I always thought of myself as somebody who would, if given the opportunity, like to live the high life. As somebody who grew up surrounded by people who had it better than me, I always felt this sense of wanting to live bigger, to get a taste of how the other side lived.
And then I got it.
Before I get into my adventure in Athens though, I need to tell a quick story. Jacky and I had spent our last week together in Morocco pretty much just laying in bed, cutting class and drinking. We were both exhausted from dealing with social drama, torn up emotionally about the nice boys waiting for us back home, and experiencing just a pinch of separation anxiety. In our pathetic stupor of tears and vodka, our only solace turned out to be the movie 500 Days of Summer.
We ended up rolling around like sad beached whales lamenting the fact that we have to feel feelings, complaining,“It sucks because sometimes you’re Joseph Gordon Levitt and sometimes you’re Zoe Deschanel!”
Perhaps the greatest line in that movie is this one:
It never fails to get a laugh.
Now just put that image of Brad Pitt Jesus in your back pocket, because I promise that it’s actually relevant, and take a little trip to Athens with me.
The story starts with me, twenty years old and solo traveling for the first time ever. Okay, not proper solo travel. I was on my way from Morocco, where I had been studying, to Cairo, where my close friend from school was going to host me for Christmas. As it turned out, the cheapest way to do that was to take an extended layover in Athens.
So here I am, ready to spend three lonely days lurking in ancient temples and getting drunk alone in empty off-season hostels. I hopped off the train in the city center, saddled up with my 50L backpack and layers of airport grime.
I’m roaming around, no data, no GPS, just a list of directions to a hostel I jotted down on my phone. Normally, this works fine. Unfortunately, Athens does not have any street signs. Like anywhere. So I’m lost. I’m confused. Nobody will talk to me to give me directions (couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with how bad I must have smelled)
I’m getting frustrated. As it turns out, solo travel is hard. My options at this point seem to be accepting my fate and sleeping on the street, quietly crying in the corner, or shelling out for some sweet sweet data.
And then—out of the blue, this guy flags me down.
He’s rugged in that carefully manicured mess sort of way, with a shining leather trench coat and a grey beanie pulled over his ears. He’s wearing those clear orange glasses that aren’t for seeing or sun protection that rich people like to wear sometimes. Overall, he’s an odd mix of masculine and fabulous.
“Hey, is this the hotel you’re looking for?”
I look up, and we’re outside of a magnificent hotel that must cost more per night than I spend in a month. I shake my dirty, disheveled head.
“Oh sorry, I thought you might have been here to meet the other models.”
At this point, I’m pretty sure the dude is just making a shitty attempt at hitting on me, so I start walking away. Crying in the corner is sounding more and more appealing.
“No no, really. I’m sorry. We were doing a shoot today, and you looked like somebody we know.” Now I know I’m ridiculously tall, but in more of an “awkward giraffe that’s been recently born” sort of way. And I refuse to be flattered into giving this dude the time of day.
I look him up and down and, like the judgmental bitch I am, say “no way you’re a model.”
“Hey, come on. I’ll prove it. I’m actually pretty well known in New York.”
The guy pulls out his portfolio, and it’s all shots of him in shirts ripped open to reveal rippling abs, close ups of his smoldering eyes, and magazine covers boasting interviews with him, a famous Brad Pitt lookalike.
I double take. I squint past his glasses and beanie and really look his face.
Brad Pitt’s face. I look back at the portfolio of shirtless photos. Jesus’s abs.
I’m stunned, and a little humiliated by the joke that fate seems to be playing on me. I keep looking around to make sure I’m not getting Punk’d.
“Anyway, you seem lost. I can help you get where you’re going?”
Honestly, I’m too floored to argue, and too hopelessly lost to not accept help from this stranger. His glamorous friends start offering to take my bags and before I know it, I’m being led off to my hostel.
If you’ve never done it, walking down the street with a pack of Greek models carrying all your stuff for you is a good feeling. You feel this odd sense of transitive beauty, like even though you’re an awkward beanstalk, you’re a part of something majestic. I find myself suddenly watching them, mirroring the confident, determined ways they moved, the light, airy expressions on their faces.
We arrive at my hostel and I check in. I turn to say goodbye to my models, goodbye to my temporary ticket to glamour.
“Hey, since, you’re alone, do you want to just hang out with us?” The lead one offers. We’ll call him Ari. “We’re going out to this amazing club tonight!”
I look at my dingy, dark hostel and think of my evening plan of drinking alone and lurking in my dark bunk.
This is my chance to have something more.
This is my chance to live larger, to live the glamorous life I had always dreamed of. So what if it was temporary and fake.
I take a little bit of time to get cleaned up, and way too much time trying to dig up an outfit worthy of a night out with models. Coming from Morocco, all I’ve really got with me are harem pants and loose-fitting t-shirts, but I make do. We meet back up to grab dinner.
The awesome thing about being a famous model is that people know you. We go out to a restaurant/bar and everybody recognizes this Ari guy. Apparently, in addition to being a model and part time Brad Pitt, he’s a promoter and a socialite.
And the awesome thing about being a pack of beautiful people (and me) is that people just give you stuff. Like food. Like drinks.
Like everything you want to eat or drink.
I’m living the dream, stealthing among these gorgeous demigods. The drinks keep flowing and even though most of them barely speak English, I’m having the time of my life pretending I’m one of them. I sit a little straighter, move a little more deliberately, gracefully. I wonder if onlookers can tell I’m not really one of them.
The club we’re going to tonight, Ari explains, is a pretty underground place. It’s where Greek celebrities go to let loose. Each of us has to text the owner to get a pin number we can use to get into the door, where the bouncer will make sure we’re vouched for. Ari offers to get me in as a plus one, since nobody knows me.
“We’ll say you’re here to do a shoot in Italy and you’re visiting me. I work enough in the states that they’ll buy it.” Seems legit to me.
The drunken models lead me off to a nondescript door underneath a hotel in the financial district. In truth, I have no idea if I would ever be able to find this club again. We put in our pin codes and one by one, the bouncer admits us, even me.
The club has a light carnival theme, and some guests have chosen to wear masquerade attire. The beautiful models do not.
As the models disperse, Ari sits and starts introducing me to people and pointing out notable personalities.
“That guy used to be Athens’s top fashion designer, before he went to prison for tax fraud.” He points to a fabulously dressed man in a checkered ascot, then turns his attention to a woman lounging at a crowded table. “That girl is like our Kim Kardashian. She got too much plastic surgery though, and now she’s fat and ugly.” He sneers. Okay, so models can be a bit judgmental, as it turns out.
The club owners know Ari, and we keep getting free bottle service. The champagne is flowing, the cocktails are endless, and everybody seems to be having the time of their lives.
As more and more people come to mingle with us, I get pulled into conversations with anybody who can speak English about who I am, what I’m working on.
“You’re here with Ari?” One girl, a model and DJ from the islands, says. “So what are you? A model? Actress? DJ?”
“Uhhhh a model?” I’m suddenly self conscious about my terrible posture, my split ends, my badly fitting clothes.
“And you’re American. Did you work together in New York?”
“No, we just met.” I start racking my brain for a cover story. Something sexy, something glamorous. I’m not from the Bay Area. I’m from Los Angeles. I’m not studying, I’m traveling on assignment. “I usually work in LA.”
She looks me up and down. “So you’ve never worked in New York?”
She raises her eyebrows and says nothing. We keep drinking.
I sit there, hoping my story holds up, compulsively smoothing the wrinkles in my shirt. I’m suddenly overwhelmed. Where before I was excited about the special treatment, the transitive beauty, I’m starting to become stressed about being a fraud, about appearing to belong at this table full of perfectly manicured looks.
I start to notice all of the people looking at us and I start to become more and more aware of every movement, every hair out of place on my person.
The pressure of my fake modeling career is starting to get to me.
I make it through the night without letting my cover story crumble. I stumble into my dark hostel, exhausted. The drinking and dancing have taken their toll, but more than that, I’m absolutely spent from thinking about how to sit, how to act. My back is exhausted from trying to fight my natural slouch and my face is tense from all the calculated, controlled expressions.
As I kick off my shoes and tie my hair into a messy bun, I’m suddenly grateful to no longer be in the spotlight and under the scrutiny of these gorgeous, mildly judgmental people. I put on my dirty, ragged pajamas and flop down into my bed without a thought paid to my smudged makeup or atrocious hair.
And I fall asleep in my dark, dirty hostel, carefree at last.