I am sitting on one of two queen-size beds in an affluent midtown Manhattan hotel, scrolling through my phone and inwardly chanting to myself that I’d better not pop a chub in the next two hours.
This happens while a hip photographer named Zandy (for real) sets up all kinds of lighting. I realize then that maybe photography is much more difficult and nuanced than I had ever fathomed. Zandy hits a button on a box and it juts out light. He looks satisfied afterward. I revert my gaze back to my phone, where I am straight killin’ it on the QuizUp front.
“So, here’s the first one,” Sandra says, stepping out of the tiny hotel restroom, presenting her mostly naked body in a matching pink bra and pair of panties. She will do this twice more with different ensembles before Zandy concludes that he likes the first one the most. I agree with Zandy, for the record, after much scrutiny, but this isn’t my show.
Sandra is blonde and gorgeous, almost my height, a professional model hailing from Germany.
I am an underemployed writer who has just been told by a Portuguese woman days prior that I “look like that guy from The Hangover who screws everything up.”
She was referring, of course, to Zach Galifianakis.
Do not get a boner. Do not get a boner. Christ, I can’t not look at her. How in the f**k did I end up here? My life is very weird.
When my writer friend Annie hit me up a couple weeks prior for an interview about keeping a list of sexual partners and why I choose to do so, I spoke openly with her about it. She was writing a story for the New York Post. I told her she could use my name in the story. My name is already attached to plenty of things worse than a couple quotes about how I don’t want to forget about women who were kind enough to have sex with me.
A few days later, Annie emailed me to ask for what she called “a huge favor.”
The Post wanted to run a photo of someone quoted in the story. Annie asked if I would be willing to get my picture taken with my sex list. It was the difference between her being allowed to write a longer-form cover story instead of a short article. I told her I would, because people helping people is grand. I assumed that a photographer would come over to my apartment and snap some shots of me scrolling through my Evernote-based list on my phone or something—that it would be no big deal.
A week later, a Post features photo editor called me to discuss the shoot. She was going to hire a model and she was going to book a hotel room. They were going to mock-up a sex list, put it on a clipboard, and have me pose with it.
“Would you be comfortable posing in a T-shirt and boxers?” she asked.
I had already told Annie I would to it, and I spend most of my life in this wardrobe, so I said that would be fine, that I’d bring a couple pairs of boxers and boxer briefs alike, for options. Trust me when I tell you I had no qualms with such exposure.
I am standing in a spot where Zandy directed me to go, so he could test lighting. Sandra is on the bed in her underwear, and we’re making small talk. She asks me what it is I do.
“I’m a freelance writer and I go to copywriting school, because I want to write, like, ads and stuff.”
“Oh, like Don Draper?”
“Yeah, kind of. But I’d be more like a Peggy Olson, at least for a decade or so, anyway. How long have you been modeling?”
“Too long. But I switched careers a few times, and I only do it part-time now. I co-own an e-commerce store that sells accessories for men.”
She then proceeds to tell Zandy and I that she initially quit modeling to become a Lufthansa Cargo pilot, which she did for a couple of years before deciding the lifestyle wasn’t her jam.
“You end up spending, like, days at a time in parts of Russia where you never, ever, want to be,” she elaborates.
Zandy and I call bullshit and she shows us pictures from her time as a pilot. They seem legit, and not professionally shot.
I am about to do a photo shoot, in my underwear, with a German model who can fly a f**king airplane.
(Also, in case you’re wondering, cell phones have never been proven to have any negative impact if used on planes, according to Sandra.)
Once the lighting is right, Zandy sends me to the restroom to model my various underroo options. He settles on a pair of Hanes boxers. I am horrified and angry at myself for bringing them, because they have one of those flaps you can whip your dick out of, and it doesn’t button shut. One wrong move and my dong is going to flop out for Sandra to see. This does nothing to dissuade my (heretofore un-experienced) fear of producing an erection. I made sure to rub one out right before I left for the shoot, but still — I am kind of youthful.
Zandy snaps a couple hundred pictures of me holding a handwritten sex list on a clipboard while Sandra looks on from the bed, then he asks if I’m cool with taking my shirt off.
I’ve come this far, so I whip off my T-shirt without a second thought. Who really gives a shit if my physique is Galifianakis-esque?
I spend most of my time staring at the list and attempting to avoid gawking at Sandra, because it is super-uncomfortable to stare at her—I start blushing almost immediately when I do, and then come the brow sweats—so, yeah. The struggle to avoid turgidity is very real.
But every once in a while, Zandy urges me to look at her for a few shots. We hold eye contact for a few fleeting moments while I think about getting shot in the dick with a paintball gun, lima beans, Khloe Kardashian, and myriad other things that I hypothesize will quash any blood flow making its way to my shaft. These are strange thoughts to have when Zandy’s blatantly romantic playlist is playing in the background. (It includes slow jams like Iron & Wine’s version of “Such Great Heights” and The Beatles rendition of “Something In The Way She Moves.”)
Also, Sandra has very pretty eyes. So there’s that.
When I feel myself getting too uncomfortable or hovering on the brink of arousal, I stare at an electric socket that is just beyond the bed. I am confident I will never again focus on an electric socket with such unwavering intensity, even if I’m installing one.
Sandra, Zandy, and I make small talk throughout the shoot, ostensibly to maintain a comfort level. The conversation is akin to one you might have on a first date. By the time Zandy calls a wrap on the shoot, we all know a great deal about one another.
I make it through the experience sans erection, thank science, and they both tell me I’ve done a serviceable job for someone who has never done a legitimate photo shoot in his life.
When we come to the end, Sandra walks into the restroom and tosses me my jeans and various undergarments.
She says: “So, what number would I be on that list?”
I tell her.
“Oh, that’s it?” Sandra says, then laughs.
Zandy: “Don’t let it bother you, man. She’s European.”
I ask him if my work here is done. He confirms. I tug my jeans and T-shirt back on, shake his hand, hug a fully-clothed Sandra, and walk out of the hotel room.
I meet my roommate at the bar, and when I tell him where I have just been and what I have just experienced, he’s skeptical. He asks if Bill Murray jumped out of the hotel closet at any point to tell me that nobody was ever going to believe me.
“Why is it so hard to fathom that this is how I spent my afternoon?” I ask.
“Because there’s no way a German model exists who is also a licensed pilot.”
But it’s true. So is this whole story. Sometimes you get the most entertaining stories from saying yes to a strange proposal.