Playboy’s casting-call confirmation e-mail said to meet in the Palms Fantasy Tower. Yet there were no signs directing model hopefuls. Just walls and closed doors. I approached the nearest man in uniform and asked for directions, certain he would tell me I didn’t belong. The employee didn’t laugh or even look at me strangely. He just said—in that same bored monotone that security guards use the world over—“33rd floor, room 2115.”
I fluffed my hair past all 33 floors, increasing in fervor as the gilded box ascended. Finally, the doors opened. Just a regular hotel hallway. I looked at the room numbers, turned left and wham: a wall of women looking just as nervous and as fluffy as I was. As I approached, the human barrier shifted to reveal a suite of exotic plumage. Half wore colorful, silk Playboy-issue robes, and the other half were still draped in their own interpretation of “sexy.” The scene reminded me of the upscale brothel in HBO’s Deadwood. Perhaps that comparison should’ve been a clue as to what was in store.
The day unfolded like a date where you arrive thinking you don’t even like the person and you leave wondering how he got you naked. But what led me—a mild-mannered journalist whom friends describe as wholesome—to go on this date in the first place?
In my defense, the escapade began innocently enough. I saw it as a strategic career move (and a way to avenge my high-school nerd status). I’ve always dreamed of writing for Playboy. You can mock the cliché of “reading it for the articles,” but many Playboy writers are more likely to be on a college syllabus than in a nudie magazine. So, I was surfing Playboy.com, looking for writing opportunities, and I stumbled upon its national casting call instead. It just so happened that the next stop was Vegas. I took the synchronicity as a sign from the Writing Gods. “This is your chance!” they whispered as a star on the website’s map blinked on Vegas.
It was really just a matter of clicks. Much easier than signing up for Gmail. When I chose the 2 p.m. time slot, I thought it more of a whim than an appointment. Minutes later, I received my confirmation e-mail. Oddly, there was no link to cancel. Though I immediately doubted my wisdom, I didn’t want to be the person who flaked.
At T-minus one week, I noticed my thighs. Though I believe in the magic of Photoshop, they are simply not centerfold material. A sense of dread coated my stomach, much like Pepto-Bismol, but having the opposite effect.
The instructions said to arrive with completed hair and makeup. I imagined the ideal was a va-va-voom Jennifer Aniston. An illusion of that scale would require more than my dried-out grocery-store tubs of beauty products. Two hours before the audition, I hit the highway, speeding toward the mall makeup counter.
A mother was hogging the saleslady while her two 12-year-olds selected glitter eye shadow. The children looked more primed for a Playboy audition than I was. As I waited, I began to wonder who was the adult and who the child; who was preparing for the first day of school and who was preparing for a dubious modeling career. The distinctions seem so slim these days.
When you arrive at the Playboy casting call, the first thing you have to do is navigate around the line for the bathroom. That’s the wall of girls I originally encountered. They were waiting to change into their bikinis/lingerie. It was also their last chance at a sink and mirror before the audition.
Beyond the bathroom line was the sign-in booth, where you filled out the paperwork. Playboy’s form reads much like an application for student council: likes, dislikes, favorite movie quote, why you want to pose for Playboy and measurements.
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Then there was the little issue of a model-release form. I didn’t feel comfortable signing it. They urged me to sign and said that if I changed my mind, I could tell the photographer, and he would let me destroy the document. In the end, the growing line pushed me to sign and get out of the way.
Now it was my turn to join the waiting women. The room was just a big hotel suite with lots of added chairs. Magazine cover blow-ups leaned against every wall, blocking an otherwise dizzying view. But the most interesting things to see were the ladies themselves.
For this truly open audition, the applicants came in a variety of shapes, sizes and ages. The youngest brought their moms and the oldest were moms. A few were so astonishingly beautiful that their time would have been better spent as Hollywood-husband-hunting cocktail waitresses. Others seemed better fit for night cashiering at a gas station. However, Playboy, in a strangely magnanimous act, gives every girl an equal chance. As for me, I fell somewhere in the middle range of age and beauty.
Playboy-brand publications were strewn everywhere, in a funny take on a doctor’s-office waiting room. About the time boredom led me to read Voluptuous Vixens, they called me up for my mug shot and ID verification. The ID checker seemed impressed that my job status was “writer.” She suggested I check out Playboy’s website for job opportunities. Ironic. After the mug shot, they handed me a robe and sent me to the bathroom line.
A good 30 minutes later, I was back in that same waiting area. The novelty had worn off, and now the waiting was just arduous. Plus, the staff had ordered pizza and was eating in front of girls who had undoubtedly skipped both breakfast and lunch in order to look their best.
The only thing that broke the monotony was when a photographer emerged from a room twirling a lacy number and yelling, “Somebody forgot their bra.” Everybody laughed. As for me, the case of the missing bra should have been a clue that maybe we’d be asked to remove them.
Finally, they called me to one of the four photography rooms. While waiting behind the last partition, I overheard the photographer and the bunny hopeful mention the word “secretary.” I assumed there was a “sexy secretary” setup on the other side of the wall and that each girl would don a business suit and pose behind a desk. This defied common sense, but something about near nudity prevents normal brain function. When it was my time to walk around the partition, I was shocked to see nothing except lights and a white backdrop. It was like joining a trapeze act the one time they didn’t use nets.
Though silk just slides off, the moment of removing the robe was painful. I kept telling myself, “It’s just like wearing a swimsuit.” As the studio lights warmed me, I wondered why I never felt this exposed in a bikini.
The photographer, an understandably happy-go-lucky man, picked up a clipboard and asked, “Are your breasts real?”
I panicked. Could he tell I was wearing padded bra inserts? He was a professional boob-watcher; maybe he had proprietary detection technology. I said they were real, hoping that my “external boob job” wouldn’t make me a liar. For his part, the photographer simply made a check mark on his clipboard and continued the interview portion of the audition. (This is really a list of yes or no questions meant to determine eligibility for Playboy’s supplementary publications):
Are you in college?
Do you have tattoos?
Are you married?
Do you have children?
My answer was no to all, which only qualified me for the Natural Beauties publication.
Then the photog asked if I would take off my bottom. But he said it in a very conciliatory way, as in, It’s not required, but, hey, we welcome the practice. I answered with a resounding no.
Despite an affinity for making bedroom eyes at mirrors, I was as stiff as a Barbie through the basic poses. Then photo-man asked me to take my top off. My planned answer was no. But he convinced me otherwise. I’d like to say that it took feats of persuasion. But the conversion went more like this:
“I’d rather not.”
“You really should.”
“Oh, all right.”
But the thing that really swayed me was the old cover-your-boobs-with-your-hands trick. In the end, the shot wasn’t as exposing as a PETA ad. Plus, he showed me how to use arm positioning to act as a push-up bra. The only challenge was taking off my bra in a way that hid the inserts.
Back in my street clothes, with my gift “I Posed Today” Playboy T-shirt in hand, I headed back toward that same elevator. I felt exhilarated and changed in a secret but permanent way (like getting a rose tattoo on your ass). Then came the panic. As that metal cage took me back to ground-floor reality, I realized I had forgotten to take the model release from the photographer. Oops.