Daniel V. Klein © 2004
I was dreaming of cheese – that delectable curdling of rennet and whey, the nose-rich heady scent, the mouth-feel, the palette of flavors, the chiaroscuro for the tongue. I'd traversed the alphabet – asadero, boursin, colby, derbyshire – and sampled the depth and breadth of gustatory experience with mascarpone, mozzarella, morbiet, Monterey jack...
Mr. Shaw was a lovely man – he treated me like a lady, not just a sex-symbol. Oh sure, he was a photographer, but he didn't debase his models or himself. So when he asked to shoot me just walking on the street, I knew that it would be a nice experience.
Fontina, gruyere, havarti, jarlsberg, pecorino, quercy, Roquefort, vieux chimay, weynsleydale...
I had a love-hate relationship with the crowds. Of course, I loved the attention, but I hated how they leered at me. It wasn't just the men, either. You could smell their lust, it was primal, but the women lusted for something else. The men lusted for me, but the women lusted to be me. And at one level, who could blame them?
Thursday morning, same routine every week. Alternate side of the street parking, drive down the right side, and pick up the trash on both.
Gruyere, gjetost, gouda... I suppose you could call me a connoisseur. After all, what is a connoisseur but a gourmand with experience? And in my churchmouse-poor lifetime, I had a Rockefeller-wealth of experience. Castoffs all, but when you scrounge the castoffs of the finest, there is a variety few dream of. Caerphilly, camembert, chevre, cantelet...
And the waste is just fuckin' amazing! Christ, you could feed whole families on the food they pitch.
Everyone saw Marilyn, but nobody knew the real me. Norma Jean – the real me – wasn't a sex symbol. So I liked Mr. Shaw's idea of just walking. Everyone else would see Marilyn, but it would be Norma Jean who went for the walk. And I'll let you in on a little secret: Marilyn was fearless, but some things scared Norma Jean.
Most people never saw me. I was the shadow at night, and when I was spotted, I ran. When you live on the throwaways of the wealthy, you don't want to risk losing your supply.
Some folks – those shadows you see at night before trash pickup – they live off this stuff. Call 'em bums, but they're just tryin' to stay alive. There but for the grace of God go I... And thank God it's warm today. Not hot yet, but not cold no more. I don't know how they do it in the cold.
Do you know how hard it is to walk in heels? Well, some of you do, I'm sure. So you know that you have to keep looking down, so you can avoid the cracks and pocks, and avoid stumbling. Because no matter which of your personas is walking, you can't stumble. Nobody wants to fall on their face, especially not on a lovely spring day. Especially with Mr. Shaw walking with you.
Thank goodness it is finally getting warm outside. The subway tunnels are warm, but boy are they noisy. Hard to get any sleep down there.
Trash. Heaps of it, all up and down the street. What they pay me – I got enough to buy food and clothes, pay the rent, maybe have a beer and see a movie. Not much in my dustbins. But these rich shits... "con-spic-uous con-sum-ption", that's what they call it. I call it throw out half of what they buy.
And you know those subway grates? They are not the place to be in heels.
Whoa! Something woke me up, and it's not just the noise. Cheese! I smell cheese! And it is unmistakable, but unrecognizable. This is a new one on me. Where is it? What is it?
Down Park, hang a left and go across 48th, then down Lexington, back across 47th, and up Park. Then we'd cut East – rich shits all the way.
Something new, and the trash men are coming! I can't risk being seen, but something new... that almost makes it worth the risk.
A pleasant stroll up Park Avenue, and then we're at the Waldorf. What a racket! Glad I never paid for my suite! And what a racket! They're picking up the trash, and what with the banging cans, the crush of the crowd, and the honking traffic, I'm really watching my step.
The Waldorf. Rich shits on the town, rich shits from outta town, rich shits steppin' out on their wives. I seen 'em all – and I seen all their trash, too. But I ain't seen nuthin' like this!
Quiet as a mouse, I climb into the can.
White dress, blonde. Stacked. Looks just like Marilyn Monroe, but real, not all fake, just walkin'. I ain't the only guy who notices, either! And some guy's takin' pictures...
Sniff, sniff... I know it's in here... Ah, found it! No time to eat now, I'll get out of there and take it home.
But the driver says I gotta job to do. Tells me to move it.
Quick, the trash man is coming!
He gets to watch while I haul the cans. Sits on his butt while I bust my back. But man oh man, what a looker!
Run! Jump down, watch out for feet, there's the grate. Quick as a mouse, down...
It would have been comical if I hadn't been scared half out of my wits. Here's this little mouse – a tiny thing, really, but phobias sure as heck aren't rational – it has this big lump of cheese in its mouth, and it's running. Trouble is, it's running right at me. Comical, maybe, but I didn't think it was funny!
And she looks right at me, then at my feet, and freaks out! Hey, I know I ain't no Adonis, but I ain't no monster, neither!
I turn to get away. Pure panic, I'm not even thinking. And I step right on the grate, and my heel gets stuck, and the D train is rushing by...
Man oh man! What I just saw! And Mr. Big-shot boss-man driver missed it! Hah!
Probably my most recognized photograph. I made Mr. Shaw a lot of money on that shot.
This is yummy! Sort of a cross between Greek myzithra and Cypriot halloumi, aromatic like a nokkelost, hard as kerhem, but crumbly as cotija. Just when I thought I'd had them all...