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.

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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.





Liftoff in Lauderdale

21 11 2014

At the Tip of the Sphere again.

I’ve been back in Florida for a little over one month now. I’m writing a lot and people are taking notice. My list of clients is an impressive one and soon I embark on perhaps my greatest adventure yet.

078

Pause and reflect? No time for that.

A man reaches a point in his life when training is over, school is out and the desire to swim in a larger pool is what moves him.

Glacier served me well. The management skills I attained in Montana are enabling me to navigate South Florida’s often trecherous waters. Treading lightly in Little Havana and South Beach, I take the bulk of my assignments instead on more friendly turf in North Miami and Fort Lauderdale. I continue to move the discussion forward with each article.

Politically, the party I belong to was defeated soundly at the ballox box during November’s midterm elections. Republicans are rising in America and some of their far right operatives have made great gains in social doctrine in Europe and Africa.

David, God bless him, remains loyal to our partnership and has become an extraordinary chef in the kitchen. We share laughs and spirited discussion over candlelight dinners. Our home is a collection of antiques we inherited from the owner. It is full of love.

The kitchen, he says, still needs some work. It’s a tight space, Golden Girlish in design. We listen to local NPR newscasts over coffee and breakfast.

Condo life is interesting. Miami life is amazing.

But a cold front is coming. I’m ready for it.

Et Vous?





Velvet Raging

28 03 2014
Miami Design District

Miami Design District

For about a month now I have been in a constant state of agitation, frustration, confusment. And, worst of all, depression.

South Florida — and all of her quirky games — is weighing on me. I recognize living in a metropolitan, urban area is no piece of cake and there are certain aspects of unpleasantness here that I have come to terms with. (horrible traffic, chief among them.) The attitudes of the gay community has been tough to get used to. For a community that craves acceptance, the judging it can dish out is down right devastating. There are certain pockets of Wilton Manors and Miami Beach I would dare not visit for fear of being ripped to shreads at first sight.

The irony here is I came to South Florida to experience and live in a free and open society. The idea was to relocate from a place where I was merely tolerated to somewhere where I could be celebrated. Dreamy stuff, I know, but, hey, why not? I’m afraid, however, I will leave the Sunshine State with a bitterness I have never held before.

But let’s look to the bright side, shall we. David says my cup is always half empty. He enjoys the difficulties that life throws at you much more than I do. Waiting around for a repair man, fixing a broken appliance or getting stuck in traffic for hours is nothing new to him. His health is also improving after another round with the prostate cancer. I wish I had his patience and caring.

But I do not. We are from different generations. I am driven. Driven by ambition to succeed. To conqueor.

And yet I do not know who I am.

It was the gays who bailed out my journalism career. Credit must be given there. I have reported largely about LGBT issues since arriving here in October and remain truely grateful for the work, the paychecks and the opportunity to return to writing. There are occasions when I am indeed, “gay” or happy as the old timers once referred to it. But I am not a homosexual. I am a bisexual and I am finding this out more and more about myself as I continue on life’s journey.

I miss Ann and what we had in Yellowstone. We chat only briefly via Facebook now. I worry I have broken her heart.

The agitation in my life seems to stem from a desire to do everything by the book, play by the rules and yet still come out ahead. This appears to be a fantasy. My strive for independence has been costly. I am nearly broke once again. Working freelance gives me the ability to set my own schedule and type away on a keyboard in my pajamas, but it does not pay all the bills. Thankfully, David is helping with that — and our partnership has never been stronger.

I suppose when you reach a certain point in life you began to set keener priorities. Getting out of Panama City was the right thing to do, that much is clear. I was blacklisted from working in the region and it was time to move on. It is remarkable I have been able to make such an impact in South Florida during just a six month period. Again, I am grateful to the publishers of SFGN for this opportunity.

I think the root of my depression can be found in my work. In writing about the move for equality for gays and lesbians I seem to be frustrated that I have not found my equal. I wonder if I ever will. I am not worried about making up for lost time and I do not dwell on mistakes of the past or relationships lost. I am not consumed by money, although I still seek a stable existence.

I realize now it is validation I am after. And soon I will travel across this great land of ours in that quest for answers.





Chantel’s Story

16 02 2014

New Year. New Life. Much to be grateful for and humble.

I am working a lot. New York calls quite frequently now. I am living on a golf course where they host professional tournaments. Physically, I am in the best shape of my life. It almost feels like a dream.

But it’s not.

Chantel has yet to respond to my emails. We toured Art Basel together and dined on Lincoln Road where she granted me an interview. Balans, she insisted, would do. As we walked the outdoors mall in Miami Beach, I playfully teased her that the N.F.L. was looking to expand in the European market and I was not referring to soccer. She was having none of it.

Chantel turned into much more than I had bargined for. She was young — 29 as a matter of fact, but at first glance it would be easy for someone to mistake her for much younger. I had observed throughout the day that she was clearly a person who could get things done. She had such confidence when speaking with the gallery representatives at Art Basel. This, no doubt, instilled by her mother. Chantel spoke of her mother fondly, saying she was responsible for raising social justice awareness in the family, particularly those key issues on the continent of Africa.

“She told us which brands not to buy from,” Chantel said of her mother’s consumer advice.

We were in the convention center for hours. We talked about a lot of issues of importance in Britain and America. People stared at us. I was flattered to be in her company.

“I believe the human spirit is inherently good,” I said. Chantel was not as convinced. She seemed more interested in my taste of art and design than my philosophical views.

At Balans, Chantel proposed we dine inside so I could conduct the interview free of the hustle and bustle of Lincoln Road. She asked the manager if she could use her Balans card at this location. He said yes, but I took the the bill. Chantel told me she attended a prestigous university in London — a red brick school as I recall — and was on her way to Los Angeles in hopes of publishing a novella about sexuality. She also admited to having a girlfriend — confirming her bisexuality which she revealed during our walk through the convention center. She refused to give her name.

She then turned the tables as I hurried to jot down her words.

“John, have you ever written about human trafficing?” Chantel asked.

I was stunned. The burger I had woofed down just minutes before suddenly felt like coming up.

“Pardon me,” I said.

“In your writings, John, have you ever covered sex workers?” she asked again.

I had not. It was just not the kind of topic I was assigned while working the sports desk back in Dothan, Alabama. But I was not naive about the subject matter. Chantel, it turns out, had done the research, extensive research, in Britain, America, Thailand and Africa. She then asked me if I had ever been a “rent boy” ?!

I said no, of course. This conversation began to make me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t know what to say next. The interview was over.

We hugged as we parted ways outside of Balans.

“Be well,” she said.

I have yet to receive any e-mail from Chantel acknowledging our meeting.

Her story is now a mystery.

Ghosts

Ghosts





Art Basel Introductions

28 12 2013

Miami and I have battled to a stand still.

Some — actually probably most — thought I could not make it here. The traffic, the people, all the realities that come with living in a metropolitian market. It has been a different change of pace than sleepy Panama City and certainly worlds away from what I experienced in Yellowstone.

David is on the mend, recovering from an invasive procedure. His surgeon reminds me a little bit of Albert Einstein. He’s from the North and now practices at a Catholic medical center in Broward County, Florida. Needless to say, he is a busy man.

The doc has also been educating me on the realities of ObamaCare — the good, the bad and the ugly.

“They didn’t consult a physician when they passed this thing,” is his biggest complaint.

No matter how you slice it, whoever has the most money will always come out on top in capitalistic America, because the best drugs cost the most money. This we are painfully learning.

But alas, there have been good times here as well.

My work is getting published a lot. One of my Instagram photos even appeared in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. A few of my stories have gone national, including a fun little preview of the Gay Ski Week in Aspen, Colorado.

But it was Art Basel where I wanted to make my mark. I had my eye on this event for quite some time. It has a reputation in art circles for gathering elite galleries together from around the world to showcase groundbreaking modern art. I attended the first installation in Miami Beach years ago as a wide eyed young features writer for the Panama City News-Herald. I remember it being pretentious beyond belief. Little has changed in that regard.

David and I drove down to Miami Beach in the Beamer on a Saturday afternoon. Although just 24 miles away it took nearly two hours with the traffic. We chose to take U.S. 1 (or Federal Highway as it is also known) and I was pleasantly surprised with the gentrification taking place in North Miami. Once over the causeway and into Miami Beach, parking became the issue as we circled the streets looking for a spot to land. Parking was never an issue in the Panhandle. Here it is part of everyday living. I’m getting used to that.

Chantal at the Co-Op

Chantal at the Co-Op

Once on foot we strolled through several exhibits, including the “public” portion of Art Basel erected on the lawn outside of the Bass Museum. There were interesting pieces, but rarely did I find something I would display proudly in my home. It was a lot of message and shock art. Eventually, we found our way into a Lincoln Road co-op … and that is where I met Chantal.

She was volunteering at the co-op, visiting Miami from Great Britain, a tall slender young lady of mixed features with a delicate British accent. I informed her I was a journalist looking for a story. And, oh boy, did she have one for me.

Not long into our discussion, Chantal revealed she too was a writer and her subject matter focused on sexuality. I took her picture and she introduced me to a few of her newfound friends. All was quite cordial. “Have you been to the convention center?,” she asked.

I had, but refused to pay the high dollar entrance fee. My press request had been denied two weeks eariler. The Swiss, I was told, were being quite stringent with access.

“I have two VIP passes for Sunday, would you care to go with me?,” Chantal asked.

The offer surprised me. I glanced quickly at David, emersed in conversation across the room, but realizing I didn’t need his approval, I accepted Chantal’s offer and quickly made arrangements to call her tomorrow. I would be returning to Art Basel for one more day with a lot to prove and a story to tell.