Stalking Josefina Lopez

Fourteen years ago, the creator of Real Women Have Curves dumped my ass

Photo by Mark SavageFor weeks, I'd glimpsed the title Real Women Have Curves on bus benches and billboards around LA, and every time I did, I felt an inexplicable but undeniable apprehension. The title called up some distant memory I somehow knew I was better off not exploring too deeply.

And then one day in mid-October, I was flipping through LA Weekly when I saw an ad for a new film. Real Women Have Curves. As I stared at it, I was seized with a deep and squirming horror, like I'd kicked over a rock and found something that would disturb other things that live under rocks. What was going on? What was it about this film that made me want to fling that copy of the Weekly away as if it had just burst into flame?

I forced myself to scan the ad, and there, at the bottom, were the words that tore the top right off my head: based on a play by Josefina Lopez.

Josefina Lopez. Slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch. Josefina Lopez has been my arch-nemesis for much of my adult life, although she probably never had a clue she was.

Josefina is my ex-girlfriend. Our relationship was brief by adult standards, maybe a couple of months; but at the age of 16, every day lasts a week. I walked away with wounds that never quite healed. Between my relationship with Josefina and the present, there were a full 15 years of noisy, restless living; adventures across continents; and loves far more lasting and profound than our high-school-fling thing. By all rights, Josefina should have been a mere footnote in my life's history, as I surely now was in hers. And yet, a hate for her burned bright and hot in my black little soul.

Over the past few years, I've come across various newspaper articles about Josefina and her career as a playwright of some acclaim. Seeing these articles invariably messed me up for days afterward, sending me into a spiral of envy and depression; it wasn't that I'd ever had any serious aspirations to be a playwright, but I felt that I had fair reason to begrudge this woman for any good thing that happened to her ever.

* * *

Spin my current life one way, the way I spin it when I run into old friends or talk to relatives, and I sound like I'm doing pretty darn okay: I am a film critic for a major alternative newsweekly; I live in a cool apartment in a cool town with a great girl whom I love like crazy and who loves me right back. But spin my life another way, and suddenly I'm doing a lot less okay. Last year, I earned just about enough to buy a 1985 Toyota Corolla—without air-conditioning. For years, my health has been so lousy I rarely get through a week without an exotic new disease or two. After nearly a decade together, me and the great girl have been having some problems, largely due to the fact that last year I earned just about enough to afford a 1985 Toyota Corolla—without air-conditioning. I'm in therapy and on the happy pills. In short, I don't consider my life an abject failure, but you can sure see abject failure from where I'm standing.

I didn't grow up dreaming about being a film critic, but who does? Even at this ripening age, I still have aspirations to do other things eventually, but in the meantime, film criticism works fine for me. Of course, writing articles about people is definitely less fun than having people write articles about you, something I usually don't think about much until I come across one of those articles about Josefina.

Josefina as a successful playwright was one thing; it got on my nerves, but I could cope. Then the fates hit me right between the eyes with Josefina's major motion picture, presented by HBO and Newmarket Films, arriving from a smash run at Sundance amid a deafening buzz of rave reviews from Roger Ebert and other critics who could afford air-conditioned cars. Oh, my sweet lord in heaven, I so did not need this.

* * *

The high school where Josefina and I met was not a school like yours, unless your school was filled with sissy artist types who were forever crying, giggling, hugging and breaking into production numbers in the cafeteria. The students at what was, in the late '80s, the brand-new LA County High School for the Arts (LACHSA) hated it when reporters compared us to the kids from Fame, but now I'm a grown-up reporter, and I'm stuck making that same comparison. Like the Fame kids, we were moody, gifted, burning with ambition and fey as a big pink box full of bunnies. Many of us commuted for hours to endure a school day consisting of a full academic schedule, followed by hours of harshly graded arts training in the afternoon; then we straggled home as the sun was setting, schlepping backpacks crammed with enough homework to choke a hippo. I probably slept a combined total of 40 hours my entire first semester, and it is my ambition to never have to work that hard again. The LACHSA experience was a mix of punishing discipline and unbearably precious art-faggotry—kind of like Marine boot camp crossed with Cirque du Soleil.

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