miss september stays on cozy terms with her wild kingdom
Tour the apartment Kerri Kendall shares with her mother and you meet the members of Kerri's animal kingdom. "That's Ulysses S. Grunt and Ulinda S. Grunt," she says, pointing to the pair of fluffy pink pigs -- stuffed-animal variety -- splayed atop the sofa. "They used to just date, but they're married now." On a shelf above the Grunts' soft snouts, clumped carelessly around the trophies Kerri won in local bikini contests, is a cloth menagerie of rabbits, bears and, yes, more pigs ("I just love pigs - aren't they adorable?" asks the svelte San Diegan). In a bookcase in the breakfast nook are three tiny green ceramic inchworms, molded, baked and painted by Kerri herself. "Morris, Jill and Wendall," she says proudly. "They're a family." The introductions continue with a few uncertainties ("This is Jennifer," she says, plucking another clay creature from a shelf. "I don't know what she is"), until the tall, tanned California girl collapses onto the couch with a giggle and says, "I know I have a lot of weird things around here, because I know I'm weird!" Imaginative, maybe. Definitely creative. But weird? Not on your life. The levelheaded, down-to-earth Miss September, 20 years old this month, grew up in a quiet neighborhood north of downtown San Diego with a mother she now calls her best friend and an older brother who looked out for her. She romped around the nearby canyons, "hanging out and acting tough" with her brother and his friends, then went to work after high school as a part-time model and full-time receptionist in an out-patient emergency clinic. "The funny thing about that job," she says, "is that I have a phobia about doctors' offices. The first time I had to go in while the doctor was with a patient, I just started swooning. You know that kind of sterilized, alcohol, people-in-Gumby-suits smell? It reminded me of when I was little and had to get vaccinations. I used to scream and hide under a counter for hours." But Kerri decided to hang in there with the job because "I have the best boss in the world," she says. He knows his gorgeous receptionist is headed for bigger things, and he understands. When he heard that Kerri was picked to be a Playmate, he said, "Take whatever time off you need. Have fun." And she has, such as the day she visited Playboy Mansion West and heard a motorcycle roar up the driveway. "I went outside and saw the most beautiful bike I'd ever seen -- it was midnight purple, with leather fringe. Beautiful! I said 'Whose bike is this?' And someone said, 'That's Jimmy's.' I said 'Jimmy?' 'Jimmy -- James Caan.' I said, 'James Caan? Naaah.'" While she busied herself taking pictures of the bike "from every angle," out strolled the star himself. It was a thrill, but nothing Kerri couldn't handle. "People are just people to me," she says. "I don't judge them by how important they're supposed to be or how famous they are. I judge them by their attitude." And she doesn't cotton to money talk. "Some guys try to impress you by telling you they have this big old house or all these cars." Kerri shakes her pretty head at the thought. "When they do that, I just think 'Well, that does me a lot of good! What do you want? A brownie button?' " For now, Kerri is taking life one day at a time -- she doesn't know if she wants a career or kids or both, and she's in no hurry to move away from her best friend, her mom. "I used to get nervous wondering about the future, but I don't bother with getting nervous anymore. Whatever happens, I know that I'll have some laughs."
Photography by Stephen Wayda