by the touch the buttons move, cross the arms, cross one arm, hand on the hip, on both hips, on no hips, hands folded, hands behind the back move. Next was the look at your watch move, or look in the distance with a salute move. All the while shifting my weight on the left leg, then the right, like I was skiing a slippery modelling slope. I have to say, it helped me out of some pose blocks when I started my plus size modelling career at 19.

Feet and teeth braces off, I answered an ad in the paper for models size 12 and up. I thought, oh great, I think I can do that. My dad took some good  photos of me in exaggerated leaning poses with way too much makeup and hairspray and I brought them in to my interview with an agency in Toronto. They arranged my first photo shoot at my expense. I paid $600 for yet another course. Professional makeup, lighting, photography and some gentle direction landed me some surprisingly decent photos.

The first “go see” I had was Sears Catalogue. I lied as per agency instructions and told them I was 23 instead of 20. I had my first, awkward photo shoot. I brought my neutral shoes and hose in a grocery bag. I smiled big for that camera.  I threw my head back with imagined confidence and chutzpa. I stood far and wide with hands boldly on my hips. I had to do my own hair and makeup (way too much teasing and poof from hair spray, but it was the 90’s after all).

The next week, the entire photo crew walked into Swiss Chalet restaurant while I was waitressing. There I was in my puffy swiss blouse, red-bibbed apron, spice nylons and white deck shoes. I took great pains to avoid their section at all costs, hiding my face, slipping off to the kitchen, back towards them at all times. They greeted me on the way out at the cashier bar, by name. I was mortified. But then, they smiled warmly and said, “By the way, Sears like you.” My face was flushed with embarrassment. Later I learned that most models do have jobs outside of modelling, often in the restaurant business and I did not have to pretend that I am making ends meet simply from my illustrious modelling career, and particularly, after one photo shoot with Sears Department Stores.

But every time I hear the Michael Bolton sing “put on my blue suede shoes and I…I boarded the plane….” I think of how far I’ve come. From wearing torturous blue-suede shoes with horrible screws to keep my knees from venturing inward…to walking the basement balancing a book on my head…to starting a plus size modelling career at 19 in Toronto… segwaying into an airline career 8 years later, where I board a plane numerous times per month. I am not sure they correct “pigeon toed” children the same way these days. I have often seen models on the red carpet posing as such to show off their figures. But in my song, the blue suede shoes are a bittersweet memory. And if that is what it took to get me from there to here, then, I am very grateful for walking that path. For that is what it took for me to get from there, to here.

A Chance Meeting in Cameroon

Photo and article by Paula Erskine.

I met an Irish priest on one of my flights who invited me to visit his mission in Ngoundere, Cameroon. There was no way to send word as internet and phones were not available at that time. So one day I flew into Ngoundere airport and asked someone to drive me to the mission. It was a bold move on my part, but I did receive that broad invitation, so I grabbed it and dropped in. They seemed glad and the touring began with a trip to Berem village down a dirt road into the bush. It was just my fate to arrive when I did and discover these beautiful people resting after a long journey. I was told they were from the Bororo Tribe (nomads). They were travelling with their children, grandmother, cow and no men in sight. Some of them had very light eyes and lighter complection. Their clothes were very colourful, almost Indian especially the tops they were wearing. Their faces were tatooed for decoration with plant extracts, although this did not apply to the children or the one teen-ager that travelled with them.

I tried to ask for permission to take their photos as best I could. This woman was the only one who smiled at me. But why should they? It was west Africa. They were tired from their journey. I asked and pointed at the flat, beaded covers on the bowls. They moved one cover and showed me the butter. I wanted them to know that I admired them for being so strong, so beautiful and incredibly resilient. On the way home, we picked up a hitchhiking woman from a different tribe on her way to market to sell some silver jewellry to raise money for a wedding. The driving, translating priest helped me to negotiate for some exotic bracelets. The woman said I could bite it, it was solid silver. It was coiled over and over delicately and attached with chains to rings that formed daisies made from more coils. That was a fateful trip where I invested in handmade, priceless adornments and bought most of her collection that would be sold at the market we were taking her to. I was amazed that the priest could communicate, joke with both of us and drive a roughed-in road at the same time. Shopping in a pick up truck with a personal translator in Africa was one of the best experiences I had in Cameroon. It was a long, perfect day with much more to tell.

Caught on Jazz You Tube Video-A Blast From My Past

I appear halfway through this Jazz video by John Stetch filmed in Halton hills. I was wondering where I put that darn vcr tape and when am I going to convert it for old time’s sake, when I thought, “hey, maybe it’s on you tube.” I was hired through a friend and it was a great opportunity to for a few minutes of fame. We did a few fun projects together in film! This was filmed in 1995. The wardrobe? It was a Tristan black dress in a stretchy, cottony, jersey material that has a simple ribbon crossover detail at the front that I cannot bring myself to give away. The dress is in almost perfect condition until now, no pilling, and I wore it upteen times! I was teased for wearing it almost every week! But nothing compared to that dress. Black tall boots were my trademark. I still like how boots can give a feminine shape some edge. Blast from the past. Very glad someone uploaded the video to you tube and that I found it after all these years. Shortly after the video was shot, John Stetch the Jazz pianist went on to play in New York.