I’m buying the Gabber!

Happy May, Florida fans! 

How’s your Florida pandemic going? I’m spending a good amount of time in my garden (current crops-in-progress include beans, datil peppers, Everglades tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, loofa, and strawberries) and wondering why the weather’s so mild. 

Oh, and I’m buying a newspaper. 

Some of you may have read that I’m under contract to buy the Gabber Newspaper. The Gabber is a longstanding Gulfport tradition, published every Thursday.

That’s big news, and while both the Tampa Bay Times and Creative Loafinghave covered it, I’d like to tell you about how I made this decision and what it means for my life as a writer and speaker. So let’s go back to March, when the Gabber announced that, because of COVID-19-related advertising losses, they had no choice but to cease publication. This bothered me more than I expected; I worked for the Gabber Newspaper from 2003-2015, and I couldn’t quite picture Gulfport and the surrounding communities — South Pasadena, the beaches, and St. Petersburg — without the Gabber. 

wrote a piece for the Tampa Bay Times about the Gabber closing, and soon began receiving emails from people, asking what they could do. Among the emails were a few from people who knew the Reicharts, so I forwarded those along. Those exchanges led to a discussion of whether or not they’d sell the paper, and, after much discussion in our home, with my CPA, and with the current owners, my husband and I decided yes, buying the Gabber made sense.

Until the sale closes, I’ve assumed responsibility for the day-to-day running of the paper, and I’ve brought back the former editor, one of the former reporters, and hired a designer recently laid off from another newspaper. We’re publishing online daily, but on a limited basis until advertising picks up again. 

Everyone on the new team believes in Gulfport and the Gabber as much as I do. Over the next few months we’ll hire a salesperson and counter help, hopefully move into a new space, and resume publishing the print version of the weekly paper. 

But back to the Florida aspects of my life. What happens with my next book? My fiction? My lectures at Eckerd and elsewhere?

That’s all staying put. Writing and talking about Florida is as much a part of me as breathing, and I would be quite sad if that ended. No doubt, as the paper weathers the pandemic and I adjust to owning it, it’s going to take a good chunk of my time, but that’s OK, because I’ve found I need non-writing work to write well.

Some writers, like Stephen King, can sit down at the start of a business day and write. I have tried to do that, but it doesn’t work for me. I sit there and nitpick at words or — worse — don’t type anything at all. 

What does work for me is engaging the less-creative part of my brain early in the day. Only then, after the sun’s gone down and my left brain is wiped out, can I focus on writing. This is how I’ve become a spreadsheet junkie. I love to make spreadsheets and work out formulas during the day. Perhaps my regimented left brain needs to get a workout before the right brain side of me activates? 

Regardless of why that system works for me, it does. As long as I don’t have to write during the day, I can write at night, and that’s when my writing is at its strongest, too. I’m still working through the editing process on the next book, and when that isn’t occupying my time, I’m working on my fiction. (Beta readers, please reach out if you don’t receive chapters six and seven by Tuesday night!)

I’m looking forward to this new chapter of my life just as much as I’m anticipating seeing you all at a book signing or Florida lecture soon. 

One last thing — some people have asked if they can help. If  you feel so moved to support the Gabber as we move forward, there are three ways you can do so:

1. Buy prepaid advertising gift cards that people can redeem at the 2016 advertising rates. Businesses are buying these, but so are people who want to help their favorite restaurant/salon/shop — they’re giving them to local businesses. When they do that, they help two businesses: the Gabber, and whoever receives the gift card. Buy prepaid advertising gift cards of any amount here.

2. Donate to keep the paper running again now. People who simply want to donate to the paper now can do so at our Indiegogo fundraiser. None of this money goes towards the purchase of the paper; rather, it goes instead to pay the paper’s current expenses, including payroll. If the sale somehow falls through, it will go to the current owners to pay their bills. 

3. Make a low- or no-interest loan. While we’re using some of our own money to buy the paper, we’re also financing part of the sale. We’ve benefitted from a few private loans, with interest rates between 0-5% and a one-year grace period. Please email me if you want to help in this way, because I’d rather pay any of you interest than a bank. 

Stay safe, and we’ll see each other soon-

Walking in a time of Coronavirus

Every day I walk. Before coronavirus — and that’s how I think of everything now, before and after coronavirus — these walks happened sandwiched between work, a way to escape the dozens of daily tasks pulling at me. My FitBit compels me to walk 15,000 steps a day, bumped up from 12,000 right before it all went to hell earlier this month. The steps don’t matter as much as the mileage: I shoot for between four and six miles every day, and, with little exception, I get those steps in Gulfport.

If I take the most direct route, it’s a mile from my house to O’Maddy’s, which is across the street from Boca Ciega Bay. I rarely take the direct route because — as the savvy mathematician will note — that would only give me two miles, half of my minimum. Before COVID-19, I’d walk through downtown, but it’d be a challenge to get the steps in because I’d stop at the Beach Bazaar to say hello, or at Stella’s for a shrimp omelet, or Sumitra for coffee. Yes, I was moving, but the shrimp and feta omelet with a side of grits erased any  good the extra steps did. Also, El Cap wondered why it took me four hours to walk three miles. 

So I started walking elsewhere. Now, Gulfport’s not a large city; geographically, it takes up two-and-half square miles between St. Petersburg and the unincorporated area of Pinellas County. If this leads you to believe, as my friend Amanda said, that I’d run out of new places to walk, think again. 

Gulfport has alleys. Lots and lots of alleys. They’re not always the prettiest, and they’re rife with that fine Myakka soil, which is to say I have to wear actual shoes (not my Columbia flip flops) if I want to walk the alleys. That’s fine; on the days where I feel the most anxious, I’ll walk seven or eight miles, and I only did that once in those flip flops before my knees reminded me that age may be a state of mind, but not for them.

Even when I’m not anxiously pacing the city for eight miles, there’s plenty to discover on these walks. Yesterday I found a cul-de-sac I had no idea existed. Last week I found a stash of dock pilings, free for the taking. Since January, I’ve found about six bucks in spare change, including a five dollar bill. I’ve listened to about four or five audiobooks, although I can’t bring myself to cue up The Handmaid’s Tale right now.

I love this town, I really do.

I’d forgotten, I think, how much fun it can be to roam through Gulfport with no real purpose. I’m finding Gulfport Easter Eggs everywhere — an alley fence decorated with old signs, a mural hiding in plain sight, little fairies perched in tree branches. Every street, every alley, every walk is a game of hide and seek, and I never know what I’ll find. Skeleton wearing headphones and Spock ears? Check. A fence with a Dr. Seuss quote? Check. A bejeweled mailbox? Check. I see so many of these I started posting them on the Gulfport Chamber’s Instagram page with the hashtag #GulfportScavengerHunt. Nothing soothes my soul more, it seems, than seeing Gulfport doing what Gulfport does, and these little surprises on my walks epitomize what I love so much about this city. 

Those pilings? When I mentioned them to my neighbor, she casually asked me where they were. I assumed she wanted some (we both have an affinity for nautical decor.) Not even 15 minutes later, she came to our door and told El Cap she had a present for us; she and her wife took the kids and their big-ass pickup truck to get three for us (look for a new mailbox soon!) That five dollar bill? I didn’t feel right keeping it, so I went to A Friend Who Bakes. El Cap has a scone problem and Brittney is his enabler; I figured I found the money in Gulfport, so I should spend it in Gulfport. 

These walks, in more ways than one, are a balm for my soul. Walking Beach Boulevard these days is panic-inducing; Gulfport’s downtown looks like it used to look when I moved here 17 years ago: Plenty of parking, a few — but not many — people on the streets, and businesses devoid of customers. Those who aren’t open all display a variation on a sign we all know well, about COVID-19-related closures. I can’t stop in Stella’s for an omelet on a whim (although I can get one to go.) I can’t walk along our beach. I can’t stop and see Deacon at GulfPerk, order a chai, and pretend I’m not going to order a gluten-free donut. All the things I can’t do as I walk downtown trigger a fight or flight response in my brain and, honestly, the shortness of breath that comes with panic attacks is not what I need right now. 

Here’s the thing, though: Walking through the rest of Gulfport makes those walks downtown less panic-inducing. Everything is horrible, but at least we know everything is temporary. 

Everything, I hope, except Gulfport. I would miss the walks.

Why I will vote for Bruce Plesser today

A while back, after Bruce Plesser qualified to run for the Ward 1 seat in Gulfport, he called me. He asked what I thought of him.

I had the words on my tongue: “I think you’re a professional shit disturber” — and then it hit me: that’s exactly what people have said about me, most notably when I worked for The Gabber and was paid to write an opinion column. It was, in essence, my job to get people talking and thinking. That meant, in many people’s eyes, I was a “professional shit disturber” and often times that one facet of my whole self was all people chose to see. They didn’t see my passion, my kindness, my vulnerability — or my intentions.

So I closed my mouth, not wanting to dash off a judgment based on a person I’d never spoken a word to in real life, and, instead, I listened to Bruce — the person, not the online persona — and I found that I liked him. I mean, he seems like a nice guy to have political debate with. A little self-centered, maybe, but given that he’s running for office, he kind of has to be, and it’s not as though anyone’s ever accused his opponent of looking outward more than inward.

That all said, if the past two years had gone differently, I’d probably still vote for his opponent, the incumbent. But I’m not. And here’s why:

I’ve not spent any time in person with Bruce, but I have with his opponent. And I know the incumbent’s heart because he’s pretty ballsy about showing his true colors, especially when it comes to national and state politics, and even St. Pete’s mayoral race where he bought advertising to trash Kriseman (and, hey, isn’t Kriseman a liberal Jew? I’m sure there’s no connection there because we all know the current national leadership is all about love, amirite?).

As of the 2016 presidential election and the hate mongering it’s allowed to bubble forth, I’m no longer a moderate Dem — I’m way the hell out in left field and I’m not coming back anytime soon. And you know what? I’ll take anyone over a gun-toting Trump supporter who doesn’t believe all humans deserve basic healthcare. Bruce’s opponent has always been nice enough to me, and Gulfport elections are nonpartisan in name, but I cannot, in good conscience, vote for someone who supports Trump and the party that put him there.

Bruce isn’t perfect. I’ve talked to him on the phone and I have seen him on social media. But I’ve watched his opponent try and trash St. Pete’s mayor on social media, all to try get a man in office who supports Trump. I’ll take a human with imperfections and a liberal soul and conscience over a human with imperfections and a Trump-supporting agenda. I can’t vote for someone who supports a political party that looks the other way on machine guns killing kids, or pushes the idea that Planned Parenthood sold or sells baby parts. 

Bruce isn’t perfect. I’ve seen it online, sure. But I’ve also seen his opponent use his station on council to bash President Obama when we wanted to support LGBT rights on a national level. Tell me again how Gulfport city council elections are nonpartisan?

Bruce isn’t perfect. But we currently have two Trump supporters on city council and if we lose a liberal majority in next year’s election, I see a lot of things we all love about Gulfport — diversity embraced, programming for people who can’t otherwise afford it, and social programming — on the chopping block to cut taxes (which are minimal compared to county, school board and water management district taxes). Even if Bruce loses today, we still have the liberal majority (Yay, Paul Ray, Michael Fridovich and Mayor Sam), but what happens next year? What if someone beats Fridovich next year who’s like Bruce’s opponent, politically? What happens if Sam chooses not to run again and we get the equivalent of Rick Baker as mayor?

I can assure you the new Republican party is working long and hard to keep every republican in office, at every station. Democrats and all Regan Republicans need to get our shit together and keep every Dem, everywhere, in office — and get more of them in office whenever we can.

See, I’ve endorsed Mr. Plesser’s opponent in the past, but it’s a new world. I no longer can support someone who has done some good things for Gulfport when they’ve been clear and vocal that they do support 45 — a man aligned with Putin, who blames Jews for any interference in the 2016 elections, a man who says gun control isn’t the issue, “racial disparity” is, a man who feels that money is above all else. So, no disrespect to the incumbent, who will most likely win because, well, incumbents rarely lose in Gulfport, but my core values will no longer allow me to support any republican, anywhere.

Good luck, Bruce Plesser for Gulfport City Council. I’m voting for you today. If you can vote in Gulfport, I encourage you to do the same. Don’t do it for me, or even for Bruce. Do it for #theResistance.


The cow who hoofed it away from police during Hurricane Irma

In Gulfport. Because of course it is.

“Anyone missing a cow? Found in the area of 19th Avenue and 55th Street. So far we can’t catch it,” they posted. You can read the responses here, none of which were from someone ‘fessing up to owning the cow.

(Note: Officers did manage to catch an escaped pig in October of 2014, so their livestock retrieval record boasts at least one victory.)

Gulfport police chief Rob Vincent told CL he had “no idea” what happened to the cow.

“Never saw it again after that,” he said via text. “Heard a rumor it was a contraband Gulfport resident.”

It is indeed illegal to own cows in Gulfport, but Coby — whom the Goff family does not own — found his way home before getting captured. 

This article initially appeared in Creative Loafing.

Duckopalypse: The Lit Crawl

Ducks. Because Gulfport, that’s why.

Last night I read at a Lit Crawl in St. Petersburg’s Grand Central District Association. With so many of the writers hailing from local media like the Tampa Bay Times and Creative Loafing, there was no small amount of Florida-related stories. For longtime followers of this blog, this may not be new information, as I drew heavily from both my blog and my reporting at the Gabber Newspaper. Here’s what I read, and yes, it is about ducks. #BecauseGulfport, right?


This weekend marks the one year anniversary of perhaps the best headline I ever had the privilege of writing.

The Gabber Newspaper, for those of you who don’t exist within the realm of the small-town nirvana that is Gulfport, is the weekly paper that serves the roughly 12,527 people who live in town. That paper was my home for almost 13 years, and even though I don’t write for them anymore, I still live in Gulfport. I love my town; nevertheless, Gulfportians – and that’s what they call themselves, Gulfportians – Gulfportians seem to have this “live every day like it’s a full moon” mentality.

Now don’t worry, I’m not going to hit you with “Weird Florida” stories. I’m not going to tell you how weird or wacky or oddball we are in the Sunshine State. I’m going to tell you about news stories I had the, uh, opportunity to cover in Gulfport. And we aren’t so much weird as we are – well, we’re a small town. I believe these sorts of things happen in larger towns, too, but there’s more room to ignore them. Here, we all just sort of bump into each other over and over again, and so it seems like we have more unusual things than, say, Baltimore.

Because the Gabber is a small paper, I had the wonderful task (and ethical dilemma) of covering news and penning an opinion column called Hard Candy. What Gulfportians now call either “Duckopalypse” or “WaterFowlGate” started with a Hard Candy column I wrote called “The Duck Snatcher”. In it, I wrote about the Pekin ducks and a cute duckling that had taken up residence at the pond by my house. The ducks had disappeared and locals were murmuring that someone had stolen them.

Cute, right? I mean, the alleged duck snatching aside, ducklings make for a warm and fuzzy topic.

That’s what I thought, until I found myself writing a headline Hefty Bill For Duck Theft not soon after.

Seriously. Bigger papers – papers with budgets for things like more than one editor and newsrooms with doors and things like that – bigger papers make the copy editors write the headlines. I wrote my own headlines, and I’ll be honest with you, it was fun. Sometimes I’d come up with them on my own; other times, I’d post a one-sentence synopsis of the story on Facebook and let my Facebook friends decide. I wish I could claim this one as mine, but it was someone on Facebook who suggested it.

So, OK, I had written the column and thought to myself, well, that’s a damn shame about the ducks but we’ll never know what happened. But then my phone rang and it was our chief of police, Rob Vincent.

“Hey, uh, I just want to let you know, we caught a duck-napper last night” he says.

I remember this so clearly: It was a Friday afternoon and I was looking forward to the end of the workday. I was standing in the kitchen and I just stopped and said, “Are you fucking with me?”

He was not fucking with me. One of the other cops told me later, “I read your Hard Candy and thought, ‘these people are high.’ And then Parks” – that’s another officer – “catches somebody stealing ducks the next night.”

So I write the Hefty Bill for Duck Theft story and the Chief Vincent contacts me again, but not because they’ve caught more duck-nappers but because he wants to let me know technically, it wasn’t duck theft because – and I quote – “that would imply the ducks belong to somebody.”

I realize that sounds all “born free” and very drum circle-esque for a police officer, but remember that in Gulfport, we’re now into week three of Duckapolypse and the duck nappers – excuse me, at this point they’re alleged duck nappers – are threatening to sue, and everyone’s a little uptight.

Oh, yeah, didn’t I mention that? 13 years with that local paper and the only time I ever wrote anything that made someone get a lawyer and threaten to sue was the Hefty Bill for Duck Theft article. They ultimately dropped the case, but for a while there I was pretty sure I was going to have to testify in court about ducks. And duck thefts.

WaterfowlGate – and trust me, this is one of many stories I loved writing – only got weirder from there. One time and one time only in my career have I promised to protect the identity of a source from the police. A source who feared legal prosecution because he – or she – previously harbored ducks and knows the locations of other ducks currently in what I can only call “protective custody.”

See, in Gulfport, it’s illegal to keep ducks in captivity, and this person was part of an underground duck network.

Ah, but first? The headline: Gulfport’s Duck Underground Fears Prosecution

Here’s my lede:

“Apparently in response to recent press about duck activity at Gulfport’s Tomlinson Park, local duck sympathizers, fearing legal repercussions, have returned a raft of Pekin ducks to the pond.”

That’s what you call a group of ducks, by the way – a raft.

This duck sympathizer was one of three “safe houses” – you know what? I’m just going to quote the article:

“This duck sympathizer is one of at least three home who provide assistance, nourishment and shelter to orphaned, injured or malnourished Pekin ducks.

“The duck sympathizer tells The Gabber that the unorganized underground network of duck rescuers takes in orphaned ducks … This unofficial group of duck guardians keeps the ducks safe and well fed until such time as the ducks can survive on their own at the pond.”

“One duck rescuer says that the two ducks that disappeared the first week of June are still missing from the raft, and the Gabber could not match photos of the missing ducks with any current ducks in Tomlinson Park. The fate of these two ducks remains unknown. The Gabber’s duck source says they do not believe the people accused of duck snatching (who could not be reached for comment) have a history of duck rescuing. 

“The rescuers have released the majority of the ducks back into the pond, the duck sympathizer says, because in light of recent coverage in The Gabber, they feared the city would charge them with illegally keeping ducks.

“Whereas Gulfport changed its laws a few years ago to allow for chicken ownership, it does not allow for duck husbandry.”

In about 15 years, there’s going to be a young lady in therapy because her mom had to release the ducks because of me.

That was, I thought, pretty much the end of WaterFowlGate, but some time later, I was in the Horse & Jockey, which is actually not a Gulfport bar – and I’m talking to a friend, and I make an offhanded joke about Gulfport’s sewers being on the brink of collapse but as long as there weren’t ducks trapped in them, no one cared. Half-joking, she responds that Gulfportians don’t notice city issues that aren’t duck-related.

I start to laugh, but mid-chortle, a woman I’d never met before approached our table and interrupted with, “You’re talking about ducks. You must be with The Gabber.”

We spent the next seven minutes discussing duck-related issues. I finally asked her about the sewers and how she felt about their current state of disrepair, and she developed a pressing need to be elsewhere.

It’s not all bad, though. I love my town, even if I don’t write for the small-town paper anymore. A local restaurant put duck breast on the specials menu in my honor, and when a goat was kidnapped – you see what I did there – a year later, there was no question who was covering the story.

That headline, by the way, was So This Goat Walks Into a Bar, but that’s another story for another lit crawl.

Karma and the Street Catfish

Karma, man. What a bitch that chick is.

So here’s what happened: A friend of mine – Joanne* – has a duck, and this duck is becoming a man, so to speak. To help protect another animal in her household who is the current object of this duck’s affection, she says she’s going to find a girl duck.

For many reasons, I oppose this. Namely because it’s the equivalent of getting your teenage boy a prostitute, but also because ducks are against the law in Gulfport and at some point she’s going to get in trouble. She, of course, knows about the illegalities, and she’s a smart lady who understands the risk. However, she’s a soft touch. That’s how she ended up with damn duck in the first place. This morning, I tried to beat her into submission about this whole “duck sex worker” scenario.

“You’re going to be the crazy duck lady,” I said. “It started with a chicken. Now you have multiple chickens, a parrot, and a duck, and you want a second duck to help relieve the urges of the first. I can see how this is going to go down if Larry dies first. You’re going to become a collector. We’re going to have to have a damn intervention. That won’t work, so next thing you know, I’ll come home one day and see the NewsChannel 8 truck outside your house as county workers carry out the ducks. You can’t let this happen. You can’t be the crazy duck lady.”

It’s important to note here I referred to Joanne as “crazy” in the way her love of animals translates into an extreme behavior. Keep reading.

We had some rain today, by which I mean we had a deluge. In between rain storms, El Cap looked up from his computer and said, “there’s a fish in the street.” I was mildly alarmed until I remembered we lived in Gulfport and went to take a closer look.

On the Street Where You Live
The lessor-known Gulfport Street Catfish

Sure enough, our neighborhood was lousy with catfish. Apparently the flooded storm sewers had washed freshwater catfish from Tomlinson pond and into the streets. When the water went down, the fish had nowhere to go.

At first, I shooed them away, because it’s way easier to catch a catfish with a fishing pole than it is with my hands. They kept squirting out of my hand. Once I figured out that by grasping them firmly with my fingers in front of one fin but not the other I could keep a hold on them, I was able to start tossing them back in the flooded swale (which has a storm sewer drain.)

I freely admit I may just be prolonging the inevitable – I don’t know if the fish will make it to the drain when the water recedes – after all, fish are known for their tastiness, not their intelligence – but I couldn’t stand to see scores of fish suffocating on the street.

And that is how my neighbors and passers-by came to see me, standing in a sundress in the rain, grabbing fish out the street and tossing them back into a flooded storm ditch.

Like calls to like, I suppose. Crazy is as crazy does. Pick your platitude. I brought this on myself, I know.

Street Catfish
Cthulhu, is that you?

Bonus moment: About an hour after what El Cap calls “the Catfish Brigade”, the rain broke and he and I took the dogs for a walk, where we returned three more catfish to water. Best moment was when El Cap was trying to catch a catfish who had flip-walked into the middle of the street and a guy pedaled past us.

“What’s that?” Random Bicyclist asked me.

“Freshwater catfish,” I answered. (I don’t know why I felt the need to explain the “freshwater” part, but just chalk it up to “this day is surreal as shit” and leave it at that, shall we?)

“Oh,” he said, and nodded. “OK.”


*Names have been changed to protect the illegal ducks.

Gulfport Police Chief Speaks on Crime Watch (Bonus Track: Hard Candy, Redux)

Believe it or not, my voice is not the loudest and my post about some horrible things a (now former) member of a Gulfport Crime Watch page posted – and a (now former) admin refused to delete is not what spurred the city to act. My voice is but one of many in this instance, because Gulfport city management and police heard from several residents and business owners who were shocked and scared by the statement and – more importantly – the (now former) admin’s assertion that he “saw nothing” that warranted action.

Responding to complaints from members of a local crime watch Facebook page – I can’t share the link because the page has gone “underground” and more on that in a bit – the chief took some steps to fix the problem. I encourage you to read his latest blog post. If you really, truly can’t be bothered to read it, just know this: He reiterated that while GPD tries to help any crime watch type of group as resources allow, this group is not a city group. He also added that, in light of recent events, the city required the group sign a standard agreement (well, it’s standard in Gulfport) that includes agreeing they won’t violate the city’s human rights ordinance. Effectively, the next time this happens, this group can’t use city facilities anymore.

I also found the last paragraph quite interesting:

“While I cannot speak to the status of the ‘Gulfport Community Crime Watch’, it is important to note that this is not the only such group in town. Crime watch is, at its very heart, a simple and informal arrangement between neighbors. If anyone is interested in forming a crime watch organization anywhere in Gulfport, please feel welcome to contact us for information on how to get started.”

If I had to guess, I would guess our chief perhaps wants to start a real crime watch, possibly one with trained volunteers and ongoing education. If I’m correct, it’s about damn time. Gulfport does have one other Facebook group that has less bickering, casting aspersions and placing blame and more “be on the lookout” type of neighborhood watch bulletins, and while it’s not run the police department or partnered with them in any way, you may want to hop over and like the page. I mean, it isn’t nearly as entertaining a read as the other crime watch page, but it does seem to post more actual information about crime and safety (and lost dog) related occurrences, so that’s kind of useful.

I suggest this because Gulfport Crime Watch may not let you join their group if you can’t prove yourself. Before I continue, let me be clear: Many of my neighbors and friends and acquaintances belong to that group, and when I refer to Gulfport Crime Watch, I refer to the people managing the page, not the entire group. Which is now a “closed” Facebook group that has apparently decided to conduct interviews before allowing people to join the group. Now, I’m no longer in the group – apparently I’m part of the problem, which I’ve heard before from better – but from screen shots I’ve seen of the discussion taking place over there, the entire group gets to vote on every new member. That’s 218 people as of this afternoon, and before the admin will approve your request to join, you have to state why you want to join, whether you live in Gulfport, and so forth. If they determine your interest is, in essence, pure, then they will allow you to join.

They are currently debating whether or not to allow the editor of the local paper and the local reporter “in” to the group. I would suggest to them that they probably go ahead and give those two a pass, even though neither lives in Gulfport and even though one of them is a good friend. One of the former group administrators wrote “I remember a reporter. Kinda iffy”  and I’m pretty sure he meant me, which is funny, because some of the posts in this group tell me the leadership fails to realize that had the admin deleted the first comment, there would have been no blog post, no city action, no cadre of angry and fearful citizens calling the city… in short, their lack of accountability hurt them, not my pulling back the sheet.

Making a crime watch group a “members-only” scenario smacks a little bit of a good ol’ boys club, and I’m not sure they aren’t making a whole lot more trouble for themselves. The new admin – who really does seem to want to get things refocused and under control but some of the inmates aren’t having any of that nonsense now that he’s giving them a voice in how they run the asylum – is so busy making rules and voting people on or off the island, it doesn’t seem there’s much crime watch going on over there anymore.

I hope fervently someone takes Chief Vincent up on his offer to start a legitimate crime watch program, one he feels confident supporting.

Some days I can’t believe humans actually managed to put a man on the moon, I really can’t.

Opossum. And Racism. But Opossum.

Here’s a cute picture of a tiny opossum Scuppers brought me as a gift (don’t worry, the opossum was safely returned to nature.)

Ralph the opossum
Totally adorable. Filled with fleas, but adorable. Hold onto that for the next few paragraphs, OK?

You’re going to need all that cuteness to remind you sometimes good things happen and make you smile.  Because, quite honestly, this post will upset you. It should upset you.

Sometimes it’s harder to stay silent than I would like. This is one of those times.

Gulfport has a crime watch group. It is not, I should note, sanctioned by the police in any way, something Gulfport Police Chief Rob Vincent has gone out of his way to stress to the media. However, they use city facilities rent free (they meet in a facility for which the city typically charges rental fees), and on-duty police officers attend the meetings and speak and answer questions. In addition, their Facebook group has a shot of the entire Gulfport Police Department as its cover photo.

Before you read any further, please hear this: The Gulfport, Florida police department consists of good and kind men and women, and in 13 years of working with them, both professionally as a journalist and personally as a resident, I’ve never found a shred of anything to suggest we have an institutional problem with race relations in our departments. Never. Our officers are not part of this problem.

This post appeared on the Crime Watch Facebook group last week. Wednesday, I believe.

Gulfport Crime Watch
I had to read this several times to make sure someone was that hateful. Yup. They are.

Sundown signs, for those of you who neither enrolled in Southern History college courses nor grew up in a town that had, as we now call it, “racial issues”, warned black people that if they dared set foot in that town after the sun set, they’d… well, quite honestly, they’d be lynched. Except they didn’t say “black” if they mentioned black people. They used another word, which I will not post here.

I'm ashamed of what I had to type into Google to find this sign.
I’m ashamed of what I had to type into Google to find this sign.

I left this crime watch group several months back. I grew tired of hearing people complain about “those kids” from Childs Park (which means black kids, because apparently Gulfport has no black people, which comes as a huge shock to many of my neighbors who – spoiler alert – happen to be black.) I got so tired of being angry at the page admins for allowing this and citing “free speech” which (another spoiler alert) isn’t what that means at all, Mr. Tim Spencer* (Tim Spencer runs the Facebook page and, as far as I can tell, the physical group).

But staying silent isn’t working. These people aren’t 87-year-old grandfathers who might spew a racial belief from their childhood but not fully understand it. They know what they’re saying. They’re the new breed of racist. They’re the most dangerous kind, more dangerous than the Aryan Nation or people who walk around with swastikas inked on their arm, because unless they show their ass, we don’t know. They’re fostering hate and allowing hate speech and not giving a rat’s red ass about how the black people who read that post feel, not just about those people, but Gulfport and everyone who lives and loves here.

To my knowledge, the city seemed somehow unaware of this post until this weekend. A resident contacted the council, police chief, and city manager, and Ward Two councilperson Christine Brown contacted the city manager (by the terms of Gulfport’s charter, elected officials cannot talk to anyone but charter staff – the city manager, attorney and clerk – about city matters). I have high hopes the city will take appropriate action, although I’m uncertain what they can do.

As for you, you can email the city council, police chief and city manager and ask them to stop allowing this group to use city facilities for free. Ask them to stop providing on-the-clock officers to this group. Remind them Gulfport has a history of tolerance, not just that dark spot that every southern town seems to have. Tell them we want our past to stay past. You can email them all at once at this link.

Oh, yeah… one more thing: Mr. Dino Della Noce owns South Pinellas Bicycles, where El Cap and I bring our bikes for repair. He does excellent work. Unfortunately, now that I know he’s a crazy fucking racist, we need a new bike shop. I encourage no violence (of course) but if you patronize South Pinellas Bicycles, STOP. And tell everyone you know this is a dangerous man who wants to set our lovely town back in time 60 years.

Hate has no place in my town.

*”Free speech” means the government can’t throw you in jail for expressing an opinion, but even that has exceptions. The First Amendment to the US Constitution says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The first amendment refers to government only. Free speech does not mean any private venue must allow you to say what you want. It doesn’t mean you can incite violent acts, ever. It means when someone spews hate speech online, the page manager can delete it. In fact, if you don’t, I believe you can get sued. 

Vox Populi? Paging a Mister Vox Populi? (Hard Candy, Redux)

Yesterday a group called Gulfport Neighbors conducted a cleanup for a Gulfportian who couldn’t do for themselves. If you live in Gulfport, you likely know of the Gulfport Neighbors and the big-hearted woman behind the group who is adept at persuading the city and locals alike into helping make repairs and clean yards for elderly or physically disadvantaged residents. I do not know of a project this group has turned down, and I know they always need volunteers of all walks.
Yesterday, they coordinated two cleanups – one at a private home and one on Gulfport’s beach. Gulfport’s ward one council member, Dan Liedtke, browbeat his beach volleyball buddies into cleaning the beach (Note to those of you who don’t live in Florida: Yes, our politicians play beach volleyball. Also, our mayor’s our bartender and he has a band. Is that not how you do it up north?) and our ward three councilwoman, Yolanda Roman, rolled up her elegant sleeves and plunged her manicured hands into some tree limbs over on the other project.
I commend anyone who volunteers at these projects, elected or not. I also hear quite a bit of grumbling about why our other elected officials don’t help at these cleanups or, at the very least, why they don’t help in other ways.
To those people, please ponder this: We don’t elect people to do cleanups or glad-hand. We elect them to get shit done. So I’m not upset by the fact ALONE that only two council people helped yesterday. I wouldn’t be bothered if NONE of them helped at the actual events.
I am, however, deeply disturbed that none of the council seems inclined to do a damn thing to stop a cycle of “Don’t worry about it; Gulfport Neighbors will do it” when there’s someone in need of help.
Clearly, we need better social services in Gulfport, and, as far as cities go, we already have one of the better systems. It is not a system without flaws, without staffing issues, or without looming budget issues, but still, one of the better ones.
So where are our elected officials – the vox populi, if you will? Where are the people who should be paying enough attention to say, hey, why does Gulfport Neighbors have to do so many cleanups? Why are so many elderly people finding themselves alone in our great community? Do we need to find a better mechanism so things don’t reach critical mass for our older residents?
Because I realize two of our elected officials, Dan Liedtke and Christine Brown, likely aren’t liberal-minded enough, perhaps, to feel it is government’s job to step in with social services, I’d like to point out to them and others like them that these people do pay property taxes, they paid federal taxes (of which we get money for various things) and they pay utility taxes. So, in essence, they’re paying for services. We subsidize child care, we offer a library, we build parks  – we have lots of social and cultural services funded by city government, but not as many, perhaps, as we need for people with physical limitations that prevent them from caring for their property properly. What do these people get for their tax dollar?
I want to think like a Libertarian, I do, but try as I might, I cannot get behind the mindset that government should only provide the basic public safety services and even if I were, we (we being Gulfport) already offer social services, so let’s do it right. The Gulfport Multipurpose Senior Center has some services; perhaps we need to revisit what we should offer there. Do we need to think about possible solutions for homeowners in trouble with repairs and lawn maintenance? Should the city perhaps make it a condition of all contractors that they offer elderly residents the same rate the city gets, perhaps? I don’t know. I don’t have the answers. I know council doesn’t, either, but so far, I haven’t even seen them ask any questions or do anything beyond thank the Neighbors for their work. 
It’s time Gulfport city council starts asking for answers. Gulfport Neighbors is a triage group; they are not meant to be a cure. Gulfport city council, please take note. You’re our voice. If you can’t show up, fine.
But it would be nice to hear you speak up.

Why’d It Have to be Ducks? (Hard Candy Redux)

Last year, I joked that I was the official poultry reporter for the Gabber Newspaper. When the paper and I parted ways last month, I felt a twinge that my livestock days were over. But then the Universe grabbed me by the ear, twisted, and said, “Not so fast, girlie.”

This is not my duck. Honest. But I have a stake in its future.

So here’s what happened: I want chickens. Oh, I don’t want to own them. While I find poultry in general just delicious, the chicken component of that category disgusts me. They’re mean and they don’t taste that good, unless they’re fried in buttermilk. Their eggs, however, taste delicious. I love eggs in all forms: deviled, fried, hard-boiled, poached, scrambled, egg salad… You get the idea.

Now, as much as I don’t like chickens, I hate the idea of factory farming eggs or chickens, so when I buy eggs, I buy free-range eggs, which costs about $4 a dozen. For someone who loves eggs, that can get expensive, so I thought, hey, if I could get eggs from some of my chicken-rearing neighbors, I could save some money. The easiest way to make this happen was to buy two chickens myself and bribe my neighbor Leigh to raise them for me. I’ll buy her chicken food as she needs it, and in return, I get the eggs.

Why is her purse peeping?
Why is her purse peeping?

So last week I went with Leigh to get the chicks, because really, that’s the least I can do for my chicken surrogate, right? Before I leave my house to pick up Leigh, her husband Mike – who was in the midst of removing a load-bearing wall from our kitchen area – begged me, “Please don’t let her bring home a duck” and I thought what the hell? because ducks are illegal as pets in Gulfport and Leigh has always seemed sane. Well, sane for Gulfport. It’s a sliding scale. Also, we were getting chickens. I assume Mike is confused, and I assure him I can keep his sweet little wife from buying a duck. I tell him he has nothing to fear and encourage him to resume focusing all his energy in making absolutely certain my roof won’t collapse when we remove the wall separating the kitchen and living room.

When will I learn?

Leigh and I walk into Animal House, and she shows me the chicks and explains which ones give which colored eggs. She’s kind of an egg color expert. And then she shows me this duckling, and I feel a vague sense of alarm. I imagine it’s how men feel when the woman they love walks into a room and asks, “Notice anything different?”

The lone duckling, I note, seems to be fairly listless, and also the object of much pecking. His feet are bloody. He’s missing down from his neck, where instead I see itty-bitty, duckling-sized scabs. He tries to stand move away from the chicks, who think he tastes just delicious, thank you, but every time he stands, the chicks see the blood on his feet and go crazy pecking. I remembers one of the reasons I don’t like factory-farmed chickens is the practice of clipping their beaks, and all of a sudden I also remember why they clip the beaks. My throat gets thick, memories of this book wash over me, and I tell Leigh I’m going to look at the adoptable puppies, because I am about 45 seconds from having to explain to El Cap why I bought a duck, and right now we’re in the middle of remodeling a kitchen and I honestly don’t think he can handle livestock, too.

When I stroll back over, Leigh is passionately arguing with the 15-year-old clerk about the state of the duckling’s health. He tells her the duckling is “just fine” and that it’s “normal” for it to be bloody and pecked at by chickens. Meanwhile, Leigh is texting a coworker who grew up on a farm, asking him to please save the duckling, and he texts her back “I have chickens. Chickens and ducks don’t get along.” Leigh reads this message, shows me, looks at the duckling trying to hide his open, bloody wounds from about 20 pecking chicks, and I sigh. I feel the steel jaws of the trap close.

“Who do we know who can take this duckling, because I can’t, Leigh. I have two hound dogs and two cats,” I tell her, thinking to myself: And El Cap. Calypso will kill the duck, El Cap will kill me, and the cats will feast on my remains.

And so a plan is born. Leigh is going to get the duck and find a home for it. I buy my chickens, Leigh buys the duck, and we head back to her house. And then I head home, poultry-free, where Mike pauses from shoring up my roof to give me a long, hard look.

“Do I own a duck?” he asks me, quietly and (I think) a little too calmly. I am suddenly aware of the preponderance of power tools – including a pneumatic nail gun – easily within Mike’s reach.

“It’s temporary,” I say, backing away slowly.

“The bird was temporary,” he says, and mutters a few other things I choose to interpret as love for his bride.

What Leigh didn’t tell me until later was that the scrawny, indifferent young store clerk also told her that if the chicks didn’t kill the duck by the next morning they’d likely have to do it themselves. And then she promised me she would never go to Animal House again, and I decided I wouldn’t, either, because really, the small animals they sell really shouldn’t be sold, not as pets. The best thing I can do is not give them my business, and the best thing Leigh can do for her marriage is stop going places where there are mistreated animals she feels compelled to “rescue.”

Leigh and Mike are keeping the duck, even though it’s illegal, because Mike (for all his big bad talk about not wanting it) named it, and everyone knows once you name something, you have to keep it. Which is why I never suggest baby names to my friends. And, apparently, no one’s going to arrest Leigh for the illegal duck, because that is kind of a dick thing to do, and if no one’s arresting the people who own the illegal pig (true story) or the goats (also a true story), who’s sending a duck rescuer to jail?

So, you know, everyone wins, except George, because that’s not a great name for a duck. I wanted to call him Lowell, but apparently I don’t get a vote. Which is fine. And, hey, I’ll have fresh eggs from Yasmin and Foghorn P. in just a few months.

Yasmin and Foghorn
Meet Yasmin and Foghorn. That’s not blur; that’s all fuzz, people.