Noam sniffled, pulled out his paisley silk handkerchief, blew his nose, and looked at his ladies.
“Oh, to ruin such a pretty thing!” one of them burst out.
“Don’t worry dear, I have a good dry cleaner,” Noam reassured her. Some of these girls were rather silly. He tucked it back in to his pocket, snotty end down.
“You girls are all gorgeous. Walk proudly and don’t let Anna scare you!”
That last statement got a nervous giggle out of his models. Anna Wintour had always written favorably about him in Vogue, so Noam wasn’t actually concerned. One by one his models got into place for his show’s commencement. This was his fourth time presenting at Paris Fashion Week and it never ceased to be thrilling. Now it was his turn to nervously giggle, turning it into a broad smile, waving to the cheering crowd as he walked down the runway following the encore.
After making the rounds of after parties, an exhausted Noam climbed into a hired car and was driven back to his hotel along the Champs-Élysées. Anyone who becomes jaded by Paris is a total jerk he always thought. In the darkness a woman sat on her luggage. How lonely it must be to be alone in a strange country. Unless she was from here traveling somewhere else. He’d learned long ago never to make assumptions. She looked at the car as it pulled up next to the curb where she was sitting and he instinctively smiled at her. Long dark hair, eyes that were probably brown, jeans, sweater. She didn’t look happy, but it was too dark for Noam to tell if she was crying or not, although she did offer him a slight smile in return.
Noam’s car pulled away and the moment was over in less than a minute, but he was torn by a wave of nostalgia. Funny that he would feel nostalgic for his past as it certainly wasn’t thrilling. Contrary to what one might assume however, he had not been mocked or bullied in his childhood and had actually been quite popular amongst the ladies. Not in the sense that he’d dated any of them, more in that he’d been the trusted male confidant who offered the emotions and advice of a female without the judgement. The boys left him alone for the most part, although the football team had found him strangely fascinating.
In the tenth grade Noam began taking fashion classes in which he learned how to sketch, sew and put together a collection. His high school was over crowded, so many classes were held outdoors in little trailers known as “parkos.” To get to his fashion parko he had to walk next to the basketball court where the girls’ basketball team always seemed to be practicing. One day when he had a few moments to spare he watched them and was immediately taken by their star player, a junior named Kristie.
Kristie was unconventionally beautiful. For a split second Noam thought Patti Smith had come to his high school to join the basketball team. Common sense came back to him before he ran over to her to gush about how he cried every time he listened to “Redondo Beach” and then swoon into her arms. Of course Patti wasn’t six feet tall. But like Patti, Kristie was a rock star (on the basketball court at least) and Noam instantly wanted to be her friend.
He took to leaving his algebra class a few minutes early, always getting up to sharpen his pencil before the bell rang, then slipping out the door, the teacher too absorbed in her books by A.N. Roquelaure to notice any of this. Years later it would be revealed that those books were BDSM themed porn written by Anne Rice under a pseudonym. How very strange! That certainly explained to Noam why the teacher had been so distracted. After succesfully eluding his sidetracked instructor, he’d stand outside the basketball court acting like he was just a guy who was very supportive of women playing sports. He learned Kristie’s name from her teammates shouting her name as they passed her the ball.
“Aren’t those chicks hot?” Ryan, the football team’s quarter back asked Noam, smacking him on the ass with his history text book. Football players were always so delightfully homoerotic.
“Uh…yeah totally.” Noam lamely agreed.
“I like that one!” Ryan announced, pointing at a blonde girl who kept awkwardly stepping into the path of the ball as she ran while dribbling it.
“Yeah…she’s pretty….” Noam said, embarrassed by Ryan’s lack of discretion, turning around to face him so the girl wouldn’t see that she was being pointed at.
“Well, gotta go to class! Say hi to Joanna for me!” Joanna was Noam’s best girlfriend who Ryan constantly hit on despite her incredibly blatant lack of interest. She often complained to Noam about what an ogre she thought Ryan was, but Noam was too shy to explicitly tell Ryan to back off. Besides, Ryan was undeterred by Joanna throwing her lunch at him in a fit of frustration, so it was unlikely Noam’s words would make a difference. Noam tore himself away from the wire fence surrounding the basketball court and walked to fashion class, imagining the beautiful gowns he would one day make for Kristie.
The class was given the assignment to plan a wedding. It was a lesson partly about fashion and partly about budgeting, a skill that is critical if a designer wishes to avoid bankruptcy. Each student pulled a piece of paper out of a hat that listed a dollar amount ranging from $100 to unlimited and had to plan their wedding without exceeding that dollar amount or else they would get an F.
“Oh no, I might as well become a nun!” shrieked Jessie, the school’s shopaholic, as she drew the slip with $100 written on it.
“Girl is washed up….” hummed Noam as he anxiously waited his turn.
He rustled his fingers around in the hat, pulled his paper out with a dramatic flourish and nearly ripped it in half in his haste to open it.
“Hold your horses, boy!” his teacher crowed.
“UNLIMITED!!” was Noam’s battle cry. The girls were so jealous. How unfair for the boy to be able to afford the wedding of his dreams when all these girls had spent their childhoods dreaming of their fairy tale day and now couldn’t even have it in the context of a classroom exercise. They all better have successful careers or marry a man with money, Noam chuckled to himself.
He had a month to do this assignment and spent this month barricaded in his bedroom, emerging only to use the toilet and go to school.
“Sweetie, that would really stink up the house,” his mother replied when he asked if he could have a litter box in his room to eliminate the need to walk to the toilet.
“No, just no,” was her response to his backup plan which was the installation of one of those stainless steel toilets one finds in prison cells.
Noam couldn’t openly proclaim to his classmates that Kristie was his dream bride, as that would be quite strange and inappropriate to say the least, so he made Patti Smith his imaginary bride. This led to some odd moments with a classmate who for some reason had her mixed up with Patti LaBelle and kept singing “Lady Marmalade” to him.
Noam flipped through his collection of Vogues to find inspiration. None of it was unique! He opened up an art textbook. He was struck by how modern “A Lady in a Fur Wrap” by El Greco looked, despite it being painted in the 1600s. He was beyond smitten with that silky veil she had on; he loved how a diaphanous fabric could be used to look modest yet titillating. That was the basis for the gown he designed Patti/Kristie, a sleeveless A-line ivory gown with a sheer boatneck going all the way up to the neck, then plunging down her shoulders to reveal her back and culminating in a foot long train of silk. There was no reason to go too crazy with the train. He remembered thinking how goofy Princess Diana looked when she walked down the aisle in that poof ball with a twenty-five foot spool of fabric trailing behind her. He knew from the get-go that marriage was doomed.
Although they had pride in their own designs, the girls in his class were all instantly taken with his gown.
“Don’t worry ladies, when the time comes I’ll make you a dress regardless of budget,” he reassured them.
“Ha! Marriage is a sham!” his teacher snorted to herself.
Noam kept the enthusiasm of his classmates in mind as he nervously stood by the basketball court before class the following day. His nerves were so frazzled he didn’t even notice when Ryan came up to him and made a vulgar comment about Joanna’s breasts.
Kristie walked toward the edge of the court to grab her water bottle during a pause in the game.
“Great playing!” Noam chirped in her direction. Oh god, I’m pathetic, he instantly thought.
“Thanks. I see you here a lot. Do you play too?” she responded in a friendly manner. Oh no, she probably thought he was some sort of perv and was just being polite.
“Uh…yeah…I think I may try out for the boys’ team. I just wanted to see what the court was like.” He didn’t want her to think he was the sort of boy who went just to ogle at the girls. But who is that interested in how basketball courts are constructed? He was coming up with some pretty silly statements.
“Ah I see. Well, it’s a nice basketball court I suppose,” she replied turning to walk back to her team.
And that was the last time he spoke to her throughout his time in high school.
“Would you like me to carry this upstairs for you?” The porter’s question brought Noam back to the reality of his hotel in Paris.
“No, merci,” Noam took his room key and carried his tote bag to his room by himself. He flopped down on his bed and was relaxing with a glass of sherry when his phone lit up.
“Hey darling, how are things stateside?”
“Your shipment of fabric finally arrived from Milan and GUESS WHAT, we were able to get Maggie Gyllenhaal on board as the model for our ad campaign!” the executive director of his brand, Kristine, bellowed.
“AMAZING, YOU ARE AMAZING!” he whooped, forgetting for a moment that he was in a hotel where people were sleeping.
He giggled himself to sleep with the excitement of getting to work with Maggie. And he was ever so grateful for the hard work of Kristine. Five years after high school and one year after graduating from fashion school, Noam landed a job with a prestigious design house. He was at a PR event in New York when he spotted from across the room Patti Smith. Except Patti wasn’t six feet tall. This was none other than Kristie. Noam had a bit more confidence now though and walked over to her.
“I know you from high school,” was his opening line. “I always thought you were beautiful and wanted to make clothes for girls like you.”
Kristie burst out laughing.
“I remember you standing there at the basketball court with that little twerp Ryan! I always thought it was so odd, but I suppose I understand now. And I’m glad your dream has come true!”
What a nice woman for being understanding and taking what he said at face value. They had a long conversation over drinks. Noam learned that she’d won a basketball scholarship to Notre Dame, majored in marketing, was starting out as a fashion PR executive (she was initially interested in sports, but took the first job that was offered to her, which happened to be in fashion) and now went by Kristine to sound more mature. He told her to stick with her current job for now, but said he’d recruit her when he became creative director of the label. His hard work paid off and she ended up on his team just three years after that conversation.
The woman sitting on her luggage reminded him of when he’d been so shy and afraid to speak up for Joanna and have a real conversation with Kristie. It could be lonely at times, but at least he’d known his path and he hoped the traveling woman knew where she was going as well.
Noam finished his sherry and curled up in his bed, excited to fall asleep and wake up to another beautiful day in Paris, a city that would never grow old and would always inspire him to make more beautiful clothes for the women he loved.
Dreaming hotel indeed, but no one was washed up.