A First Kiss; As Told By A Seventeen Year Old Punk

Valentine’s day is fast approaching, and I don’t want to be one of those miserable hypocrites that only love Valentines Day when they have a significant other in their lives, and hate it every other year.

Last week I purchased a one-way ticket to Orlando. After landing, I requested an uber to the Penske depot and drove off in a twelve-foot truck by midday. I’ve moved several times over the last decade, and to be honest, I’ve lost track of what’s in the boxes I have scattered throughout my storage spaces. But this time is different. This time I live in New York. wasted space cost me a pretty penny, and I wouldn’t be sinking my hard earned cash into a storage unit without running inventory on what I had. Fast forward a few days. I’ve stumbled onto my mini Moleskine from 2011. A year, that if to be summarized, would be captioned by a heart emoji, closely followed by a broken heart emoji. I took said Moleskine to my apartment, poured a Johnny on the rocks and began reading through the pages. An excerpt from seventeen-year-old Jonathan experiencing his first kiss with his high school sweetheart. Enjoy.

“An in-depth explanation of what I feel about you. How I feel when I see you or kiss you. 
My toes tingle and then go slightly numb. Slowly, and yet seemingly within seconds a feeling shoots into my legs. My knees feel like the epicenter of an earthquake. I look down, they appear stable and somehow feel weak and wobbly. Steadily this feeling climbs it’s way up. It hits my gut the hardest. For a quick moment, those lovely butterflies lunge around my stomach and arouse nausea. I am hit the hardest. My heart melts down into my stomach, then congeals and shoots up my throat. It knots up. Into my mouth and then down into my longing hands, longing to touch you, It ends in my brain, where it also began really. Back to “Point A.” I’m stupid in love. It’s not a second too late either because there you are. In my mind and now in person.”

Writing the First Draft of the First Chapter.

Everyone, and perhaps their mother too, is painfully aware of the associations New York City emits when living quarters are mentioned. A Rorschach test administered with an image of a New York Apartment could induct immediate claustrophobia in even the most seasoned veteran urban living. Here I found myself living on the Grand Concourse and overlooking the tail end of Yankee Stadium. Gone are the days of ample room for painterly pursuit, and so the need for a creative outlet that’s also space saving placed me here. I’ve settled into knowing on the scale of writers I land close to the mad and linguistically offensive writings of Andy Warhol. He tanked on purpose though (So they say). What’s my excuse?

Below is the first draft of the first chapter of a writing project I’ve begun.

 

ONE: Third Time Still Not a Charm

My brother, Gonzalo Vicente Yubi, named after our semi-estranged father, had been living in Orlando close to four years. I had a Volvo S80, purchased with the restaurant tips earned during my final tourist season in Fort Walton Beach. FWB was a beach town on the Gulf Coast that came to life in March and died away again in September. It was August, and the Volvo had no air-conditioning. Belle rode shotgun, but always the cowardly pup, she incessantly prodded an opening into my lap throughout the eight-hour drive. Too big to be a lap dog, I continually rebuffed her advances from Interstate Ten down to State Highway Four O’ Eight.

I had visited Orlando twice before, remembering little from both trips. The first time was the day after the swimming pool incident. My mother, Gonzalo and I were scheduled to visit the University of Central Florida for Gonzalo’s orientation. That night we went to Andrea’s house party.  Unwarranted jealousy convinced me to take a drunkenly casual dive in Andrea’s pool. I emerged with a gash on my forehead that advertised a few inches of the skull. After skipping from place to place, Gonzalo managed to get me into an emergency room. No sleep was had that night. I spent the majority of that trip in the fetal position recovering from my head wound.

The second visit was during the Spring of ’12 with my mate Daniel. A Fellow Ecuadorian, though by birth and not just by lineage, we took his Pontiac to Orlando. Upon arriving, Gonzalo whisked us away to Pat’s Liquor store, less than a mile down Alafaya Trail. With the fake I.D he would eventually pass down to me, he purchased a handle of Kraken Rum while Danny and I anxiously waited for a successful mission curbside. We needed not worry about my brother though, he possessed one of the most desirable traits of a pre twenty-one-year-old. His Methuselah-ian appearance guaranteed a swift transaction and we were on our way. From Pat’s Liquor store we headed straight to one of the thousands gated communities that dotted the Central Florida landscape. Around UCF, that was all you’d find. Upon arrival, we were informed the gathering was a Rugby hosted pool party. One of the last things I remember was a stout frat boy doing an out-of-water belly flop onto the beer pong table. Somehow or another we had made it back to the safety of Gonzo’s apartment. It was only two fifteen in the afternoon. After stumbling in and out of consciousness for a few hours, I staggered off the couch to take a piss and found the bathroom ‘occupado’. This being unacceptable in my inebriated mind, I post haste decided to relieve myself by the bathroom wall that had been holding me up lest I succumb to the spins and fall.

As I relieved myself, out emerged Gonzalo who appeared to sober up within seconds of watching me urinate all over his living room wall. A drunk and roused Daniel was all that kept him from pummeling me to bits. After a few hours of hostility and with food in our bellies, the animosity from previous events went out the door. Gonzo always found himself forgiving me quite easily, a skill he developed from eighteen years of living with my absurdities. Almost fully revived- at eighteen we could recover from heavy drinking in hours compared to the current tense of days- we decided to crack open the Kraken. In less than an hour, we guzzled through a handle of spiced rum and made our way to Mad Hatters. Mad Hatters was one of the many college bars that would eventually shut down, a large part due to the climbing number of rapes, underage drinking charges, and alcohol poisoning born of these establishments. The patterns of our first day of debauchery repeated themselves for three days, and on our trip back to Fort Walton Beach, Danny and I agreed we couldn’t remember past the first night beyond a fog.

Twenty years old, this was my third time driving into Orlando, I gazed in amazement at the sprawling Downtown buildings to my left as we made our way east on the Four O’ Eight into the suburban communities of Avalon Park. My parents followed behind in a rented truck with a bed, bureau, desk and other assortments of furniture, clothes, and accumulated art supplies. The garage opened up as I pulled into my massive living quarters. It was thirty-one hundred square feet, and in the year we lived there, we’d be unable to furnish every room. I had been introduced to our other two roommates via Facebook group chats, and they now welcomed me in person. Raphael was a short stocky Miami boy, and true to an overwhelming amount of Miami boy stereotypes, included in his lexicon phrases like ‘irregardless’ and ‘eating shit’. With a memorable laugh that could in and of itself bring laughter to those in its vicinity, Ralph was a good guy. Already set up in his room, he offered a hand of assistance as I began unloading.

Then there was Manny. Manny was a tall large-gutted Dominican of unperceivable fuck-ish stock, he would become the house villain in coming months. There were warning signs of course, but they were lost to me until it was too late. Take note, anyone who refers to themselves as a ‘good guy’ as often as he did, is most definitely a grade a hijo de puta. Always a smile on his face, his chosen means of confrontation would be through Post-it notes left on your door. The second sign was his taste of music. He would blare EDM music all times of the day. EDM for those blissfully unaware of this tasteless shit passed as music stands for Electric Dance Music. I grant you, the desired effects can be had at a house party or a rave. But anyone listening to that garbage on the daily should be regarded to as a foul creature.

Sensing his housemates’ growing hatred of him, he broke into Gonzalo’s room, stole his Bulova, and moved out with a month left on his lease. Never in my life had I hated someone so much. Towards the end, I pissed on his toothbrush and had plans to cut his brake lines, but was interrupted only by his speedy disappearance.

I finished moving in on August thirteenth, and the following day my parents left. Belle, who had been my constant companion since adopting her after returning to Fort Walton following my break up with Andrea, returned with my mom. She had an empty nest, and I knew my mother would need to company. I cried that night after Belle returned home with my parents, not an unusual thing for me at the time, or even now.

Our house had two living rooms downstairs; each the size of my apartment in Memphis, a kitchen and dining room, and Ralph’s master bedroom. Upstairs, the first two rooms you’d encounter were mine. The first room on the right was my bedroom, the least bachelor-ish room in the house, I had decorated it with a few rugs, two mismatched nightstands, a bookshelf, and a yellow love chair that appeared to have previously belonged to an avid smoker. The next room was my ‘art room,’ and it was in fact where the magic happened throughout my time there. In that room I first felt the soft warmth between Selena’s legs, I watched as Annie disrobed for a modeling session that quickly adjourned to my bedroom as a toss between the sheets, and wooed several girls during often recurring house parties.

The next room was Gonzalo’s and following that was the bathroom, then a short left turn would lead you to Manny’s room. At the end of the hallway was a large room I tried furnishing often. First as a smoke room, then a library. Finally, it became the room we’d stock party booze.

My first few months were uneventful. Thankfully Ralph adopted a Chihuahua-Jack Russell mix days before my arrival. We were all deeply invested in Sons of Anarchy at the time and Ralph dubbed the lil’ shit ‘Jax.’ Ours was a love-hate relationship, Jax and I. My roommates were all in their final year of college, and spent the majority of their days on campus. I, however, taking a break from college and unemployed, spent my days emptying my seed into holed up socks, painting, and day-drinking cheap Walmart wine that would knock me on my ass if I skipped breakfast. I often did in order to maximize the effects of the four dollar wine. Jax become my mission. A skittish little thing that would zip from corner to corner all the while yipping at you. At first, I pretended I was living one of those ‘sports movies’ where the underdog needed to build his strength, and the wise old mentor would suggest he chase an unruly chicken. Catching the chicken would prove the warriors worth, and he would ultimately defeat his foe. I, however, had no mentor, had no foe, and most importantly, Jax was no chicken- in the literal sense only. He proved impossible to catch. I was convinced my human ingenuity would outwit that little shit, but after a few days I gave up on the notion.

I chose instead to force his friendship. Jax was a notorious racist, baring his teeth to those whose only crime was dark skin. I was a beach bum, and my tanned hide proved it. Jax didn’t want anything to do with me. For eight days I would corner Jax, and instead of going for the kill, I would pop a squat and stare at him. As I sat there swaying from side to side, wholly due to the consumption of cheap spirits, we would size each other up. Every day I inched closer. The final day I was within arm’s length of him, so as he sat there dozing off, I swept him up. From that day on I would corner him and give a chase for a few minutes, a symbolic gesture if only to preserve his dignity, then spend coming hours cuddling the fuck outta’ him. Jax and Walmart wine maintained my sanity those first few months.

Avalon Park was constructed as a suburb for the affluent pretender; those compelled by the American dream to live away from the city and all the family values corrupted by the urbanites. Sadly for the weary homeowners who planted their flags in hopes of claiming their fair share of wealth, these neighborhoods were also infested largely with a college student population, and therefore prone to late night parties, car thefts, B&E’s, and other assortment of petty crimes committed by innocuous young ‘adults’ with eschewed moral compasses. Our mansion was situated on plot number eight-fifteen of Battery Pointe’s twelve hundred-ish houses, and therefore at the end of a network of cookie-cutter residences. Within a year, the view from my window changed from miles of forest and overgrowth to blocks of semi-developed property meant for Northern transplants looking for a respite from Winter’s icy grasp on their geriatric limbs. Developers having no sense of direction ‘cept for the wafting scent of money followed the bare minimum in what constituted neighborhoods. Often you’d find yourself driving several miles of curves, and twists to travel from point a to point b, which following a principle law of the shortest distance is a straight line, would only be a third of a mile apart. Those limey cocksuckers ruled my life in those early Orlando days. Several unspoken hours of the day were stripped away as un-passable travel times, as choked up as a cam girl working back to back doubles.

Moving to The Bronx

I moved back to the Bronx after seventeen years in Florida. As in with all endeavors, I immersed myself fully into the task at hand.

During my first weekend in the Bronx, I overheard via radio chatter of street festival going on not three miles from my apartment. I made my way east to Third Avenue and got my first taste of Bronx culture. A Stage had been assembled on one end of the festival with Salsa Music blasting out loud enough to drown out my thoughts. An elderly couple who had a century and a half between the both of them danced alongside a suave couple with moves straight from a Tito Nieves music video. I, of course, spent the majority of my time shuffling from tent to tent satisfied with free ice cream samples.

 

I was born in the Bronx. I lived an earshot away during my early childhood. Throughout my seventeen years in Florida, I visited New York twice.

My Favorite Excerpts From Past ‘Publisher’s Note’

We made it! One year, twelve issues of Artborne. I began the magazine as a creative outlet if someone had told me all of my work would be paperwork, contracts, meetings, and emails…. I still would’ve gone through with it. My favorite part of my job was putting together a publisher’s note once a month.

We dedicated our September issue of Artborne to Hispanic Heritage Month.

“My mother immigrated to the United States on May 8, 1986 on a student visa. When it expired, she chose to remain here illegally. Her story is strikingly similar to the stories of millions of immigrants in this country. She cleaned houses, hospitals, and hotels for nearly two decades. In 2004, she became a citizen of this country. Hers is a story of perseverance and hope. The world was, and continues to be, built on the blood and sweat of laborers.”

After posting images of our infamous November cover, we began receiving emails from upset readers. A member of our own staff rallied against my decision to run the image of Donald Trump as an ass-clown. My response came by way of my publisher’s note saying,

“The single most recurring question I’ve received after we released the cover image for this month is, “Where’s the painting of Hillary?” The implication, of course, is that we’re just another liberal media outlet, hell bent on screwing the Republican nominee out of his god-granted Manifest Destiny.

Hillary Clinton is a career politician, true, and the American research firm, Gallup, has shown politicians to be rated low on honesty and ethical standards, coming second only to lobbyists. But comparing her to Donald Trump is a sin I won’t commit. Nor will I vilify Trump’s constituency and play into the same cycle of hate and segregation that has characterized our country for centuries.

After the death of Supreme Court Justice Scalia, I realized everyone is good for someone. Politics serve interests, and the wealthy few are always served first. It’s the role of art to question and challenge this, and pave the way for change.”

Of course one of the most crucial decisions we made in our brief run was the publishing of Becky Flanders’ work. The argument of censorship was everywhere. We discussed in depth the possible outcomes of publishing the work. Again, a staff member threatened to resign. Knowing what our decision could cost us, we ran with our cover artists, and her piece “Autorretrato Como Fuente.” 

“Fiction writer A.C. Crispin once wrote, “Remember that on any world the wind eventually wears away the stone, because the stone can only crumble; the wind can change.” … Orlando has been thirsty for growth in the arts; the millions funneled into the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center should serve as an indicator. And yet, Orlando remains a small, conservative city in the arts, content to produce pleasant work with little desire to challenge anyone—challenge being a word often associated with offense.”

That was the beginning of the end for us. We would stagger through three more months and finish the year, but the damage was done. It was a decision I will always stand by. Of course, I  published the June issue knowing it would be my last. I kept the information a secret hoping to sell the company to an interested party. In vain I hoped taking the blame and resigning would allow Artborne to live on to serve the Orlando community.  In June, my last note read…

“In mentioning all the above, I’d like to remind you that art is amazing. It transcends all boundaries and has the ability to tackle nearly any obstacle. In the coming months, I hope you understand the symbolism of the chosen cover image for June by Nicholas Boyd, in relation to the path of ARTBORNE Magazine. In spite of it being cliche, I’d like to mention—every ending is just another beginning.”

Filming with Pam Hoelzle and Dear Rockstar

I’d just returned from a two week trip in New York. It was my first time visiting the city in seven years. A couple hours of shut-eye, and I was on the road, coasting through Florida State Road 50. Before and even during the trip, I promised myself I would create notecards on what I would talk about on camera. I never did. Pam sensed hesitation and quickly dispelled it. “This is just a regular conversation,” she said.
Pam Hoelzle was a mentor of mine during my time at the University of Central Florida. She led the Blackstone Launchpad group- a center for social entrepreneurship. After building the program from the foundations, she resigned and moved on to a new venture. Dear Rockstar is a project she’d been working on for years, and it culminated into another success. Interviewing John Rivers of 4Rivers, Ben Hoyer of Downtown CREDO Coffee, and Jessie Wolfe of Oh Dang Hummus, Pam has been and continues to be a powerful force in Central Florida.
I was grateful Pam took the time to interview me and shared my story as best I could, hoping to impart some small grain of advice to anyone watching. Of course, just being on her set taught me so much more. You can find the link to my interview here. I recommend watching her interview with John Rivers.

 

Images courtesy of Dear Rockstar