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I figured a life coach must be a cross between a fortune-teller and a personal trainer: someone who tells you what your future holds while whipping your ass into shape so you’ll look good when you get there. But last Tuesday afternoon Dr. Joe Siegler, founder of the Full Life(R) coaching method, which “offers the chance of empowerment while celebrating progress as goals are achieved,” showed me that it’s so much more than that: life coaching is therapy without the crying.

I visited Siegler at his womblike office in Lincoln Park, where he practices his Spheres of Life(R) philosophy. The SOL therapeutic model names 11 issues–body image, money, love, etc–that must be addressed before you can lead a happy life. After one session I walked out of there with some pretty good advice: “Repackage your anxiety about wanting more out of life as bravery,” he told me. And: “It would probably do you good to take more risks.”

So two days later I went to the Wicker Park nightclub Four to audition for America’s Next Top Model, partly because it would be a risk, but mostly, I admit, to amuse myself and others. The application on the show’s Web site said I had to be between 18 and 27 (I’m 28) and at least five-foot-seven (not even close), but I figured between the club’s dim lighting and my own high heels I could fudge it.

At 10:30 PM only four women had shown up. UPN casting associate Dominick, a frail-looking man with thinning red hair and warm eyes, ordered us to form a line. A dozen men stood at the bar checking us out.

ANTM is another in a long line of reality shows designed to make women compete over dumb shit like the length of their necks or how statuelike they can remain while birds crap on their heads. I keep watching, though, because I love the moment at the end when they reveal the results of each week’s photo shoot, and these gawky Eliza Doolittles are transformed into amazingly hot, unattainable creatures. But I don’t envy them. Just standing there trying to impress a dude I normally wouldn’t give the time of day to was nerve-racking enough. As the night wore on, however, even I found myself eyeing my so-called competition–about a dozen women in all–and drawing unflattering conclusions. Most of the girls, like me, weren’t model material–then again neither are any of the contestants on the show, so maybe we all had a chance.

I noticed the others had brought head shots, so I asked Antisocial photographer Andrea Bauer to take some digital pictures of me. I was doing my best nonchalant aren’t-I-sultry pose when Linda, the dimpled blond behind me, offered some advice. “Stand up straight,” she said, demonstrating by elongating her own spine and pushing her shoulders back. “Lean forward, arch your back, stick your chest out, and put your chin down a little. But don’t look down.” Assuming the position, Linda looked half Miss Illinois, half pheasant in heat. “You can be so pretty,” she said earnestly, “but if they catch you at a bad angle it’s all over.”

I waited in line for less than ten minutes. My interview with Dominick went roughly like this:

Dominick: What’s your name?

Me: Liz Armstrong.

D: How old are you?

Me: 25. [coughing]

D: How tall are you?

Me: Um, five-seven in really tall heels. Hey, you have plus-size models, why not petites?

D: You have a point. I’ll see what I can do for you.

He took a couple photos. I stood up straight and stuck my chest out. I tilted my chin but didn’t look down. And that was it. I walked away and shrugged at the dudes at the bar, who were looking at me expectantly, like, Did you get in?

A tall, ruddy-cheeked blond named Ben introduced himself. “You’re here to meet chicks, aren’t you?” I asked. “No,” he said. “I thought I might get in on the male modeling thing. I don’t have a TV.” I looked at him skeptically. “OK,” he said, “I’m here to meet chicks.”

Ben was charming enough, so when he asked if I’d like to sit down and enjoy my drink over a conversation, I agreed. I came clean with him about my ulterior motives for being there. “It seems your value is tied to self-expression,” he said, “instead of the reaction you get from others for your looks.”

Flattered that he’d look that deeply into my soul, I asked him about himself. “I’m a skinny guy with fat parts,” he said, referring to his modest paunch and chubby cheeks. “Love handles are the doorway to the heart.” His interests? “Interpersonal relationships” and “the science of charisma.” He was either full of shit or incredibly sincere, or some complicated combination of the two.

He eventually confessed that he leads a men’s seminar on how to talk to women, and the guys around him were his students. I told him his disciples could practice on me.

He walked over to his group, and after some discussion sent over a guy in a straw cowboy hat and giant plastic mirrored sunglasses. We shook hands, and he sat down on the stool to my right. He asked all the questions you’re supposed to ask upon first meeting someone–what I thought of the place we were at, what I do for fun, what I do for work–and caught himself when he thought he might’ve been going on about himself too long. I could see him searching his mind for all the lessons he’d learned from Ben.

Then two more dudes, cube neighbors at some job so boring I don’t even remember what it was, slid into the seats on my left. One of them, a tall guy with black hair and pleated pants, told me he had a theory about business cards as modern karmic currency. If you get one from someone who’s nice but you’ll never talk to again, stick it in the fishbowl at Einstein Bros. Bagels and maybe the person will get a free lunch; if you get one from a jerk, pass it off to someone you know would never call you anyway.

Forcing myself to act interested for Ben’s sake, I asked the other guy to show me the tattoo peeking out from his T-shirt. He pulled up his sleeve to reveal a huge rainbow-colored jukebox. “But this is the one I’m most proud of,” he announced, hiking his sleeve up past his shoulder.

There, on his deltoid, was a cartoon bulldog with the words “Bulldog Bred” scrawled in a banner above it. “Did you go to Georgetown?” I asked.

“No,” he said, smiling smugly. “Skinhead pride!” He slapped his arm violently. “Skinhead pride!”

I must’ve looked shocked. “It’s nonracist,” he said. “My best friend was a black skinhead.”

“Hey, watch it, man,” his friend said. “She’s a reporter and she’s writing on a notepad.”

“Oh!” Bulldog Tattoo yelled excitedly. “I would love it if you’d make this the headline: ROCKABILLY JERK RUINS NIGHT.” I told him I’d do my best.

Just then Ben joined us. I kicked him under the table to signal that I’d had enough. He leaned over to the coworkers and said, “Hey, you seem like nice guys. I’m Ben. What’re your names?”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Andrea Bauer.