Jenny Absent From My Block

“Here…This is my world,” says J-Lo in the voiceover. “This place inspires me…to be tougher…to stay sharper…to think faster.” In other words, this is how the other 99 percent lives. With a little luck and some socially responsible philanthropy, they might just…

The ad embedded above was partially shot on my block a few weeks ago and if you watch it very carefully and pause it in certain spots you can see the laundromat and barber shop that are the main commercial establishments here. A small crowd of locals came out to bear witness the high-end media “process”: they kept shooting the same scene over and over again. The protagonist of this performance was a woman in a white blouse with streaked, perfectly blown-out straight hair driving a white Fiat down the block as a small swarm of “urban” kids run after her. For a while we thought the shoot was for an independent film or a network TV show but when we complained about these huge piles of garbage that were dumped in front of our building someone from the crew explained it was a Fiat ad.

Note the tedious waiting for everything on the set to be just right and finally the car with the expensive crane and mounted camera moves and then comes the white Fiat, and the laughing gaggle of  tougher, sharper, and faster thinking children symbolically chase the symbol of 1 per cent transcendence. I wanted to run downstairs with one of those little plastic bubble blowers and mingle, but there was no J-Lo, only a high-cheekboned stand-in who patiently sat in the car when about halfway through the 4-hour shoot, the white Fiat broke down. This little detail was clearly left on the cutting room floor!

This led to a long period of downtime where I tried to explain to my neighbor how easy it was to start a blog, and we began to wonder where the celebrity actors were, and I mentioned that I thought the woman driving in the car looked like Jennifer Esposito, who I met briefly when writing a story about the filming of Spike Lee’s “Summer of Sam” in another old neighborhood of mine, and how Adrien Brody’s mother was a photographer at The Voice and she actually started to sob while they were filming the scene when he is beaten on the street because he was wearing an extreme mohawk and in 1976 that was taken to be a sign of demonic possession by locals freaked out by the Son of Sam slayings. But no, I decided, that wasn’t Jennifer Esposito, in fact the woman sitting in the car was so nondescript despite the fact that she seemed to be playing a lead role that I had a strong suspicion that she was a body double. But for whom?

It was only while watching endless baseball games with the sound off while trying to finish a major investigative piece for a well-known national magazine that I caught the first in this series of Fiat commercials co-branded with J-Lo music and realized that the shoot on my block would be part of a montage for, perhaps, the second of the series. Of course J-Lo has been peddling this “I’m real” “from the block” branding from early on in her recording career, and I kind of understand how she probably constructed this identity as a reaction to undoubtedly alienating experiences in Hollywood. She was like a prettier, slightly upscale version of Rosie Perez trying to spend enough time to get noticed at The Ivy and inevitably she’s going to go, damn, these people are mad pendejos and I am most certainly still from the block, yo.

I remembered how in the late ’90s when, on a special Latin Pop Explosion assignment, I spent time with her in a corner office of the MTV studios, Benny Medina lurking and this personal assistant of hers, strictly a fellow homegirl, probably high school chum, fielding calls and telling suitors that she was registered at the Carlyle Hotel under the name of Jessica Rabbit. Sure the Bugs in me was a little turned on by this but I never liked those kinds of girls in high school, nor college for that matter. They were exactly the type that would wind up somewhere out on Long Island in a place with a moat and security guys that come up to the reporters on stakeout and make dumbass threats as if they weren’t tough enough sharp enough, and think fast enough to laugh in their face.

So much time has passed, so much innocence lost. It’s like this dizzying blur of P-Diddy, Marc Anthony, Ralph Fiennes. And the economic crisis.

I just want to know, Lady Lo, why weren’t you there on my block that day where you could have mingled with aspiring Jennys from the block and gotten a refresher course in the Bronx we both grew up in? Where maybe you could have made some kind of Oprah-like diff? I suppose the TV ad shows that you did hug a child actor on another “urban” block, but I can only say that your absence from this corner of “your world” was duly noted.


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