"Who me?" Shirley Finkelstein turned around and looked at the woman holding a clipboard.
"Yes, you dear," the woman replied. " My name is Carolyn Applebee. I represent I See You Productions. We are at the Fresh Meadows Shopping Mall today casting for a commercial. Would you by any chance be interested in auditioning?"
"Would I?" Shirley answered excitedly. "Me? In a commercial? Well fancy that."
"Now I'm not making any promises," the casting director cautioned. "But if you fill out this contact sheet and allow me to take a few pictures of you, we will consider you for our next project."
As thrilled as she was, Shirley regretted not wearing make-up and her new dress to the mall...but how was she to know that a casting agent would be looking for her?
Carolyn snapped a head shot, a full length shot, and a photo of Shirley from the back.
"Is that enough photos?" Shirley asked. She loved the attention and the stares from the crowd as she posed for the camera. "I have time for you to take several more if you'd like."
"Thanks, Shirley," the woman smiled. That's plenty. We'll call you if we think we can use you.
"Imagine," Shirley mused, "If I hadn't been right here exchanging pantyhouse at the Walmart, I would never have gotten my picture took. Life sure works in mysterious ways."
"Hello? May I please speak to Shirley Finklestein?" the voice on the other end of the phone requested.
"This is she speaking." Shirley answered politely.
"Dear, this is Carolyn Applebee from I See You Productions."
Shirley's heart started to pound.
"We've decided to use you in one of our commercials."
Shirley could not believe her ears. A TV commercial! "This could lead to a whole new career," she thought to herself.
"Yes. yes!" Shirley gushed. "I'd love to!"
"Great," Carolyn replied." Do you have a pencil and paper? Please be at Grand Cental Station at 2am next Thursday. And wear something dressy."
"Something dressy," Shirley repeated as she wrote the instructions on a pad. "Thank you Carolyn. Thank you. You won't regret this."
Shirley thought of one more thing. "Carolyn...what product will I be selling?"
"We are shooting a Cadillac commercial," the director replied.
"Cadillac" Shirley thought to herself after she hung up."Imagine me selling Cadillacs on TV. Well la-de da!"
Shirley called everyone she knew to spread the good news.
"Betty," Shirley practically yelled into the phone. "I'm going to be in a commercial. Selling Cadillacs!"
"Sweetie, I'm so happy for you. And proud." Betty replied. "You must be so excited. I'm sure you'll do great...maybe you'll even become as famous as Flo from the Progressive Insurance commercials!"
But some of her friends were not as kind.
"You? At your age? For a commercial?" Margaret Feeny asked. "Don't make me laugh. Who would want you for a commercial...Preparation H?"
"Well, it was so nice talking with you," Shirley said, quickly cutting her off. "I'll call you when my commercial is on."
"You do that." Margaret replied.
"Bitch!" Shirley muttered as she hung up the phone.
The big day finally arrived. Because the call was for 2 am, Shirley decided to forego the F train and take a taxi to Grand Central. Fifty dollars door to door, but it was worth it. "Maybe next time they'll send a car for me."
"I'll just show up an hour early," she said to herself as she put on her bright yellow dress. "They will probably have to teach me to read my lines from big white cards....and my make-up could take thirty mintes. Better early than late."
When she entered Grand Cental Station, the immense main room was practically deserted. The area around the escalators was roped off and several cameramen and lighting technicians were hard at work. She looked around until she found Carolyn Applebee seated at a desk.
"Hi Carolyn," it's me Shirley Finklestein. I know I'm a little early, but..."
"Oh yes, Shirley." Carolyn said. "You are early. Please stand by the escalators until we are ready for you."
Shirley watched the technicians, setting lights, measuring distances, and placing a big taped X few feet away from the camera.
"This must be where I'm going to stand when I do the commercial," Shirley said to herself.
Soon a man in a gray business suit was standing next to her. Then a teenager joined the two of them.
"What do they have to do with my commercial?" Shirley wondered.
As the time grew closer to two o'clock, more and more people assembled at the escalator. By the time two o'clock arrived, there must have been fifty people standing with her.
Carolyn Applebee climbed up on a step stool and began to address the crowd. "Welcome Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you all for coming tonight. I know the hour is late, but we needed the station to ourselves." She cleared her throat. "I would like you all to form a staggered line. Groups of one and two. On the call "Action," I would like you all to ride up the escalator. As soon as you are out of camera range, please ride down the adjoining escalator. Keep repeating the process until we yell 'Cut.'"
"Aw Shit," Shirley muttered. "I ain't gonna star in this commercial."
"Here lady," an asistant said to Shirley. "Carry this red shopping bag."
Shirley and her shopping bag joined the crowd as they made their first trip up the escaltor.
"And.....roll 'em," Shirley heard the director shout.
"Cut!" Carolyn yelled. "They're too bunched up. Spread out people!" For two hours, Shirley followed her fellow performers up the escalator, down the escaltor and back up again."
Finally, Carolyn yelled. "OK people, cut and print. We have what we needed. Thank you very much. Please line up at the desk and you will each receive a one hundred dollar bill."
"OK," Shirley rationalized, "I wasn't the star. I guess you do have to start at the bottom... but when my friends see me carrying my red shopping bag, they will be so proud of me."
While collecting her money, Shirley had to ask the obvious queston. "Carolyn, when will my commercial be seen on TV?"
"It debuts on the NBC Nightly News on the twenty-eighth....and thank you Shirley for a job well done."
Hoping to get another job in the future, Shirley replied, "It was my pleasure, I assure you."********
The evening of the twenty-eighth, Shirley was ready. All her friends had been alerted to watch her television debut. How could they miss her? She was the lady with the red shopping bag.
Shirley stayed home alone that night and waitied for her premier. She set out a small bottle of champagne. A tray of Ritz Crackers with spray cheese was placed on a TV table by the television. Why not? It was opening night!
The Nightly News was on! Finally, she heard the words she was waiting for."And we'll be right back after these messages."
Shirley held her breath.
The commercial began. "In this hustle and bustle world we live in..."
Something was wrong. Something was terribly wrong.
Shirley's eyes popped open. The producers had taken the tape and speeded it up so fast, the people in the commecial looked like little ants running up and down a treadmill..
"...it is satisfying to know that there are some pleasures in life that should be savored leisurely."
The scene changed to a young couple driving their new Cadillac down a country road.
"Cadillac, a symbol of luxury."
Shirley watched as the car slowly disappeared into the sunset.
That was it.
She was red yellow blur carrying a red shopping bag.
Shirley began to cry. What ever made her think she was going to succeed in show business? I See You Productions didn't need Shirley. They just needed bodies.
Shirley was so embarrased. What would her friends think of this fiasco?
She didn't have long to find out.
"Shirley. This is Margaret Feeney. That was some commercial you were in," she chided. "What the hell was that? A bunch of blobs racing up and down an escalator. Tell me dear, which blob were you?"
Shirley hung up the phone and felt rotten.
After all her bragging about becoming a TV spokesperson, how could she ever show her face again?
She curled up into a fetal position and unplugged the phone for the rest of the night.********
The long black Cadillac pulls in camera range.
A tall handsome young man dressed in a chaffeur's uniform is driving.
The passenger door opens and Shirley Finklestein gracefully slides out of the leather seat and closes the car door behind her. She is dressed in a sparkly black gown and is wearing long white gloves with a diamond bracelet on her wrist. There is a shiny tiara in her hair.
"Hello Ladies and Gentleman. My name is Shirley Finklestein and I am here to talk to you about Cadillac."
The camera moves in for a close-up. Shirley smiles.
"A Cadillac is beautiful, it's luxurious and it is very very classy.
Take it from me, Shirley Finklestein.
I love my Cadillac and drive it to the Stop and Shop every day."
Shirley now turns her head to greet the other camera.
"So if you're in the market for a big expensive luxury car, a car that will impress everyone you meet,you ain't gonna do better than a Cadillac."
The director motions for Shirley to get back into the car. She and the handsome young man look into each other's eyes and then drive off into the sunset.
" Cut! Perfect. You did that in one take. Shirley."
Somewhere in Fresh Meadows tonight, there is a woman dreaming about a commercial.
"That's the way a commercial outta be made." she mumbled as she went back to sleep.