Mindy wants to know, did any of the Nude Models call and if so, when the hell are they getting here? She doesn’t have all day to wait, you know.
Here, in the School of Art Dean’s Office, my days often go like this:
I sit at the desk closest to the door, across from my immediate boss, Kay, the Assistant to the Dean, who is a Super Human and made of cotton candy and lemonade and who knows every single one of the maintenance men and women by name.
A pencil-thin painting professor walks in. She asks me when the Dean is free for a lunch meeting. I pretend to scroll through his empty calendar, knowing very well that the Dean has one of his Champagne-migraines today from last night’s photography students’ gallery opening in Red Hook, and that he won’t be meeting with anyone.
“Booked solid,” I say, and Painting Professor begs me for a chance at sushi with the Dean, because the department pays for it, and because she’s proposing a new class, which I never remember the name of. Every new class proposal exists in my memory as Underwater Basket Weaving 101.
I tell her I’ll talk to the Dean, and she leaves. A student walks in looking confused. “Where is room 104?” he asks. Room 104 is quite literally down the secret hallway that one can only reach when you’ve passed through room 108. I draw him a map, but I suspect he’ll be back.
Acid Cat strolls in looking for food. He is one of the two-dozen ex-show cats that live on this institute’s campus. Acid Cat is so named because he’s been drinking the acid in the photography studio for years, which has either claimed four of his nine lives, or subsequently makes him a supervillain. I like to believe it’s the latter.
Today I feed him leftover yogurt and warn him not to use the bathroom on the Dean’s paperwork as he has done countless times before.
But this is not all that happens today. The memories that inhabit my mind I’m sure are not exact, but more or less go like this:
Like clockwork, Mindy, the director of the Fine Arts foundation year, is screaming in the office. She is a sixty-something ornery woman from Florida, now living in New York City. She comes into the office once a day, sometimes more, to punch the copier silly and talk to herself about how life is futile and we all just grow old and die anyway, so really, truly, Jesus H. Christ, what the hell’s the point? And by the way, do I know if we got any more of that good shiny paper that Alice from Finance hides in her office?
Mindy says, “Screw this copier,” and a couple of other things I imagine a good Southern woman probably ought not to say, and storms out of the room.
Alice pops her head in and says, “Is Mindy here?”
“She’s hunting you down,” I say, and Alice slips into the office, holding a wad of paychecks to drop off.
“Is Kay here? I’ve got the goods.” She fans herself with the envelopes.
“Michael’s family is in town this weekend. Kay’s dropping them off at the airport.”
“Yikes,” Alice says. “What do you think happened this time?”
“Could it be worse than last time?” I ask. I am referring to the last time Michael, Kay’s fiancé, received a visit from his family, all from the UK. In the midst of sorting through Kay’s wedding plans, Michael’s mother threw down the papers and vision boards and, in a fit of desperation, said, “Do Americans even have wedding cakes? Or is it going to just be a vat of green Jell-O?”
“Guard these with your life,” Alice says, and she drops the paychecks on my desk before peeking her head out the office door in search of a peeved Mindy. Then she scrams.
It is only then that I notice a student sitting on one of the couches looking confused. “Are you waiting for the Dean?” I ask.
Confused Student says, “I’m not a student.” And everything changes. “I’m a Figure Model.”
This is a Nude Model.
“One of the figure models! Yes, okay!” I say, and I’m jittery because this is the first time that I’m meeting, in person, one of the Nude Models that I spend countless hours talking to on a weekly basis. Each day, half a dozen young artistic types call the office begging for a chance to stand naked in the center of a room to be drawn by two dozen hungover art school freshman. I imagine the pay must be killer.
I feel as though this Nude Model and I are already old friends, recounting the times he’s called and asked things like: Hi, is Mindy there?
Hi, is Mindy there now?
Hi, this is my fifth time calling. I’m looking for Mindy.
Are you guys even still hiring?
So I’m just going to call Mindy direct, but I just wanted to thank you for being so patient with me these last few weeks.
Wow, so that Mindy, huh? She’s just—wow.
Now, Acid Cat is jumping on my desk, his whiskers coated in strawberry yogurt, asking for something with substance—tuna, perhaps?
“Mew,” Acid Cat says blandly.
“Is Mindy in?” Nude Model asks.
“Mindy’s in a meeting right now. I think. I mean, I’m pretty sure,” I lie again, because administrative duties are 50 percent filing forms, and 50 percent lying about where people are. “But if you’re willing to wait—”
Nude Model leans back on the minimalist gray couch and makes himself comfortable. “Of course.”
“Tea or coffee?” I offer.
“No thanks. Just Mindy,” he says. He’s persistent. Some might even say brave.
I tell Nude Model I’ll find Mindy in a jiff, so I walk into the hallway where I can see her attempting to use the Foundation Office’s copier.
“Mindy,” I say, “one of the nude—uh, Figure Models is here.”
“Which one?” she asks.
“A guy. I’m not sure.”
“Tall guy, skinny guy, fat guy? Which guy?” She slaps the copier.
“Maybe six foot, kind of thin, black hair.”
“Would we want to draw him naked?” Mindy asks. “Objectively, I mean.”
“Maybe you should just interview him,” I say. “You’re the professional and all.”
“Ugh, it’s fine. Tell him he’s hired,” Mindy says. “Hey, if you see that Alice,” she says, “you tell her she owes me a ream of that shiny paper!”
I hightail it back to the Dean’s Office where Kay is back and offering tea and coffee and cookies and probably her future first born child to Nude Model, who’s looking like he’ll do just about anything to get out of here by now.
“Hey,” I say. “When did you get in? How’d things—”
“He punched him,” Kay whispers to me.
“He what?” I say too loud. “Who?”
“Michael’s brother,” Kay says, and she looks over at Nude Model who can hear us, but is looking at an abstract painting of a rat on the wall in an attempt to make himself more comfortable.
“We were in the car driving them to the airport and just like that, Michael turns around in the back seat and his brother punches him.”
“What?” I ask.
“He’s going to have a black eye. It’s a mess,” Kay says. “Look, will you be okay alone for the rest of the day? Are things crazy?”
I look over at Nude Model who hears this. Even he knows the answer to this question by now. He grins a little because he just can’t help it.
“No, things are pretty calm today,” I lie. “I can cover.”
In strolls Acid Cat, who jumps onto my desk and crouches over the pile of paycheck envelopes.
“Is he—oh, he’s definitely—” says Nude Model. And like that, Acid Cat jumps down revealing a soaked pile of envelopes.
I stare, open-mouthed at Nude Model before saying, “I’m sorry for,” I look at the pile of envelopes, “all of this. Mindy says you’re hired.”
“Really?” he says. “Seriously, thank you. You’ve been a big help.” And I swear I hear Acid Cat snicker. I grab a wad of paper towel and dab at my desk and the envelopes.
“I hope you like cats,” Kay says. “They sit in on the drawing classes all the time.”
Acid Cat is rubbing his head on Nude Model’s hand now, and Nude Model says, “Oh, I love cats. What have you got there, bud?” In response, Acid Cat opens his mouth to drop what I imagine is the most substantially sized roach he could find on campus. Right there on the couch cushion beside Nude Model.
Before Kay, or Nude Model, or I can reel in horror, Nude Model says, “No, no, it’s okay!” He stands and backs up from the couch. “It’s dead.”
We all stare at the dead roach on its back and maybe—just maybe—we each feel a tinge of grief for the fallen roach. Acid Cat sits beside it, presenting his gift. Then the roach’s legs begin to stretch around frantically, and it rolls back and forth in an effort to crawl away. But Acid Cat refuses to let it live, so he grabs it in his mouth once more and bolts out the door to terrorize someone else.
It’s silent. Nude Model clutches his backpack in his hands and looks up at us.
“So,” he says. He clears his throat. “Do I start on Monday, or…?” M