Coming Back, Gracefully

7 08 2018

Recovery going well. It has been a surprisingly hot summer in Portland. I accepted a union job offer from a local grocery store. Cleaning toilets and taking out the trash. It’s a smelly job, but somebody’s gotta do it and I am damn glad to have the work while earning a decent wage.

Walking the streets has been challenging but it has made me stronger. One must stay ever vigilant in certain sections of the city (Old Town/Chinatown) where those who have fallen on hard times lurk and dwell. I was not prepared for such a stark reality. Skid row here is ugly. Real ugly. These conditions I had not seen since the summer of 2009 in New York. People had lost their minds and were living like dirty gutter rats.

Old Town’s Stag

I’ve seen that here. On more than one occasion.

At my new job it is required to interact with the public. A daily evaluation of the local market. Even in brief conversations, messages can be exchanged. Understanding the neighborhood is important. Knowing hot and cold trends keeps you in the game.

Physically, the job can be exhausting. There is a lot of time on your feet. I average seven miles a day. There is also a lot of lifting to be done. There is even a demolition component involving “bottle machines.” The bottles and cans provide a source of revenue for people living on the margins. A tiny profit for people living on the streets or neighborhood folks trying to pay down bills.

I walk to and from work most days and nights. It is a safe neighborhood with a hospital nearby, plenty of construction projects, shopping and street car lines. Portland, I’m learning, is a major rail city. David and I enjoy riding in the street car. We’ve taken it to the riverfront, library and over to the eastside. Our studio apartment is coming along, albeit slowly. The biggest fix was getting rid of the leaking air mattress.

The Jeep is gone as well. God bless that vehicle. It did its job and more from Calgary to Miami. But, when in recovery mode — rebuilding lives — one needs less worries not more. Vehicles in the city are a luxury. There are risks to street parking no matter where one calls home.

I’m still reporting on queer issues for south Florida and, locally, have picked up a restaurant beat for a Portland neighborhood newspaper. We have joined an Episcopal Cathedral and begun volunteering at community events. Friends are planning visits…. I’m happy again. That’s the most important thing. 

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A New Home In The City

15 06 2018

In Portland I had to learn the city streets again. A hard place to live. I rode my bicycle around the neighborhood a few times but decided it was better to walk. Cars are not as plentiful here as in Florida urban areas. There are many options for transportational needs. There are more options for a lot of things here.

Portland is the nation’s 26th largest city and largest in Oregon. It is often advertised as a brawny lumberjack type town — which still has merit but was constructed with help from a Japanese businessman. We struck gold near the city’s core. Space in an old apartment building in the northwestern section of Portland came open. A small studio that would soon be filled with peace and love.

View of Portland, Oregon from the roof of Washington High School.

Springtime in Portland sees a mix between rainy and dry days. The sun does come out and the nights become shorter. It’s an interesting city with many parks and gardens, a well organized public transit system and a abundance of cafes, theaters and micro breweries.

David’s brother helped us move in. It’s a two story walk-up from the basement and Russell’s extra lifting helped us get all of our belongings moved in one day. I don’t want to see another Uhaul truck for a long time. The studio has tall ceilings and beautiful hardwood floors with a tiny kitchen, one closet and mandatory tub, sink and toilet. We were glad to have found it. Our building supervisor is a pretty young lady with two small children.

We both sought aide from social services agencies and non-profits while beginning the search for a new spiritual home. We visited Lutheran, Episcopal, Presbyterian and UCC churches our first month. Trust God to lead us to the right congregation, David said. I researched the nearby Catholic Cathedral and Jewish Temple. Both had website videos proclaiming their embrace of diversity and same-sex couples.

Portland’s prevailing liberal attitudes is another reason why we settled here. In addition to equal rights for LGBT people, Portland is worker friendly and a solid pro-labor city. It has restaurants of every culture imaginable, a thriving arts and design scene and sizeable Asian population. Black lives matter in Portland. Women hold positions of authority and young people happily roam trendy neighborhoods.

People read here and the myth of print media’s demise is clearly exposed. I immediately linked up with the president of Oregon’s Society of Professional Journalists chapter. We had a nice chat at a downtown coffee shop and she referred me to a couple of newspaper publishers. I am still writing magazine pieces for South Florida’s LGBT community and working on a historical assignment for Huffington Post’s Queer section.

All and all, things are looking up.

“It will turn around, John,” I recall my friend Stephen telling me during our Valentine’s Day dinner back in Fort Lauderdale.

And it is starting to. A phone call came from the human resources department of a major company last week with a job offer. Hello, Portland. Glad to be here.





Sister Soothing House

14 05 2018

Julie was reading the book Sister Parish. We stayed with her for about month. The Oregon countryside was soothing.

We unloaded the Uhaul into a storage unit in the Portland suburb of Tualatin. The Jeep finally broke down on the way to the city so we had it towed to Corvallis for work. Julie graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in education. Corvallis, OSU’s home, reminded me of those small gritty college towns I had traversed as a sports writer early in my career. A small college town with a lot to prove.

The first week at Julie’s was tough. I had trouble breathing at night. It was cold. There were cats in the house and for some reason I began to have difficulty breathing. One night I was gasping for air so bad, David almost had to take me to a local hospital — none of which, he said, were highly rated online.

David prayed for me and the nerve attack subsided.

We prayed a lot at Julie’s. I started calling them ‘lift up’ prayers. It helped steel my resolve to our current situation. I continued to do phone interviews for writing work as we looked for apartments to rent in Portland, where the goal of landing a “real job” was the plan.

The weather was mostly wet and cold. “Welcome to Oregon, it rains a lot,” Julie said with a smile. Her house was surrounded by farms and timber. The neighbors had cows that would wander along the hills and moo loudly when feed trucks would arrive.

Seeing David connect again with his sister after all these years was special. Julie showed me family photographs from David’s youth that gave me joy and a new vision of the man I married.

Covered bridge near Scio.

The central Oregon farmlands were beautiful to these Florida strained eyes. Scio, Oregon is billed as the state’s covered bridge capital. The old wooden bridges were typically one-way quick bursts by vehicle. The farms near Julie’s sold eggs, milk and bison meat. I had never seen so many different farm animals. The children’s song, Old MacDonald Had A Farm sprung to mind.

At nights Julie would cook. David and I drove into Portland to look at apartments on most days. We said lift up prayers every morning. TBN disappeared from the cable television in our room, but David managed to find sermons on his smart phone app. One of the cats would tolerate my presence but they were still shy about touching. Maggie, the skinny calico, liked to sleep in our bed under the covers and would hiss if you got near.

We got lucky on the fourth place we looked at in Portland. The phone call message was surprising. A deal we had not previously heard — certainly not in Fort Lauderdale. We told Julie the good news and David’s brother Russ helped us load up the Uhaul again.

We spent about a month at that hilltop cottage with Julie. I learned how to breathe again. The quiet peaceful farmlands had provided time for reflection and rest. We were ready for a new challenge.

 

 





Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star

30 04 2018

From San Antonio we continued westward into the southwestern desert. The BMW got an oil change in El Paso and I pulled off the interstate in Tucson, Arizona to do a telephone interview with Crater Lake National Park. I talked for about an hour with a recruiter for the park’s lodging concessionaire. We had a delightful conversation and agreed nature is a great healer.

The Uhaul got an inspection upon entering California and was quickly cleared when no plants, fruit or tropical fish were found. In Blythe, we stayed at one of the scariest motels I have ever set foot in. It was so dirty, I slept on top of the bed fully clothed. You get what you pay for and $47 basically got us a roof. We hit the road before dawn and began a beautiful drive through mountains of wind farms. We bypassed Los Angeles and stopped in Bakersfield, staying at a much better hotel on a street named for the late country music legend Merle Haggard.

On our final night in Redding, California, I received an e-mail from the Crater Lake recruiter indicating they would be pursuing other candidates upon receiving an unfavorable reference from the concessionnaire at Glacier National Park. This stung greatly considering the dedication I demonstrated during that summer in Montana and the many friendships forged. I could only surmise there were some shenanegians at play and decided not to inquire further. I felt betrayed.

The final leg of the trip into Oregon was one of the lowest points in my life. I began questioning all of life’s moves and wondering why God had brought me to this point. I was filled with extreme sadness — not only for myself but for David. My inability to provide equitable financial support during our 10-year relationship was embarrassing and had placed us into a situation beyond hardship.

And then the cold hit. Temperatures dropped as we entered Oregon. David’s sister, Julie, lived on farm land near Scio in a lovely English style cottage house on top of a hill. Julie had come to our aid like no one else could or would. She gave me a big welcoming hug when we met. I needed that hug in the worst way.

Oregon farm land

Julie is a few years younger than David and a widow. Her husband passed away a few years ago. He was President of the federal metals credit union. Her house is the most organized and clean home I had ever seen. Julie lives with two cats — Maggie, a calico and Fergie, a plump ginger. The cats, however, didn’t take warmly to their new visitors. They hissed at me whenever I would attempt to pet them.

Julie laid down three rules as we unpacked:

“No politics, no preaching and no marijuana in the house,” she said. “I don’t think we should be a nation of stoners.”

I was ok with all three. Julie’s bookcase revealed she was a conservative thinker. She also differed from her brother on religion and did not appear to practice any sort of spirituality. Three thousand five hundred miles and eight days later, our trip was over. We were in a new house in new territory yet to be explored.

 

 





Westward Uhaul: The Drive Begins

12 04 2018

With all our worldly belongings in the back of a Uhaul trailer we departed South Florida on the first of the month.

I do not think I was fully aware of the difficult driving that lay ahead. I was determined on leaving and pushed hard during those last days to meet deadlines while balancing the proper goodbyes. We left the apartment in better shape than we found it. Country club living could be checked off life’s list. We had successfully completed the gentrification process. Many of our neighbors said they would miss us.

“Good luck,” became a familiar send-off.

We hooked the trailer up to the ol’ Jeep. With close to 200,000 miles to her credit, the Jeep had made cross country treks before and she had four new tires for this trip. It was a full trailer and 55 miles per hour was the limit. David followed behind in his jam packed BMW. It was a challenge for him to drive so slow in his beloved sports car. We decided the southern route would be best to avoid snow, steep mountains and icy roads.

The route: Gainesville, Florida, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, San Antonio, Texas Fort Stockton, Texas, Lordsburg, New Mexico, Blythe, California, Bakersfield, California, Redding, California and finally our destination — Oregon. We stayed at the DoubleTree in Gainesville for our Florida finale. The bed was super soft. After weeks of packing and crashing on the couch this was a needed night’s sleep. We were also treated to a complimentary breakfast and, of course, those famous DoubleTree cookies.

We hit the road early the next morning as company buybacks dominated the economic news. Interstate 10 would be the route and soon Florida — and all of its tropical heat — would be in the rear view mirror. We pulled into Baton Rouge just after dusk and were given a handicap room at the Residence Inn. I don’t know why we got this room but it didn’t matter because we were exhausted and sleep was the priority.

The roads and bridges in Louisiana were by far the most scary of the trip. They are old and neglicated. There are long, extremely narrow spans over swamps with steep bridges over rivers and lakes. I spent the early years of my journalism career covering sports and entertainment in and around New Orleans. Some stories from the bayou I prefer stay buried in the muck.

The next day we entered Texas and made arrangements to meet with David’s friends in San Antonio. Driving through Houston was harrowing with the traffic, bumpy roads and shifting lanes that if you are not careful will shuffle you off in another direction before you can put on your blinker.

I called ahead and secured a room at the DoubleTree. We were given a penthouse room with balcony view on the rewards floor and once again those cookies were delish. The next morning we met David’s friends from New York, Joe and Andrea, and toured the riverwalk. David and Joe had worked together on design projects in New York. Joe’s wife Andrea is a credentialed artist and they were wintering in San Antonio where their daughter lived. They showed us some avant garde spots, including a gallery featuring some of Andrea’s work.

Remembering The Alamo, however, was not on the tour.

“It’s a little disappointing,” Joe said.

SanAntonioRiverWalk

San Antonio River Walk 

 

 

 

 

 

 





The Great Migration

18 02 2018

Doors are closing in South Florida. A new world awaits on the West Coast.

We have managed to rebuild our lives to a certain extent following David’s hospitalization. This with the help of dearly loved friends. David is even back to work, although his duties at the church have been re-assigned. This was welcome on my part. He is still involved in some political clubs, which I tolerate, in trust that the endless arguments and debates keep him sharp.

We have decided to give it a go on the other side of the continent — the Pacific Northwest. We have exhausted our search for a new apartment here and the numbers just won’t work. South Florida has taught me a lot about complex living. Real estate here is a tricky business. The building boom has produced a new wave of luxurious hi-rise apartments, shoreline McMansions and expensive homes.

It has been difficult finding an acceptable place. When the next move you make could be your last, you scruntinze and do your research more thoroughly. There can be no oversights in regards to buildings, neighborhoods, associations or landlords.

Palm Aire Exit

I admire David’s strength and composure during this difficult time so much. I wish I could provide more help myself.

“Help does not always come in financial forms,” my friend Billy sent in a text meant to cheer me up.

Ever the socialist, Billy had migrated to the West Coast last year, giving up Chicago for San Francisco. A far off land for a boy from the Florida Panhandle.

One thing I have learned about living in crisis is the pieces of information you trust with other parties can have bruising affects. This goes for family as well. Mother doesn’t need to know every initimate health decision and vice-versa. Gallbladder surgery taught me that.

Government is only a safety net in our lives and even that has holes.

South Florida taught me that naivety will be taken advantage of quickly and exploited for profit and gain. Kindness in this multicultural metropolis is rare and internal community disfunction all too common. There could be a better life hidden somewhere in the Tropics that I, as a journalist, was not privileged to cover.

We were married here. Moments in the Keys did produce love and joy but were fleeting in contrast to horror stories up the peninsula. Stories of hurricanes, violent crime, drug-addled parties, disease outbreaks and other terrible incidents.

Add the recent school shooting to the Orlando massacre and Fort Lauderdale airport attack and you really have to wonder what kind of tourism this state is pitching? Sounds like training grounds for Syria.

I remember how pumped up and ready to take on the dragon I was when we moved here five years ago. Ultimately it became about adaptation — trying to keep some of your core values intact without falling victim to fatal flames.

The dragon is firmly entrenched here, investigative journalists beware. If you look closely, follow the money trail and ask too many questions you may not enjoy what is brought out of the water.

I did make lasting friendships here and my character forever shaped by events too impactful to forget. With Godspeed we forge ahead to a new life.

“We’re not fleeing,” David said. “We’re moving on.”

Viscaya

 

 

 





Complete Collapse

21 01 2018

Writing is therapy they say. Purge the bad.

I really despise hitting bottom. Particulary when you are trying to avoid it at all times. David developed a bad case of the flu. Off to the hospital we went. Not a fun place to spend the new year’s eve. But we did, watching Anderson Cooper from the fourth floor of Holy Cross Fort Lauderdale.

On David’s first night in the hospital, a letter came in the mail informing us we had to be out of our apartment at the end of the month. Insult to injury. The owner was selling and wanted us to vacate. The owner — an 87-year-old gay man from Massachuetts — was easily agitated and on advice from his cardiologist had decided to sell the apartment.

David, working two jobs, was doing everything he could to pay the bills. South Florida is not cheap. The BMW was constantly in the shop and my contributions had been too little. I wasn’t earning as much as I had the year before and by the holidays we had fallen into the gaps.

In mid-December we departed to the Pacific Northwest to see David’s friends and family. It was a stressful trip with a sudden climate change and long flights. I refused the flu shot just before we left. In Port Townsend, Washington, the sneezing started and stayed with us for the reminder of the trip. I was happy to finally meet David’s close friends, Paul and Carrie and his brother Russ and his wife, Shirley. Meeting the in-laws is an important part of marriage, I reminded David.

Paul picked us up at the airport in SEATAC and we drove north into the Pugent Sound region. It was cold, no fresh snowfall, but still plenty cold. The skies were gray and there was a chill in the air. Port Townsend is cute and charming, hilly with old brick buildings and a harbor where boaters take tourists on whale watching tours. We attended Sunday morning’s service at the Presbyterian church Paul pastors and it was comforting to discover a friendly congregation.

Pugent Sound

The sneezing made my visit miserable. It was only the beginning. Paul’s daughter Lidya drove us to Portland, Oregon the next day to meet David’s brother. That was the sickest point for me and it just so happened to be my first time in Oregon. Thankfully, Russ & Shirley took us in. We toured the city the next day and had dinner at Jake’s Famous Crayfish downtown. I enjoyed seeing David interact with his sibling as I imagined what life growing up in Oregon during the 1960s was like.

Meanwhile, I was unaware of problems mounting back in Florida. Perhaps I was consciously choosing to ignore them. Issues in Panama City refusing to go away and traps laid in Fort Lauderdale. Soon it would be too much for David. Feelings of helplessness, anger and self doubt filled me

Port Townsend, WA

as I sat bedside new year’s eve in the hospital. Another round of trial and error and learning who real friends are.

And then that phone call delivering words that cut like a dagger.

“You’ve made bad decisions in life, John.”