A new study shows that obesity is an epidemic, the newscaster will say. Then, they will often cut to most of me while the newscaster says it again.
If people ask, I work for a television station. If they ask again, I say, “You’ve probably seen me in stock footage.” They like that I’ve used an industry term, when I really haven’t, and that’s always where it ends.
If anyone ever persists, I will tell them about Max. Max is my cameraman, most of the time. We try to get it right, even if it’s just for an affiliate, because what we do is important.
Yesterday, I was in a black and white horizontally striped shirt and white leggings, which is not unusual. However, Max handed me a purse, which is. This is how well we know each other now: he didn’t have to tell me what to do with it. It was a big red patent leather purse, with a thick strap. I uncinched it all the way, and slung it across me, like a safety patrol belt. The bag pulled itself taut against my ribcage, just like we both knew it would. It was almost better than rubber corsets, which was most of the work I got before a news producer handed me a card across the street from Rockefeller Center.
Max handed me an opened package of cherry pie, out of which he had already taken a couple of big bites. I held it up against my sternum and it dribbled syrup on my shirt. Max took a few steps back, and our eyes met before he took me all in. Then he smiled, and it made my heart murmur riff for just a second. “Perfect,” he said. “Now, walk.”
I stepped out onto Seventh Avenue and Max drifted in front of me, facing backwards with the camera. The trick to getting the walk right, I’ve learned from watching myself on the eleven o’clock news, is to turn my toes out before I start and lean back a little. It took me months to figure out that was the simplest way to a lumbering stroll. I used to cheat and use hiking boots, until one time when the network wanted to make absolutely certain the footage included swollen ankles. After that shoot, there was no going back.
“Out a little bit,” he called, and I pushed my hips forward. The bottom of my striped shirt rolled back up my stomach. I took the same moment to change from a grip on the purse to hanging my non-pie hand against the strap. And I knew Max liked it, almost as much as I liked his scruffy hair, his paint-spattered work boots, and the tattered cell phone case clipped to his saggy belt. All of which I could see as clearly as Max could see me, neck to knees, in the camera’s lens.
“Beautiful.” No one ever wants audio, so Max can say anything he likes. So could I, of course, but I’d never had the guts. My calves swelled against the hems of the leggings as I walked. The cherry pie, six inches below my face, smelled like neither cherries nor pie. The pie was the face people see instead of my own. It was pure sugar, the inside a brighter red than anyone’s blood.
The people who fall in around me on these shoots usually see Max, and then look at me one, two, three times. “This a movie or something?” a man in a gray suit asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “Crowd scene for the new Brad Pitt movie.”
We parted at the corner of Seventh and 57th. Gray Suit crossed the street, and then turned back. “I’ll have to remember what I wore today!” he shouted.
“Gray suit!” I stopped for a moment as if I needed to catch my breath. I swear, even over all of the traffic and shouting and wind, I heard Max sigh. And when we got lunch at Burrito Box and walked over to the park, Max just poked at his chicken ranchero. “Is it cooked?” I asked. “Do we need to take it back?”
“Do you wish we were shooting a Brad Pitt movie?” He took off his sunglasses to look at me, and his eyes were damp and red at the edges.
“I said it because the guy had a gray suit.” I took his sunglasses from him and put them in my lap, next to my almost-finished black bean burrito.
“After we’re done,” Max said, “I have to show you something.”
We went downtown to the television studio. I almost never go there — once my work is done on the street, I squeeze into a subway and head home. But Max is there a lot and everyone knows him, or at least that’s how it seemed to me in the hallways.
We walked down a narrow corridor, around a corner and into a room with lots of monitors and buttons I wanted to press and not press. Max pulled a chair out for me, and settled in so close I could feel his oxford cloth shirt gently brush against my knit black stripes.
“Look.” He slid the DVD into an innocuous crack of the control panels. A moment later, I stood in front of us on a midtown street. My cherry pie was nestled to me like a newborn, my purse strap the broadest of diagonal divides.
“Do you see?” he said, and maybe I wouldn’t have, but he asked, and so I did.
In the footage he shot that morning, the leaky cherry pie wasn’t what steered me down the sidewalk. (“That’s the one good thing besides the money,” my mother said, the very first time she saw me on television. “You can’t tell it’s you.”) Here, in the editing room, my head was still very much on the screen.
“I keep the originals.” Max gently took my index finger and placed it over a key on the keyboard. I tapped it once, twice, three times, and my head, my hair and face and eyes, were now where the stripes had been.
I looked into my own eyes, like no one else would and Max had at least seventy-eight times already. They were focused slightly lower and to the left of the camera, and they were soft around the edges.
I’d thought no one at all knew that.