In an unprecedented move in celebrity gossip blogging, I've been tasked to follow actor, dancer, singer and all-around Latino heartthrob Mario Lopez for an entire day. I will have unfettered access to his life, and a backstage pass to his every waking moment for a full 24 hours. The move is unprecedented because writers for celebrity gossip sites are not respected journalists and don't usually get embedded for their stories like Matt Lauer gets embedded with troops in Iraq, and also because I am not a celebrity gossip blogger and have, in fact, a notorious reputation for straight not giving a fuck. This is my story of a day in Mario Lopez's life. I'm not technically allowed to say it's a "true" story, but look into your hearts and you will know.
7:42AM Mario Lopez's Home
I arrive at his tasteful villa, a small, unpretentious bungalow set back deep into the well-manicured shrubbery. Mr. Lopez answers the door, shirtless. He stares at me in silence. "Hey, howdy!" he suddenly exclaims, as if he has just laid eyes on me, even though I have now been standing here, occasionally waving and attempting conversation, for at least two minutes. He motions me in, and I take in his lovely home. Everything is pristine, untouched. Literally untouched. There's still cellophane over discreetly placed CDs of Latino music. A price tag is still attached to the bottom of a half-filled coffee cup on the spotless coffee table. "Make yourself at home!" he gestures at nothing in particular, as if utterly mystified as to where I might go and what I might do at that prompt.
Pictured: Mario Lopez. Not pictured: Uncomfortable silences.
"Let me just put my coat away," I said, making my way toward the hall closet, "and we'll get star-" "NO!" he screams, and in an instant he's upon me. His hands are like iron claws; he's pinned me to the wall. Disturbingly, his expression has not changed. His face is still frozen in a smile that bespeaks friendly recognition with a slight touch of modesty. His fingernails are piercing my skin. "I mean, we're going! Already! That's normal!" He's already released me and is ushering me toward the door. "I have a nice car that I drive!" he practically screams in my ear, and gestures to the cherry red '66 Mustang, again impeccable to the point of misuse. "Men like cars!" "Indeed they do." I nod, as he shoves me violently into the passenger seat. I am transfixed, watching him while his face changes expressions. It does so inch by inch. First the eyes turn upward, then the smile drops to a smirk, eventually his cheeks relax and one eyebrow slowly arches. It is an expression of wry amusement, or rather, a fantastic replica thereof.
9:02AM An unassuming diner. The sign simply reads "Eats."
"Listen, man," I said, shaking salt onto the handful of Oxycodone that was my breakfast, "you can be straight with me. I even told the editor when I signed on for this gig that I seriously did not give a fuck, and I meant it. Here, look at my card."
"I know you've gotta put up a front for all the paparazzi, but I'm not them. Just be yourself, and lets get through this. When it's all over, I'll write up some bullshit about how we fed the homeless and learned salsa dancing or something." "Really?" he said, his face still transforming from male bonding to earnest listening. "Absolutely. It's making me uncomfortable anyway." "I'll give it a shot," he agreed, and with a confused effort, the smile gradually melted from his face to be replaced with nothing. Nothing whatsoever. I have never in my life witnessed such complete blankness on a human face. I noticed that his eyes, however, remained the same. I realize now that they were always dead. Dear lord, what had I done?
10:15AM The alleyway behind the West Hollywood Motel 6
Used and broken drug paraphernalia, some of which is not even mine, litters the pavement. Mario Lopez is standing with his head cocked to one side, like a dog, listening. Every once in a while, just when I think I cannot possibly take the stillness for one more moment, he springs into action, moving nearly faster than the eye can see. When he is still again, a rat lies dead on the pavement, stomped to death by the man who played A.C. Slater on Saved by the Bell. Then he is still again. "So ... um," I venture to break the terse silence. He rotates to face me, and I know this sounds crazy, but I swear to God his feet did not move. He gazed at me with that same cocked head, that same curious expression. There was no difference between me and the rat.
Pictured: Mario Lopez. Not pictured: Earnestness."Yes?" "What was with that whole lying about waxing your chest thing on Dancing With the Stars? Why would you lie about something like that?" "I like to be smooth. It makes me faster, more efficient. This is somehow frowned upon, so I told them what they wanted. It's better if people hear what they want to." "You can lie just like that?" He motioned for silence, and we were quiet until I couldn't take it anymore. "Sooo ... this is what you do for fun, huh?" "Fun? I like to keep my reflexes sharp. Nobody minds if vermin are exterminated, correct? This is acceptable? To kill them?" "Yeah, I guess. It's just a little weird." And it's like I've flipped a switch in his brain. In an instant, cheery, good-natured Extra host Mario Lopez is back. "Aw shucks, I was just kidding you!" His smile is assembled by his lips. "I don't do weird things! Ha ha! You're the one who is weird!" "No, dude. We don't have to go back to the fakeness. I won't tell anybody about it or anything," I said, trying to reassure him; somehow the public persona was even more disturbing now that I had witnessed the calmness of the void. "Good," he replied flatly. Movement. A blur. A snap. Something lay dead beneath his immaculate, expensive Spanish wingtips. "That one was a cat," I informed him. "Oops," he replied, insincerely.
Pictured: Mario Lopez. Not pictured: Empathy.
12:43PM The Heron's Inn, a nearly empty dive bar that has clearly seen better days, and even those were likely terrible.
Lopez and I sit at a beaten and worn bar, watching a beaten and worn bartender lift the heads of the career drunks so she can wipe away the accumulated tears beneath. "I will fuck that bartender," he noted, and strode off mechanically in the woman's direction. I waited outside the bathroom until they were done. When they came out, it looked like the only reason she wasn't crying was because she had forgotten how. He smiled at me. Genuinely, I believe. I still see it when I close my eyes.
8:09PM The parking lot outside Our Lady of Peace
Mario is pacing the empty parking lot, scanning the pavement for something. I do not know what. "OK, so I get the chest-waxing thing -- that's just hiding embarrassing info -- and the rape stuff was never concretely proven, but on Dancing With the Stars you lied again, saying you've never had any training. That I just don't get. You were on Kids, Inc., where you received formal training, and your IMDB profile says you worked as a dancer before getting Saved by the Bell. Surely you had to know people would call you out on that." "Yes, but by then I was already cast on the show and my career was improved. People like it when you are good in your field. They let you get away with more. Ah, here." He stooped and picked up a triangular chunk of loose concrete, and in one smooth motion hurled it through the window. I did not have the energy to ask him why. "So Kids, Inc., hey? I forgot about that. So you really were a child once."
Come to think of it, they all look completely dead inside, too. What did that show do?!He laughed again, like it was a chore; like he was taking out the garbage. "I mean, you had a childhood. You weren't always like this?" I heaved with all my might, boosting him up through the broken window of the children's hospital. "No. I was like you once," he said, hefting me after him into the darkened ward. "Man, what happened?" "I went swimming alone one night at summer camp. I was 12. The current was stronger than I thought, and I was a weak swimmer. It was foolish; there was nobody to hear me," he walked down one side of the aisle of empty beds, stopping to touch the pillows on each. "I was pulled under. It was so dark. So cold. I felt my lungs quiver, giving way. And when I thought I couldn't take any more, something amazing happened." "What?" I prompted him as I collected the down feathers he handed me -- one from each pillow. "The icy water filled my entire body with death, like air in a balloon. And then something coalesced out of the murk. Or at least, I thought it did. I can never be sure if it was real or not; they say when the brain starts to die that hallucinations are common. It was a face. It spoke to me. It said, 'Mario, do you want to die tonight?' And I answered, 'No! Please help me, sir! I want to live!' The face smiled at me, then. 'Mario,' it said, 'I can do this thing for you. But not for free. No, in exchange for your life, I will take a part of you as payment. It is very important that you do this willingly. Will you consent to me?' I could feel the life fading away behind my eyes, and in an instant I answered: 'Yes! Please! Anything!' The face leaned forward, and I saw that it was not a face in the murk. It was the murk -- a muddy shadow crudely imitating human form. It expelled itself into my lips. Inside of me. It tasted foul, like garbage and methane and ash."
The birth of Lopez."Jesus," I swore, "what a terrible thing to happen to a kid. But it wasn't real, right?" "It doesn't matter," he mumbled through a mouthful of something. He was eating each feather I handed back to him, one by one, savoring them like exotic and expensive truffles before swallowing. "Real or not," he continued, "I agreed to give up a piece of myself that night. I awoke on the beach, cold and still and alone. There was nobody there to have saved me. I was simply, inexplicably alive. I looked out on that dark water, shimmering in the moonlight. I didn't realize it until much later, but I would look back on that night as the last time I knew what it was to be warm." "Wow," I said, stunned. I tried to change the subject: "So what's with the pillow feathers?" "Children have died on these beds," he answered simply, slipping another into his mouth.
2:30AM Just outside the gate of Mario Lopez's house
I climbed out of the Mustang and into the balmy California night. I envied the people behind the windows on this street, asleep and safe and ignorant. I turned to Mario as if to thank him, only to find him mere inches from my face, his black eyes gazing dully through mine. "You said this was off the record," his toneless voice reminded me. "Yeah, of course. We spent the day walking homeless dogs and you taught me how to make huevos rancheros; that's what they'll read."
Pictured: Mario Lopez. Not pictured: The ability to love."Good. That's good. Because if you tell anybody about this, I will pull your heart from your chest and piss into it, then replace it so that my steaming urine will pump through your veins until you die of sepsis." "Jesus! No man, shit. We're cool. We taught some gang members how to roller blade and had some of your mom's trademark Five Alarm Chili. That's it. I swear." He gazed at me through his mask of stillness for a long moment, before breaking suddenly into a giant grin. His public persona was back in full force. The cheesy smile, the overly inflected voice, the grandiose posturing -- it would have been so convincing if not for those dead, dead eyes. "Well excellent, amigo! I look forward to reading it, muchacho! Come by again and say 'hi' to Courtney and the new baby!" "Yeah, will do. Absolutely." I muttered, stumbling away from him into the night. His dire silhouette stood watching me, one arm raised in goodbye, but frozen -- utterly still -- until I was out of sight. And probably beyond. My breath fogged up the air around me as I trundled back to my car (which is what I call the bus). When I glanced at the temperature readout on the bank sign across the street, it read 73 degrees.
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