Hello to Marilyn. He’s 28, from Las Vegas, working Santa Monica Blvd. in L.A. and charged $30 for this photo by Philip-Lorca diCorcia.
This was the image I chose for a writing prompt in my experiments in nonfiction writing class two years ago. It’s part of the many inspiring and random photos that were on display for the Real to Real exhibit in the De Young Museum in 2012.
Here is the resulting essay from this photo:
They promised me things, too, darling. They said I could be the lights, too.
It’s those flickers of dull and zenon balls from headlights on the street, out of focus, to your right. That’s Los Angeles. Santa Monica Boulevard. You are Santa Monica Boulevard. It is the place of boy lovers, drug addicts, displacement. You are part of Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s 1990-1992.
He’s given your past and present. Your past is in the name: “…28 years old, Las Vegas, Nevada, $30.” $30 is the present, the payment for your face in a last sitting.
Was any of this your idea?
Do you think you’re worth $30?
What is $30 to you? Does it buy you your dreams? Time? Time for what, more of it to get you where you want to go?
Everyone wants to go to Hollywood. Get famous. Find fame and fortune in La La Land. What I did get was here. Fog, hills, a cold deep bay graced by a city with a clustered skyline of eco-friendly fluorescent bulbs. Here is where I go for dreams, here is looking into your face, your stillness.
I won’t gloat, that’s not my style. I’m no better than you in my existence, my corporeal form looking onto your framed flat portrait. Because we are two persons alike, two persons having a staring contest. The first to blink is afraid of the other’s judgment.
Darling I pass no judgment. I am in wonder.
I step closer. Red lips, crooked teeth, hazel eyes. Cat eyes. You wear the cat eyes here. I do envy you. Caked face—hairy arms, and natural tits, too. And broad shoulders. A sensual figure. You think the world of yourself, babe.
You’re a worker on graveyard shift, the placard’s telling me. That’s cool. But it must get lonely. You probably grow uncertain of yourself in the tattered black wig that mounts that pretty head. Uncertain and alone. That why that boy behind you lurks with his back against the wall? He’s got cool white kicks. You probably traded yours in for some pumps to exaggerate the red. This black-haired dazzle that’s drenched in red. The dress. The lips. All your perfection on display, for drivebys to see how passionate you’d become to the one who’d kiss you to make you feel whole.
The lights are already out of the frame. Are the streets setting onto a hopeful night? It looks like you won’t be sleeping. You’re wide awake, posed alert and in grace eerily like the blonde that gentlemen preferred or some liked hot. She is not more—but you’re still here.
I’m still here. Still in the moment, this place where I’m also wishing for drivebys and encores and café sitters on a Friday night who give a damn about my words when I take the mic between my fingers. My red is in the ink I put down on cheap paper, the things I wish I could express. The place I want to find fortune.
There goes a song lyric that plays, “Don’t you know people write songs, about girls like you.”
Don’t you wish they were to you?
Because when you do hear one, you won’t swoon to me. You’ll cry.
This place is at twilight—Santa Monica Boulevard will become the dark space. I’ve already seen me in this darkness, but I won’t lose myself in the reflection I see. I am a blur—not yet consumed.
A French couple takes you in, speculates your damning portrait while I step back and leave you there.