Spring Broken

31 03 2011

The throngs of students is thinning along Florida’s Gulf Coast. I have just returned from a pleasant drive through Panama City Beach. There are still some young bucks and pretty fillies roaming the resorts, but for the most part, the college crowd has returned to their respective campuses. In their wake, is what, my partner David refers to as the “spring broken.”

These are the people who flock to the Beach to cash in on the partying with no intent on furthering their higher education. They usually go the way of the homeless.

Sitting outside of McDonald’s the other day, enjoying my smoothie drink and soaking up the sunshine, I was confronted by one of the Broken. My mistake was making eye contact, which gave him the green light to proceed.

“Hey Brother, can you spare a few dollars so I can get something to eat,” said the Broken man.

It always begins with “Brother.”

During my campaign, I encountered many homeless people. Such was the state of affairs in area crippled by a disastrous oil spill and weak economy. I made it a priority to shine the light on their struggles and to visit organizations dedicated to lending a helping hand.

Sadly, I also found that not every “Broken” person wants a way out of their situation.

“My wife and I are on the street,” the man continued, although their was no sign of this ‘wife’ and he didn’t appear to be starving.

I looked at the man again in the eyes — without uttering a word.

He read my mind and moved along, mumbling to himself all the way. I felt uncompassionate at first, but knowing the street life, I realized he had the ability to find shelter and provisions for his family, if they did exist, and my two cents would have little affect. There are those who are truly in dire circumstances and this man was not one of them. Broken maybe, but still capable of pulling up his boot straps.

Balancing compassion with security has become a major theme of Panama City’s municipal election. What voters need to hear now, more than anything, is a success story. We know the causes of homelessness — mental illness, substance abuse and poverty just to name a few. And we have seen the Broken walking the streets, gathering at the Mission and sleeping on park benches.

What we, as a community, need to see now is the ones who made it out alive. The ones who pulled themselves up by their boot straps and with a little help from Uncle Sam, the Almighty or an unsung guardian angel, graduated to a productive life.

My walk through humility forever changed how I view society. It gave me a unique perspective on the plight of the less fortunate. I can voice my observations and opinions confidently because I have walked in their shoes.

To me, the bottom line to getting out of the bottom of the pit is recognizing where you are.

There is help out there. The first step is seeking it.

 

 

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Depressed

8 02 2011

Dallas seems like so long ago now. I’m blogging on an early Tuesday morning from the snug confines of my home in Panama City Beach. Isolated. Such fun.

I still haven’t found meaningful employment, which is taking its toll on my male bravado. I’m trying to stay active in the local political scene, but the powers that be are doing their very best to freeze me out.

David, my dear confidant, continues to preach the Gospels to me in an effort to snap my grip on depression. But even he is losing patience.

I figured, at the very least, I would get one job offer out of my run for State Representative. But so far nothing, notta, zippo. I continue to attend government meetings and my Twitter followers are rising, but still no paycheck.

Back in Dallas, where the economy is strong, I encountered many professional gay men my age who were enjoying life and their surroundings. They were empowered and had strong support groups.

I truly feel Panama City takes delight in my misfortune and struggles. If this is living out loud then so Be it.

I guess I’ll go down to the Soup Kitchen and Volunteer.





La Fiesta

16 09 2010

I need a creative outlet and this is it. Facebook has become too mainstream. Twitter is still developing. Here, I can be Frank. The campaign is going very good. Months ago, I was a joke. Ignored. This time last year, I was the subject of pity.
No more.
We are building relationships. Coalitions. Bridges.
What I witnessed tonight, inside a Historic Downtown Panama City tavern, was resilience.
I must remain humble, for the people I continue to fight for, are those who want a better life, are working for a better life and, God willingly, will have a better life.
Some of them do not have the privilege of voting. But it doesn’t matter to me. They are still my constituent and their voice is just as important as the big shot attorney across the street.
We’re going the distance … and there’s no looking back!





A New Perspective on Family

9 03 2010

I woke up around 10 a.m. Sunday morning. It was one of those rare mornings on the trip that Jim didn’t rouse me at the crack of dawn. And for that I was grateful.

I called Keith and he said he’d be by the hotel in about an hour to pick me up. I was looking forward to spending the day with my brother, Courtney, his loving wife and their beautiful baby girl Dillan.

Keith took me back to their townhouse in nearby Irving, a suburb of Dallas that for many years was home to the city’s beloved professional football team — the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys were my childhood favorite team and I watched many a game on Sundays after church. Dad usually watched them with me, but for some reason, he never rooted for the Cowboys. Dad always sided with the team playing the Cowboys. Maybe this was his way of establishing a rivalry between us.

Keith always rooted for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, even when they won just a couple of games. He was loyal like that. Still is.

But on this Sunday, football was far from anyone’s mind. At the townhouse, Courtney pulled out their wedding album and suddenly we were skipping down memory lane. They had been married just a few short years, but the images seemed like so long ago.

For a guy my age, I haven’t been to many weddings. Just not my scene. Maybe one day I will tie the knot. They say it’s a life changer. Much like having a child. My little brother has done both and I am very proud of him.

Looking through the photos with Courtney was a bonding experience. My mother looked so happy. It was fun dancing with her at the reception.

After looking at pictures, we went shopping in the SouthLake section of Dallas. Turns out, dining with a toddler can be quite entertaining. Dillan was well behaved but she requires a lot of attention. You gotta make sure she doesn’t put just anything in her mouth. And luckily, she didn’t throw her food at anyone. I’m pretty sure I did that as an infant.

After we were finished, Keith left a hefty tip. “We like to eat out just like everybody else,” he said.  This was a new perspective on family.

I was impressed at how well Keith navigated the stores, especially that bustling Barnes & Noble, with a loaded down stroller. It made me think about the summer in New York and noticing all those young couples pushing their baby strollers through Central Park.

Strolling through SouthLake

I remember the look on their faces. For some, it was a look of sacrifice, while others appeared downright miserable. And then, there was the couple whose smiles could light up Broadway.

That’s what I saw from Keith and Courtney. I guess you would call it joy.

That night, after baby girl was put down to sleep, Keith helped me download some songs to my I-Pod. We talked a little about the upcoming college bowl season and then it was time for me to leave.

Courtney gave me a big hug and she asked Keith to take a few pictures of us. When I left, she had a tear in her eye. I hope it was a tear of joy. I really don’t care to be pitied. It’s way overrated.

On the ride back to the hotel, Keith and I mostly talked about the economy. He said the recession was starting to creep into his health care sector and, like most of us, he was none too thrilled.

“It’s going to get better,” I tried to assure him. At that point, the entire trip’s air of optimism had taken hold, “And, we’ll all be stronger for it.”

When I got back to the room, Jim was already fast asleep. We had a 12-hour drive back to Panama City ahead of us.

And I was ready to go home.





Hats off in Monroe

9 12 2009

The bartender at the Holiday Inn in Monroe was a woman with hair so red thoughts of Reba McEntire came dancing into my head.

Jim ordered us a couple of beers as I walked around the empty, darkened lounge. Football jerseys of past stars were framed on the walls. Most of the names I did not recognize, with the exception of an old Packers jersey, once worn by the great Brett Favre — Southern Mississippi’s favorite son.

It was the night before Thanksgiving and the lounge was dead. Reba bemoaned the local economy, serving quick notice that there would be no “2-for-1” specials on her watch.

This was no happy hour.

Reba said drugs were ruining Monroe and gambling was sucking the life out of the city.

Depressing stuff.

Before sinking deeper into Monroe’s sorrows, we left the lounge and headed into town for dinner at a nice riverfront establishment. Built on the banks of the Ouachita River, Warehouse No. 1 Restaurant came highly recommended.

There was valet parking out front, but Jim opted to handle that himself.

Once inside, we were greeted by the instant smell of cedar.

“Let’s eat at the bar,” Jim said.

This would become another signature of the trip. Eating at a restaurant bar was a somewhat foreign concept to me, but as Jim pointed out, “you get the best service when you eat at the bar.”

I ordered a steak filet medium well and they burned it pretty good. My beverage of choice, sweet tea, seemed to irk Jim and the young bartender, a burly fellow from Pittsburgh.

“I gotta pace myself,” I told Jim. The days ahead would provide ample drinking opportunities and I had to wade into those waters carefully. After all, my college years were well behind me.

Jim, however, drank like a fish. After dinner, he insisted we return to the hotel bar for another round. Reba was still there, as peppy as ever.

Jim tried to lift her spirits by promoting Panama City Beach as a prosperous place to relocate. He praised the emerging Pier Park development and told Reba if she wanted to make some serious cash in the service industry, PCB’s Margaritaville was the way to go.

That night, I had to help Jim back to the room. One too many rounds had made his walk a little wobbly.

Back at the room, Jim had a surprise in store for me.

“You’ve never seen me without my hair, have you?,” he said.

Jim proceeded to tell me about how he began to lose his hair at a young age. This was a huge confession on his part and I nodded understandably at every word.

He took off his silver-colored wig and went to bed — with the TV on, as was his custom, and the volume cranked up.

I had known Jim for more than seven years and always knew that he wore a wig, but seeing him without it was a shock to my system.

It made me focus more on his eyes.

His vanity made him appear more real.

Just one day into our trip together, Jim had revealed so much.

I wondered if I was doing the same.





Potato Making

22 11 2009

Last night I made mashed potatoes for the Church. Peeling those bad boys made me think about my first day in New York.

I had met two nice gentlemen at the Center. They were both retired, white guys living comfortably in Upper Manhattan. Sadly, I can’t recall their names.

Nevertheless, when one of the gents learned of my Irish descent, he proceeded to tell me about the “great potato famine.”

“That’s what brought the Irish here,” he said.

Potatoes in High Demand

Fast forward some 150 years and Panama City had not run out of potatoes, but I was in New York, strolling the streets with two old fogies and sharing stories.

We went to the Barnes & Noble store in Lincoln Center to hear a panel discussion on famous Broadway composers, presented by famous Broadway composers.

Famous, that is, if you follow Broadway composers. These guys did and when a score was played they hummed and rocked in their chairs.

The music, for the most part, went over my head, but I sat and listened and hoped to hear a familiar tune. I felt very uncultured.

After the panel was over we decided to have dinner at a nearby diner. Another fellow joined us, making our party a foursome.

It was a civil dinner. The gentlemen all seemed intrigued about my arrival in the City, but it was a story they had read, heard and witnessed many, many times before.

“It’s really hard for a writer to find work right now, you know,” one of the men told me.

I acknowledged this and assured him that I was up for the challenge. He seemed skeptical.

The four of us split the bill evenly that night and the three wise men went off to their comfy condos in the sky as I headed to meet Barry in Union Square.

Last night, as I peeled potatoes in the sink, thoughts about that night resurfaced.  I remember getting the phone number for the fellow who told me about the “great potato famine” and how I tried to call him a few weeks after our initial visit, only to receive a gruff response.

Why did he even give me his phone number in the first place?, I thought. New York is such a strange place.

Meanwhile, back in Panama City, the mashed potatoes went over big at Church this morning. Food for thought.





Birthday Reflections

17 10 2009

During tough times you learn to appreciate things that you so often took for granted before. Expressions of love, genuine good-will and sincerity.

My birthday included all those, mostly summed up in two words: Happy Birthday.

The words came from those close and far away. Even Dad telephoned his well wishes.

After dinner, I took a walk around the fantasy town known as Rosemary Beach with a close friend. The cool autumn breeze is beginning to roll in.

My friend said I had many more ‘Happy Birthdays’ ahead of me.

I hope he is right.

There is a time in everyone’s life when you feel as if you are damaged beyond repair. It is uniquely human.

Battling back from that place is tough, hard and, at times, can feel like an impossible task.

This is when your faith is tested. Faith in mankind, faith in yourself and faith in God.

For 37 years, I have struggled with this faith. My anger and frustrations reached a boiling point during the summer in New York City.

Soon, I will tell you about the Summer of ’09 and as a disclaimer, you must know it will be raw, real and uncensored.

Are you ready my loyal readers?