[Note: Cathy Zymet, neé Alter, has been a professional writer for many years. She has contributed to a number of periodicals, including many alternative weeklies, and Might, a defunct magazine geared toward prisoners. She now lives in Washington, D.C., and among other projects, writes, for a largely juvenile audience, biographies of popular bands and singing groups. These books are available at Wal-Mart and Walgreens. This is the second in a series of indeterminate duration, in which Zymet will be chronicling her experiences. Her story is very real.]

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June 2, 2000

I’ve started doing this upsetting what-would-Jesus-do thing. But instead of Jesus, it’s Ricky. Yesterday, for example, while rooting through a bin of $2.99 underwear at Filene’s Basement, digging deeper and deeper for a pair that wasn’t the color normally reserved for highlighter pens or hunting caps, I stopped and considered my environs. Would Ricky ever rifle through a box of reject underwear, desperately searching for Armani briefs (I hear he wears only Armani), symbolically showing the bargain basement shoppers, nay the world, the shrouded essence of his inner being?

Of course he wouldn’t. Most likely, Ricky has someone on staff just to handle his foundation requirements. Possibly, he orders from a catalog, late at night, as a way to unwind after a big show. Or, perhaps, Ricky enjoys shaking his bon-bon sans wrapping.

And that’s my point. That I even considered this little dreamscape, that I rested elbow-deep in synthetically fibered panties thinking about Ricky Martin, shows just how victimized I am by the constructs of my own obsession.

This must have been what Joseph Mitchell felt as he immersed himself, teabag-like, into the lives of his subjects — Professor Seagull, Captain Charley, Mr. Hunter — until he mixed with them so completely, the writing process became a collaborative effort. Which explains how he could remember banks of dialogue, islands of quotations, without ever using a notepad or tape recorder. He was Heathcliff!

It wasn’t this way with the Backstreet Boys. With so many of them, my attentions were divided, diluted. I had even taken to burlesquing their names — the Bossy One, the Cute One, the Serious One — and so on.

There was, of course, Brian Littrell. The Heart Murmur One. I wrote the following:

It was Brian’s devotion to his family and faith in God that helped in through an illness that almost ended in tragedy. Born with an undiagnosed murmur and hole in his heart, Brian was a energetic child who never had trouble keeping up with his older brother Harold. But at five, he fell off his Big Wheel bike, which started an infection that spread through his blood. The family didn’t know it at the time, but a few weeks later, when Brian slipped and hit his head, doctors at the hospital told the Littrell’s that Brian had a deadly infection.

Brian stayed in the hospital for two months. His doctors believed that he had no chance of surviving and told his parents to start making funeral arrangements. His mother prayed for her son to get better. Pretty soon the infection started to clear up and before long, Brian was perfectly healthy. Brian and his family thanked God for what could only be a miracle. Said Brian, “I think that’s why God gave me this gift to sing. So I can bless other people’s lives.”

As I wrote, their appellations became even more apposite in my mind, until at last, the Boys ceased to be Boys, just afflictions.

The urge to typecast was irresistible, but it prevented me from getting at the men behind the cute labels. The Backstreet Boys: Doin’ It Their Way received middling reviews in VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates) magazine. “Backstreet Boys provides biographies for each of the five band members,” writes Beth Karpas. “Zymet describes the formation of the group, their original gigs at small venues, and their superstardom overseas before they achieved recognition at home in the United States. The last two chapters cover personal and professional challenges that the band has faced in the last two years. Unlike the Affleck title (Ben Affleck: I Make My Own Rules, by Sam Wellman), schooling is never mentioned, unusual considering that two band members were under sixteen years old when the band began. Also, Zymet’s book is a bit too short to fulfill the one-hundred-page limit for book reports.”

Is it any wonder that I worry how critics will receive Ricky Martin: His Crazy Vida? Why else would I have mentioned his math and U.S. Studies tutors in my second chapter, “Ricky: The Menudo Years?” And why else would I have ordered so many Ricky Martin biographies (for research) that my personal Amazon recommendations now skew to include Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Eloise’s Guide to Life, and William Gaddis’ A Frolic of His Own?

And then there are the nightmares. . .