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Another installment of Franky Benítez. For a full list of chapters, click here: Table of Contents

Franky Benítez fell in love for the only time in his life on a Friday night in the South End during the first act of a local lesbian farce. The playwrights were a socialist couple from Davis Square who had staged a comedy about a five-women band in London struggling with finances, record deals, and relationships. The reviews in the Globe had called Five Punks “unique, stylish, and edgy.” Franky convinced his roommate Martin to take the T with him from Central and head into town. Martin had spent most of the day smoking pot and reading Tolstoy, but when Franky bribed him with a roast beef sandwich from Buzzy’s before the show, he finally got showered, shaved and changed into a fresh pair of clothes.

“Let’s go see some lesbian punks,” Franky said, as they left their apartment.

The ride on the Red Line was bumpy and cramped, full of Harvard, Tufts, and MIT sweatshirts, and young people who were still unsure about whether an X would be the best letter to describe their generation. Franky and Martin, two New Yorkers now living in Cambridge, always felt that when compared to the New York City subway, the T was a line of toy trains. Unlike a 4 or an A or a D rumbling though Manhattan’s underground, Boston’s Red Line was Morgan Freeman in Driving Miss Daisy. It crawled past Kendall Square, over the Salt and Pepper Bridge and into Charles Street. By then, Franky and Martin would be so impatient with the train’s pace, they would get off at Charles, grab two roast beef and Russian dressing sandwiches at Buzzy’s and walk through Beacon Hill, into the heart of the Back Bay and then finish at the South End. To the roommates, a 15-minute walk in Boston would take you across three or four neighborhoods, unlike Manhattan, where walking from 1st to 5th was an army march. Once Martin was so high during one of their walks that he told Franky that Boston was too tiny and he felt like Gulliver in Lilliput, each giant step eating up a mile of terrain.

The theatre was a black box space on the corner of Berkeley and Tremont, about three blocks from the publishing company where Franky worked. The South End was a neighborhood in transition, but it was the one place where Boston felt like Manhattan. In the early 19th century, this part of Boston didn’t even exist, as it was just tidal marsh, but as the city grew and fill was transported from the city’s outer suburbs to form the South End and eventually the Back Bay, the neighborhood became the final stop of the Boston and Providence Railroad line. All the bowfront buildings that gave the South End its charm had always reminded Franky of Manhattan’s brownstones.  The South End, once a white Protestant district after the Civil War, began to attract Irish Catholic immigrants as well as blacks from nearby Roxbury, and Boston’s white middle class fled the neighborhood, adding to the city’s racist past.  Soon, tenements ruled the neighborhood, a place for new arrivals to share rooms together and by the 1940s gay men began to live there. Jazz took over parts of the neighborhood in the 1950s, and Franky recalled the time Martin and he went to the original Wally’s Paradise to catch Arturo Sandoval. After the city’s jazz age, the district became poorer for the next twenty years and it was common to see empty bowfronts decaying. A few Puerto Ricans led a cultural revival at Villa Victoria in the late 1960s (Franky had always loved walking down Aguadilla Street in the winter and murals of Albizu Campos against a snowy backdrop), but it wasn’t until the early 80s when the gay community restored the South End into a neighborhood of hipness. Theater mixed with nouveau cuisine and people stayed out later into the night. This mini-Manhattan was all Boston had for Franky and Martin, and they found themselves spending more time there than in another place in Boston or Cambridge.

They sat in the back row of the black box, behind a group of elderly ladies from Newton who had read the Globe review and had ventured out into Boston for a monthly adventure. While the ladies chattered and read their programs, slowly enunciating the word “les-bi-an” to show off their new way of thinking, a group of younger and stylish men to the left of Franky were talking about a converted pub that had just started serving tapas from Barcelona. Franky made a mental note. Tapas in Boston? The city was changing. Finally.

The play began inside a cold, dreary flat in London’s West End as the punk rock lesbians were collaborating on a song inspired by their childhood love for Duran Duran. The dialogue was witty and English, and when Franky’s eyes focused on the character of Fiona, the sassy bass player from Belfast, his stomach swirled and somersaulted. Even though her wardrobe was styled after George Michael during his early Wham! years, her eyes transfixed Franky and made him ignore the other four cast members. Her eyes were green and deep, like an emerald gemstone reflecting into sunshine. Her accent was brass and northern, the wit in her speech displayed a raw energy that gave her presence. She commanded every action in the play, but made sure her fellow actors had their moments as well. And her body. Her body wasn’t thin and flat and Irish. Her body was full and Latin, with dark black hair that fell to her shoulders and framed her rosy cheeks. She was, as Franky found out later on their first date, dark Irish, having received the blood of the Spanish Armada when the English navy sank certain ships and sailors rowed their way to Ireland.

“Martin, that’s the one,” Franky whispered to his roommate.

“The one? The one what?” Martin asked. The pot had yet to leave his system completely and there were times when he would wander and his brain would shut down. This was one of those times, which were becoming more frequent. How the hell did he ever get into Harvard, Franky thought. He already knew the answer: Daddy’s Jewish money from the East Side.

“That girl right there, Fiona, she’s the one,” Franky said. “I’m in love, Martin.”

Martin smiled at his friend. “That’s cool.”

During intermission, Franky grabbed a program and read the bio of Siobhán McDonald (Fiona):

Siobhán McDonald is thrilled to be playing the role of Fiona.  A native of Dublin, she moved to the Boston area with her family when she was six. She quickly shed her inherited Irish melancholy and has been performing in plays since high school. Siobhán earned her way into Emerson College, where she played the lead roles in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? and A Tribute to John Patrick Shanley. She is a recent graduate of the New Theater Conservatory, and was recently cast in the role of Chicklet in Psycho Beach Party, to be staged later in June at the Central Square Center for the Arts. She would like to thank her father and mother for supporting her dreams after all the years.

“Martin, I’ll be right back.” Franky said, as he jogged through the black box lobby and outside to Tremont Street. He searched around to see if the homeless flower peddler who was always walking around with roses in his hand was still selling flowers.  Franky picked him out right in front of Hamersley’s trying to convince a middle-aged man to buy a rose for his lady. Franky ran over to the peddler, grabbed a twenty from his wallet and took the last of the roses. He returned to the black box just as the second act was beginning, short of breath but relieved that he had accomplished his mission.

“We’re waiting for her,” Franky told Martin. “You bet your ass we’re waiting for her.”

The actors came back on stage and began jamming to a Pistols-like song specifically written for the play called, “Love Can Hurt, So Give It To Me.” While the backbeat bounced off the walls of the black box, Franky Benítez began to imagine a life with Siobhán McDonald, the girl from Dublin who shed herself from her family’s Irish melancholy. Franky clutched the roses close to his heart. Love can hurt, as he already knew, but sometimes the hurt can be pure joy. And for the first time in his life, Franky Benítez felt a love that had nothing do to with his past. This time, this love was his, one he could mold and nurture. And there was no way he was going to let this love leave him. This love had nothing to do with his parents. For once, Franky would love and this would stay with him forever, faithful and true.

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For a full list of chapters, click here: Table of Contents

The island’s humid air seeped straight through the oxygen vents of Eastern Flight 202 and into the nostrils of Linda Marino. Eleven thousand feet and descending, she was minutes from Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport. A baby boy dressed in a fitted white-and-blue sailor suit was crying in the row in front of her, while the boy’s mother sang lullabies in Spanish. The old man sitting next to Linda grabbed an handkerchief from the breast of his tan suit so he could wipe the sweat from his eyeglasses. Linda took the final sip of her vodka tonic, letting the ice cubs crack onto her teeth, while she peeked out the airplane’s window and saw the first sandy outlines of the island. She had refused to stop drinking, that was her own decision, and her body quivered for another cigarette.

The plane’s view slowly scanned past the island’s northern shore, directly over the sleepy fishing town of Dorado, with its newer resorts and man-made golf courses. The flight path then headed slightly south and crossed over Levittown’s uniform rooftops and street grids, a planned community of American suburbia just miles from Puerto Rico’s colonial streets. It flew over Cataño, home of the Bacardi Rum distillery, before heading into the sprawl of San Juan, with its disconnected roads, hotels, casinos, lagoons, and condominiums. Into the projects and shacks of Santurce, then Carolina—the birthplace of Clemente—before approaching the airport’s main runway.

As the front wheels screeched onto the asphalt, the airplane’s Puerto Rican passengers erupted into applause, shouts, and blessings to the Lord. At that moment, any sociologist could have easily separated the Puerto Ricans from the Americans on the plane. Puerto Ricans party and shout alleluias when a plan lands. Americans just close their eyes and stay silent. The first time Linda saw this spectacle just weeks before on her first trip to the island, she had laughed at its absurdity. This time, she was expecting it and thought it endearing.

Linda grabbed her purse from under her seat and waited for the file of passengers in front of her to exit the plane. The little baby sailor had suddenly dozed off, while the elderly man next to her kept wiping his forehead with this handkerchief. Linda look behind her towards the rear of the plane. She saw older New York men dressed in Hawaiian shirts and straw hats, their bushy grey chest hairs creeping out from their collars. She saw American wives in short summer dresses, holding their winter coats and scarves in their hands. She saw two nuns and thought of Sally Field and her new TV show, where she flew around a canned studio set of Puerto Rico in her pink habit and cornette. Behind the nuns stood a mother with her six children. The mother had the face of sadness covered all over her body, while her children shoved each other and shouted curses in Spanglish. Linda turned back to the front and made her way towards to the plane’s exit. The island’s humid scent had taken over the plane like a winter blanket on a frigid January morning in Manhattan. This scent, although more familiar to Linda this time, still made her shiver. Once she walked down the stairs and onto the runway, she was already lighting up a Vigrinia Slims and wanting another drink.

She walked into the terminal, noticing the armed policemen at the entrance, which displayed a enormous framed photograph of Governor Roberto Sánchez Villela, the successor to the great Muñoz Marín. Villela, a member of the island’s dominant Commonwealth party, was suffering politically from a scandal, where he had divorced his wife in 1967 and married one of his close assistants. The island’s voters, who still were Catholic, conservative, and believed in the sacred sacrament of matrimony, were dismayed with Villela, and the current scandal was damaging his reelection bid and opening the opportunity for Luis Ferré and the pro-statehood party to win the governor’s office in 1969.

To Linda, Villela’s photograph was just that of another politician, but when she saw it, she stopped walking and thought of her father Giovanni Marino. Politics kicked Linda out of her family’s Bronx apartment. Giovanni was now a politician like Villela and having just been elected to the US House of Representatives as the first Italian American congressman in New York City, the last thing he needed were tabloid stories in the Daily News about his unmarried pregnant daughter and a Puerto Rican love child.

Giovanni rarely screamed in his life, but on the day Linda was banished from his home, his shouts of puttana and whore could be heard throughout the hallways of the apartment building. His neighbors all came out into the hallway, only to see Linda sobbing and running towards the elevator. She didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye to her mother, Betty, who was still doing the grocery shopping at the local A&P.

After leaving her apartment, Linda headed out to the end of the Grand Concourse and hailed a cab, who drove her to Eva’s apartment in the South Bronx. There, Linda told Eva everything. Eva listened, then urged Linda to just pause and give her father time.

“Fuck him,” Linda said.

Linda stayed at Eva’s for two nights, comforted by Mrs. Santiago’s fried steak and onions. After refusing to head back home to her apartment, Linda called her mother Betty, who had already told Giovanni to leave his own apartment and go find a place to rent in Washington. She had no desire to share a bed with a man who just denounced his own daughter in front of all their friends and neighbors.

“We’re a family, Giovanni,” Betty said to her husband. “Family’s more important than politics.”

“No, it’s not, Betty. This is only the beginning. I have big dreams for this family,” Giovanni said. “Once she realizes that, she will do the right thing and come back to us. I will help her if she does the right thing. We can make this go away.”

“Go away? What do you mean, go away?” Betty asked.

“You know what I mean,” Giovanni said. “I’ll just head to Washington earlier. I’ll call you soon.”

When Linda and Betty talked over the phone, Linda had already contacted Francisco Antonio to tell him the news about her pregnancy. He was back at engineering school in Mayagüez, on the west side of the island. As Linda told him about what Giovanni had done, he seethed. How dare he think he was just some Puerto Rican punk, like some greasy gang member Giovanni used to arrest? Francisco Antonio was the son of Don Octavio Benítez, one of the island’s most revered businessmen. Francisco’s pride made the decision for him before he could even absorb what Linda was telling him.

“Come down to Puerto Rico. We’ll get married,” Francisco Antonio said.

“What?” Linda said.

“Have the baby down here. Marry me. I’ll get you a plane ticket for tomorrow,” Francisco Antion said, the phone line crackling with determination.

Linda stayed silent as she heard Francisco Antonio’s breath on the phone. He was right, Francisco Antonio was not like any Puerto Rican she had met. The day after their first night at the Caribe Hilton, he stayed with her all day and took her in his Spider to the island’s central mountains. She had never seen a place so green and so lush, and Francisco Antonio knew she had fallen in love with the island. It could be worse, she thought, she could be doing this all by herself.

“Ok. Ok. I’ll go,” she said.

Then Linda told Betty about her decision to live with Francisco Antonio in Puerto Rico.

“I’ll miss ya, Linda, but always know that I love ya,” Betty told her, as she packed Linda’s luggage and had it sent via a taxi to Eva’s apartment.

Within two days of that call with Betty, Linda had already pulled her pink Samsonite from the conveyor belt of the Eastern Airlines baggage claim. She walked past the tourists searching for the hotel bus shuttles that would transport them to their packaged paradises and past the families dragging cardboard boxes filled with clothes from Alexander’s department store. She walked past men in their guayabera shirts selling gum, cigarettes, and lottery tickets, and women reading soap opera magazines. She arrived at the terminal’s main entrance and saw crowds of people calling for each other, horns honking, families hugging, and cars triple-parked while two police officers ate melted cheese turnovers and read about the latest winter baseball scores.

Amid this scene, Linda saw him. Francisco Antonio was standing on the curb of the terminal, his shoulder leaning against a chipped cement column with a crack the size of an apple. He smiled and walked towards her. He grabbed her suitcase, put it down on the sidewalk and kissed her.

“It will be ok, my Linda,” he said. “It will all be ok.”

Linda nodded. She took his hand as he held the suitcase with his other hand. They walked towards the Spider, while the people still shouted Spanish names and the horns still honked. Yet for Linda and Francisco Antonio, they heard none of that, just the sound of their feet walking together in harmony.

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Here is our next Social Media Tip 4. We are still seeing a lot of “programs” and “secrets” to run your social media campaigns on “auto-pilot.” We are here to say: in order to build your brand online with social media, it takes time, work, commitment, authenticity, and discipline.

Let us know what you think?

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I like sports. I like Boston sports. A lot. Boston is one of the best, if not the best, sports town in America. (You can disagree, but that is for another day.)

And so, when Boston’s premier Sports Talk Radio station formed a Twitter account last year, I was pumped. Yes, @WEEISports, was on Twitter. The station known for its “lively” talk about sports, with a cast of characters that range from Tom Brady wannabes to cranky old men who wish teams all played day games. I thought, awesome, this is going to be great. EEI makes the fan part of their radio programming, so Twitter will be perfect for them.

I was so disappointed.

Instead of initiation a true conversation on Twitter, instead of actually thinking, “Let’s have our fans dictate the story here on Twitter and let’s reach out to them,” EEI did want it thought it was supposed to do: post one-way links about sports news and their programming. To put it mildly, it was boring.

So I sent them @ replies once in a while, saying things like, “Hey @weeisports, will you ever reply to your loyal listeners?”

Nothing.

Another @.

Still nothing. And believe me, I tried.

Then, last week, my @ stream came up and boom, EEI had responded! Well, whoever it was (the profile did say that it was coming from The Dale and Holley Show), RESPONDED TO ME! I was thrilled. I was overjoyed. I was like, wait a minute, maybe a radio station, the same type of place that encourages two-way conversation is actually understanding the power of social media and, specifically, Twitter? Yes!

So, EEI, I will give you a chance. I have shouted you guys out for this week’s #FollowFriday.

Hope you guys FINALLY have gotten this. We’re watching you. Nice 2010 resolution, guys!

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The simplest way to increase traffic to your site.

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We are very excited to be tweeting live on December 12 at Latinos in Social Media DC Event to discuss Twitter tips for new businesses. We have also created this brief video that will offer some of our tips and what we will be tweeting about. ¡Saludos!

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