Early January is always the shittiest time of the year for me, because of one thing:
(That’s supposed to be misery, fatigue and boredom emanating from the letters.)
That’s right, the Consumer Electronics Show is the biggest trade show of them all, and every freelancer with a vagina (and many without) within a 100-mile radius is sucked into its gaping fluorescent-lit maul, in one capacity or another –usually to shill for some shitty product or another by luring unsuspecting geeks into booths, suites and exhibits to look at and lust after the latest lamentable planned-obsolescent gadgetry.
It’s a HUGE production, staged at great cost to the exhibitors, and is traditionally a great boon to our local economy. Not only does Vegas get to gouge the 100,000+ attendees to the tune of $12 beers, $400 hotel rooms and $50 long-haul cab rides all week long…but us Vegas gash also gets a piece of the pie. Since CES is by and large a sausagefest, most companies hire T&A to stand around their booths, hold their signage at the airport, and even to come mingle at their after-hours receptions. It’s a great time to have a vagina…I guess.
Now if there are two things I hate in this world, they are 1.) getting up early and 2.) businesswear — and alas, CES demands both. In addition, there’s the insane traffic, the parking nightmares, and the extreme fatigue since I usually have two or more jobs going at once during that week. In other words… FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS!
Since it’s only a four-day show, I usually just suck it up and deal with it…although the dread of CES week starts creeping into my life shortly after Christmas. I hate it that much. Yet, as a full-time freelancer, I feel unable to turn it down, since it’s usually a pretty good chunk of change.
Speaking of which: people are always asking me, as a booth hostess, how much money I make. Answer: not enough! It seems like a really easy gig: stand around looking cute all day. But that’s not all there is to it, lemme tell ya!! First off, looking cute at 8am is a real chore, and maintaining cuteness under the harsh glare of fluorescent lighting in a freezing-cold expo hall for 9 hours is even harder! Then there’s the fact that standing in one place doing nothing is perhaps the hardest thing on Earth to do without one’s brain breaking. Some clients give you busy work, like, “Hand out these light-up dice!” which at least gives you something to focus on, and takes your eyes off the clock. But I’ve had other gigs where I literally did nothing but hold a sign all day, while trying to look cute and alert….and that is torture! Then, at the same time, many clients expect you to memorize their whole sales spiel and to really care if Joe Laptop buys 10,000 units of their 2013 Widget, and make you feel guilty if they’re not making their sales goals for the show. Because I am a conscientious person, this last one gets me every time. I can’t tell you how many sad-sack Willy Lomans I’ve worked for — and bled for, in my heart.
Back to how much I make: I’m going to name numbers here, because people are always asking this — clients and fellow models alike. Typical booth model pay varies, but is usually either a day rate of between $150-$400, or an hourly rate from as $15-$40 (I’m sure there are higher and lower extremes, but these are the averages). If you hire a model thru an agency, expect to pay around $400 a day — of which the model gets anywhere from half to 3/4. I did one show in October that they billed the client $350/day, of which I got $245.
If you don’t want to mess with an agency, you can just book some random chippy off craigslist…and that’s usually the $150/day or $15/hour end of the spectrum. For your savings, you risk having a crackhead show up…or worse, having no one show up at all. At least with an agency, they can send a replacement!
Here is my personal CES history:
- 2000: Before I moved to Vegas, I worked as a secretary for IBM in California, and they brought me out to Vegas one year as the receptionist for their booth. I think I used to earn $13/hour, plus they paid my hotel, airfare, meals and expenses. Since I was not hired specifically for the show, this doesn’t really count…but it’s interesting to note the price point.
- 2005: client was Sirius Satellite Radio. I was booked thru an agency, and made $17/hour to stand in the lobby of the Bellagio and hold a sign all….day….long (to point clients in the right direction of Sirius’s meeting rooms).
- 2006: client was Imation. I was booked thru an agency, and made somewhere around $250/day…for the same basic sign-holding shtick, only this time, I got to escort clients up to the meeting rooms instead of just stand there all day. I remember it being like a 12-hour day with very few breaks, though — that’s another thing; as a 1099 employee, I guess labor laws don’t apply, so you don’t always get a 15 every 4 hours nor an hour lunch every 8 hours. And that can be a HUGE deal when wearing high heels on a marble floor all day!
- 2007: client was Netgear. This was a great gig, thru an agency — I made about $240/day, got to SIT at a reception desk, wearing a cozy Netgear sweater, handing out light-up Netgear dice. CAKE! I <3 Netgear to this day!
- 2008: client was Nokia. Another great gig, thru an agency, but I found it on craigslist. We made $40/hour, plus $25 per diem, for 10-hour days which consisted of our wearing Nokia-branded track suits and hanging around out in front of the Convention Center urging passers-by to check out the new Nokia phones. It was cold, but they provided long underwear and free Nike tennies I <3 Nokia!
- 2009: I got wise, and bailed on CES to work the Adult Expo instead. I worked for Audigier Condoms, which paid me somewhere around $250/day to lay on a bed, in a bikini, and tell people about the condoms “if you want to.” Mostly, I just posed for photos. BEST. GIG. EVER!
- 2010: Stayed at the Adult Expo to work for AVN magazine — I don’t remember exactly, but somewhere around $30/hour to hand out copies of their mag to showgoers. Easy, but boring…and standing in heels all day
- 2011 & 2012: They moved the Adult Expo to the following week, so I was back at CES again. Both years I worked for an unnamed super-high-end audio designer for $200/day, standing in the doorway to their suite at the Venetian, urging passing audiophiles to “come in and hear some really great tube audio.”
So you can see, pay kinda fluctuates depending on the gig you score, and doesn’t seem to follow any inflationary trends. Variables such as amount of clothing seem to matter little ($40/hour to wear a Nokia tracksuit vs. $25 to wear a bikini), nor does level of comfort ($30/hour to sit on my fat ass in a Netgear sweater vs. $17 to stand around the Bellagio lobby all…day…long).
So, now you know how much booth models make. Are they obscenely overpaid? Not in my experience — it’s legitimately mentally draining work!
Anyway, as mentioned, my client this year was a group of really nice high-end audio salespeople, headed up by the inventor of their product line — a tall, gaunt, charmingly eccentric, Tolkien-esque Englishman with abominable personal habits and a fabulous disregard for the fawning of his geeky fan base. Audio nerds would come by to pay their respects, and he would sort of absentmindedly stare off into the distance while offering a half-hearted handshake and a distracted “Yes, yes, very good.” He was fabulous! One of those super-intelligent Asperger’s types. (I took this into account when he slapped my ass one day, and told me that I have “quite a good chunk of meat” on me. Those krayyyyyyzy eccentric Englishmen!)
But even more interesting were the high-end audio nerds who flocked to see him. Apparently high-end audio is still a really big thing, though I guess not so much as back in the day — nowadays we’re happy with our shitty mp3s, and have little need for extravagant hi-fi systems and whatnot. But there is still a segment of the population who buy $60,000 speakers, and set them a certain distance away from the walls, etc., for optimal sound. Interestingly, in my experience most of these audiophiles were Swedish and/or Jewish, and nearly ALL of them are male — so much so that there’s even a term in audiophile circles called “WAF:” Wife Acceptance Factor. As in, “These new speakers have a pretty good WAF, since they’re under $10k, have a sleek modern finish and don’t need to be set in the middle of the living room for good sound quality.” (Wives, you see, take issue with shit like unsightly $60,000 speakers sitting out in the middle of the room.)
Working the show as a sort of honeypot used to lure in passersby, I had to wonder what my own WAF was. Fairly high, probably, since this client had me dress fairly conservatively in what’s known as “business sexy,” and since I have no cleavage to display, anyway. Hmmmm, that gives me an idea — maybe I should market myself as a high-WAF booth model, an appeal to all the conservative, pussy-whipped schmucks out there in corporateland!
ANYWAY, I basically spent four days of my life standing in a hallway at the Venetian, talking to audiophiles for 9 hours a day. As if that weren’t draining enough, the nightclub where I’ve been working was also open extra hours to accommodate all the corporate parties being thrown, so I had to put in extra shifts there, too. There were two nights that I had to dance til 2 or 3 am, then rush home, get to bed, and be up by 7am to work the show. EXHAUSTING! I had a feeling I’d get sick from all this rushing around, so I made sure to eat a bunch of vitamins and stuff…but my best-laid plans were put to waste by the visit of an old photographer friend of mine from California, who came out for CES but wanted to go out to the desert for some nude shots before the convention started. So the Friday/ Saturday before, I froze my ass off running around naked on the dry lake bed and out by Valley of Fire with four other models. It was good times, but way to cold for those kinds of shenanigans!! Still, that photographer is SUCH a nice man, and such a good friend, that I couldn’t say no. Plus, he took us to dinner at Fogo de Chao to make up for it What a great guy! Then, too, my sister was in town for CES, so I spent a couple of nights hanging out with her, boozing and carrying on, which I really oughtn’t to have done if I wanted to be rested :-/ Oh, well!
As a result of all this carrying on, by the end of CES week I was E.X.H.A.U.S.T.E.D! The next day, I had to get up early AGAIN, for this weird medical conference I had signed up for. I did this once before, last summer — they basically pay you to lay on an exam table, while doctors practice their ultra-sound techniques on your various body parts. Last time I did it, they were just looking at my piriformis (ass muscle) or something, so I was able to lay face down, pass out and fall asleep on the job. But this time, since I was the only model who didn’t mind getting nekkid, they did my piriformis, my knee AND my hip flexor — so that not only was I naked from the waist down, but I had to keep switching position and couldn’t really fall asleep! I was SO exhausted that I did sort of doze off a few times with my mouth open, awakening now and then to the sight of a crowd of doctors around me poking at my goo-covered groin. Surreal!
Even better, the main doctor who does all the teaching (and most of the ultra-sounding) at this institute is totally hot, and when he saw me he said something like “So, we didn’t scare you off last time?” I said, “No, it was good for me…was it good for you? I felt like I needed a cigarette last time!” We both had a chuckle, until his wifey (who, unbeknownst to me, was the receptionist who hired me) gave him a look. He later told me she busted his chops over it, and now I’m totally embarrassed…especially since she’s the one who does the hiring! Whoooooooooooooops! There goes my WAF!
After the doctors had finished their training, I went home and passed out HARD for about 3 hours, then went in and did my last shift of the week at the nightclub. Now that my hell week was over, I thought I was free to FINALLY sleep in.
WRONG! By now, my crazy Arkansas girlfriends were in town for the big gun show, and one of them is training for a marathon, and she somehow roped me into going for a 15-mile run with her up in Red Rock Canyon the next day!!! WTF!!!! Why I said yes, I’ll never know — I haven’t run even ONE MILE in the last couple of months, let alone 15, but I figured the adrenaline would kick in, plus the fresh air, and I’d pull it off. How wrong I was!
First off, I couldn’t drag my ass out of bed in time to get an early start, so we headed out around 2:30pm — and the temperature was already down in the 40s! As the sun got lower, it got colder and colder up there (Red Rock is at a higher elevation than Vegas), until finally by the time the sun dipped below the mountains, it must have only been in the low 30s. BRRR!
If you’re interested in running Red Rock, here’s the lowdown: the scenic drive loop is about 13 miles long — a perfect half-marathon. But the entrance and the exit are about 2 miles apart, which makes it a 15-mile trek, total. We parked at the exit, then ran to the entrance (thus saving the entry fee, haha). 2 miles down and I was already BEAT — at this point I considered turning around and running back to my truck, where I had a pillow, blanket and Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton biography waiting for me, so I could read in peace and comfort while my girlfriend ran her fool ass off.
But, my innate stubbornness kicked in and I decided that I could DO this, so I kept running. The first 4.5 miles of the loop are uphill, which REALLY made me reconsider my plan a time or two, but somehow I made it to the 5 mile marker (plus the two at the beginning) and kept on going. By now, my girlfriend was WAY ahead of me, and I couldn’t even see her any more, so I was afraid she’d get stuck waiting for me forever, which added another layer of stress. The downhill was a lot easier, but by this time I was already so tired that I thought of giving up and hitching a ride many times (many cars passed on their way around the scenic loop, so I had ample opportunity to puss out). But around Mile 10, it was getting so freaking cold, and I was soooo exhausted, that I just couldn’t go on. I tried walking, but that was too cold and took too long, so thank goodness some kind old ladies in a minivan happened by and gave me a ride to the end. I got to my truck just in time to get the heater going before my girlfriend showed up, ruddy-cheeked and frostbitten but in good spirits, the crazy bitch. She cranked out 15 miles like it was nothing!!! Meanwhile, the 12 I did almost killed me. Gah — guess all that go-go “dancing” I’ve been doing at the club isn’t really a workout, after all. Back to the gym for me!!!
Now, to her credit, my girlfriend did reward my persistence with a nice, relaxing afternoon at the spa the next day. She bought me one of those body-scrub treatments, and then I sat in the steam room for about 3 hours afterward til I was so hot I didn’t think I could stand it. But, as soon as I got out, I was already cold again. I have to face the fact that I’m pretty much freezing cold non-stop from November thru March. I HATE COLD WEATHER!
After my spa day, my kooky math genius/violin virtuoso/professional gambler friend Fred took me to dinner at this fabulous tapas place at the Aria, then drinks at the Peppermill Fireside Lounge, and I went to bed fairly early. I thought I had recovered from my crazy hell week…but guess what?! I STILL got sick! It just goes to show…no matter HOW many vitamins you take, if you work two jobs and then run a half marathon in Arctic conditions, you’ll get sick, no matter what. Lame!
Just before the flu gripped me, though, I managed to milk two more fun adventures from the teat of life. The porn convention was in town by now, and despite my best, most fervent efforts, I was unable to score a paid gig as a booth hostess at this show. WTF!! It seems the pervs were cheap this year. Maybe it has to do with the red-blue dichotomy: in years where the Democrats win, they say the gun biz booms. In years where the Republicans win, the porn biz booms. I guess each is afraid the other will take away its cherished rights – in any case, in this year of the great Obama (and I say that with ZERO irony, haters!!!), the pornmongers were tightfisted…but I did get a casting call for the gun show (some warmonger needed booth babes).
I had just resigned myself to missing out on all the pornilicious fun, when a resourceful girlfriend called to ask if I wanted to go with her for free, and pose for photos for tips. My first reaction was “WTF??? Tips?! From those cheapasses?!” I remembered my stint back in 2009, when I posed for photos in a bikini, on a bed, alllll dayyyyy long and made not one dollar. I almost turned her down, but at the last minute decided what the hell.
Now, this girlfriend doesn’t fuck around – she makes a living posing for photos out on the Strip, where she and various girlfriends don these giant angel wings, along with slutty angelic lingerie, and make a dollar here, a dollar there posing for photos with tourists. I’ve seen her out there hustling, and I’ll admit I was skeptical – until now. I met up with her at the porn expo, where her mom was hanging out helping her hustle – and that’s the secret to her success, right there!
I guess the two of these platinum-blonde lovelies moved out here from Georgia a couple years ago, and the daughter is like the mom’s meal ticket or something – Mama has a vested interest in helping Baby hustle, that’s for sure. Baby is in her very early 20s, and Mama can’t be much over 40 – a tiny, platinum blonde little cougar with the sweetest Southern drawl and the fiercest attention to detail – when I met her, she was adjusting Baby’s sparkly white bra to better show off her cleavage, and admonishing her to remember to ask for tips: “Tell ‘em ‘We like big ’uns, y’all!” This was woman was half pageant mom, half pimp…and 100% amazing. I love her!!!!
Meanwhile, Baby appeared sort of dazed throughout all this…but I’ve come to realize that it’s somewhat of an act, and she’s really keeping close score behind her air of blank blondeness. This girl can hustle! She and her Mama helped me into one of their spare sets of wings, and then Mama took off and left us girls to fend for ourselves, standing in front of the booth of this stripper-pole manufacturer, who was kind enough to let us use his space (we brought lots of traffic to his booth, let me tell ya).
Now, I always thought I’d totally suck at photo-op hustling, because I HATE asking for money – but I soon learned the ways of Baby and Mama. If a guy asked if he could take a pic with us, we’d say, “Sure!! We take pictures for tips…is that OK?” After awhile (and a Captain & Coke) I got brassy enough to add, “And we like big ‘uns!!!” Har, har…but astonishingly, it worked!! Schmucks were emptying their pockets, right before my eyes. I made a little over $200 in about 3 hours, which by my reckoning is pretty good money. If that’s the kind o’cash this girl brings in on a regular basis, then watch out – you’ll be seeing my white ass out on the Strip in a pair of angel wings come the spring!!!
Anyhoo, after a few hours of hanging out posing for photos with porn fans, I had to bail so I could head over to this local bar that was hosting a chicken-wing-eating contest that evening (don’t you enjoy how I went from wearing wings to eating them, all in a day’s work?!). It was a qualifying round for the finals, at which the grand prize is a sweet $5,000 at the end of the month…and knowing my prodigious appetites for everything, I figured I’d enter. I can eat a lot, and I could really use the five grand.
Never one to half-ass something, the evening before, while on break at a nude photography seminar I was modeling for, I looked up some “wing-eating” tutorials on YouTube (astonishingly, these exist)…and did my due diligence, studying the best and fastest ways to down a chicken wing. I thought I had my ducks all in row…until I faced my competition: a gang of big, beefy mooks with nothing better to do than lie around all day playing video games and eating mass quantities of processed foods. Have you ever noticed how “boyhood” somehow stretches well into one’s ’30s these days? To wit: the classic 1950s “little boy” ensemble of shorts, t-shirt and ball cap is now the standard uniform for tubby mooks ages 18-35!!!!! They all look like fuckin’ Spanky, from Our Gang!
Anyway, facing off against these behemoths, I was doomed. I only managed to scarf a paltry 15 wings in the allotted 5 minutes…whereas one young fellow downed thirty-six! I’m telling you, I give up. This is the third competitive eating contest I’ve entered and failed…I’ve had enough. ¡No más!
Still, I had a pretty good time. Some of my more adventurous friends came with me, and tried their hands as well: my friend Guy managed to down 16 wings, and my vegan friend Tanayaa (VEGAN, I said!) ate 8!! But since she’s vegan, I guess that’s like 64 wings in vegan numbers…ya know?? Gotta give her props for compromising her beliefs in pursuit of fun!
Anyway, I fumbled my shot at the $5,000…but didn’t really care too much, since I was pretty much in the throes of the flu by now. I went straight home and took to my bed, where I remained for an astonishing 46 hours!!! That is unheard of for me! But I really needed it. I even turned down fun and money in the form of another day at the porn expo, and a shift at the nightclub…which was REALLY hard for me to do. As a freelancer, it’s feast or famine…so I never like to let a meal slip by, ya know? But I stayed in bed, resting my poor battered body.
All this made me think of the plight of the uninsured in this country, and how it affects the rest of us. If you’re so anti-Obammy-care, riddle me this: what do you do if you’re a minimum-wage-earning member of the working poor, who doesn’t get paid sick days? You most likely don’t have insurance, so you can’t go get meds…and if you take the day off, you miss out on pay. Most people in this situation sack up and go into work, because they have to pay their bills. So they go in, and make pizzas or scrub toilets or ring up your Tampax and Trojans, all the while coughing up germs onto everything in sight, so that now, all of us get sick, too. It’s well and good if you get paid sick leave and have a good insurance plan…but what about the rest of us??
Now, as a bohemian freelancer I chose this lifestyle – I get it; I have no right to complain. I could/should shut the fuck up and work for some giant corporation who will give me paid sick days/insurance/401k, right??? RIGHT…right up until the day they find someone to do my job cheaper in India, and fire my ass at the unemployable age of 55, at which point I’m fucked. The sad fuckin’ truth is, the days of lifelong employment and rock-solid pension plans are waaaay behind us. These days it’s every man for himself…so I say, don’t be so fucking cheap, and give your minimum wage employees paid sick days, for the love of Jesus Christ. (WWJD? Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm???) Meanwhile, I’ll take time off myself if I’m really sick…because if I don’t, it might develop into something worse, at which point I’ll have to take my pneumonia-having ass into your emergency room, and have it treated at the expense of your tax dollars. (I myself do have hard-won private insurance, but I’m making a point here.)
So anyway, to get off my soap box, I finally rallied enough to go into work and do a shift at the nightclub, where I somehow managed to dance gaily thru a haze of discombobulation and phlegm, all while listening to this poor Indian immigrant I was dancing with complain about his own First World Problems! It seems this poor drunken kid had emigrated to Canada on an H-1B visa (or whatever they have in Canada), and was making “reeeally good money.” “It’s oll about money, isn’tit?” he kept saying, waving his wallet around, trying to shove $20s into my garter belt as we danced. But he was unhappy, it transpired, as his parents had recently arranged his marriage to a young nurse for whom he had no affection whatsoever. Married for two months now, he felt despondent and trapped, and kept trying to grab my ass in the depths of his existential despair. After the first $40, I refused to take any more of his money (see?? I told you I’d make a terrible stripper), and tried to counsel him instead. But trying to explain First World Problems to someone so recently arrived from the Third World was weird. I didn’t want to come off as patronizing, but come on, dude! You make “reeeally” good money, and are from some uppercrust family in Kerala…yet are “unhappy.” It’s a sign of the times, bro – welcome to the fuckin’ club!!!
After that, I was ready to get back in bed and sleep another 50 hours…but a coworker from the club invited me to come over to the Hard Rock Hotel afterward, for the last gasp of the porn convention. Apparently, every year they have some big “afterparty” up in the penthouse, and it’s a really big to-do…so despite my lingering malaise, how could I say no? I still had on my costume from work, but it didn’t matter – my colleague was dressed in her “‘70s key party” wig and caftan (I love the people I work with), so I was in good company. I arrived at 3:30am to find a seething penthouse swarming with latex-and PVC-clad partygoers in various states of fitness and personal hygiene, all spanking and tweaking and fucking and sucking each other, putting literal truth to the phrase “bumping uglies.” Alors!
To be honest, I found it all kinda boring…I’ve seen it all before, and it doesn’t do much for me. I ran into a few friends I knew, so spent a few minutes chatting with them…and then retreated to the safety and warmth of my precious, beloved bed… which, incidentally, has lately been covered by this fabulous blanket made for me by my photographer friend Steve
P.S. the haters at Old Homestead Steakhouse whined loud enough that Yelp ended up taking down my review of their lame-ass joint again. So I’m adding it to my “Banned by Yelp!” feature at the top of the page. Fuckers!