The girl on the platform caught my eye because she didn’t fit.
Waiting for the train with a dozen Portlanders, blinking at the bright spring sunshine, she was as sharply, carefully dressed as they were not.
Fashion-conscious dressing is a bit unusual here; as long as it doesn’t actually have moss on it, a Portlander will wear it. “Business casual,” for example, could include a kilt, kneesocks, sandals and flowered pajama top. In my first year in Portland I got tired of being asked if I was going to a funeral and gave up my east coast suitware for the local “I got it at a flea market” costume.
It’s curiously freeing and much easier on the wallet, although my very New York cousin Robyn snorts and says I’ve gone native, as if it’s one step up from serial killing.
This girl wore a sleek black leather mini, black fishnets on nine yards of leg and spiky Jimmy Choos. She topped it off with near-geisha makeup, blue-black fringe around each eye and a gothic reverse French manicure. She was more striking than pretty, but her magenta-streaked hair artfully framed killer cheekbones.
She stood out like a neon sign in a wheatfield. From the cuffs of her studded leather jacket to the brass corners of her boxy, tiger-striped purse, she was more suited to Manhattan than Portland. Yet she casually managed the arcane Portland MAX ticket system like she’d lived here all her life.
Those cheekbones made her a great candidate for a sculpture, so I sat near her on the train and snapped a few surreptitious shots, sussing out the possibilities. Edgy, nervous eyes, hard-angled jaw and a snaky-long neck that became swanlike right around the Adams apple.
I looked a little closer. The hands were too large, the wrists too bony and five o’clock shadow was faintly evident across her upper lip. Come to think of it, she was too carefully dressed, as if every detail was a matter of life or death.
You only have to hit me over the head four or five times for me to get the obvious, and as realization dawned, she looked straight at me and smiled.
“The name is Jeremy,” she said.
I grinned, made her a gift of my name, she got off at the next stop, and that was pretty much that.
Now, once you sculpt people, their faces become structural maps: The relationship of nose to eye socket, the angle between the mouth and the ear, the slope of the forehead, this stuff is as distinctly individual as the license plate on a car.
And sometimes it helps you to see past the trappings. So when a guy in a preppy sweater, slacks and tie walked onto the MAX platform a few days later, I immediately recognized my Manhattan goth. “Hi, Jeremy,” I said, and he started, looked at me a moment, then moved away.
I found a seat on the train and a few minutes later, Jeremy sat down across from me. He didn’t say anything, just watched me–warily–as the train got underway.
A couple of stops later, he asked how I knew him, and I explained about the sculpting and the Adams apple. “That dog collar was too small,” he grimaced, “I should have worn a scarf around my neck but it didn’t go.”
“No,” I agreed, then, “So what’s your real name?”
He regarded me thoughtfully. “Jasmine,” he said, finally, “And I was going on a job interview. As myself.”
Times, he said, are tight, and he’s been working at odd jobs since graduation just to make ends meet. He finally landed an interview last Monday, a good starter job with excellent potential. The name on his resume was “J. Smith,” not Jeremy or Jasmine,* and so now he had a decision to make: Who would go to the all-important interview?
Jeremy could walk in and be one of the guys; Jasmine might make straight interviewers uncomfortable … if they twigged. But Jasmine is smarter, hipper, has better ideas and a tough business sense. Jeremy didn’t pay much attention in school and he sometimes mumbles. Jasmine is real; Jeremy is “a figment. That’s all.”
In the end, there was no contest. “If I have to be Jeremy to get the job, I won’t last long there anyway,” he shrugged, and so she went as herself.
“Did you get the job?”
“I don’t know,” he shrugged, “I think they liked me, they asked a lot of questions and they nodded and shit, you know, smiled a lot. But they had a lot of candidates…”
We shared a moment’s silence, speculating on the vagaries of hiring managers, and then I asked the question that had been bugging me the whole time. “So how come you’re Jeremy today?”
“I’m doing sales until I can find a job,” he said seriously, “and they’re real strict about Jasmine.”
We came to my stop and I rose to go. I held out a hand and he shook it, one hard downstroke, then release. “Good luck,” I said, and headed for the doors.
*None of these are her real name and no, I’m not going to post her pictures. But I still might use her in a sculpture. Up to you guys to pick her out if I do.