Pay attention,” she said, “because you have to start today. NIKE is doing an ad campaign with Footlocker. They’re putting huge posters in all their stores, maybe billboards too. We have to find the models for the ads.”

“I’m with you,” I said.

“There’s more,” she said, “get this, the parameters are insane. The models can’t be college athletes, or professional athletes, they must, however, be REAL athletes, ex-college athletes, superior and still competing amateur athletes, former pros, beautiful bodies, captivating faces.”

She picked up the unwashed carrot from the floor and began to eat it. Then she continued, “We need men and women, white, black, Latino. We need runners, basketball players, tennis players, volleyball players. But here’s the zinger, its pure madness. It’s for a new line of NIKE sneakers not yet released and the prototypes have been made only in size 7 for men and size 4 for women.”

“You are kidding,” I said.

“Amy is on the way over and I have assignments for both of you.”

“Size 7 and size 4?” I said.

“Isn’t it crazy?” she said. “I mean what professional athletes have baby feet? Imagine some 6’8” basket ball player with a size 7 foot. That’s like half the size it should be. Imagine a runner with those size feet. We’re looking for freaks.” The light in her eyes gleamed above permanently dark half circles. “This is going to be marvelous,” she said and took another bite of her carrot.

The door buzzed and Shauna raised an eyebrow, which was my cue to bound down the five flights and open the front door. I did. There stood Amy. We frequently worked together on these insane casting jobs. She was petite and though in her mid twenties she looked sixteen.

Amy’s face was round, her hair a mass of Shirley Temple ringlets. We could have been father and daughter given how  she looked. It was not until she opened her mouth that you were aware that you were in the presence of someone both much older and intellectually formidable. Her voice was rich, her words chosen the way a chef chooses his knives. She chose them for precision, for the effectiveness of the cut, the slice, the chop they could make. She did not suffer fools gladly, and yet at the same time, this edge was paired with a romantic heart and a love for the absurd.

“This one is nuts,” I said as we were climbing the stairs.

“I’ve already spoken with Shauna,” She said. “Only she could attract this kind of stuff.” She rolled her eyes. “It’s a treasure hunt, a quest for the anomaly, the demands of advertising in conflict with human anatomy. Can’t wait.”

We entered the loft and sat cross-legged before Shauna like disciples. She had poured us some black coffee and cut us pieces of baklava.

“Fuckers! Fuckers!” Shauna said. At first I thought she was talking to us.

“Tomorrow a camera crew is coming from NY 1 to video the rats in The Gourmet Garage. It’s going to be all over the news. I just got off the phone with them. I’ve fucking had it. A rat ate half our baklava. FUCKERS!”

I had just popped a piece of baklava in my mouth. The honeyed sweetness turned rancid on my tongue. I swallowed some black coffee and winced.

“OK. Business time,” Shauna said. “Amy, I need you to find male runners. Go wherever male runners go and find us two or three who fit the bill. Hit sports stores, Paragon at Union Square, Modell’s downtown and in Battery Park . . .  I’ll have a bigger list for you tomorrow. Take photos. You know the drill.”

“We can pay the athletes we select $3000 for the shoot. It’s going to be one to two days. August 2nd and 3rd. Get all their details: name, phone number, emergency number, address. Make them sign a release.”

Amy sat silent, taking in her marching orders. You could see the absurdity of it all sending an electric charge through her little body and ringlets.

“John, I want you to find female runners and male basketball players. I have specific places for you to hit. Be at Basket Ball City at the end of Chelsea Piers by 3:00. The Knicks are looking at a Harlem street-baller who’s called Little Feet. He’s supposed to be incredible, but has really tiny feet, hence the name. Then go over to Asphalt Green on the Upper East Side to check out runners. There is a group of female tri-athletes who train up there today.”

There was a crashing sound in the kitchen. The garbage can had been knocked over. We all turned our heads. A rat shot out of the kitchen and into a storage space beneath the stairs.

“We need a fucking gun,” Shauna said.

“Two.” I said. “Upstairs is crawling with them today.”

“I’ve got the rats covered,” Shauna said. “You watch me. I’ve called the news and an exterminator; we’re getting a cat from the ASPCA. The rats are going down! NOW GO, we have 3 days to have our first cut of models. GO!”

We heeded her command. To be out of the rat hotel and into the daylight of a Soho summer was a relief. We strolled north and at Houston Street we parted, but first made plans to meet later that evening and share stories of the day’s quest.

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About the Author

John Rexer, the founder and editor of La Cuadra Magazine, expatriated himself from Los Estados about 12 years ago because he couldn't stand seeing his city, New York, lobotomized by the metastasizing sameness of WalMart America and didn't have a pillow large enough to Chief Bromden the place out of it's misery. After knocking around Mexico for a while he landed in Antigua, Guatemala - broke but certain about the decision to stay out of the States. Without much of a backup plan he opened Café No Sé (with a rusty credit card) on a residential street, in this sleepy, third-world, colonial town with the intention of creating the best bar in the known universe. For those of you who've been through Antigua, you know he succeeded. Primary mission accomplished, a few years later John started "creatively transporting" mezcal from Oaxaca into Guatemala with the intention of creating a multi-national company that would deliver the finest agave spirits to the citizenry of the world. That company, Ilegal Mezcal, is currently selling its booze around the globe. La Cuadra Magazine, an idea hatched a decade ago in a booze fueled bitch session with current Editor-in-Chief, Mike Tallon, is actually just the first step in larger plan to develop a publishing company that will create a genius literary movement in this new century in much the same way that Ferlinghetti's City Lights project launched the Beat Movement of the 1950s. Writ short, his aspirations are as big as his liver. Or, as Mike has noted on a number of occasions, John Rexer puts the "messy" back in "Messianic."