On a May morning in 1994, I drove to a home on the edge of Lake Michigan to model privately in the nude for Walter. I'd met him once. I posed for a class he took at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Elderly but standing erect with aristocratic bearing, he wore an ascot and spoke with a strong German accent. When Walter came up to ask for my phone number, I didn't think twice about writing it down for him. He seemed a harmless widower. A few days later, he called. I recognized him immediately by his accent. We settled on a three-hour session two weeks later starting at 11 a.m.
I parked my car on the gravel drive of his wooded grounds and rang the bell. Walter opened the door, happy to see me. Inside, the house had lots of bleached wood and a fireplace of black and white marble. Richly framed landscapes hung on the walls. On numerous small end tables sat vases, silk flower arrangements, antique snuff boxes and framed photographs. The curtains and some of the chair coverings had a pattern of gold cherubs.
Walter wanted to work in the living room. He'd closed the drapes so we wouldn't shock anyone who might stroll by. I usually pose in unadorned quarters and looked forward to modeling in a space with so much visual stimulation. I changed in a powder room conveniently located right off the living room.
When I returned, Walter paged through a book with sketches of fashion models. He explained he'd worked as a fashion photographer in Paris during the '50s for magazines like Vogue and now wanted to draw what he used to photograph. I warned Walter I certainly didn't qualify as a fashion model: over 30 and under 5-foot-4 with a prominent rear end. I questioned whether I could hold the slouched poses in the book for long periods. Walter dismissed my concerns and had me select illustrations I thought I could mimic. To copy the figures in the book, I had to stand in postures that immediately felt not only awkward, but painful.
I was looking at a statuette of a dog when I believe Walter commented, "You have very pink nipples." I couldn't be sure. I was preoccupied with focusing my attention away from the strain to my body. After taking a minute to sort through his thick accent, I thought he might have said, "You have very big nipples." Either way, why had Walter made a comment about my nipples? Perhaps, as a fashion photographer, he was used to nude women and was merely describing what he saw. If he was talking about my body as a prelude to something else, I'd leave. Walter could have called a model to pose for him who resembled those tall women in the book he showed me. Why had Walter called me?
An hour had elapsed and we took a break. While I slipped on my shift, he pulled out photo albums from a bookshelf. He showed me a few of his favorite models from ads he did for Christian Dior. Walter flipped the page and I stared at a picture of a dashing photographer. He looked like Basil Rathbone with more hair and flair. All at once I realized I was peering at a picture of Walter in his prime. I said many women must have fallen for him. He smiled demurely.
I took another standing pose. Walter told me my hands were perfect. I take great pride in the way I hold my hands when I model, and remarked to Walter how I sometimes imitate the hand motions of East Indian dancers. Walter asked if I could take the lotus position. Relieved I'd get to sit, I complied. I'd never attempted this pose before and worried it would hurt more than the slouches. Actually, it felt heavenly to hold and I relaxed. Walter disturbed my calm to tell me he'd been in the wrong spot during the class when I'd modeled. Now I finally understood why Walter invited me to come. It had nothing to do with fashion.
Toward the end of the session at the art museum, a woman had inquired if I could do a pose leaning down with my butt tilted up. Often artists change positions to avoid a rear view of a model. Not only did this woman ask to see my ass, but the pose had strong sexual connotations. I was positioned perfectly for rear-entry sex with my elbows on the ground, knees on a pillow and legs spread wide. The woman moved way to one side of the room, and I shifted so no one else had a vantage point with my derriere in their face. This woman's forthright request tickled me; I obliged with pleasure. This was my body, all parts dear to me, and she was welcome to it.
So was Walter.
I got on the floor and gave Walter what he wanted. Fifteen minutes later Walter thanked me, called me a "good sport" and I took a more discreet pose, curled on a small couch. Walter said I looked like a Watteau. This type of compliment comes with the job. I have listened to art models try to impress each other by comparing which famous portraits artists have said they resemble.
At the second break, Walter went upstairs. I ate some grapes I'd brought along, used the bathroom and stretched. Walter returned with an art book to show me the Watteau I reminded him of. In his thin, dry voice he asked, "Pegi, can you see what's happening in the picture?" He pointed to a sketch. A nurse or maid is standing behind a woman on a chaise longue, ready to give her an enema. He turned to one other page with a print of an old enema device. He gestured to it and giggled. Just what did Walter want?
I sat on the small couch with one knee up. Walter drew for a few minutes.
"Would it be all right if I came closer?" he inquired.
"Fine," I responded.
Walter walked over and stooped to stare at my crotch. "It looks just like a flower," he said.
This remark rankled me. He had some nerve to utter this trite line when I was going way beyond the call of duty to fulfill Walter's midday desires. If Walter thought he could ensure my cooperation by plying me with wilted compliments, he had another think coming. I encourage people to come close when I model. They are paying to see me. I think I should be carefully eyed or else the artist isn't taking me seriously. But to pull out a clichi when I'd given him my lovely vagina! What an insult.
I proposed Walter should go back to his chair so he wouldn't have to stand. I pulled up a padded stool and sat with my legs up and spread wide a foot away from him. He sketched for only a few minutes and then asked me to turn around. I obliged. One more rear view for Enema Man. During the five or six minutes I held this pose, I prayed I wouldn't fart. Walter let me know he was done and enough time remained for one last pose.
When I first brought over the stool and drew apart my legs Walter complained, "You have so much hair. It's hard to see. You must not be able to wear a bikini." All right. For this final pose, I would make sure Walter had my crotch in all its red-winged glory. I straddled the stool as though I was at the gynecologist's office and supported my weight on my arms. I had my head tilted back and my throat extended. From a wolf's frame of reference, I had placed myself in a totally submissive position.
I felt something on my pubic hair. I couldn't see, but I knew it wasn't Walter's hand, or any of his other appendages. Models should stay still, but the situation demanded immediate examination. I moved as little as possible so as not to disturb the pose.
I pushed up on my arms and lifted my head to survey the scene. Walter was combing my pubic hair out of the way. He patted the dense curls to keep them in place. Walter's gaze met my eyes. Not content with one bad clichi, he told me I was prettier than a tulip. I got up and hurriedly pulled on my clothes -- I wanted to get out of Walter's house right away. Walter made me wait while he went upstairs to get money to pay me. Despite all his compliments, when I unfolded the bills in my car he had only given me a $10 tip.
Driving home, I wondered what Walter would do with his pocket comb. Would he wash it before he used it to slick back his once-dazzling hair? I didn't care. I was through with Walter.
Or was I?
In the days that followed my session with Walter, I told as many people as would listen the story of our midday together. How often does anyone have a truly good story to tell? I emphasized the dramatic. Would Walter molest me? The tension I inspired in listeners would change to amazement when I related the comic ending with Walter gripping his little comb. I could describe Walter any way I wanted. I chose to depict him as a harmless man of questionable morals.
I hadn't gone to Walter expecting to write about our session together. However, after I'd recited the events of the afternoon for the fifth time, I decided I needed to put them on paper. When I finished a draft, I mailed it to Walter for his comments. My anxiety level jumped the instant I slipped the envelope in the mailbox. Would Walter drive to my home and shoot me?
Two days later when I answered the phone and recognized Walter's voice, I started to panic. My panic quickly turned to relief when he chuckled and called himself "an old fart." Then, mildly defensive, he explained, "I'm fascinated with the body. Where can I go to get a close look at the vagina and see how everything functions now that my wife is dead?" Walter confessed he had a "checkered" past. I tabled his invitation for another modeling engagement and asked if we could have lunch together.
Once again, I drove to Walter's home on the lake. I found out Walter grew up in Switzerland between the world wars. At the age of 17 his father died, and his German mother, who didn't like the Swiss, moved back to Germany. To make a living, Walter joined a jazz band. "The Teddies" became such a popular group throughout Europe that during World War II the army exempted them from active service and paid them to play for the troops. When the war ended, so did the Big Band era, and the Teddies disbanded.
Unsure of what to do next, Walter went to the French Riviera. He left a few months later with a camera a girlfriend gave him, and on a second whim traveled to Egypt to take pictures. As luck would have it, he met the famous war photographer Robert Capa and showed Capa his pictures from Egypt. Capa complimented Walter on his sense of composition and suggested he visit the studio in Paris where Capa had all his pictures developed. Walter moved to Paris and hung around the photo lab. One day he mentioned he would like to do fashion photography. As a joke, one of the technicians suggested he take his portfolio to Vogue. Walter followed the technician's advice. An editor offered him the use of a Vogue model to see what Walter could do. The editor happened to select a Swiss model who took Walter under her wing and coached him. The lab technician nearly fainted when Walter returned and reported he'd landed a job taking publicity photos.
Months after our lunch, I kept thinking about Walter. He didn't seem so bad. He had lived an adventurous life. I felt guilty for casting him as an old goat. I called him to ask why he showed me the Watteau picture and the enema. He claimed it had nothing to do with an anal fixation. He only found it curious that great artists, like Picasso and Matisse, had "pretty dirty minds and painted dirty pictures."
I decided to call Dennis Coffey, the instructor at the art museum, and pump him for information about Walter. Dennis considered Walter a lonely character, and stopped by his house at the lake now and then. Walter had divulged to him having drawn my "family jewels." Dennis proposed giving him the names of some strippers, if Walter wanted to draw female genitalia. Walter wasn't interested.
I confided to Dennis my conflicting notions about Walter. Dennis commented, "It seems the two of you are married to your trust." Was that it? Why couldn't I let my midday with Walter go?
During the winter of 1996, Walter called me after reading an article I'd written about a young jazz trio for a Milwaukee newspaper. For the first time in our phone conversations, Walter questioned me. He wanted to know why I wouldn't model for him. He once again referred to famous artists, like Dali, who include female genitalia in their work. "Walter," I pledged, "If I wake up one morning with the desire to sit on a stool with my legs spread for a couple of hours, I'll call you." We both laughed.
I had my last conversation with Walter a month later. He phoned and whined, "I'm disappointed you are not going to open your legs for me." Enough. Despite my admiration of Walter for his pluck as a youth and cavalier travels, an old goat is an old goat. I am not a slit for hire.