Thorough Clean-sing

11 08 2017

Osceola slept here.

Cristina asked that we all give up an addiction. She said we should grab a twig and toss it into the fire to symbolize the release of this addiction.

Moving around was quite challenging. The medicine was taking effect. I grabbed a branch and tossed it in. Carlos followed and did the same. Geraldo grabbed a whole stack and tossed it on the fire. The smoke funnelled up through the trees and Cristina began to sing again.

Some of the words I could make out. “Barricuda” “Santa Maria” and “Doma” I remember. I probably should not reveal too much as this was an exclusive gathering. Geraldo was pleased. He told Cristina he wished he had brought more of his family with him. There were times when I could not help but stare at him in silence. It was a display of respect.

Listening to the night and nature was fascinating. Cristina, with tears in her eyes, remarked how great it was to be moonbathing.

My bones began to crack like the flames shooting from our campfire as we each took turns drinking the Ayahuasca. Standing up and grabbing the branch to toss in was not easy. The terrain was rough. Although this area was populated by large neatly maintained farms, we were in “the woods.” During the ceremony some of the horses came near. In the dark I could only hear their musking noises — a sort of sneezing sound.

I sang some too.

Mostly humming to what reminded me of the Seminole war chant. My father took us to many Florida State University football games when we were young. Carlos seemed to know the chant too. If you know the legend of Chief Osceloa it helps. The brave native has become a recognizable symbol for the Tallahassee headquartered school.

I also had a tearful moment singing the biblical hymn, “When You Believe,” from The Prince of Egypt. The tears were more of a joyful confession than one of true sadness or sorrow. We were to let it all out, Geraldo had said. Release the past into the air.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Cristiana asked that we all embrace each other. She hugged me tight and gave me a kiss on the cheek. Carlos was warm as well.

“Come here,” he said as he pulled me in for a hug.

Cristiana then directed Geraldo and I to hug each other and we did and it was like the kind brothers give after making up from a fight. Quick, back slaps and all.

As the full moon continued to rise I found myself tranqulized by its beauty and that of the southern sky. I would have preferred to sleep outside by the fire but the bugs were too much. The next day Geraldo and I drove back to Miami. We were happy and inspired and listened to music and laughed all the way home.

The past was gone. A new day had dawned. It was good to be alive.

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” — Ernest Hemingway.

 

 

 

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Ocala Can You Hear Me?

10 07 2017

OcalaFarm

In search of healing we were introduced to Ayahuasca by a Brazilian shaman. Geraldo arranged it. We drove north into horse country to find it.

I was surprised to get the last minute invitation. It came via a text late Friday night after I had deactivated my Facebook and realized I had no clue where my next paycheck would come from. Before I could wallow in self pity Geraldo rode to the rescue.

His best friend from South America was here.

Cristina was her name. She was powerful and wise. A mother of two children. Girlfriend to Carlos. Healer of many.

Before Geraldo and I found Cristina’s campground we drove through the rolling hillside farm country. Some of the farms were quite immaculate with freshly cut lawns and thoroughbred horses grazing the fields. The oak trees in this part of the country were large with thick clumps of moss hanging from their branches. They were an oasis for cattle herds from the sun’s mighty rays.

Geraldo had been in Ecuador. He was a heavy man now. He said our trek into the North Florida farmlands would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. He described it as an circle of healing — spiritual not sexual. That was good enough for me.

David gave his blessing and we left Pompano Beach in a brand new volkeswagen jetta. Early July and the heat in full effect. We made good time on the turnpike pushing into Ocala around the four-hour mark.

“You’re going to drink with us, John?” she asked as we approached the campfire.

“Yes,” I said.

Geraldo warned it could get ugly. Vomiting, diarreha of the worst. He advised I fast the night before and refrain from drugs and eating meat. This was a cleasening, he said…to decide who I wanted to be and to release the demons of the past.

Cristina helped with that. She wore a yellow feather in her hair. At the ceremony she dressed in a beautifully beaded long red dress. Carlos was ever at her side. He was standoffish at first but when we spoke was assured the cleansing from this Amazon vine was what we all needed.

Carlos, Geraldo and I gathered wood for the fire. For the ceremony, I laid on my wolf blanket from Yellowstone. The one Anne gave me. Four candles were placed around the fire pit. After lighting the fire, Cristinia offered the Ayahuasca. It was bitter and hard to swallow. I took one sip and gave the cup back. She encouraged me to finish the cup and I did.

Once the drink had been passed around the circle, Cristina began to sing her native songs with accompaniment on the drums and guitar by Carlos. Her chants were passionate and in dialects I had never heard before. She moved around the fire, always stablizing herself in a yoga-like pose before another cry into the night. The Ayahuasca began to take its effect and soon my ears felt unclogged from years of swimming in cholrine dosed pools.

My senses began to peak. I could hear other sounds from the wild near and far. I could hear my heart beating again. It was a full moon rising….

TO BE CONTINUED

 

 

 





Bottoms Up

26 05 2017

Here we are starting over again. Looking for work after a brief flirtation with politics. In the gutter looking up at the stars, wrote Oscar Wilde.

The summer approaches again in Florida. I have become numb to the lasting heatrays and all of the complexities of urban dwelling. I rarely go to Miami anymore. I don’t have enough money to go many places.

David and some friends have encouraged me to get back in the gym. I’ve been playing golf and basketball again and swimming regularly. I’m surprised how well my body has held up.

I considered running again for the state house but after two months on the trial determined it was the wrong district and wrong role. I remain in contact with friends from the park service and maintain hope a position will open up. It would be nice to breathe fresh mountain air again.

Last week, David and I attended a presentation from the Sierra Club. Members of the executive committee discussed pollution of Florida’s waterways and various other environmental concerns. I asked one of the speakers if she felt South Florida had an overpopulation problem.

“The world does,” was her response.

The arrival of more and more people in Florida means draining the swamp to house them. There is another way, however, but it would take acts of kindness, sacrifice and generousity to get there. Not exactly known traits a keen political observer would recognize from current Republican leadership.

In many parts of the South Florida shoreline sit towering condominums and apartment buildings. For half of the year they operate at significantly less capacity due to retreating Canadians. There are quite a few old buildings on the east side of Interstate 95 in South Florida. Old properties, in some cases. In dire need of rehabilitation.

And condemnation.

After recognizing a problem, it takes a community — or village, if you prefer, — to improve a habitat fit for all humanity. Good deeds, Pat from Palm Beach tells me.

“You can only resist and be against everything for so long before it wears you out,” Pat said during our recent phone conversation.

Living positively with a can do spirit while avoiding the pitfalls negativity produces is the plan. This my inner call to action.

It won’t be easy. Florida is such a weird state. It’s diverse melting pot is, at times, exhausting.

I take comfort in the fact that periods of hardships strengthen resolve and make families better when they emerge from a struggle. My friend Geraldo is doing so much better. His recovery brings tears to my eyes. My brother is settling into life as a divorced father. I wish him patience and compassion to continue giving the girls a healthy upbringing.

And now I look to David, my loyal husband, an offer a humble plea. After rehabbing our reps in Florida, I hope we can visit your family on the West Coast. Our eight years together has not been equitable in meeting the in-laws. I’d like to change that.

For the better, of course.

Koreshan State Historic Site

 

 

 





Paris Protocols

6 05 2017

On the eve of the French elections, I ponder my own fate.

Paris seems like a distant memory. We spent a week in the City of Light for my 44th birthday. It was everything one could hope for — history, food, culture and, of course, love. The weather was mild with cool air and clear skies. At night I went to sleep inside an apartment with an Eiffel Tower view. What more could anyone ask for?

Well, there was a slight distraction as the American Presidential campaign drew to a conclusion. And the vendor operating a tram into the Versailles Gardens would only take cash. Other than that, our glass was more than half full.

Paris will be cherished. I am determined.

Six months after our visit, I am still seeking to publish this adventure. Our apartment company has a nice collection of units sprinkled throughout Paris. In October we stayed on the Left Bank, strolling every morning through the Parc du Champ de Mars with Gustave’s towering Eiffel serving as our guide. This was David’s first visit to Paris and I was glad to be there as his faithful partner.

Our breakfast at Les Deux Magots was a dream come true. We successfully negotiated a table outside in the sun. I bought a New York Times from the newsstand on the corner and as we munched on buttery crossiants and jambone church bells rang out from the nearby cathedral. David — using his fancy technology — would discover culinary jewels later, but on this morning, I let history be my guide and risked getting a touristy result.

It is interesting to see now how some describe the cafe. Wikipedia, for example, refers to Les Deux Magots as a famous cafe that had a reputation as a rendezvous for literary genius and intellectual elites. Now, the free encyclopedia reads, Les Deux Magots is simply a “popular tourist destination.”

When something becomes too well liked does that mean it loses its edge? Les Deux Magots, despite its gorgeous surroundings — and believe me there were gorgeous patrons on the morning we arrived — is no longer avant guarde? Surely, you jest.

The French elect their next President this weekend. I hope to return to see the Republic unite around a new leader. France is a world power. At one time, it’s flag flew over Louisiana, Florida and much of the Caribbean. Like many great nations, it took an uprising by the people to force a new plan of action. In Versailles, we witnessed the opulence of Louis XIV first hand. The Sun King he is known as. Indifferent to the suffering of the people, so the story goes. Eventually the people would rise up. His palace now a museum to obsence wealth.

As a write, I wonder what the future has in store. A restless man in his mid-forties looks at the world in many ways. Having reached understanding in some of life’s fundamental truths, I still seek to make a positive difference for humanity. There is an apartment in Paris that holds the key.

Perfect

 





Ready To Run

30 03 2017

Pat, Sen. Clemens and Daniel

Spring break in Tallahassee makes Florida’s Capital City seem like a ghost town.

The kids are gone, but the adults are in session. I rode up with Daniel looking for a story. Daniel knows quite a few stories.

“How do you know Daniel’s lying,” a fellow journalist asked. “His lips are moving,” they answered.

We picked up Pat in West Palm Beach. I was intrigued instantly. Of the three of us, Pat was the most recent winner. She now sits on the soil and water conservation board. Originally from New York by way of Virginia, Pat, a seasoned political operative, was disgusted with the election of Donald Trump.

We rode in a SUV Daniel called “Aggie.” It was a used car, probably about 15 years old, but it ran smooth and got us up to Tallahassee and back without breaking down.

Daniel and I split driving duties. Pat sat up front, chain-smoked and cursed Republicans. We solved the dreaded bathroom bill before entering Tallahassee city limits. At a truck stop off I-10, folks breezed into the gas station men’s room without wait, while the line for the women’s room was backed up and flowing into the adjoining McDonald’s.

“That’s how it is in the clubs too,” Daniel remarked.

So much for equality. When it comes to time spent in the powder room, on an average, ladies take longer, we observed.

Daniel had worked security at a Fort Lauderdale nightclub. It was one of his many jobs. It seemed as if he was perpetually running for some public office. He is always eager and full of energy. We had been planning this trip for a while. Daniel comes to Tallahassee ever year in some capacity or form. He started his career at Florida’s Capitol as an aide serving in offices of many South Florida lawmakers.

“This is the young man we’ve been mentoring,” said the legislative assistant as she introduced Daniel to the representatives from Lauderhill.

Daniel holds his own well in conversations, but tends to get over confidant at times. At the Democratic Women’s Club of Florida’s annual “Tally Days” conference, he was a principle organizer. He presented tips – via powerpoint – on how to effectively lobby lawmakers.

“Always be nice to staff and aides,” Daniel urged a room full of energized women at Tallahassee’s Sheraton Four Points Hotel.

While Daniel grabbed the microphone at nearly every opportunity, Pat stayed in the background. She dressed immaculately. Her hair, dress and makeup flawless. She was representing Palm Beach County after all. No small task.

Pat is a senior no doubt, but I would never ask her age. In group meetings with lawmakers, Pat demonstrated a keen understanding of the issues concerning our environment.

But more importantly, Pat is tough. She is battle tested. She’s a winner.

I also found her at times a bit angry.

She did not like the way Hillary Clinton went down and there was a sense Pat was fighting to avenge Hillary’s dignity.

Pat’s most intriguing text to me during our visit to Tallahassee was this:

Consider very carefully what is gossip, what is self serving and what’s in it for them.

Sage advice, indeed.





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…..