Staring Into The Abyss

25 11 2016

This has not been an easy blog entry. There is a internal struggle with protecting reputations and yet remaining true to the reality of where life takes us.

From surrender I reflect on weakness careened into heartbreak. Affairs are not in order.

This is the story of Geraldo.

We met in Orlando in the summer a long time ago. We had shared friends but were moving in different directions on life’s ladder. I was instantly captured by his charm, smile and a self-assured stride. We were attending a conference together and at the hotel’s pool is where our paths crossed. He practically stripped down right in front of me. I remember those hairy legs like it was yesterday.

“You are adorable,” I said.

“Thanks,” he replied and with a wink he was into the pool.

Now, I must admit, I did pursue Geraldo. I found his swagger fascinating. It was thuggish.

Tragedy

Mask of Tragedy, State of Melopomene, Louvre Museum, Paris.

He was a bad boy without a doubt. The conference we were attending was billed as a “mature man’s group” and Geraldo and I were clearly the young Turks of the batch.

He came with a photographer. Yes, he was that hot, but he also traveled with quite a bit of baggage both physical and emotional. Those scars made him even more appealing to me.

It’s hard to say who corrupted who that weekend. We indulged in more than a few vices and trashed the hotel room in carnal sin. After consummating the affair, Geraldo, rather matter of factly, proclaimed, “don’t expect that again.”

But I wanted it again and followed him to South Florida. It should be noted that everybody close to me and him warned me to stay away. Even his photographer friend admitted Geraldo was a total wreck. These disclosures, however, only intensified my pursuit.

Along the way, it was Geraldo who introduced me to “The Program.”

“I like doing drugs and I’m not going to stop,” he said, on my first visit to his inner sanctuary.

No reply was needed. He could see the reaction in my face.

“Am I disappointing you?,” he asked.

We had amazing sex again that night. We would be intimate three times in total before life’s circumstances pulled us apart.

Our last journey together was in Miami Beach, where I was sent on assignment by a French magazine to write of the historic art deco hotels. I took Geraldo along thinking it would be fun. He proceeded to get so hopped on drugs the embarrassment was too much to handle. I cut the visit short and have not spent quality time with Geraldo since.

I did, however, enter into therapy to discuss this infatuation and what triggered it.

Geraldo, you see, had it all at one point (caring partner, home, career and financial security) and I did not understand how he could have fallen so far.

Perhaps it was a hero complex kicking in thinking I could make a difference. Perhaps it was a spiritual and physical connection too strong to break.

Or perhaps I was staring into the abyss.

“He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he theraby become a monster. And if thou gaze into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” … Freidrich Nietzsche.

 

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Married To Words

5 06 2016

In Key West on a Saturday night in late May. Steamy conditions. I write this post as a married man, embarking on a new and uncharted chapter in my life.

David and I are in this for the long haul. After eight years together, I feel there is nothing that could drive us apart and I do not see a situation that would produce demands for divorce. I wonder if Ernest Hemingway ever felt this way?

Hemingway is Key West legend and I have long been a big fan. I read “A Moveable Feast” during my bitter summer of 2009 and became smitten with his punchy, descriptive style. At a time when I needed simple and direct answers, Hemingway was just the remedy. A war correspondent, cat herder, best selling author and the mulitiple marrying type. That was Hemingway. As the docent giving a tour of his home in Key West correctly noted, Hemingway was proficent in the art of romance — albeit often times conflict based.

David and I married after a long conflict in American society. Last summer’s Supreme Court ruling allowed for our union. In South Florida, we had no trouble finding willing parties and public servants to help. I requested a small, private ceremony and David requested the site — a church in Fort Lauderdale that he has been attending. He started going to the church when I was working in Glacier. That was the summer he demonstrated an unyielding commitment to our relationship. That was when I understood loyalty.

Back in Key West, honeymooning like an old married couple, we stayed at a lovely hotel full of lush tropical gardens and first rate accomodations. Much better than that dreary econo-lodge a longside the interstate highway we stayed in our first Christmas together in Birmingham, Alabama. It snowed that year as I recall.

There would be no such coldness in the Keys. We were fortunate enough to secure seats on the ferry to Dry Tortugas. I had no idea it would be difficult, but with the help of a few local channels we got onboard and sailed away into the Gulf of Mexico. The coral reefs of the Dry Tortugas are, simply put, spectacular. Fort Jefferson is quite a site to take in as well. As the old story goes, if we were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you bring? Perhaps this is a question for the park’s gift shop manager.

Meanwhile, summer has begun. Florida for another year so it seems. The general election will soon be starting.

Will it be “The Sun Also Rises” story or “The Old Man and the Sea” ??

Fort Jefferson NP

Fort Jefferson NP





What’s next after Yellowstone?

15 09 2013

My Yellowstone experience is coming to an end. I can now safely say it has been a wonderful summer, filled with adventure, achievement, learning, and, not to be forgotten — love. There are so many stories to tell, episodes to write and characters to develop, I don’t know where to begin.

We’ll start with the stars. They are incredible here. At 7,000 feet, the Milky Way is quite visible to the naked eye (with the help of glasses.) I’m still wearing Clark Kent style frames courtesy of that great American retailer, Sears. A few nights ago, I put on those glasses and joined my Canyon colleague Kirk for a late night ride into Hayden Valley. Initially we had planned to just blow off some steam after work, but it turned into an amazing evening of star gazing and elk listening. With no moonlight, the stars were spectacular and the constellations all there, although I’m still trying to figure out where Ursa Minor begins and ends. Kirk says it reminds him of a “planetarium” he went to in high school. Kirk, I’m finding out, had a privileged childhood.

The elk bulging made the night cooler. These beasts are in their mating period or “rut” as it is known in slang terms. The males are seeking to create harems and cry out in the darkness for new members. We are told to stay far away from the bull elk during this time as their behavior can get quite aggressive. Mammoth Hot Springs, where we stayed during training, is typically overrun by the elk this time of year.

Meanwhile, the fires that had been burning in nearly every section of the park have subsided, but it was scary for a while there. Dry and windy conditions coupled with lighting strikes had set Yellowstone ablaze once again. Apparently, this is quite a common occurrence with some years — 1988 comes to mind — being worse than others. During “Fire Season” this year we were greeted each morning by the smell of burning pine trees and sage brush and a sky colored in hazy pink. Some of us were lucky enough to have a front row seat. From my post inside the ticket office at the Canyon Corrals, I could see the Alum Fire raging across Hayden Valley. Tourists, rightfully so, were concerned.

“Why don’t they put it out?,” they kept asking me before saddling up for their one-hour horseback ride.

In Yellowstone, what happens naturally, stays naturally — including fires.

But the fires weren’t the only thing burning in Yellowstone. My relationship with Ann was heating up by the day. Our hitchhiking adventure led to more hikes into the backcountry and soon we were spending all of our free time together. This was not something I had expected nor pursued. It just happened, naturally and I find myself searching for ways to describe these feelings.

We met at a difficult time in both our lives. “I thought there was no love for me in this world,” Ann revealed.

I understood. On our hike to the Canyon’s brink of the lower falls, I shared with Ann my spectacular fall from grace in the summer of 2008. The story of greed, ignorance, betrayal and ultimately, ruin. Much to my surprise, with each devastating detail, Ann pulled me closer as we made our descent, hand in hand. The brink of the lower falls is an amazing sight to see and because of its steep drop, it is not a trail many visitors to the park take on. But I had become accustomed to crawling out of canyons and compared to last year’s hikes in Arizona, this was a piece of cake. At the brink, you witness the full fury of the Yellowstone River as it crashes 309 feet over the falls and into this deep and colorful canyon. This is where we kissed, passionately and so much so that a nearby tourist offered to take a picture of the, “love birds.”

As happy as I am for this blossoming relationship, I have no idea what the future holds.

Soon, Ann will return to Italy and continue her studies in hopes of one day becoming a teacher. As for me, I am unsure where life will take me next. I have a little money in my pocket again, a plane ticket to Seattle and a strong desire to return to journalism. Last year, my summer in Grand Canyon emboldened me for the campaign trail. Having survived six months in the desert, I was able to enter the hostile Florida panhandle with no fear and carry out a “boots on the ground” winning effort.

I wonder what a summer romance in Yellowstone will lead to?

Yellowstone Canyon Lower Falls

Yellowstone Canyon Lower Falls





Hitchhiking with Ann

22 08 2013

We hitchhiked around Yellowstone with a little angst, a lot of luck and ultimately much joy. It was Ann’s idea and I protested all the way. She had done this before with her girlfriends, but I had yet to try my hand at thumbing a ride. I’m cautious. It comes with age.

Ann hitching a ride.

Ann hitching a ride.

Ann, her 21-year-old spirit beaming, was intent on getting to Old Faithful for the first time. Maybe that was another reason why I was dragging my feet on this little outing. Having spent nearly two months at the location, you could say I was quite geysered out. Ann, however, had never seen Old Faithful erupt and thus her Yellowstone experience was incomplete. I proposed taking one of our bus tours to Old Faithful, but Ann rebuked the notion by stating those tours — those precious tours I sold — were for “families and old people.” She said we could get there faster by hitchhiking. And she was right.

No longer than five minutes after standing roadside holding a makeshift cardboard sign with the words, “Old Faithful Employee” scribbled across it, Ann got her ride. As the truck pulled over she raced ahead to greet it, yelling back at me: “In your face!”

People love to prove me wrong.

The driver, as it turned out, worked security at Canyon and he and a buddy were on their way to Chico Hot Springs, Montana. They carried us to Norris, where we got off and started hitchhiking again. This time a young British couple came to our aid, picking us up quickly. Again, Ann rejoiced in my skepticism defeated. We would reach Old Faithful in just over an hour’s time. Surprised, I was.

Being back at Old Faithful wasn’t the most pleasant feeling. The crowds are still huge, by far the largest in the park. There must have been a couple thousand people huddled around the geyser, not a bleacher seat left. The boardwalks, likewise, were crowded and the kids were annoying. And yet Ann wanted the whole tour. We stopped at geysers, hot springs, steam vents and thermal pools. I also took Ann into the Old Faithful Inn so she could see where I once worked. It was near noon and the place was a madhouse as usual. Buses unloading, people scurrying in and out of the gift shop, artists selling paintings and photographs in the lobby while flashes from cameras flickered across the historic wooden structure. Ann was impressed, letting out a few “wows” as we walked around.

After lunch we hitched a ride to Lake Yellowstone, again getting picked up quickly, this time from some fellow Canyon employees. Two middle aged women, one from Minnesota, the other from Mississippi. The one from Mississippi gave us a good scolding about the dangers of hitchhiking. I can’t say that I disagreed with her, but in Yellowstone with so many international workers and those, like me, without wheels, hitchhiking is an accepted practice. And we were exceeding at it.

Now this wasn’t the first time I had hitchhiked, but it had been a while. I was about eight when I decided to ditch the summer camp I was attending in Central Florida and hitchhike home. Thankfully, a nice man and his teenage daughter picked me up and called my parents, who, understandably were shocked. They were angry at me, but also at the summer camp staff for allowing me out of their sights. All because I didn’t want to take swimming lessons. To this day, my mother loves to tell that story as an example of what a weird kid I was growing up.

Back in Yellowstone, the women dropped us off at Lake Hotel just as rain drops fell from the sky. We went inside and visited with Terry (aka Mr. Fantastic) at the concierge desk. Terry and I basked in the fact we were “survivors” of our original training group and, the good Lord willing, we were going to make it to the finish line. Ann wanted to relax in the lobby of the hotel so we found a comfy couch and enjoyed the beautiful view of Lake Yellowstone, the largest alpine lake in North America, its deep cobalt blue water mesmerizing to gaze upon. Lake Hotel altogether feels like something out of the Great Gatsby era, elegantly outfitted employees, fine fixtures and the soothing sounds of a string quartet in the evening hours.

Unfortunately, we wouldn’t be hanging around to hear the performance. Nightfall was just hours away and we did not want to get caught in Hayden Valley hitchhiking after dark. So we strapped on our backpacks and made our way through the sage brush along the trail to Fishing Bridge. The rain had subsided, but a new smell suddenly  filled the air the closer we got to Hayden Valley. It was the unmistakable odor of burning pine trees. Those clouds in the distance were not rainclouds at all, but rather large, puffy clouds of smoke.

Yellowstone was on fire. 





The Vegas Buddy System

17 05 2013

After six months of retail labor, I turned in my resignation at the Grand Canyon, giving the proper two weeks notice.

“Make sure you leave on good terms,” my friend Thomas advised. “You might want to come back.”

I had serious doubts I would ever want to return to the Grand Canyon, as a worker that is. The isolation was severe and the pay was poverty level, but for this stage of my life the experience proved priceless. I was leaving much healthier in spirit and physical well being than when I had arrived. Nature had truly worked wonders. I was ready to return home and rejoin an old fight with much stronger legs. First, I would fly from Phoenix to Charlotte, North Carolina to meet David, who was a delegate at the Democratic National Convention.

David had carried on the political battles back in Florida while I cleared my head and regained confidence in the Canyon. It would be good to see him again. He was always supportive of my endeavors and his honesty is impeccable. David is honest to a fault.

But before I would see David and many other familiar faces from my politico days, I would take advantage of my independence, freedom and surroundings one last time with a trip to Las Vegas. The recreation center put together the trip, renting a bus and a block of hotel rooms smack dab in the middle of the famed strip. It was open to any Canyon employee who could get the time off and afford the experience. In total, about 40 of us went, half of which were Turks.

We stayed at the Flamingo, a modest casino hotel in an excellent location. It was near the end of the summer season and yet the pool parties were still raging across Sin City. Just weeks prior to our arrival, Great Britain’s Prince Harry had made tabloid headlines after being caught partying it up with some less desirables. In the new age of social media, the catch phrase “What Happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” no longer applied. On our trip were a few international students I had befriended after the guys from Singapore left. One, in particular, was a Macedonian university student named Bard. We had gotten off to a somewhat frosty start. I had overheard him skyping with his mother at the rec center and when he finished, I asked what language he was speaking.

“I’m from Albania. Do you know of this country?,” he answered.

I didn’t know Albanian, but I sure recognized sarcasm.

“Yes, I know of Albania,” I replied. Perhaps he was protecting his privacy, I thought, and at the same time insulting my intelligence. Whatever the case after a few minutes of small talk, Bard was on his way. He worked in housekeeping so we didn’t see too much of each other, only in passing at the employee cafeteria or at the general store. Despite getting off to a rocky start, Bard and I became closer for reasons I cannot fully divulge, but by the time the bus was motoring its way through the desert we were fast friends.

This friendship cemented itself as we wandered the strip, headed back to the Flamingo after an awesome night at the dance clubs. It was around 3 a.m. and the street workers — or ladies of the night if you will — were out and aggressive. Seeing two clean cut young men in good spirits, they were quick to pounce. Bard brushed them aside without a thought. He was an imposing figure, after all. Easily over 6-foot with buzzed blond hair and fluent in several languages — Russian, Turkish and English just to name a few. For this situation, “No” was universally accepted.

That’s when the girls turned their attention and charm tactics to me. “Would you like some company tonight, honey.” one of them asked.

Bard didn’t let me answer.

“Leave him alone,” he shouted. “He’s with me.”

The girls seemed surprised. I know I was.

Of course, Bard and I were not together. We shared similar interests, but not the same bed. And yet I was grateful for being with Bard that moment. I had given into temptation in moments like that before. One incredibly stupid situation in London comes to mind that I may write about one day despite my best efforts to forget. Stupid decisions are easy to make in Las Vegas. That’s why it’s best to go with the buddy system.

спасибо, Bard!

Skyping with Mom in Albania.

Skyping with Mom in Albania.





Off to the Big Easy

23 02 2012

The drive to New Orleans was fun. We rented a car at the new Panama City airport and departed on a gorgeous January day. A new year beginning with longtime friends reuniting on a trip across the Gulf Coast.

Bjork didn’t have an American driver’s license so I handled the chores and was glad to be behind the wheel of a new Chevy Cruze. Like most seasoned travelers, Bjork was eager to check a few more states off his bucket list. This trip would be his first venture into Alabama and he joked that a new controversial immigration law the state had recently instituted might place us in danger.

I doubt those lawmakers had Brits in mind when they crafted this legislation. Nevertheless, we skirted across the Alabama coastline, stopping briefly at a “welcome center” to use the facilities and study some the of historical images plastered across its walls.

Bjork was fascinated by the civil rights struggles of the Deep South and the antebellum traditions that still remained entrenched across Dixie. In New Orleans, we toured some of the landmarks, cemeteries and museums that contained those stories as well as some of the more modern aspects  of Southern life.

On our first night in the Big Easy, we dined at a very upscale French restaurant. Bjork made the reservations in advance and I donned a jacket for the special occasion. It had been a while since I had been in such a nice restaurant and I thoroughly enjoyed the evening. We talked a lot about my future, the frustration of my extended unemployment and desire to relocate.

Bjork has always been a good listener. I wonder sometimes if I shouldn’t have snapped him up a decade ago when I had the chance. I could be living in London now, living the ex-pat life with the intellectual elite crowd.

“David seems like a really great guy,” Bjork said, moving the conversation to what I did have.

“Yes he is,” I replied. “He has saved my life.”

“In what way?” Bjork asked.

“He has rebuilt me,” I said. “And he has brought me closer to God.”

For some thinkers this admission would have opened a whole debate about religion and the very existence of a higher power. Bjork didn’t go that route, however, and for good reason, I suspect. He had recently had a book published about the Catholic Church in Eastern Europe and confessed he was a spiritual person.

“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” I said. Bjork grinned and sipped on his glass of wine. It was one of those moments.

After dinner we rode the streetcar back to a boutique hotel in the garden district, where we bedded down for the evening. Along the way, I received a familiar text message from David.

“I love you” it read.

It was just what I needed to keep the allure of Bourbon Street at bay. I went to sleep that night happy to be traveling again with a dear friend and comforted to know I had a hero waiting for me at home.





Putting politics on hold

9 11 2011

Florida’s Democrats gathered inside Walt Disney World last weekend to plot a course for the 2012 elections. Twenty-one of us from Bay County were in attendance, including former mayors and state representatives.

‘Former’ being the key word.

It’s no secret the Republican Party has taken a dominating hold of the Sunshine State. The midterm elections gave the GOP a sweep of cabinet positions, the Governor’s Mansion and a ‘super’ majority in both the House and Senate. Simply put, these are tough times to be a Democrat in Florida.

And yet there is no place to go but up.

I was excited just to be getting out of town and to be surrounded by true believers. David and I shared a ride with Don and Fran, two wonderfully honest and caring men, whose conversation made the seven hour drive to Orlando go by effortlessly.

Don handled the driving and Fran, with his effervescent personality, was quick with the quips. As a gay interracial couple living in the Florida Panhandle, nobody had to tell these two about adversity.

We arrived at the convention just as Vice President Joe Biden was addressing the delegates who were fortunate enough to afford the $175 ticket for Friday night’s opening dinner. We would have to wait for the second hand reviews Saturday morning.

Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Bill Nelson and Jill Biden at the 2011 FDP Convention

Being my first convention the entire weekend seemed a tad overwhelming with more issues at play than glad handing politicians and overzealous activists. David was not in good health and frankly I was amazed he decided to make the trip.

The man who nursed me back to health — who has supported me through the toughest period of my life and stood by me when everyone else scattered, was now suffering and in pain.

His condition was never far from my mind and faced with this, I felt helpless in room after room full of power.

Earlier in the week, I had tried to talk David out of making the trip. He was battling a case of the shingles and it was not pretty. My vanity would have never allowed me to attend this convention in his condition, but David, as I have so fondly come to learn, is nothing like me. He’s an Aries and much like the domesticated symbol of the Democratic Party, he’s stubborn.

Much of the focus during the weekend centered around getting out the vote efforts in various communities. Outside the general assembly, there were a host of caucus meetings and parties designed to bring people together around one central theme. We tried to make as many as we could, but there would be no late night hotel room hopping.

On the drive home, David’s condition began to worsen. Don, ever the sympathetic driver, must have pulled off on the side of the road 20 times so David could run into the bushes in an attempt to relieve himself from the pain. His plight put a lot of the weekend in perspective for me.

Politics has consumed too much of my life. In seeking to make a better community, I have neglected my own household. No more.

As I prepare to go down a new road in my life and open a chapter of caregiving, it is time to put things aside that are out of my control. Politics can wait. My partner’s health and well being is of the utmost importance.

Your thoughts and prayers are much appreciated.