Picture Perfect

It would appear that, for now at least, the forces of authoritarian evil have been defeated, and those of us who cherish democracy can get back to business as usual. Which in my case means returning to the job search. And since typical avenues of employment during the pandemic remain, uh, challenging for those of us of a certain age, there have been some truly out-of-the-box considerations. For instance, a suggestion that I pursue a career as a ‘mature’ model. You know, in case they’re still looking for someone to replace the Dos Equis guy.

But here’s why flooding local talent agencies with glossy headshots may not be the best idea.

My writing efforts have, for the most part, been met with spectacular indifference. Just check the number of followers I have amassed on this blog after eight long years. But there was that one shining moment long ago, that started with an innocuous email.

An editor from Newsweek Magazine was informing me that she would like to print one of my missives. Wait, what? One of the biggest periodicals in the country (with claims of 19 million readers at the time) wanted to publish my stuff? In all honesty, it had been so long since I sent the unsolicited piece that I had forgotten about it.

After changing my underwear I called the editor, who told me they would be running my essay some time in the next four to five weeks, just as soon as they could schedule a photo shoot.

Pictures? Of me?

“We like to include a portrait of the author with the column,” she explained.

Here’s the thing – as a subject, I am incapable of taking a good picture. Usually I’m caught in mid-gesture, with an odd look on my face, as if I’m about to say something. Even as a kid I was always squinting and grimacing uncomfortably in family photos. Some Native Americans held the belief that when you took their picture, you were taking a piece of their soul. I can relate.

But there was no point in arguing. It was Newsweek Magazine, after all.

“And we need to think about props, too. Something that ties in with the piece.”

This was turning uglier by the minute. “The piece” dealt with my conflicted feelings over ethnic diversity, manifested through a new tattoo that called out my Scottish ancestry.

“Do you have a kilt, or maybe some bagpipes?”

“Afraid not,” I answered. That was the point of the article – that I rarely even acknowledge my heritage, much less make a show of it. And then I caved. “I might be able to get my hands on a Scottish flag, though.” One was stored in a box somewhere, thanks to my late aunt. As the clan matriarch and repository of our collective history, she was my complete opposite. The woman reveled in the thought that we had descended from proud Celtic stock, all bearing a striking resemblance to Mel Gibson (I never had the heart to break it to her).

Despite being separated by an ocean and several centuries of haphazard cross-breeding, in her eyes we were still noble moor dwellers and God help the half-wit who didn’t know better or the family member who strayed from the fold. Anyone foolhardy enough to offer her a green hat or four-leaf clover to wear on St. Patrick’s Day might very well draw back a bloody stump.

“That would work. I’m going to pass your name on to our photo editor, who will contact you shortly to set something up.”

Several more phone calls and emails ensue before I’m on my way to meet Fabrizio, the photographer who will be doing the shoot. It was his idea to hold it in a tattoo parlor as a way to further tie in with the article. He also reassures me that it shouldn’t take more than a few hours to capture what he’s looking for. Really? It’s just the family badge on my upper arm – I could have snapped a picture of it with the camera on my phone and been done with it. I’m having second thoughts about all of this, especially the damned flag.

After some discreet inquiries, we are cleared to shoot a few photos around a “tat” in progress. It seems other people want to be in this picture more than I do. So the three of us (did I mention Fabrizio’s assistant?) squeeze into a tiny booth where a young woman is having something from Picasso etched on her shoulder blade. In order to get everything in the shot, I’m instructed to stand uncomfortably close to her. Fabrizio is also telling me to shift my weight around, try some different emotional looks, do whatever comes “natural.” At that particular moment the most “natural” thing I can think of is to run screaming from the building.

“Okay, let’s try a few with the flag.”

Shit – I was hoping he’d forgotten about it.

Now, this isn’t one of those tiny flags stapled to a wooden stick, like the kind kids wave around at a Fourth of July parade. This is a thing of substance, the size of a beach towel – what soccer hooligans drape themselves in as they’re squaring off with police in the stands at the World Cup finals. And to clarify, it’s not the “official” Scottish flag, a white X (the cross of St. Andrew) on a blue background, but rather what’s known as the Lion Rampant, the banner of the royal monarchy. Bright yellow and red, it has much more visual impact, in a garish sort of way.

Before long I’m draped in it, the assistant throwing it around my neck and carefully arranging the folds of material across my chest. Bunched up the way it is, though, it simply looks like a gaily colored scarf, a really big one. The shot is a test of all my new-found modeling skills, as I try desperately to conjure up a facial expression that conveys something other than ‘Kill Me Now.’ But, of course, things could always be worse.

“What if you took your shirt off and then we go with the flag?”

There’s a momentary silence while everyone in the room considers that scenario.

19 million readers. And me in need of a wax.

“I’d prefer to leave my nipples out of this,” I protest. “Let’s not.” There are some things for which even Newsweek doesn’t rate.

Fabrizio accepts defeat with a terse sniff and moves on, having me try several nuanced versions of the classic bicep-flexing “muscleman” pose. I’m pretty sure the tattooist, who looks like he should be rearranging someone’s features with a crowbar on Sons of Anarchy, chuckled audibly at that point. Finally, mercifully, the artist in Fabrizio can sense the energy in the room evaporating, so we head to the lobby for another excruciating session of stilted posing in front of the “samples” rack, sans flag. After two hours of torture and hundreds of photos, this was deemed the best of the bunch.

Despite my demands, they have never released the originals to me. And yes, I’m still looking for my soul. Which is why I think I’ll hold off on those headshots.

17 thoughts on “Picture Perfect

  1. FRIGGING NEWSWEEK! Almost famous….

    smile Cowtown Pattie

    On Fri, Jan 22, 2021 at 12:33 PM Lies Jack Kerouac told Me wrote:

    > Lies Jack Kerouac told Me posted: ” It would appear that, for now at > least, the forces of authoritarian evil have been defeated, and those of us > who cherish democracy can get back to business as usual. Which in my case > means returning to the job search. And since typical avenues of emp” >

  2. That is so awesome (yes, an overused word but, in this case, appropriate)! I hope you’ll let us know when your article is published. I recently had to submit a bio pic for something of mine to be published soon (not in anything as major as Newsweek, though) and it was a struggle. Fortunately, I didn’t have to expose any tattoos or nipples, or display a flag.

  3. As someone who takes a bad photo NO MATTER WHAT, I relate to this story. Also, I’m of Scottish descent but am almost ashamed to say that I’ve never thought of getting a tat to acknowledge said. Very cool that you had an article featured in Newsweek. I once wrote a letter to the editor of our small town newspaper and it was published. Same thing, right? 😉

  4. How absolutely fabulous! And I’m very glad you stuck to your guns and remained nipple free, because no one needs to see that with their morning coffee. 😉
    I can’t quite put make out the tattoo, but yours truly is Clan MacGregor and curious from which line you sprung.

    • As I have never researched my forebears, I had to look it up on wikipedia. We’re apparently an off-shoot of the clan Donald, enemy of the clan Campbell. But like I pointed out, there’s been a lot of mongrel blood mixed in since, so I can let bygones be bygones.

  5. Completely related to this- I wrote a glowing review of an on line course I took and the marketing folks for the program contacted me to ask for permission to use my “kind words.” Since it was an honest account of an excellent experience I said “Sure thing!” after which the follow-up email came asking for a photo to post with it- you know to prove I am a human and not a praise generating bot.. The only current photos I have of just myself are the “victory” ( aka “OMG I freakin made it” ) sweaty, flushed and somewhat blurry selfies at the summit of one of the NYS firetower hikes. Needless to say I had to get out of my quarantine sweats and spruce up a bit. Sending you good wishes on your continued job search and please do keep writing- I for one genuinely enjoy your humor.

  6. That’s really a fine photo. I hope they cut you a Newsweek sized check for the privilege of publishing you. I can’t think of anything worse than having to deal with a staff photog in those circumstances. They should have thrown some hazard pay in on top.

  7. My grandson Kyle was so excited when he called a week ago to tell me he is doing a cultural report and chose Scotland. Well thankfully my mom (your late aunt) indoctrinated me with all things Scottish. So I have been dragging out all the memorabilia and relics I have gathered over the years He will be able to include these items his report,, share with his classmates and even include a picture of Captain John Curry MacDougall and the story of the mutiny on his ship, Lambarga. The only thing that has stumped us is cultural food. Haggis has been a stumbling block. Having a hard time putting that on the TRI-fold board for his presentation. According to my DNA, my Scottish DNA is less than my Norwegian DNA (you know those pillaging and raping Vikings) but for me it tugs at my heart constantly. So I’ve put a trip in my very near future or the best I can do if a trip doesn’t work out, is my ashes have to go to Scotland. I do have interest in my ancestors and the tug of my ancestors on my heels.

  8. Getting an article published in Newsweek was a huge thing! But I can see how that photo shoot would have taken some of the fun out of it, especially the idea of taking your shirt off to drape your flag more artistically around you…. I think the photo they settled on is just fine, btw. Good luck with your job search, and here’s hoping you don’t have to pose for too many other photos. (I share your pain, because in my whole life, I’ve managed to have about a dozen decent photos of myself taken, and several thousand truly horrible ones.)

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