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

 

 

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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…..

 





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.

 





Inevitable Surrender

25 09 2016

This blog piece is about surrender.

This is where we are.

Flashback to the holiday season two years ago. In London, the Cardinal had invited me into his house. Over tea we discussed traditions of the Roman Catholic Church. We discussed multiple topics from health, behavior, relationships to one’s inherit need for conquest.

I still recall vividly the Cardinal’s questioning of humanity’s impulse to wage war.

“What makes us want to fight battles?,” he asked. “Why do we feel the need to prove ourselves? What are we fighting for??”

Missionaires

Missionaires

This was, of course, before the rise of Trump. The U.S. presidential campaign had yet to begin and I was on a solo mission to Europe for self discovery — fresh from a successful summer in Montana. I met the Cardinal at a ceremony in London’s Mayfair District with my good friend, Jim. Later, I went alone to his house in London’s outer zone, curious as to where the church in Europe stood on what I considered to be important, vital issues.

Question after question was met with ultimately one answer — surrendering to a higher power.

The Cardinal told me of his situation. How he was taken care of by both his job and his government. He was older and well into the entitlement stage of his career. He also shared of his personal battle with cancer. At some point in life one must recognize that to turn over control to another is essential, he told me.

“No one goes through life alone, John,” he said.

Surrendering to life’s circumstances is inevitable, the Cardinal told me.

“We all need someone or something to help us through. For some it’s the church for others the government. For most it is the family,” he said.

Two years later the Cardinal’s words ring in my ears as if I were still knocking on his door in that humble British neighborhood. I have reached a place of acceptance in my life. There are things I can change and things I cannot. This, after 40 years of searching, I know to be true.

Walking through poverty, suffering defeat and loss, climbing out of debt and learning to forgive have bolstered what were deficiencies in my character. I am stronger for experiencing hardships. Wiser to know they will come again and confident I can cope without panic.

Moving forward in the next 40 years, if I am lucky, I intend to put lessons I have learned to good use. For not one, but for all. Not to make myself feel better, but because it is the right thing to do. Surrender teaches us many things. Yes, we can control our own choices and ultimately are responsible for our own decisions but it takes two or more for an agreement to be reached.

A new chapter in American history will soon begin. Having experienced good times and bad, I am ready for whatever presents itself, knowing that I am not alone in this journey.

Strength, courage and wisdom shall prevail.

Looking through my photos and notes from that visit to London, I came across a quote from Catholic writer Thomas Merton which sums up my reflection point best.

“The more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does the most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most.”

 

 





Turning The Corner

15 08 2016

It’s a long, hard slough these summer months in Florida.

The heat is almost suffocating and yet I am aware not to complain, much. David and I are doing our best to provide for one another in the complexity of our current situations. I continue to pursue a career as a reporter, following the local political scene and dreaming of vacations abroad. David splits his time between the church and funeral home, receiving a small supplement from each.

We have no air conditioning in either vehicle presently. This has been a bitter bone of contention in our relationship. The heat in general is wearing us out. We have lived in South Florida for three years now. It has been quite a learning experience.

On a positive note, I am quite pleased with our stamina. I recall the summer of 2008 when in the thrusts of another Presidential campaign, much of the nation took a dip into a financial death spiral. Some called it a crash — others term it a blackout period. Whatever your language, it was not good times for many.

Eight years later, we have cautiously taken steps to prevent such a repeat disaster. David continues to guide me in the right direction and my editors and publishers seem happy with the stories. The campaign has been outrageous, brutal and the news cycle never fails to produce a day of violence and mishap. The Trump phenomenon appears to have played itself out. Anyone who has followed from the beginning must be a cynical mess. I worry about the mental health of those subjected to daily stories of death, despair, doom and gloom.

In South Florida, with its large population, there are many stories involving crime. There are certain neighborhoods which are considered off limits to white boys like me, so I’ve been told.

But I’m not a boy anymore.

Thinking back to France and my last solo trip into Paris gives me hope for the future. At the hostel, I bunked with a Romanian, Frenchman and a man who would not reveal his country. He gave me several guesses and even the region (Middle East) but I still could not detect his origin.

“Saudi Arabia?,” I asked at one point.

“If I was from Saudi Arabia do you think I would be staying here?,” he responded.

It was a good point. The hostel was by no means a five diamond hotel. The man, dressed in all dark blue, never left the room during my time at the hostel. I found this rather strange and so did the Romanian but he was not aggressive so we left him be. On one night he split his can of sardines with me. He was very hairy and did not speak much. I do hope he was able to enjoy Paris.

As the campaign in America moves into the autumn season, I am hopeful a kinder, gentler narrative will surface. Americans have been subjected to a series of horror stories at home — from mass shootings in nightclubs to fears of viruses infecting women and children. When, we must ask, is enough…enough??

American In Paris

American In Paris

 

 

 

 





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





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.