Gratefully Injured

11 11 2018

I injured myself. It was bound to happen.

“You’re lifting too much,” Ani said. Smart kid, that Ani.

Yes, my housekeeping duties require extensive lifting and reaching. It’s a physical job and I’m grateful to have it. Aside from cleaning chores, the interactions with co-workers like Ani are important. After years of indepedent contractor work, it is refreshing to be a part of a company again.

Great cities are built by great companies, mind you.

Life in Portland is going just swell. I have been invited on two press tours since my arrival here — Long Beach, California and Puerto Rico. Long Beach was a solo adventure and Puerto Rico a group effort. Both destinations interesting in their own way. Long Beach, in the shadow of Los Angeles, is run by a young mayor. A gay man determined to improve living conditions by implementing new concepts in this coastal southern California port city.

Puerto Rico, still suffering from a barrage of hurricanes, offers beautiful nature and lots of rum. Bacardi is the major player there. I learned how to make a simple refreshing cocktail. Pronounced Die Q Re. It’s basically sugar, superior Bacardi rum and ice. It’s hot in the tropics and ice is a key ingredient.

My tour group in Puerto Rico was a lot of fun. It included seasoned travelers and newcomers. It was designed for the LGBTQ community. There were journalists from Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco there. I managed to connect on a personal level with some of them.

Our group sets sail.

Long Beach seemed to be this vision of what we can accomplish. Puerto Rico offered a chance to relax from the heavy work load, over-reaching and contenious mid-term elections. I knew I was hurt when the luggage became hard to handle at the airport. Perhaps I could have packed lighter. I did not use the laptop, but the sports coat was put to good use.

David gave his blessing on both trips. He stayed in Portland continuing to piece together our studio. We both received influenza vaccinations before I departed to San Juan. When I returned the doc diagnosed me with lateral epicondylitis, aka tennis elbow.

So I’m slowed down. Just in time for the holidays.

Time to reflect on the incredible year we have had. A cross country move. New friends and new challenges. A rennaissance of the soul.

I believe this injury is divine intervention to force my conscience into absorbing the events of the past year. To still be standing and breathing — much less working — is something to be eternally grateful for. I am in a good place in life. Time to cherish that and offer a rum filled toast to even better times ahead.

Long Beach stairs

 

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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.





A Comeback Dressed In Pink

3 03 2017

We went door-to-door the Sunday after Trump’s inaugration, canvassing Baltimore city neighborhoods. Luke took notes. This was his district. After six years in the Maryland House of Delegates, Luke was championing a sick leave bill. He knew the value of taking time to heal.

“If sick leave is good enough for me, it’s good enough for 700,000 Marylanders,” he told the Washington Post.

Luke broke the sad news to me when I arrived in Annapolis days before the transition of power. He had been battling leukemia, lost a lot of weight and was taking one super expensive pill a day to send the blood cancer into remission.

Canvassing Baltimore

Canvassing Baltimore

“I was just tired all the time,” he recalled.

It was a compelling story for those slowed before by a serious condition. And who hasn’t? I recall the words of an ex-lover as reason to keep fighting.

“It’s not how you fall, John, it’s how you pick yourself up,” Warren told me.

I quizzed Luke the entire week as to why Democrats don’t win elections anymore. For a prosecutor, I’m sure this constant questioning was wearing thin. On my last night in Baltimore, as we walked into a local pub, Luke muttered “I didn’t know you were going to be here this long.”

He had graciously solved my housing dilemma but having a reporter shadow you for a week is walking a tightrope. Inside this dingy pub, where rowdy Baltimorians got drunk and watched sports on television, Luke offered a profound statement as to the party’s woes.

“Sometimes we want to be the smartest people in the room more than we want to win,” Luke said.

I imagined a room full of consultants in Washington, Tallahassee or Annapolis. Fancy suits, new dresses, pretty and, seemingly perfect. Some no doubt were lobbyists and all had their agenda.

Then I thought about the day I spent with Luke walking real neighborhoods where those “smart” consultants just don’t go. The issues we found are numbers on a piece of paper to them. Statistics to prove a point of view. Isn’t that all politics is anymore? One argument after another.

What we saw were real people, some living ok and some not. Conditions change from state to state, we are told. The look of the poor is clearly recognizable.

In one part of Baltimore, an old Irish enclave called Brooklyn, we witnessed the very problems Trump had spoken of as he took the Presidential oath. “The crime, the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and right now,” Trump said on the steps of the Capitol on a cold and dreary inaugration day.

His speech was such a dark opening to a new chapter in American history. The streets were nearly empty after the ceremony. I had no trouble taking the train back to Maryland.

The next day, DC was flooded by marchers — mostly women dressed in pink “pussy” hats. It was night and day different than the inauguration ceremony…. It was the first step in a resistence.

Women on the March

Women on the March

 

 





Charm City: A New Hope Rises

29 01 2017

We begin a new era in Baltimore. It is cold, wet and windy. I have come here to see an old friend and witness the changing of the guard in our nation’s capital.

Male/Female

Male/Female

There is great unrest in America. Finding a place to stay in DC was nearly impossible. Many of my beltway contacts had no vacancy, while others left town in a symbolic jesture of protesting the new President. Some cut communication with me all together — feeling my attending the inauguration was somehow normalizing Trump.

But I pressed on. I had been covering this campaign from the very beginning, in a much colder Iowa, and I was intent on seeing it completed. This would also be a true test of journalistic integrity. I had yet to cover a Trump “rally.” What better way to open my eyes than to see his followers at their highest point.

I got tickets through Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz’s office. I did not seek press credentials because I wanted to be with the people. If there was one message from Trump that certainly gained him favor was his consistent claim that he was an outsider. There is an air of superiority that floats out of Washington. I felt it during my last visit. Those young “professionals” with their government jobs and jet set lifestyle who swoop into Red Amercia on holidays to remind “regular” folks that they still know how to pump gas.

Having previously considered attending Trump rallies in Florida, my newspaper publisher Norm always warned against jumping into the press pool.

“He’s going to put you in a cage and then make fun of you,” Norm warned. “Screw him.”

So I decided to go incognito. I reached out to my buddy Horacio first, but he was evacuating to Miami. I got similar responses from others which slowed my planning process and produced frustration. David, ever by my side, relished in the problem solving. “This is life, John, get used to it.”

Mere days before I was to fly away, Luke came through.

Luke is a delegate in the Maryland Assembly. We met during a candidate training in Fort Lauderdale just before the campaign for the 2010 midterm elections kicked off. We were on the same team for the training and roughly the same age. Luke would go on to win his election to the Maryland Assembly, while I was defeated for the Florida House.

We remained friends and I admired his work from a far. He helped bring marriage equality to Maryland while most of the Southern states were busy passing bans on same gender love. Aside from cultural issues, Luke continues to fight for the disadvantaged. He has a real job too. As a prosecutor he goes after criminals. In Baltimore, there is no shortage of work.

Much to my surprise, I would learn there is much more to Baltimore than crime. My entire week in Maryland and DC was an eye opening experience. I am grateful to Luke for providing me shelter to tell this story.

In this new era, after a campaign that ripped our country to shreds, we all seek to get well.

This is our start…..

 





Wellness Reads

17 04 2016
Des Moines Microsoft

Des Moines Microsoft

It had been so long since a woman of striking beauty had spoken to me. The South Florida bubble I had been working in certainly skewed in another direction.

Ms. Svokos did not seem threatened or put off by my approach. We were sort of thrust together, taking the last two seats at the bar. Wellman’s Pub was packed that night, the New Jersey Governor scheduled to speak and his advance team was busy setting the stage. Ms. Svokos and I bonded immediately, journalism our common craft.

“What kind of books do you read?,” she asked. I was caught flat-footed, unprepared for such a question. I was so obsessed with following the election, there was no time to get lost in a work of fiction. No time to relax…and no vacation.

A young lady behind the bar took our orders. I had a burger. We both had beer. The pub was filling up fast, one of the television camera guys came up behind me and ordered an “Arnold Palmer” … I asked him what was in it, but he seemed annoyed by my question and never disclosed the ingredients.

Ms. Svokos described her beat as ‘millennials’ focused. Mine, I said, was more centered around retired ‘boca babes.’

She seemed to enjoy my company and I was thrilled to be chatting with such an intelligent writer from New York.

Ultimately, our conversation turned to business. I pitched a story idea, she signed me up for the Elite Daily snapchat feed and we went on our own merry ways right before the Governor came downstairs. It was my first time I had seen Christie in action. He was introduced by Iowa’s Governor and U.S. Senator. His wife, Mary Pat, ever smiling by his side.

“We are not electing an entertainer-in-chief,” Christie said that night.

My how times have changed.

The Iowa Caucus adventure had been a quest to see how the parts were assembled. Connecting with Ms. Svokos was one of the highlights. I left Wellman’s Pub in West Des Moines that night, surprised by what I had seen. Republicans seemed to perform better in suburban environments. The crowd was almost entirely white and preppy and dressed in business attire. That wasn’t so surprising. The fact that I enjoyed myself was.

I have corresponded with Ms. Svokos since returning to Florida. I’ve been texting Billy in Chicago too. Such a Bernie bro that one.

Christie has since dropped out of the race and backed Donald Trump. Florida went overwelmingly for Trump and Hillary Clinton. I caught a glimpse of Hillary and her husband, President 42, Bill Clinton, in Miami. Both events were in majority black, African American precincts. Both events much more rigid and cold than that night in West Des Moines. I covered the DNC debate in Miami too and there began to understand the influence of a large population of Hispanic and latina immigrants and its significant presence in Florida. Miami-Dade County might as well be its own nation.

I think about Ms. Svokos and her favorite books question and I wonder what the summer has in store.





Celebrating Summer’s Dog Days

25 07 2015
Standing up Lady Gaga at Palm Beach Pride

Standing up Lady Gaga at Palm Beach Pride

The Dog Days of Summer are upon us. My first in Florida in quite a while. For Miami, the premier journey.

The political apparatus is beginning to churn and campaigns are assembling. My editors are asking for more notice and copy is examined with a fine tooth comb. I continue to be blessed with opportunities and grateful for the work while finally seeing the strength of my northwest Florida roots in the midst of tough and tumble southeast Florida trials.

It’s hardball down here, no doubt. The Democratic Party — while a small, yet cohesive minority in panhandle towns of Apalachicola, Port St. Joe and Panama City — is a large dragon-like beast in Miami, and particularly, Broward County — home to 1.8 million people and that’s just the ones willingly to be counted.

There’s a lot of people here. Immigration, not a topic one can turn a blind eye to in places like Little Havana or Liberty City. It’s also a topic not for the weak of heart or shrill to discuss either. These are lives. Black, brown, red, yellow and white. They all matter and they all are chasing the same sun.

In Miami summers the sun rises early and shines bright. The heat is intense and I have spent much of my hard earned money on upgrades to the Jeep, most importantly, the air conditioner. I can no longer get by with just rolled down windows in the intracities of South Florida driving. One could broil stopped in traffic with no cooling or cover. Additionally, my mechanic recommended tinting the windows to further help with the sun’s effect, but I have yet to take that step so it’s still life in the fish bowl for me.

And it is quite a warm experience. It’s a sauna down here during the day and many of the region’s older population do not dare venture outside during peak daylight hours. But, I digress and try not to complain too much.

Professionally, I have entertained thoughts of returning to the campaign trail, although my editor says I can make a bigger difference as a journalist. The interviews I have attained have been real coups for my career (see http://www.sfgn.com.) Miami’s media market is an A level stop for the stars and I have benefited greatly. Trading, the panhandle’s folksy charm for the New York influence of South Beach has not been an easy transition, but it is working. Interviewing celebrities is becoming a nice diversion from governmental affairs, as well.

David Bromstad, Lance Bass, Steve Grand are some of the celebs I have been privileged to interview. For a gay boy growing up in the South, this is a dream come true. David is back on the television making sure everyone’s house looks great. Lance just married his hot Jewish boyfriend on the beach in Fort Lauderdale and Steve is traveling the globe as the self proclaimed “Pride King.”

Meanwhile, I do miss the calming effects of nature and find myself often, late at night before bed, checking out friends’ posts from their respective National Parks. I have learned to cherish wide open spaces and long for return to the wild, but first certain projects must be completed and seen through.

Last week, I landed one of the most important interviews to date. A celebrated screen guild legend who suffered blacklisting for his political actions. At 85, he is ready to unload his demons.

To El Salvador we go.





DC Crisis

7 06 2015
Chocolate growing on Trees.

Chocolate growing on Trees.

No park service this summer, instead I wait, interview and write about sensitive subjects and matters. Talking to people on background and trying my dead level best to avoid any form of controversy.

I know there are traps out there. Each story pitch is analyzed in great detail.

I have recently returned from Washington, D.C. where I visited my friend Horacio for the first time. It had been over a decade since I last stepped foot inside America’s capitol. Much has changed in the nation’s politics since 2005. Horacio, however, remains as sharp as ever.

I was thoroughly intimidated by his younger crowd of friends, envious of how openly the gays live their life there and saddened about my inability to relate. I suppose this is gay mid life crisis.

I was grateful to secure a Capitol Tour through Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s office. Debbie is quite the champion for South Florida liberals and her staff reflects the diversity of the Sunshine state. I met with a nice Jewish young lady who had recently moved over from the State Department. She explained to me the details of the Congresswoman’s upcoming trip to Africa. In a sign of the technological times we are living in, I took no notes, instead recording it all on my i-phone.

I remain intent on discovering Africa. The destination, always, the last hurdle.

“The real value of taking this trip is understanding what the ground really looks like,” said the nice Jewish young lady whose name shall remain anonymous. She said the Congresswoman’s visit to hospitals in Kenya and Malawi would be for women only. This killed my buzz. After visiting with members of the staff and interns, I was escorted on a tour through the Capitol by a nice young man from Miami of Puerto Rican descent. He was very knowledgeable of the details regarding paintings, rooms, statues and other facts of history. The young man knew the rules and was precise in pointing out important areas of the U.S. Capitol.

For the first time, I was admitted into the House observation area. From this elevated view, we discussed how the Congresswoman came to the floor. My guide said seats are on a first come basis and that Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz typically moved around the room to, “make deals.”

After the tour, I thanked the young man and then ate lunch in the cafeteria. It was a beautiful day and I desired to go outside and walk about. The Capitol dome was going through a remodeling effort and, elsewhere, across the avenue was a stoic Supreme Court building bracing to hear historic arguments in our defining cultural times. All was quiet outside on this day, but protests were indeed coming.

Eventually, I found myself inside the botanical gardens. Horacio encouraged me to give it a look. The chocolate trees were interesting as was the apparant ability on the part of the curators to basically simiulate many different forms of climate. And as one walked from room-to-room, those climates, they were a changing. Zing!

My arrival in Washington was, for all intents and purposes, to set the stage for great things to come. I was grateful to be sleeping on a good friend’s couch in the district where power plays. Horacio would show me the way, but it would be up to me to fit in. After months in South Florida relaxation, this would be my challenge.

And, as always, challenge accepted.

Remodeling

Remodeling