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I am sitting in a windowless box surrounded by cranky toddlers and over-engaged moms and it is hot. The clock hanging on the wall hasn’t moved for at least 15 minutes, the only magazine I have is an Us Weekly from 4 months ago and the know-it-all next to me is talking to the frazzled thing next to her about sleep training. “It is important that they cry it out …” she says too loudly. I’m glad my daughter can’t hear a word of it. She’s watching Taylor Swift’s Wildest Dreams on my phone, headphones planted around gorgeous ears, quietly singing the words, “… he’s so tall and handsome as hell …” It is, most certainly, inappropriate for a 2-year-old to say the words “handsome as hell” but no more inappropriate than the idea of Ferberizing.
Why am I even here? I got into the baby/toddler model business a few months ago because my daughter is extremely cute and has very natural instincts. Also because I have a deep need to out-earn my rich wife and turning our baby girl into a model was my genius idea to achieve that goal.
And this is where the magic happens. In windowless boxes surrounded by misplaced aspirations and sparkly headbands. An “open casting call” is its official name but most refer to them as “cattle calls” and this is how they feel. Young children and parents, almost all moms, crowd together waiting to be paraded in front of an exhausted casting agent who has a very specific idea of what he or she wants to eat. Some get called back, most don’t and Gap Baby dreams die slow deaths.
I look at the clock again. It hasn’t moved. I look at my Us Weekly. Gwen Stefani is still married to Gavin Rossdale. I look at my daughter. She is quietly singing “… he’s so bad but he does it so well …”
“Let’s go …” I try and whisper.
“WHAT PAPA?” She screams back without removing her headphones.
“Let’s get some ice-cream …” I tell her while turning off Taylor.
She doesn’t even have to think, hopping off her chair and saying, “OK!” at the same time.
Some get called back, most don’t and Gap Baby dreams die slow deaths.
Outside, I lob our wrinkled cattle number into the nearest trashcan and this will be the last of modeling for her until she is 18. I am officially throwing in the towel and I tell her this while we walk to the car. She smiles and I can only hope she is experiencing the delicate joy of giving up.
Giving up was first taught me by my own mother and I will always remember the lesson. I was 17, a junior in high school, and living with my parents, brother and sister, in the backwater town of Coos Bay, OR. University loomed on the horizon and with it Los Angeles but there was still a year of working, scraping, saving. My parents were not rich.
I got a job busing tables at a restaurant/inn named the Red Lion. People thought it was fancy because it had floor to ceiling windows with views of tugboats in the bay and maybe a chandelier. It served twice-baked potatoes alongside sirloin.
I was assigned to the dinner shift but was poorly suited for the work. My memory is terrible so I could never remember drink orders. My dexterity is questionable so I would drop dirty dishes and once poured water all over an elderly woman. I put my head down and tried my hardest but was always making silly mistakes.
After three weeks, the manager called me into this cluttered office and told me that the rest of the crew was in fifth gear but I was in third and slowing everything down. I went home defeated.
My mom saw me, hung dog at the kitchen table later that night and asked me what the problem was. I told her. She said, “Quit. Who cares? Life is too short for that sort of thing.”
I couldn’t believe it. “Really?” I asked. “Like, I don’t have to give my 2 weeks?”
“Of course not,” she responded. “It’s just a job. They can find someone else.”
Staring down injustice is one thing; staring down a crummy Cinnabon shift leader is quite another.
I was beyond elated, having expected a more traditional, “Well, it is important to be trustworthy … other people are counting on you … develop a good work ethic … etc. etc,” response. But in that very moment I knew she was right. It was a just a job, a minimum wage one at that. I was not saving the world. I was not curing cancer. I immediately grabbed a paper bag, stuffed my twice-baked uniform inside and scribbled “I QUIT” on it! My father drove me back and I threw it, with all my might, at the glass door.
Of course, there is a time to steel the backbone and fight. There is a time to dig in, grit teeth, and go down with the ship. It’s good — even American maybe — to refuse defeat. The problem is, we’ve made the mistake of applying that ideal equally to every situation.
Staring down injustice is one thing; staring down a crummy Cinnabon shift leader is quite another. Life is too short and some things, like dumb jobs, crap relationships, dull books, pointless movies, and rotten vacations need to be dumped quickly, with a laugh, and never looked back upon.
I’m forever indebted to my parents for letting me quit. If I hadn’t quit my first, bad marriage 15 years after quitting the Red Lion, I never would have met my amazing, rich wife and our little ex-supermodel would not be holding my hand and we would not be marching away from the cattle milling about in a stew of dying dreams. In the end, toddler modeling is a waste of a sunny day, and I will teach the apple of my eye to never waste a sunny day on work. Or a junk marriage.
Still, I need to monetize her. I refuse to let my amazing, rich wife continue to waste her sunny days on work, too.
While we are driving to ice cream, I distractedly take a hill too fast and we almost soar into the air. I look back, once we are under control, to see if she is ok. Her hands are in the air and she is howling “Woooooooo! Whoooooooh! Papa! Faster!” Maybe she will be a race-car driver. Danica Patrick is worth $18m.
Cocktail Recipe That Celebrates Giving Up (Because Now You Have More Time)
- 1 lime
- 1/2 tablespoon sugar in the raw
- 5 mint leaves
- (muddle into high ball glass)
- 2 oz rhubarb puree
- Soda water
Chas Smith is a hyper-ironic surf journalist and bon vivant from Coos Bay, Oregon. He has written for Vice, Surfing Magazine, Stab Magazine,Esquire.com, and is the cofounder of Beachgrit.com. His book latest book is Welcome To Paradise, Now Go To Hell.