The first week Star Wars came out, Pedro went to see it 5 times at his local theater in the Bronx. He must have been about 22 at the time. This seems odd to me because I was about 16 at the time and never went to see Star Wars once, because I thought it was too young for me. He describes himself as a big fan of pop culture. He once had a radio show at UCSC where he was supposed to play folk songs of Nicaragua, it was called Campesinos Latino or something like that. He said it was really boring, not the kind of thing he would listen to at all. But he was a real Latino who was actually born in Puerto Rico, so I supposed it was a role he was expected to play. It was not one he liked or that he played often.
No, Pedro must have been an unconvincing revolutionary, he kind of likes things the way they are. He is more of a poet/artist who just likes to make note of things the way they are. Once he showed me a picture of his first crush; it was his sister’s boyfriend. It was a slightly crumbled photo with sixties-era-color of his sister and her boyfriend. Her boyfriend was shirtless and looking very extroverted. They were on some rooftop, probably in the Bronx. Where I had eyes for Pedro’s sister in that photo, I could see the shirtless boy brought a kind of sparkle to Pedro’s eyes.
Apparently Pedro learned that older men would take him on trips upstate to spend a day are two with him. I didn’t ask what he gave in return and didn’t really want to know, but it probably involved some kind of sex. I’m guessing he possessed that commodity so valued by so many; youthful good looks. Of course this budding homo-eroticism didn’t mesh well with his faith as a Jehovah’s Witness. Having sexual excitement toward someone of the same sex was strictly contrary to their teachings. I’m not sure if any kind of sexual excitement is allowed in their teachings. What kind of punishment awaits for such thoughts and actions? Various religions seems to have created a wide variety of real and imaginary punishments; hellfire and brimstone, and suffering in eternity kind of stuff. But Pedro claims that Jehovah’s don’t have a Hell, their punishment is simply not getting into Paradise.
Of course the real punishment for him was being ostracized from the Jehovah’s community he had grown to love. When he told me about this period in his life, his reflexive laugh stopped and his voice took on a unusually serious tone. It was a rare moment for Pedro who usually kept things light. It was something he had agonized over, trying to hold onto his faith and fighting internally with himself. But one’s underlying feelings, those instinctual urges that are all part of our DNA passed down through the eons, those things are not going to be papered over with imagined pictures of Heaven. His mother and the rest of the family did not support his joining the Jehovah’s, I think he said they were Catholics. His changing of faith had opened up a distance between him and his family. Now his new family; the Jehovah’s were ostracizing him for what he was, and it must have been traumatic. Once he decided to leave the JW, he never mentioned his family reaching out to him or him to them. After that time he only spoke of being on his own. But I do recall him mentioning visiting a couple that he got to know through the JW many years previously. They had moved to San Luis Obispo and had become makers of handmade paper. He told me that he came to California because he had been taken in by all the “California dreaming” propaganda. His first job was in a gas station in Southern California. He only rarely returned to his home in New York. On one visit to his mom he said she paid him little attention, she seemed more interested in her new boyfriend. He feels that he was a disappointment to her.
Curiously, Pedro is one of those who feel that sexuality is determined by choice. He remembers liking men more than women and just making that conscious choice. I don’t remember making any such choice myself, to me it was and remains a complete mystery. I just remember being excited by women, specifically Julie Newmar as Catwoman and my childhood kindergarten crush; a biracial Japanese tomboy. Of course, this attitude of conscious choice might lend itself toward missionary tendencies. Like an unrequited love, where the lover is always trying to make the object of his/her affection return that love. But I never witnessed this missionary tendency with Pedro, I don’t think he had any need to convince anyone to be attracted to him. He had known much success without that.
I really liked this photo that Pedro did and the poem as well. It almost seems a little cliché – a gay man’s nostalgia for an era he never witnessed and of a kind of femininity that is timeless. Maybe that is why I like it so much. I remember how gay men used to like Sandy, especially before she was with me. And there was a kind of energy she returned to them, an empathy of spirit that you really couldn’t put your finger on. I guess if the truth be told, that could be Sandy standing there in that jacket smoking her cigarette. Her era of coming of age would have been the 50’s and early 60’s.
However this photo is a much more contemporary re-creation. Pedro did it when he was first learning to do Photoshop at my place on Pacific Ave. The young woman worked at the vintage clothing place next door. He got her to pose in one of the shop’s vintage coats and took her picture with his digital camera. He worked it heavily in Photoshop and added his poem. He also included our website in the bottom left. It was his way of returning the favor of allowing him to use our space and equipment. If I recall correctly he was borderline homeless at the time. The young woman’s father actually purchased a couple of the prints from Pedro.
Things had gone downhill for Pedro since he used to visit me at PaperArt. I remember him getting a job for UPS where he was simply supposed to go around to businesses and talk about their new overnight service. They were just starting to compete with FedEx. He came into my shop several times and pretended to talk with me about it, but he was just killing time. He mentioned that he was getting paid $10 an hour, which was pretty good pay back then. I doubt that he created much new business for them. I guessed that his ex, the mayor had helped him get the job because they were still friends, but I don’t know. Pedro had a certain shyness and reserve that probably didn’t lend itself to being a good cold-call sales person.
He used to talk about working in a library in New York for many years. He liked to create order out of chaos, putting books away in their proper place on the shelf fit well with him. He dressed and groomed himself well and always displayed the best of manners. It wasn’t until we became reacquainted after not seeing him for many years that I witnessed some of his struggles. I stopped seeing many of the artists I got to know at PaperArt because I closed my business there in 1993 after 3 years.