READER essayThe chubby, naked baby on our Christmas card is the cutest thing you’ll ever see, and I’m not just saying this because I’m the chubby, naked baby’s father. My wife’s talent agent agrees. "Jenny, you have got to get that baby in a photo shoot!" The shoot was in two days. I would be taking our son on his first day of work.
The address is in a trendy part of Chicago. I imagine my son being whisked away by a team of baby stylists while I’m guided to a table filled with bagels, lunch meats, pastries, cheeses, a carving station and a sundae bar. I devour my plate of chocolate éclairs and salami sandwiches—watching satellite TV—until Britt’s five minutes of fame are up. The caretakers then carry him down when the valet returns with my freshly washed car.
Sometimes I shoot high, but I’ve never missed so badly.
The studio is on the outskirts of the West Loop and shares a building with a couple of meat packing plants. Not only does the studio share a building with a place that cuts up cows, there’s also no buffet-style eatery—just a box of pilfered, plain doughnuts.
I signed my child up for his first day of work without asking how much the job paid. A sneaky lady explains: "He gets $75 per hour. If the client likes his picture they’ll buy a three-year license and use the picture for $350." Sounds fine to me. "You mean I’ll get 350 bucks every time they use his picture?" I ask. "No, no!" she corrects me. "He’ll get $350 just once, and they can use it as often as they want."
Britt isn’t in a union, so we can’t file a grievance.
He and I sit on a couch that looks like it has been defiled at a frat party. The decision-makers chatter about his wardrobe. "Let’s put him in the underwear," a woman in a business suit says. I think having him in underpants when he still poops in his shorts might be messy, but I’m not the professional. Another woman asks, "Is he walking yet?" "He just started crawling yesterday," I respond. "I think walking might be a few days away."
A 3-year-old named Matthew is currently in front of the camera. "Over here, Matthew! Look over here!" This goes on for 15 minutes. I start to get annoyed and want to say, "Look, Matthew, either get with the program or start crying really hard so we can all get on with our day. Either way, you’re getting a Happy Meal out of this." But I think better of it. As Matthew leaves, a grandmotherly woman reaches for my child and says, "It’s Britt’s turn."
My son cannot be happier to be ripped from my arms by a complete stranger. The photographer’s gigantic camera sits at one end of the set. The baby handler puts Britt down on an ottoman and begins a song and dance routine. I’m told to stand where Britt can’t see me. It would have been surprising to see him take his eyes off the 60-year-old woman who is singing a Sponge Bob song while hitting herself in the head with a squeaky mallet. After only a few minutes, Britt is bored. "Can we get Dad in here?" the photographer asks. I’m off to the rescue.
The last time he acted like this we were at a restaurant, where I took a menu and began fanning his face. He was giggling so much people thought we were sneaking him booze. I spot a yellow, menu-sized legal pad and walk over to the baby handler. "Wave this in his face," I say. A few seconds later, he’s laughing and smiling.
"I wish they all could be this good," the photographer admits. As I zip Britt back into his clothes, I think of when I will tell him about our adventure: Walking back to the car, Britt giggles as a truck carrying slabs of meat misses us by inches, but I’m imagining his wedding day and how I’ll weave this into my speech.
After I thank the bride’s family for such a lavish reception and give praise to the minister for a lovely ceremony, I’ll launch into Britt’s first job and how perfect he was, how I’d never been so proud of someone so small.
Then again, it might not happen that way. Britt could get married in a unification ceremony on a tree stump in the middle of Vermont to Bruce and they’d honeymoon at Fire Island.
Either way, I’m telling the story.
Clay Champlin is a freelance writer living in Evanston. His son, Britt, has had two more auditions, but is still looking for work.
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