This is the second in an ongoing series of interviews with some of the main characters of my books. I already had my one-on-one exclusive with Tommy Perez from Boston Boys Club last month. Next up: our favorite Miami movie critic, Ray Martinez, of Miami Manhunt. These interviews are intended as inside jokes for the readers of my novels.
When I called up Ray Martinez, he was in the middle of a screening for Shrek VI. He didn't answer my call but instead, he sent me a text, "Oye, I'll call you when I'm done. Meet me at the Loews in the Boston Common. Adios." Two hours later, as I walk toward the theater, I spot the gay Cuban movie critic puffing on a cigarette. I instantly recognize Ray Martinez, with his straight short black hair and twinkling blue eyes. He looks like a Cuban Paul Rudd but shorter.
Ray greets me with a big Latin hug, pounding his hands on my back like congo drums.
"Oye Johnny, good to see you man,'' he says, as we embrace in a cloud of (cough cough) smoke. Ray is a human chiminey.
"Thanks Ray. I really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk to me for my site."
"Anything for a fellow Miami Cubano,'' Ray says with a gentle smile. "Let's go inside. Theater 8 is empty. We can do the interview there."
I follow Ray into the movie complex. Flecks of popcorn litter the plush carpet. Banners for upcoming blockbusters drape the theater's lobby. Once we are inside the empty but brightly lit theater, we slink into the sixth row, our voices echo all around. The only other sound: a mechanical hum from the air conditioners.
"So how do you like Boston, Ray? Are you almost done with your fellowship?" I ask, leaning back and bouncing in the cozy stadium seat and scribbling in my reporter's pad.
"Boston is great. I love this town. You don't need a car. Winter was a bit harsh but have you checked out the tulips in the Common? Que bonito, no? I'm glad I came up here for the year."
Ray won a journalism fellowship at Harvard University and took a leave of absence from The Miami News newspaper. He's on sabbatical.
"I've met so many great professors and I've made new friends from my classes. Harvard is exactly what I needed - an academic respite from the world of journalism. But I still freelance reviews and I post my commentary on my blog."
"What was it called, Gay Ray or something?"
Ray's thin black eyebrows narrow at me and he scowls.
"Um no, the blog is called, Rated R for Ray. Comprende?" Ray then hands me a business card with the site's name and the image of a giant movie reel on the top.
"Oops. Sorry. My bad. How often do you post?"
"I post whenever I screen a movie or when the weekend's top movie lists come out. I'm making some extra dough off it."
"Speaking of movies, you just screened Shrek VI. What did you think?"
Ray rolls his eyes and begins to yawn.
"It's the same story, la misma cosa. The jolly green ogre and his adventures with Princess Fiona and their colorful offspring. The tale is growing (Ray yawns) old."
"What else have you screened?"
"Oye, lately it's been sequels. Hollywood is sequel-happy. I just saw Y Tu Papa Tambien, a sequel to Y Tu Mama Tambien. And I reviewed Wolverine II: Return of the Claws."
I laugh at the last title.
"And I am going to see Secret Life of Fleas next week."
"Huh? Ray, don't you mean Secret Life of Bees?" Ray laughs, with his dry heaving.
"It's a Pixar movie. It's a parody but more positive. It's about a trio of sister fleas who take in an orphaned little flea."
"Ahh, okay. Got it. How's your twin brother Racso? Do you miss him?" I ask.
"Oye, it's hard to miss my straight bro when he's always calling and texting me. Him and Cindy spent two weeks with me for Thanksgiving. It's nice to have family around."
"I know the feeling,'' I say, looking away at the empty chair nearby.
"What about Gigli, your black dog?" I continue pelting away and scribbling my notes.
"She's here with me too. She loved running in the snow and pissing on it, which didn't please our neighbors whenever they saw a big fat yellow stain on the snowy lawns, thanks to Gigli. Ronnie walks her when he gets home for work."
Before he relocated to the Hub, Ray had met a younger Cuban guy in Miami - a John Stamos type who aspires to be a news reporter. They moved up here together.
"He's around. I'll see him tonight at the apartment. He's still in the minority development program at the, ahem, other paper. I'm surprised you guys don't know each other. He's never around when you are. I mean, how many gay Cuban reporters are there in Boston?'' Ray says, sipping from his large Gulp-sized cup of Dr. Pepper.
"Hmmm, well there's me, Tommy Perez, you freelance your reviews and I guess Ronnie."
I've seen Ray and Ronnie out and about in Boston but I never wanted to interrupt them. I know Ray casually through mutual features writers from Miami and of course, Facebook, which has become an online Cheers for old friends and new ones.
"We're still together, making a go of it but it's hard chico. I'm almost 10 years older than the dude. He's all Britney and Lady GaGa. I'm more partial to 80s pop, soundtracks from the brat pack films," Ray says, looking as if he's craving another cigarette.
"Oh yeah, like The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink?" I ask, smiling at my memory of the movies.
"Oye, you know what I'm talking about. Ronnie's never heard of these films. I've had to give him the Ray Martinez movie education. But he's a great guy and I love him. I'm still dealing with our age difference."
I lean in closer with my note pad and notice how Ray's head casts a silhouette against the screen in the background. I look at Ray and wonder, why are all the good guys taken? I have sudden flashbacks to awful recent dates.
"Johnny, are you okay? You still with me?"
"Huh? Oh sorry. I must have mentally drifted away. I do that sometimes. Anyway, back to the interview."
"Y tu Johnny? How's the Boston dating scene treating our favorite Cuban author?" Ray asks, flashing his big blue orbs at me. I could easily dive in and swim in them.
I feel my face warm. I must be blushing.
"Ahh...well...that's a whole other story. I met a guy who tends to recite quotes from my books when he talks to me. Weird! It's like having a conversation with myself but the words come out of someone else's mouth. Then I had a date with a guy who asked me if I would mind if he left the bar with another guy? You can say that was the end of that date. It's hard out there for a gay Cuban writer in Boston."
"Just like the movie Hustle and Flow, the Latino version, no?" Ray asks.
"Um, sorta. Moving on Mr. Rated R...Are you planning to return to Miami after your fellowship?"
"Maybe. I'm not sure. Boston has grown on me. I can see why you liked it so much Johnny."
"But your bestfriend Ted Williams is down there and your family?"
"Yeah but I can see them whenever I want. Besides, Ted Williams always finds an excuse to come up here and visit his old news station. He then drags me to his old haunting ground, Club Cafe."
"Yeah, I think I've heard of it,'' I say with a smirk.
"I have a lot of frequent flier miles from my movie junkets so I've used those to visit my parents, my brother and my friends. Boston feels right for me now. I can't complain chico."
"Cue the proverbial curtains, right?" I say.
Ray winks at me.
"You got it JD. How about we get out of here and get something to eat?'' Ray offers as we get up from our comfy stadium seats. He's already pulling out a cigarette from his pocket to smoke outside.
"I know the perfect place Ray. My friend Carlos, a fellow Beantown Cuban, and I go there all the time."
"Hmm, let me guess, El Oriental de Cuba, right?"
"Yeah, how did you guess?"
"Johnny, I read your interview with Tommy Perez."