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True to their liberal beliefs, they had no intention of shipping me off to a traditional reform school. But they were at their wits 'end, and in all fairness they were truly worried about me. So they sent me to a place where parents like them had sent kids like me before: to John Woolman, an unconventional Quaker boarding school in the Sierras. Woolman had a history of dealing with troubled teens, but in a countercultural fashion. Rather than taking away their freedoms, Woolman gave young people far more freedom than they'd ever had before, hoping that it would lead to a willingness to take responsibility for themselves. For some kids it worked. In a way it did for me, too. In fact, it gave me enough clarity and courage to drop out of school altogether.

While I know now that my parents did not see their actions as abandonment, I sure as hell felt as if it was when they left me off at Woolman after the long drive up from Marin. Yes, they had tears in their eyes as they headed back to their car; but my eyes were completely overflowing. I wanted to run to them, to tell them I was sorry, to beg them to do anything but leave me behind. Instead I simply watched as their car rounded the corner and pulled away.

The school had the feel of a hippie commune. Girls and boys lived in A-frame cabins. The showers were single-sex but communal. The students cooked the meals, cleaned the cabins, maintained the grounds, and grew vegetables and fruit in Woolman's gardens and orchard. The faculty and administration practiced a deeper democracy than even Marin Academy. Every major decision was made with student input, and every student was invited and encouraged to be heard. We were given rights, and yes, responsibilities. We learned that our voices mattered.

A lot of the students at Woolman were like me: misfits from well-off Bay Area families. Not surprisingly, there were as many drugs at Woolman at the time as there had been at Marin Academy or Branson. But the drug of choice among the kids I knew was not something as suburban as cocaine. Here in the mountains, the drugs were designed to do more than get you high. They were intended for exploration and discovery. One of those drugs was LSD.

I first did acid shortly before Thanksgiving break in 1983. I'd been at Woolman just over a month, and I'd already been teased quite a bit about my LSD "virginity." A large group of us crowded into the little cabin I shared with my beautiful earth mama of a roommate, Andrea. We lit candles and put them on every inch of flat surface. The Grateful Dead played on the stereo. Our friend Troy pulled a sheet of paper out of a little plastic bag. There was a giant image of Mickey Mouse on the sheet, made up of tiny perforated square images of Minnie Mouse. Cooper handed me one little square.

"Seriously, Coop, is this enough?" I asked naively. It looked so tiny.

"Hell yeah. More than enough. Girl, you'll be flying high and right within the hour. Stick out your tongue."

I did. And soon the tapestries on the walls turned to waves and the music from the stereo began to ripple with light. All night long we tripped and bonded with one another. When daylight finally came, I felt as if a huge burden had been lifted from my shoulders. For the first time in a very long time, I was happy. It was not just the LSD that was liberating. It was everything about the place: the nature, the democracy, the students, the relentless encouragement, the absence of judgment. My dyslexia did not matter, my past did not matter, all my perceived shortcomings did not matter. What mattered was my ability to grow and to feel more connected to others.

I spent less than one full year at Woolman, marinating in its hippie broth. They were wild times, when lifelong friendships were formed and when I experienced more laughter than I ever had before. But it could not last. By the time spring rolled around, the magic was wearing off. The LSD trips were not the same; the periods after coming down were growing more prolonged and depressing. And seeing one of my stoned classmates climb on top of the biology teacher's car, drop his pants, and take a shit on the hood certainly sealed my disenchantment.

I began to spend as much time as I could in nearby Grass Valley, the closest town to the school. Tired of tripping, I moved on to the risky routine of hiking through the forest, crossing the streams on the other side, and jumping a fence to get to Highway 49, where I could usually thumb a ride for the twenty-minute drive into town . In the spring of 1984, Grass Valley had a thriving music scene and some great coffee shops. I became a regular. One night near the end of the school year, a small group of us from Woolman caught a visiting band from San Francisco, the Guardians. They played infectious and infinitely danceable world-beat music. During their set my eye kept wandering to a guy with a star-shaped tattoo who stood near the stage swaying to the music, his gaze increasingly directed back at me. As soon as the set break arrived, I introduced myself. He was Kenny, and he was with the band. He seemed to ooze trouble. I was instantly infatuated.

When the spring semester ended and I'd moved back to Marin, I broke some unsettling news to my parents. They were on the verge of divorcing, and when they asked me what I planned to do next, I told them I'd made my decision: I was dropping out of Woolman, dropping out of school altogether, and I was moving to Berkeley to live with Kenny.

I was sixteen. I had a ninth-grade education, but I had another adult boyfriend and a hunger to leave Marin once and for all. "That's the plan," I repeated stubbornly to my exasperated parents. What other plan did I need?

THE FIRST RUNWAY

Living on my own at sixteen turned out to be nothing like what I thought it would be. I discovered that it was not only a plan that I lacked, I had no money to pay for food or rent either. I had dropped out of high school and moved in with a guy who was a good ten years older than me.

Kenny shared a rental in Berkeley with three roommates: Vicky, a cute blond lesbian with a lisp; Janelle, her tough, punk girlfriend; and Les Claypool, the bassist and lead singer of the cult punk band Primus. It was a wild group. Kenny was a roadie for various East Bay musicians, including the Guardians, and while he was working, I tried desperately to get my feet back under me. I did not know whether or not anyone frowned on Kenny for bringing a minor into the house to live, but I did know that my lack of money was a real issue for the others. Everyone there slaved to make ends meet, and I was the only one who was unemployed. Most of the jobs I applied for required someone of legal age, and I was shy of that by a good year and a half.

Under that one roof, everyone was an artist of some kind or another. It was very intimidating. On the nights when we'd go out to the clubs and hang backstage with Kenny, I would always borrow a pair of his Danskin leggings and wear them with a long men's shirt and my soft-soled jazz shoes. The best and only look I had was the borrowed look. I could not afford anything else.

With so few prospects for earning money available to me, I found any number of ways to score a meal. Behind the Berkeley co-op was a Dumpster, and in it were all the items that had "expired." But that did not necessarily mean that the food was bad. I would gather up the day-old bread and muffins in a sack and bring them home for my housemates. I'd also pare away the rotten bits from the fruits and vegetables to salvage what was still perfectly edible. For many months this helped me to supplement my diet and stock our refrigerator. I do not think anyone in the house had any idea where these things really came from!

I tried my hand at the one store willing to hire me. It was a small Berkeley clothing boutique named Suki. But I failed there, too, because I did not have the basic math skills needed. My lack of confidence soon got in the way. I was petrified of adding numbers, counting bills, and giving change. The owner did not care about my age, but she cared that all the cash that should be in the register at the end of the day was! I was always on the verge of tears. Soon enough I was let go.

One night backstage at a Metallica concert, a woman approached me. She had an enormous eighties-style blond perm and was wearing big hoop earrings. Dragging heavily on a smoke, she looked me up and down and nodded.

"Are you with the band?" she asked.

"Um... Sort of," I replied.

She extended her hand and offered me a smile. "I'm Chantal. Pleased to meet you."

She waited for a name.

"Yeah, I'm Carre," I said, grabbing her hand.

"Anyone ever told you you should model?" she asked.

I choked on the soda I was drinking, then laughed. "Yeah, right. That's funny." I started to turn away. But Chantal grabbed my arm.

"No, I'm serious. Carre? You said your name was Carre, right?" She knew she had but a moment to get her point across. I was not buying it, and besides, I needed to make a quick exit-I could see Kenny motioning to me from across the stage.

"Look, I gotta go," I said.

Glancing at my boyfriend, Chantal pressed a card into my hand. "Here's my number. Kenny knows me. I'm having a fashion show at my club next Wednesday. Come and walk the runway," she said.

"Yeah, sure." I laughed her off again.

"For pay," she added firmly, staring me straight in the eye.

I stopped in my tracks. "How much pay?" I asked in a cocky tone, my hope and curiosity just beneath the surface.

"Twenty bucks for the evening."

Hmmm. That was more than I'd made in a while. "Just for the night?" I asked.

"Yep." She nodded. "The address is on the card. See you next Wednesday at five P.M. Okay?"

"Um, yeah. Okay." I turned to get back to Kenny, who was waiting for me with a scowl on his face.

"What the fuck did Chantal want with you?" he hissed through his missing front tooth.

"Nothing. Just being friendly," I lied. I was not sure why I did not tell him. For whatever reason, I did not want him to know what I was up to. I needed something for me.

The week passed quickly, and by Wednesday I found myself frantically searching for the card Chantal had given me at the concert. I had not been making any money and knew that my welcome at the house was wearing thin. Twenty bucks would go a long way.

I hopped on Kenny's bicycle and pedaled across town through a light drizzle. By the time I found the place, I was soaked to the bone. I looked up at the sign. This was no club. It was a total dive bar. But I had already committed, so I locked Kenny's bike to the nearest pole and entered. Though night was just falling outside, the sun had clearly set long ago inside this bar. I coughed as I walked into the darkness and smoke.

"Hey there!" I heard Chantal call. She was arranging folding tables to create a makeshift runway. Oh, boy,I thought. A real class act.

As I walked toward her, I noticed an area that was curtained off. She pointed and said, "That's the changing room. Your outfit's in there."

"Oh, okay," I said, trying to sound nonchalant. I entered and saw a dozen or so high heels, all with marabou feathers at the toe, stacked in the corner alongside a few silk teddies, a bra, matching panties, and some sort of corset contraption. Yikes.

"These are the outfits?" I stammered, poking my head out from behind the curtain. "Like the outfits we wear and walk down the... Um, runway in?"

"Yeah, Carre, this is all for the Ashby Street Lingerie store. I did not tell you that? Oops!" She laughed. She already had a drink in her hand. I stared at it longingly. She looked down and then back at me. "You want one?" she asked.

"Yeah," I exclaimed, relieved that she'd gotten the hint, unsubtle as it was. There was only one fucking way I was going to be able do this, and that was loaded.

I stepped into the curtained room again and began to strip down. As Madonna's "Dress You Up" boomed over the sound system, I pulled the teddy on and stepped into the heels. I sighed. I barely filled out the form-fitting cami, but then again, there really was not much material there to cover up what I did have.

As the crowd gathered, I peeked out from behind the curtain again. Thankfully, Chantal kept the booze flowing. I laughed and shuddered as the small bar filled up quickly with mostly men. I stood next to two other girls, noticing that I was by far the youngest. The music quieted, and Chantal stepped up onto the table, clapped her hands, and announced the evening's lineup. There were raucous cheers from the patrons, and the next thing I knew, one of Phil Collins's classic anthems began to rock the house. A shove to my back propelled me out onto the wobbly runway, where I stood there near naked for the world to see.

And though I did not know it that night, as I struggled to remain sure-footed and to retain some semblance of self-worth, I'd just stumbled onto a platform that would alter my life forever.

SAN FRANCISCO

Not long after my first moment on the runway, Kenny and I moved to San Francisco-ironically, the city I was so eager to leave as a young girl. We both wanted our own place, away from roommates. Since most of Kenny's gigs were in the city anyway, it made sense. But rents were higher there than in Berkeley. All we could afford was a tiny apartment on Rose Street, not quite under the 101 freeway but close. Our neighbors were prostitutes and drag queens. All too often I would see one of them taking a dump between the parked cars in front of our building. I can not even begin to count the number of times I was asked for toilet paper. But at least the place was ours.

I was lonely and still too young to work most places. My days were long and dull. My nights were usually spent roaming the streets and frequenting dance clubs where I was admitted despite my age, thanks to Kenny. One night he and I were at the Station, a hot new club that had recently opened. While I was dancing, I could see Kenny talking with a man at the bar. They both nodded in my direction, and I glimpsed something exchange hands. I could not see what it was and did not really care. I assumed Kenny was scoring some blow.

Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" was playing, and since it was my favorite song at the time, I stepped into the center of the floor and got into a solitary groove. I did not need a partner in order to shake my ass; I just loved to dance. Suddenly I felt a hand on my lower back. Turning in surprise, I stood face-to-face with the guy from the bar.

"Hey there," he said, smiling at me.

"Hi," I said, my tone both questioning and dismissive. What's up with him?I wondered as I turned away again. A second later his hand was on my ass.

I spun around. "Dude! What's up? "I was angry now. I slapped his hand off me. I looked around for Kenny. He stood in the darkness, on the outskirts, watching me.

"Your pimp said you were cool. You are,right? "He looked defensive and confused more than hostile.

"What the fuck? Not right, asshole." I could not believe him. There was no way Kenny could have done that to me. Could he? I stormed over to my boyfriend, demanding to know what was going on. "Did you take that guy's money?"

Kenny shrugged, avoiding my gaze. "Carre, we need the cash. He just wants to feel you up. It's no big deal. Do it for me. For us." He raised his eyes to meet mine, his tone pleading.

Speechless, I cocked my head to one side, trying to understand how this man, who I thought loved me, could have done such a thing. And then I raised my hand and slapped him across the face as hard as I could. I began to stalk off. A second later Kenny grabbed me by the hair, and with one vicious yank I was on my back. The potential john came running up, trying to protect me. "Man, take it easy!" he yelled at Kenny. Kenny shoved the guy backward, pulled me up by my roots, and began dragging me out of the club.

I could see people watching, their eyes wide with alarm. But no one else ran to help.

Out on the street, under the glare of a streetlamp, Kenny pushed me up against a telephone pole. Pointing a finger in my face, spit flying from his mouth, he raged on and on, accusing and threatening me. I stood motionless and silent. It was the only way I knew to remain safe. But I also knew I was in real danger if I stayed with Kenny. I needed a way out.

I spent the night on our threadbare couch, listening to the sound of the foghorns merge gloomily with the sound of Kenny's snoring. His duffel bag was packed and ready by the door. He was heading out of town again with the band. I sensed that this was my moment to make a break. I just did not know what that break would be. As the rain poured down outside, streaking the windows and casting shadows on my naked legs, I realized I had two options: prostitution or modeling. I knew I could not do the former. And while that twenty-dollar walk down the runway in Berkeley was hardly what I envisioned for myself, it was at least bearable. Fucking someone for money was not. Thus began my modeling career.

AGENTS OF CHANGE

As soon as Kenny had left the next morning, I pulled out the phone book and started searching, looking under "Models" or "Modeling Agents." One listing jumped out at me: Gary Loftus Model Management. That one sounded more professional than sleazy. And the office was close, just up the way in the Castro. I put on the best outfit I had, smeared on some lipstick and blush, and headed out to catch the bus up Market Street.

Some girls dream of modeling from the time they're small. I was not one of them. I clearly chose that option out of need, out of a desperate desire to make it on my own. That fleeting moment on the makeshift runway in Berkeley had not made me long for fame as a cover girl. What it had done, though, was open a door of possibility in my mind. A door I was now ready to walk through with determination.

As I entered the quaint little office, I saw a short, balding man sitting behind an enormous wooden antique desk. He wore an earring in his right ear and a gold ring on his pinkie finger. Gary Loftus gave a vigorous wave to invite me in, his eyes assessing every inch of me as he continued his phone conversation. His would be the first pair of eyes to subject me to an agent's professional scrutiny. I did not feel at all uncomfortable. I had been stared at before with lust (usually from men) and with hostility (usually from other women). But there was something comfortingly businesslike about this man's gaze. Besides, I was certain he was gay.

"Gary will be off in a moment," a cheerful voice said from behind me. I had not noticed anyone else but that small magnetic man. I turned around in surprise and saw a strikingly beautiful, statuesque woman sitting at another desk. She stood up and extended a delicate hand. "Hi. I'm Dawn," she said.

"Oh. Hi. Sorry, I had not even noticed you there."

"You are...?"

"Duh. Carre... Carre Otis. Pleased to meet you," I sputtered. I was sure I was making a lousy first impression. I reached out and took her hand. She held it longer than normal, long enough to send a shiver through me. Wow,I thought. That was strange.Dawn nodded and looked as if she were licking her lips. However awkward my introduction had been, she seemed to like what she was seeing.

"Do you have an appointment?" Dawn asked.

"No. Should I have made one? Should I go? Come back another time?" I was babbling, and I knew she could hear the slight desperation in my voice. We had this strong vibe together. I could not explain it. Before Dawn could answer, I heard Gary hang up the phone. Spinning around to face him, I grabbed the initiative and introduced myself.

"Well, doll, have a seat." He motioned to the chair in front of his desk, and I quickly sat down. I wanted to make an impression, but I did not want to take up too much of his time.

"So, kid, tell me your story. You are... Let me guess. Sixteen? Seventeen? Does your mother know you're here?" He gave me a not-unkind smile, but it was clear he'd heard every story in the book. I knew I would have to make this one good.

"Eighteen, actually," I lied. "And it's Carre. Carre Otis." I was a lot smoother with Gary than I'd been with Dawn. I was still unnerved by the electricity I'd felt with her.

Gary nodded slowly, looking me straight in the eye, trying to decide whether to believe me. "Do you have some photos for me to look at today?"

I gulped. It had not even occurred to me to bring anything except my face.

"No. I do not. I have nothing." I swallowed hard to contain the emotions that were surfacing. I felt like bursting into tears. Considering what I'd been through during the previous twelve hours, this felt like my only shot. I was desperate. And I needed someone to believe in me without trying to fuck me over one way or another.

Gary just watched me for a while. I could feel Dawn's eyes on us, too. Gary was smart enough to know that I was not your average eighteen-year-old. (As he would tell me later, he was smart enough to know that I was not eighteen at all.) He also knew I had a tough story. But he did not need the details. What he needed was to decide if I had "it."

"What do you think, Dawn? Should I give this kid a break?" His eyes never left mine while we waited for Dawn to respond. Time stopped. I held my breath.

"She's a beauty, Gary. Let's give her a go and see what she's got. I'll set up some shots with Carolyn for tomorrow morning."

Gary smiled, just a little. "Whaddaya think, kid? Can you get yourself to this address tomorrow? Eight A.M.?" He handed me a piece of paper, and I looked down, my hands trembling.

"Yes. Of course," I said, my eyes welling with tears. I quickly raised a hand and wiped them dry. Gary saw them anyway.

"No promises, kid, so do not get your hopes up. Let's just wait and see what we get back. Oh, and clean face, no makeup-and clean hair, Carre. Got it?"

I nodded yes. Gary led me to the door, his hand kind and supportive on my shoulder. I stepped outside, turned around, and thanked him.

"Sweetheart, I do not know where you're from, or what you're up to," Gary said quietly, "but I'm gonna do my best to help you out. For the love of God, do not you dare screw me. "

I nodded and tried to speak, but he just shook his head and waved good-bye, closing the door. "Have a fab day, my dear! And an even better one tomorrow!"

And with that, I was back on the bus, excitedly making my way to my tiny dive of an apartment. In less than twenty-four hours, I'd finished my first photo shoot.

I called Gary's office every day for a week, asking if the photos Carolyn had taken were in yet. Dawn flirted with me on the phone, patiently reminding me I needed to wait. Finally, on a Friday morning, she called before I could call her. The pictures were in. Gary wanted to see me right away.

I burst into the office, filled with a mix of excitement and anxiety. I wanted to say something, but I just stood there trembling. When Gary saw me, he stood up from behind his desk and walked toward me, his expression unreadable. The anticipation was killing me.

"They look good, kid," he said, breaking into a broad smile. "Really, really good."

I squeaked and jumped up and down in my spot. But what did "really good" really mean?

Dawn sidled next to me, her shoulder nearly touching mine, beaming from ear to ear. "We need to know something, Carre. Are you ready?"

"Ready for what?" I demanded.

"For New York City?" Gary asked with a grin.

As soon as Gary had seen my test shots, he'd sent them to Elite in Manhattan. John Casablancas, the president of the agency, liked what he saw. He wanted to fly me out at once.

"Oh, my God!" I shrieked. If Gary and Dawn had had any doubts that I'd been lying about my age, they vanished. I was almost childlike with giddiness. This was my shot to get out, far away from Kenny, and away from the troubles with my family. This was a real plan. And then it hit me. This was impossible.

"Wait... Gary, I can not afford that. I have no money. I mean, nomoney. I have nothing. "Tears of excitement changed to tears of embarrassment and frustration.

Gary stepped forward, putting his arms around me, giving me the safest hug I'd had from a man in years. Maybe ever.

"Shh, sweetie, it's okay. You do not need money now. Elite will pay for everything. They see something in you worth the expense."

I cried harder, sobbing on Gary's shoulder, even though I had at least three inches on him. It felt so good to have someone believe in me at last. Perhaps there'd been others who had seen my potential before, but, for whatever reason, Ihad not sensed it or trusted it. I trusted this sweet and gentle man, though. He had given me my chance. The phrase "overwhelmed with gratitude" is trite, but it truly describes how I felt at that moment. I could barely speak.

Gary gently extricated himself from my embrace and stepped back, his smile as wide as ever. Reaching into his wallet, he peeled off three crisp twenty-dollar bills. "A little something to get you through," he said. I saw tears in his own eyes as he pressed the money into my hand and gave me a peck on the cheek.

"Dawn will give you all the details. Flights, bus stations, the models 'apartment. Congrats, kid. You did good. Now you better go knock' em dead."

I went home that day and packed my little bag. I would be gone long before Kenny got home from his tour. Getting away from him was not my only reason for going to New York, but it was high on the list. I did not leave a note, did not tell my parents where I was going. I did not feel like I had to now that I was really on my own.

Sadly, I never saw Gary again. This lovely man who gave me my first break died of AIDS just months after I left for New York. He was the first of many dear friends who would lose their lives to that dreadful disease. To this day I have never once forgotten his kindness or his faith in me.

I would not find either of those qualities in a man again for a very long time.


Chapter 2
Early Modeling Years

THE BIG APPLE

New York was a whirlwind of surprises. With just the money that Gary had given me in my pocket, and a few more pennies I had saved up, I was living on the low end of a pauper's budget. Unprepared for winter weather, I was cold to the bone. Colder than I'd ever been before.

Finding my way to the models 'apartment was a terrifying journey. New streets, yellow cabs, fast drivers, all a swirl of unknowns. Elite's model apartments were way up on the twenty-second floor of a high-rise on Manhattan's famed Park Avenue. San Francisco did not have many buildings like this. I was not used to the towering heights, nor was I used to the city lights, which never seemed to dim long enough for anyone to sleep. That old feeling of homesickness permeated every cell in my body. I ached for familiarity. But instead, when I rang the buzzer on apartment D, I was met by a woman with a stiff smile who efficiently proceeded to tell me the rules and regulations of the housing arrangement I'd just entered into.

Trudi Tapscott was in charge of the New Faces division at Elite, and all the new girls stayed with her. The place was depressing: There was a stark living room with a glass table and a lone ficus tree standing sadly in a bare corner. A kitchen completely devoid of any basics, even salt and pepper, lent itself easily to the new diet all the girls seemed to be on. Trudi's apartment adjoined the models 'quarters, and although she could not have been older than thirty, her impressive stature easily had us all assuming that "big sister" was watching. Although it remained unspoken, I'm pretty sure we all thought that a favorite of Trudi's would have a lot more casting opportunities in a day than would a girl who rubbed her the wrong way. So we learned to live with her and love her. And those who did not, pretended to.

I was "odd girl out" again. My style was not "sorority." My differences had already found their way into how I related to others. This housing arrangement was not going to lead to forming any close or lasting friendships. It was clear to me that my personal history was not exactly like that of most of the other girls. I was a runaway. I had no money, nothing cool in my bag of tricks, nothing fancy in my wardrobe. And, most painfully, unlike the others I was not calling home on Sundays to report my week's victories to my loving and excited family. I was just hoping to get by.

The day I arrived, I dragged my exhausted self and my small bag into the bunk room. I was barely given a nod by the others, all of whom were newcomers themselves.

"Hi," I tried shyly. "I'm Carre."

Nods all around. Stephanie was a brunette on the top bunk, Tiffany a blonde on the lower bunk. And Fiona walked in with a towel wrapped around her tall, slender body. "Oh!" she declared excitedly. "I'm not the new one anymore! That's a fucking relief!"




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