Missing A Kiss I Never Got

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A little set up first:

Thirteen year-old Paco Serrano is leaving his native Cuba for the United States. His parents exit visa has just been approved after an eight year wait. As part of the travel requirements, Paco has to go to his school and obtain a letter from Maximo Alarico. He is the much-feared, mean-spirited, dictatorial, school Principal. While Cecilia Sanchez, Mr. Alarico’s secretary prepares the papers, Juli Solanes, Paco’s first love, shows up. She is the daughter of prominent members of the Communist Party who did no approved of their young relationship.

Paco and Juli had a brief romance nonetheless, but they had never kissed…

I stared at the wall when Cecilia returned to her desk.  I heard her pull her chair, stick the paper in the typewriter and start typing.  She didn’t say a word and I didn’t look in her direction.  I kept my eyes in the world map above her, my eyes falling in North America and focusing on the golden shape of the United States.  Florida looked like an index finger pointing down at Cuba.

I didn’t know how much time had passed when Cecilia got up from her chair and walked to the rear of the office.  She did not look at me.  After a few seconds I heard her thank Maximo.  She returned and was handing me the signed papers when someone knocked on the outside door.  We both looked at the door at the same time.

“Who is it?” Cecilia asked.

“Juliana Solanes,” came the response from the other side.

I dropped the papers when I heard Juli’s voice.  Cecilia and I bent down at the same time to pick them up, bumping our foreheads.

“Shit!” Cecilia squealed, rubbing her forehead.

“I am so sorry!” I said.

“Miss Sanchez, what’s going on?” Maximo yelled from his office.

“Nothing!” Cecilia and I answered at the same time, the same amount of fear in our voices.

Juli knocked on the door for a second time.

“Get the door then, Miss Sanchez,” Maximo yelled again.

When Cecilia opened the door I was standing directly behind her.

“Hello, Miss Sanchez.  I am here to get my assignment for today,” Juli said.

I peeked from behind Cecilia, smiling.  Juli opened her eyes a little wider and then she smiled back at me.

“Hi Juli.  I’ll get the volunteer list.  Come on in.” Cecilia said and she turned, finding me on her way.  We moved in the same direction as we tried to go around each other. “Will you get out of my way?!” she whispered, exasperated.

“I’m trying!”

When we ended our little weird dance, I saw that Juli was still smiling.

“I heard the news from Doris. When are you leaving?” she asked.

“Saturday.  Tomorrow.”

“I’m sorry,” Juli said.

I got closer to her and looked in the direction of Maximo’s office before I answered.

“Yeah, me too.”

Cecilia was holding a notebook and making notes as she spoke to Juli from behind her desk.

“Your team meets in the chemistry lab.  Miss Lazo is your leader and she has the specifics of your assignment.”

“Thank you,” Juli said without lifting her eyes from mine, “Well, if I don’t see you later, I think this might be goodbye.”

“I’ll be around later, just in case you…” I said.

“Just in case I don’t see you later, I’ll say goodbye now.”

Juli moved a step closer and I realized she was going to kiss me.  I closed my eyes waiting for her lips.

Before they landed on mine, I heard Cecilia clear her throat.

“Miss Solanes, come into my office,” Maximo’s voice came from behind me, unpleasant like a chill crawling up the spine, “I must speak to you.  This minute.”

I didn’t look back.  Juli walked past me.  A fragrance, like soft piano notes, went trailing after her.  I stood for a brief moment, looking at the papers in my hand.  I took a couple of steps with no specific place in mind.  Cecilia closed the door behind me the moment I stepped outside.

Across the hallway, the painter and his assistant were sitting across from each other, smoking cigarettes and talking about the job still to be done.  I turned to the plaza without covering my head from the rain.  When I walked past the window in Maximo’s office, I looked for Juli but only saw my own distorted reflection on the dripping glass slots.  By the time I reached the street, I had slowed my steps, hoping to hear Juli’s voice reaching me through the raindrops, calling me to wait for her.  When I got to the corner and turned towards Main Street, the belief that I would hear Juli call my name was disappearing with each step I took, as I walked on.

It’s Fathers Day

It’s just another day created by the Hallmark folks, but I find myself thinking about my father. His spirit is captured in this scene from Esperanza Farm I wrote years ago:

It’s Cuba, around 1963. A father’s small business has just been nationalized by the government. He’s going home to tell his wife. His son is with him.

Dad handed me a brown paper bag with two ham sandwiches inside. He had bought them from someone that had stopped by earlier in the day. We walked outside where the rain had been waiting for us. The mist rising was a splashing welcome to our faces.

I watched as my father locked the door, pushing it twice to make sure it was locked, the way he always did. Dad then turned the sign on the string to the side that read ‘closed’. He looked for a few seconds at the door and then he turned to me. He took the bag with the sandwiches from me and said: “I leave with more than I came.” He smiled at me, but I could tell that he was ‘this’ close to crying.

I waited for him to take the first step into the rain-covered street. The intensity of the rainstorm was increasing. Vapor was rising from the broken asphalt. The rain drops sounded like little whips against the concrete sidewalk.

Asking me to follow him, my father ran into the downpour, without looking back. I smiled and followed him. But before he got to the other side of the street, Dad slipped and fell.

I saw him go head first into the wet pavement.

I stopped, not knowing what to do, unsure of how to help him.

He had slid hard, falling on his elbows and knees, but, like a good outfielder making a diving catch, Dad had held on to the sandwiches.

He got up just as quickly and turning to look at me, he smiled with his whole face. He then started running again towards home, laughing as he ran, looking back often to see if I was keeping pace.

His laughter was piercing the gray clouds.

May you spend the day with your Dad, laughing under the rain. If he’s gone, may his memories brighten your day.

Thanks, Pipo.

Finding a Character

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(Also posted at Kickstarter as a project update)

Most of the people I write about in ESPERANZA FARM are composites of people I’ve met at some point in my life. A few are completely made up to fit a particular story-telling need while others are closer to their real life persona.

Reinaldo, a next door neighbor and confidant of the young protagonist, fits the latter group:

Reinaldo Garsa, who had lived in the United States for many years, was saying that an attack by the United States on Cuba could come any minute. People believed him when he said that the plane that flew low above the fields earlier that afternoon was an American spy plane. Reinaldo should have known, they said, because he had fought as a Sergeant in the American Army during the Korean War.

“Reinaldo” was my real-life neighbor. I remember the content of our frequent conversations, his very strong opinions about the Cuban government and other matters. I could also recall his descriptions of New York from the time in the forties and fifties when he made the city his home. His love of baseball is still fresh in my memory. But because I had not seen him in approximately forty years, his physical features were lost to me. It’s odd how one can remember almost all about a person from one’s past, except their face. That was until very recently, when I discovered the photo that accompanies this update.

Suddenly, “Reinaldo” came back to life and I realized, at the same time, where his love of baseball probably came from: he managed one of the baseball teams that traveled my province, Pinar del Rio, delighting Sunday fans. This was a detail I did not know about the character or about the person.

I’m considering slipping that detail — about him being a manager — into the final revision of the manuscript. It would add depth and context to the character. I also know it would please the person I knew.

“Reinaldo” is the man on the far right. Looking at the photograph, I concluded that he came to the ballpark straight from work. He was in such a hurry to get to the game that he didn’t have time to change. “Let’s get this damn ceremonial first pitch over,” I can imagine him thinking, “let’s play ball.”

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Filming a Promo Video

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When preparing to upload my project at Kickstarter, I wrote, rewrote and polished the script for my promotional video. When I was satisfied, I did three takes using my Canon Elura 80, tripod and remote. I wasn’t happy with any of the shoots for different reasons: lighting was problematic, the sound was poor — the E-80 doesn’t have jack for an exterior mic — or my delivery just plain stunk. The one shoot that had the most promise, done outside with spring foliage in the background, I had to discard. I realized later that my dog Celeste had been in the frame, walking around the rear part of our yard, looking for squirrels to chase.

Turns out I’m not an actor nor a filmmaker, but I understand the importance of a promotional piece. So I was committed to getting it done. The biggest issue for me was memorizing the script. Index cards didn’t help. Yelling: “Line!” didn’t help either. Short term memory was not cooperating. So this is how I got around this problem:

I rigged up a “poor-man’s teleprompter.” I copied the script into an iMovie title, the one where the words roll up a la Star Wars. I then placed the laptop by the camera and with two remotes — one for the camera and the other for the computer — I could manage the speed of the script while turning the camera off when needed. Here’s the set-up:

and this is where I sat, opposite my camera:

I decided to go black and white for a couple of reasons. First, the lighting was not optimal and the color version was not complementary. Second, because ESPERANZA FARM is a historical novel, the black and white of the video adds a document quality that I preferred.

So there you have it. If you’re filming your own promo, I hope this makes it a bit easier. If you need more details on my “prompter,” drop me a line and I’ll be happy to give you the “specs” : )