By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Few jilted boyfriends get the opportunity to confront their ex-loves in print, and as a working film critic, I could. When I pitched it as a story to OC Weekly, it all sounded so strange I think my editors wondered if I had gone kind of nuts; so did I.
I contacted Real Women's press people and set up the interview, neglecting to mention my previous history with Josefina and hoping that once she heard my name, she wouldn't recognize it (fat chance); if she did, I had no idea if she'd cancel or go ahead and talk with me. The next order of business was to see the film and to try and view it with some semblance of critical objectivity. No small feat there, given the givens.
The film was getting rave reviews, but honestly, I'd figured it would whether it was any good or not. It's the kind of picture that usually gets a free pass from guilty, liberal critics. I went in knowing the film probably wouldn't be to my taste even if I'd never known Josefina, but I ended up actually kind of liking it. To be sure, it is a sometimes thumpingly preachy film, but mixed in with the sermonizing is a fairly lively tale featuring some engaging characters and terrific performances. Real Womenhas some serious flaws, but, much as I would have wished for the film to suck outright, it did not. I found myself liking Ana, the chubby, scrappy Josefina surrogate, the same way I'd liked the real Josefina so many years ago. And if I could find things to admire about the film, well, I guess it really must have something going for it.
As if the fact that the film existed at all wasn't surreal enough, there was also a romantic subplot that bore some suspicious similarities to our relationship. Jimmy, Ana's boyfriend, is a tall, gawky, sensitive-type white boy; he and Ana keep their relationship a secret from Ana's parents, knowing they would disapprove of their daughter dating a honkie. Jimmy attempts to amuse Ana with Spanish curse words he has looked up, something I know I did either with Josefina or another Latina I dated around the same period. There's a scene where Ana tells Jimmy she has made a list of things to talk about on their first date, something I've always done and probably told Josefina about. (That one's a stretch, but it is a strange coincidence.) Their entire first date actually gave me uncanny déjà vu: Ana sneaks past her folks and meets Jimmy at a kooky Mexican restaurant, where Jimmy tells Ana she's beautiful and she boggles at the notion. If Josefina had another date that played so exactly like our first, I'd be stunned. On the other hand, there are aspects of Jimmy that are definitely not me: he's studying to be a teacher, he's more movie-star pretty than I shall ever be, and he relieves Ana of her virginity. (Is it improper to say in print that you didn't sleep with an ex-girlfriend?) I knew it was possibly just my ego talking, but frankly, I did see more than a little of myself in Jimmy, and it creeped me the hell out.
The day after I'd seen the film, as the appointed hour of my phone interview with Josefina drew near, I could hear my heartbeat pounding; it was like Keith Moon was living in my head. I set up the taping equipment, and then I picked up the phone and sat staring at it for a long time until finally my fingers leapt to life, seemingly of their own volition, and punched in Josefina's number. The line rang and rang and rang some more. I tried again to make sure I hadn't misdialed, but I got the same result. I tried again five minutes later—and then a few minutes after that.
I imagined Josefina hearing my name from her HBO publicist a few moments before our scheduled interview, assuming I was a stalker, and her sitting there now beside the ringing phone, her eyes wide with terror. Maybe she'd call the cops on me or something. I tried once more and this time got a cheery-sounding answering machine. I started to leave a message and got cut off (which seemed a tad suspicious to my already paranoia-wracked brain). I tried yet again, and this time the line was picked up, and I heard a voice I hadn't heard in 14 years.
"Hi," says Josefina's voice. "It's 3 o'clock already?"
It is about 3:20 p.m. Josefina sounds ill-at-ease, although it's hard to tell if it's just the standard weirdness at the beginning of any interview or something more. I ask if I'm catching her at a bad time, and she says no, but she just had a baby, and it's hard for her to keep track of time. Through the rest of our call, I can hear the sounds of her infant son in the background.
I ask her if my name sounds familiar, and indeed it does. I take the defensive step of assuring her upfront that this is a legit interview, that I'm not a stalker.