November 2 is National Book Lover’s Day.
It also happens to be one of my best friends’ birthday, a certain Mr. JianCarlos Vasquez. For his big Two-Four he wanted to go apple picking so we hopped a ZipCar, pumped up the radio, and set out on the Long Island Expressway. Southampton-bound. Bumper-to-bumper traffic has never been so fun. I’m sure there’s Instagram proof somewhere, like so many of our other well-documented antics. It was one of those perfect autumn mornings, the multi-colored leaves in sharp contrast to the clear blue sky and cold enough for a sweater. We picked seven kinds of apples, rode a red wagon, ate clam chowder for lunch, and at night we baked three different pies/cakes for dessert. In this social circle, food is love and gorda is our middle name. It was a day for celebrating friendships and births. Not only Jian’s bon anniversaire but also the birth of our multimedia production company- The 3tO5 Group.
The 3tO5 was the brainchild of JianCarlos, Ryan Rodriguez, Mauricio Abascal, Victoria Collado and yours truly. Like all great ideas it developed late one night while we sat around an empty pizza box in a Park Slope living room. Rooted in the innate restlessness that takes over the stagnant artist, the idea to write a play about our Cuban roots evolved into revisiting a screenplay I’d written close to four years ago. The more we talked the more ideas would emerge. We realized that this was bigger than the screenplay. Not only did we have too much enthusiasm to restrict it to a single project but we were also great collaborators. It only made sense to come together, slap a name on the thing, and make it official. The name “3tO5” was a tribute to our Miami home and a play on words for the group that was once comprised of three (Jian, Ry, and moi) and was made complete when it became five (Vicky and Maury). On a Sunday afternoon, we locked ourselves away in Ryan’s apartment for six hours to establish our vision for the new company and a line up for upcoming enterprises. The screenplay, a short film entitled Hard-Bitten, was set as our first project. We had to prove to ourselves if we could work together having zero budget, zero equipment, and all pre-production, including casting and crew assemblage, happening more than 1,000 miles away. I came to affectionately think of it as the little film that could. In order to raise money we came up with a marketing plan that tapped into our resources: friends, family, and social media. We launched our website and fundraising challenge on the same day. The challenge was, in my humble opinion, genius. Avoiding websites like Kickstarter we instead challenged our audience to give us any amount between $3 to $5 (See what we did there? Wink, wink!) and we in turn would make a movie on whatever funds we raised at the end of our campaign. The outpour of support on every platform was overwhelming. Because of their generosity we were able to hire a talented cast and crew right on deadline- two weeks before the scheduled shoot. So come December off to Miami we would go!
The snow had arrived early and while the occasional drink after a long Saturday at work is not only welcomed but necessary for a less boring Snuggie existence of Netflix and chocolate chip cookies, the best thing to do on those snowed-in days is to stay in bed. And nothing makes those quiet days even better than getting mail, especially when it’s a prettily wrapped hunter green passport to Neverland. The “passport” was a thank you gift from my friend Sonia for helping her propose to her girlfriend. Days before we stood on a Central Park bridge showering the couple with glitter/confetti while serenading them with an impromptu a cappella rendition of Bruno Mars’ Marry You. Set against the backdrop of a setting sun igniting the fall colored leaves on fire, it was truly magical. It was an honor to be part of such a special moment of their love. Congratulations Sonia and Lynn!
The following week another package arrived. The sender’s address read Los Angeles. Inside was a freshly pressed Penguin copy of The Great Gatsby. Happy Book Lovers Day to me! I’d been searching for a Penguin edition in bin after bin. I’d searched every Strand, Barnes & Noble, and vintage bookstore I could find to no avail. Yet here he’d managed to not only find it but deliver it with the same tenderness and attention to detail which once upon a time had made our relationship so sweet. Unbeknownst to him, I’d romantically told myself that the man who gifted me that book would know how much it meant to me. It would be a sign that I had to marry him. I would know for sure that he really saw me. As soon as that ridiculous notion entered my head I held on to the hope that it would come from a certain someone else. A certain someone else whose personal hang ups once made me question my own worth. There are certain RobotBoys who will unintentionally and without malice do that to you. And so it happens that some thousand words bound together in a book holds more meaning for me than just the Great American novel. I placed the tiny, orange paperback reverently on my nightstand, the hand-made dedication card tucked inside its iconic pages. I called Mr. Tony Stark to thank him for such a lovely present. After all we’ve been through he really shouldn’t have. “Well I knew how much you wanted it”, he said, “and I thought if she wants it she should have it. Somebody should give that to her.” My heart squeezed. My eyes teared up. There are people who will sing back to you the happy song you’ve forgotten. Although this story doesn’t end in wedding bells Mr. Stark was a reminder to discern the really special someones. The ones deserving of our love.
After five consecutive weekends of trekking to Harlem, spending Saturday after Saturday looking at apartments, Jian and Ryan found the perfect penthouse nestled between 126th and Lenox. Just in time for Thanksgiving. The 3tO5, not only the company but also the group of friends, got together with pizza (always!) to paint, drill, and organize the new apartment. All the while discussing future Hard-Bitten plans. Once every wall was varnished and every light fixture was installed we had ourselves a Thanksgiving feast. At a table of family and friends the most delicious dish was the conversation and the memories. Read: the wine and the twerking. There was a fireplace, holiday music, a turkey, and good ol’ American apple pie (my first solo bake ever!). For a Cuban kid like me, raised on lechon asado and Rey Ruiz, this was the stuff of holiday movies. The following morning Ryan and I helped Maury and Vicky scout for apartments since their lease was up in a few days. Coincidentally, I also was set to renew my lease that coming Monday but I wasn’t looking to move out, much less to live with roommates. But then we found it. A lovely, freshly renovated, affordable, too-perfect-to-pass up three bedroom between 146th and Frederick Douglass. The unicorn I was waiting for. We put a deposit that same day and just like that I too was moving to Harlem. Talk about a Black Friday deal! To celebrate that night we went to watch the book-turned-movie blockbuster Catching Fire. On our way to the box office I had a thought, if my life was a book then it was off to a great start.