The Model Lives Upstairs
by Chris Campanioni
He wears the same black jeans—Levi’s, straight-cut—every day. I think he only owns one pair. I think he wears the same pair. Every day, the same black jeans. Black specked with gray and beige and whatever he must have eaten earlier, for breakfast.
The model comes skipping down—two steps at a time—knocking on my door. Five knocks, a pause, two more knocks. Sing-song, just like that. He comes knocking on my door and asking for coffee. Asking for cinnamon. I consider that he is so used to people looking at him. I often look down. During these encounters, I often look down, or with my head turned, or with my head held up to the ceiling, as if I were imagining what his studio floor looks like, the layout and dimensions.
He often asks if I’m drunk. If I’m lost or confused.
The model came in sweating today. Bounding up the stairs as I was leaving for a coffee at Bien Cuit on Smith. At seven in the morning! Here I am, well-dressed and groomed, and I have to deal with sidestepping a sweaty model. So sweaty he looks just about oiled up, glazed in grease. Like a piece of pork. The kind my mother used to make, on Christmas Eve. The kind with the fried yellow onions and quince marinade.
Sometimes the model laughs. The sound of dry leaves rustling. The sound of autumn. Even in winter, even in spring and summer.
The model comes in at all times of night. Comes in and leaves. Where does he go? Where is he coming from? What does he do at all times of night? Does he sleep—and if so—why must he sleep with the music on? And why is the music always music you’d like to dance to? So that, even I, deep in my slumber, will stir, gradually, toe by toe, until I’m twitching beneath the covers. Until I can’t ever go back to bed.
“Do you know what good-bye comes from?” he asked, once, just the other day.
“No,” I said. “No, where?”
“God be with ye.”
“God be with ye?” I asked. We were standing between the gate to our building and the vestibule’s entrance.
Is the model religious? Does he believe in God? If he believes in God, does he pray? I can picture him kneeling, bent low, on his yoga mat (I’ve seen it, rolled up in the corner, near his kitchen, on occasion). But probably he’s only stretching. One of those stretches I’ve seen on the laminated posters at Bally’s, across from the men’s and women’s locker rooms.
The model has small ears and a small nose and dirty dark blond hair. I wonder if he ever washes his dirty dark blond hair. And if he does, how often, and with which shampoo?
And how does it get so dirty?
How does the model afford all of the books on his bookshelf? And if he doesn’t purchase them—if he only ever borrows his books (Brooklyn Heights Library or Carroll Gardens Branch?)—then why are they not past due? Where does he even find the time to read all of the books on his bookshelf? And does he read or does he look at the letters racing by, page by page, as his hand gyrates?
I don’t know the model’s name and I don’t care to know. Except I think he may be getting my mail. And perhaps I’m also getting his. If I knew his name, I’d know for sure. All I see is a carbon copy symbol above his small copper letterbox, the letterbox we each are given for our mail. Apt. 4, cc. And that’s it.
The model sweats a lot. And he leaves his sweat in places. He leaves his sweat everywhere he’s been. He often locks himself out of his apartment during these journeys and so has been known to buzz me, and more than likely, every other resident. Pleading for admittance.
Besides that, he’s a good neighbor. As good as any other neighbor.
The model spends countless hours in his apartment, typing away. So loud and discordant. I can hear the fingers punching. All day and nothing else. No doors open. No doors close. How do I know this? I have a good feeling. I sometimes stay home all day, too, watching soap operas, the Food Network, the Travel Channel, and VH1. On sick days, you know. Only on sick days.
We once got on the topic of the films of John Hughes and wow could the model talk. I didn’t know they could talk like that. I didn’t know they paid them for anything other than simply looking. And if talking is a hobby, if it is a leisure activity, whom else does he practice on?
I had to lie to leave. Something about returning videotapes. Something about late fees. Something about something. We were in the cramped vestibule of our building and the wind kept slipping in. All the model did was laugh. “Okay, Patrick,” he said, grinning. And I think he had me confused for someone else. Or perhaps he was drunk (I’ve seen a bottle of WhistlePig Rye, here and there, in the recycling put out for pick-up on Thursdays). But he sure can pull it off well. He sure can steady himself in a moment of exposure. He really knows how to walk through the fire.
I once invited the model over for a dinner party. He ate everything offered to him. Then he ate some more. “Well, aren’t you a MODEL?” I asked, hands on hips, more than a bit indignant (I had just gone to the market that morning and had no intention of returning so soon). MODEL. I said it just like that, in all caps. He laughed and stuck another crab cake in his mouth. The sound of Vivaldi humming through my dining room and guests circling around us like musical chairs.
I wonder about retirement, about the retirement age for a model. Is it earlier or later than most citizens? Is he already retired?
What is the level of conversation the model has with other people? Does his tone change, does his body language and mannerisms reflect a certain scene or setting? Is he performing for me or am I part of the performance?
Is the model tired, weary, worn? Is the model disgusted with the facts of his habits and compulsions? I’ve heard him rouse every morning, before six, to go running. I’ve heard him bound up that curving, crooked staircase …
I’ve never seen him quite relaxed. What does he do to relax?
I can hear the fingers punching.
Besides his small ears and small nose and his dirty dark blond hair, the model looks like anybody else. Like any other man on the street.
Just when I think the model is alone, or a loner, or simply lonely, I hear voices. Many different voices, and sometimes different languages, too. Dancing on the ceiling, all those words. All those different voices. And the sound of laughter.
There is a poster, framed, unevenly angled on the white wall, positioned so that any visitor to the model’s apartment will see it upon entering. STOP MAKING SENSE it says, in a scrawl of letters. Four faces with their faces blurred out by a blotch of red. The first thing anyone sees.
Often, a sudden stirring beneath the eyes.
Does he observe me as he observes other people? Does he wonder where I work—or used to work—what I did on my days off, in my free time, how many children I have, what my loved ones look like, whether I live alone and am I happy?
When he gets his mail out from the small copper box, when he turns his miniature key and pulls the latch open, does he look at any of the other boxes, at any of the other names etched above them?
Does he know mine?
Chris Campanioni’s recent work has appeared in the Brooklyn Rail, Fjords Review, Carbon Culture, Prelude Magazine, and Rosebud. He has worked as a journalist, model, and actor. He currently teaches literature and creative writing at Baruch College and the College of Staten Island and new form journalism at John Jay.