Hard Candy – The Appearance of Clean

Last week I alluded to my mom perhaps making me a touch OCD in regards to the holidays and cleaning, namely in telling me Santa’s elves checked inside my dresser drawers to make sure I hadn’t simply stuffed things inside to give the appearance of clean. This is how I ended up taking a stroll down Gabber-memory lane this past week.

See, my mom’s lecture about elves has stayed with me in two ways: One, every holiday I have a 1972 Elf on the Shelf (I call him EOTS, pronounced E-Otis) who comes out in December to wreak havoc on things (some say it’s projecting; I prefer to call it “creating non-compulsive elf-related experiences”); and two, I have a list of things I must do before the new year. These things are cleaning-related, but not in the “clean the toilets and wash the floors” sense of the word. No, my holiday cleaning goes a little deeper, and this year it includes reorganizing my office (a/k/a the “Bat Cave”) closet.

So starting the day after Christmas, I dug into that closet, pulling out old papers, organizing a yarn stash, trying to make sense of a plenitude of cords and cables, and marveling at the crap I’d chosen to save instead of toss. Then I found a clear blue box that I assumed had warranties in it (because I’d stacked new ones on top of it throughout the year with the intention of filing them “when I had the chance”). When I opened it, though, I found old reporter notebooks and notes from different articles over the years.

I sighed when I read a folder of notes about 49th Street, one page of which contained a great quote about 49th Street being the “mother-in-law at a bachelor party.” I also found a bunch of promises St. Petersburg’s former police chief and a bunch of “great day in St. Petersburg” propaganda from former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker. Then I found the Uniform Crime Reports for St. Petersburg, broken down by census district, which made me thankful that both men are long gone.

The next folder in the blue bin had notes about Gulfport’s mooring field. These notes are so old the paper had yellowed – that’s how long we’ve been talking about sinking moorings in Gulfport. I didn’t bother even keeping those, because I have more faith that St. Petersburg’s current mayor will do something positive for the poorest (and historically black) sections of town than I do that Gulfport City Council will ever create a mooring field.

I found, too, my notes on the one instance in time where a Gulfport police officer acted inappropriately and helped ruin one young man’s life in a desperate attempt to win some stupid custody battle. This happened before my tenure at the paper, and the man is long gone from our force (and hopefully any force), as is the police chief who opted not to launch an internal affairs investigation on the officer. I kept those notes, anyway – not because I plan to write about that incident any more for the Gabber, but because I believe the young man in question may have a bigger story to tell and one day I’d like to help him tell it.

Not everything stays, though. I tossed the Pasadena Yacht and Country Club lawsuit information from 2004, as well as the mayoral election paperwork for Mike Yakes, Clark Scherer and Marlene Shaw. I hesitated only slightly before doing the same thing with the Ward Two race between Christine Brown, Michele King and Courtland Yarborough.

By the time I looked into an empty blue box, I had a blueprint for 2015 in somewhat tidy piles on the floor before me. The sagas of Midtown, Childs Park and 49th Street continue, as does Gulfport’s waterfront and our (thankfully) weakening belief that we don’t really need the waterfront to make us a vibrant town. Everything I kept – and I didn’t mention everything here – I kept because they are unfinished stories.

Mayor Sam Henderson recently suggested the lack of an election in Gulfport meant people were pleased with the job council was doing. While the lack of an election does indicate people aren’t unhappy – or, at a minimum, aren’t displeased enough to take action – that doesn’t mean we don’t have issues we aren’t addressing. We’ve stopped talking about the tough issues, like 49th Street or the water quality in Boca Ciega Bay, because the answers aren’t apparent and they aren’t problems we can easily solve – if we can solve them at all. So we shove them into that big blue box in the back of the closet, along with the old cameras and our grandmother’s clock, and we close the door. So when people come into the room, they think, “Hey, this place looks great.” And it does, as long as we don’t open the closet door.

But maybe it’s time we played elf.

Hard Candy is an opinion column written by veteran reporter Cathy Salustri. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Gabber publishers, staff or advertisers. Contact Cathy here.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.