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.

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.

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.

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. 

Hard Candy, Redux: Tear Down That Wall

When we (El Cap and I) decided to move back to the ‘port, I knew what I was getting myself into. Our little town may appear a waterfront ideal, but by the time we cautiously decided to look at two houses (one on Beach Boulevard and the other – the one we now call home – in the much-maligned “Ward Four”), I had covered Gulfport and its myriad of issues (and if you don’t live here, trust me, for a 2.5 square mile town, we have issues. The smaller the stakes, the bigger the drama and all that) for almost a decade. One of the biggest problems new Gulfportians have with Gulfport is that they visit for a weekend, fall in love with Beach Boulevard, buy a house largely on impulse, and then realize that our downtown is not representative of the town.

Oh, don’t misunderstand, Gulfport has plenty going for it – we live here, after all, and I’m glad I do – but despite our devil-may-care, anything-goes, “we’re a drinking town with a fishing problem”, hippie-meets-good-ol’-boy-vibe, the town is not perfect. Our non-brick streets look like a teenager’s pre-Acutane face, our sewers tend to fail (to be fair, the city’s started to repair and replace those), we undervalue our waterfront, and the northeast corner of the city (that’s Ward Four again) gets systemically neglected, the old guard is having trouble with a newer, younger generation wanting to take the city in a new direction, and the houses often need more than a little work.

Ah, yes. The houses. That’s the chief complaint I hear: People working on their houses are absolutely furious with our planning (we call it “Community Development”) department. For the first 20 months, we were lucky: Our home needed mostly cosmetic work. We moved in and painted and cleaned and re-landscaped and did all the things new homeowners do. After a year and a half, though, we decided the time had come to make our kitchen functional.

Kitchen, Pre-Renovation
Look beyond the shiny fridge to the grape wallpaper and “custom” cabinetry.

Here’s our old kitchen, Well, half of it. Don’t be fooled by that shiny new refrigerator. We bought that pre-renovation when we couldn’t stand the old one any longer. That dishwasher? A portable. Which is about as much fun as when I had to unfold my couch to go to sleep every night, or when my dad and I were renovating my bathroom and I had to go to the Walgreens to pee.

So, we met with a kitchen designer. Two, actually: One we hated and one we loved. We also looked at IKEA kitchens but Tom Pitzen of Olde World Cabinetry (and the artist who designed Gulfport’s Historic Waterfront Sign, among other public art) created a kitchen design that would cost about the same amount.

Now, about that designer we hated: Among many things I disliked about them, they told us the renovation would cost about $60,000. Of course, they added, they needed to have their general contractor go up in the attic and make sure that wall behind the refrigerator wasn’t a load-bearing wall. We had no intention of spending $60,000 on a kitchen but as we believed the wall to be load-bearing, we thought it was a swell idea to confirm that before we started swinging sledgehammers.

Long story short: The uber-expensive designer’s contractor said it wasn’t, we didn’t hire them, and about five minutes before El Cap and my dad started ripping down that wall, El Cap went up in the attic one more time and said, “You know, I really think this wall is load-bearing.” We called out another contractor who said hell, no we couldn’t take down that wall without the roof coming down with it, and we embarked on the arduous process of finding an architect who would draw up plans to put in a beam to bear the load and getting an engineer’s stamp on the plans, and also of the installation of the beam and the ultimate removal of the wall.

Old Kitchen
That oven was the best $76 could buy, I’m certain. Also, seriously, grapes on the wallpaper.

Now, if you’ve ever done any work on your home, or owned rental properties, you fall squarely into one of two schools: The “get the permits” school and the “permits are for suckers” school. When we started the project, it became clear that my dad fell in the latter school whilst I fell in the former. While I understand my dad’s point of view, I disagree with it. Bear in mind, when we started, I still worked for the local paper, and a good portion of the “have I got a story for you” calls and emails I received were people with a “scandal” about Gulfport Community Development.

For almost 12 years I looked into a goodly number of these alleged scandals and found, without fail, the frustration on the part of the person crying foul stemmed either from them lying to the planning department, not pulling a permit and then getting caught, or attempting to get the planning department to approve plans that involved structural changes but lacked the approval of someone (an engineer) qualified to make sure those same changes didn’t make the house collapse. I am typically a “forgiveness, not permission” type of person, but not with city government. I also figured after over a decade of calling the planning department with public information requests and chasing down every complaint someone gave me, the inspectors would be damn delighted to learn I had attempted to bypass the rules.

So, of course, by the time we realized we had to, as former President Reagan said, “tear down that wall,” we had already pulled our permits and assured the city’s planning department we weren’t making structural changes. I figured it would be open season on us. So El Cap took our stamped plans into Community Development, copped to the error, and they basically said, well, gee, the plans look good and you haven’t done the work yet, so cool.

That was it. No problems. No trouble. We’ve had, as I said just yesterday, a damn delightful experience with Gulfport’s Community Development. We’ve passed our first plumbing and electrical inspections and the inspector has also offered some helpful tips, like Norm from This Old House, but with a city ID.

They’re actually just good guys. Seriously. I mean, I imagine if we’d tried to cheat they wouldn’t be as understanding, and I think that’s quite common, but by and large? They’ve been one of the easiest things we’ve done thus far.

So the moral of the story is this: All of those folks who beleaguered me for 12 years about how awful our Community Development people treated you? Every last one of you I found had tried to outsmart or cheat the city in some way, and now that I’m in your place, I feel vindicated.

Also, dusty. There’s drywall dust everywhere. But that’s another post for another day.



Hard Candy, Redux – Race and “That Word”

{Oh, hey? The title? I may not have a column anymore – at least not one that pays in anything other than “shells and beads and good feelings” – but I still have opinions. So I’m going to call entries like these “Hard Candy, Redux” or something like that, as kind of a fair warning to everyone. Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled programming…}

Don’t believe what white people tell you. Not when we tell you we want to have an “honest” conversation about race. We totally don’t. Oh, we say we do, and I think we really believe it when we say it, but when we get right down to the business of the “honest” part, yeah, not so much. It doesn’t feel good, you know? And after centuries of suppressing black people and then deciding we’d try and fix things in a few short decades, why should we have to deal with the ickiness of those white Americans who are having a hard time adjusting? Let’s just all forget about how we raised people for hundreds of years and string them up in the town square when they have a hard time letting go of outdated mores. That seems enlightened, I think.

Since Creative Loafing published my article about how ideas about race continue to evolve in Gulfport last week, I’ve been lurking on social media as people discussed it. As everyone knows, social media showcases the best of humanity, so you may now understand the prior paragraph a little better. Now, I’d prefer you click on the link and read the article, but if you don’t, here’s the least you need to know: Gulfport used to be a sundown town, according to some of the old guard. It isn’t any longer (because, well, civil rights) but some people who live here still retain some of the old thinking. Some people want the city to be more welcoming to black people. That’s the thrust of the piece.

So, when my Creative Loafing editor and I started chatting about how we’d address Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Gulfport’s first-time-ever participation in the MLK Day of Service, we talked about the odd dichotomy that exists in my small town. You see, Gulfport is uber-accepting of the LGBT community and has been well before accepting the LGBT community was a thing. It’s weird, you know? You can walk down the street and see a transgender person, then walk another two feet and see a crusty old boat captain, and these two worlds do not typically collide. Right-wing conservatives meet Rue Paul and no one seems to notice. So, uh, weird in a good way, but weird.

Except for black people. I’ve heard more people than I care to admit use the n-word, not in anger but in conversation. I hate “that word.” Always have. I don’t make my decisions about what I think or how to treat people based on the color of their skin, but I’ve come to realize  not everyone who finds “that word” acceptable bases those things on skin color, either. I think I failed to make that clear in the article, because while the commentary on the CL site has been pretty tame, the comments on the Gabber’s Facebook group, Gulfport Ideas and Opinions, went off the rails (I won’t link to the group, but you can find it if you really need to see it) Someone posted about the article and much flogging and berating ensued.

The thrust of the anger centers around Louis Worthington, a 71-year-old man who lived through the sundown town bullshit and is married to our vice mayor. He used “that word,” and Creative Loafing printed it. According to many people, that makes him a racist. But let’s look at what Louis actually said:

“There’s black people and then there’s n——.” (Creative Loafing printed the word; I will not.)

He goes on to explain what, in his mind, is a class distinction. I see the point he’s trying to make but I cannot agree with it, although my opinion isn’t what counts. Many people make that distinction but don’t make decisions based on skin color.

I know Louis and his family – not all of it, because the Worthingtons are to Gulfport as the Kennedys are to Hyannis Port and you can never know them all – and I see no evidence of racism in Louis’ behavior. Ever. His use of “that word”? Degrading, yes. Ignorant? Perhaps, but I’d argue he knows why he’s using it, even if he doesn’t understand that it offends a class of people to whom he doesn’t believe he refers. Bear in mind, as I point out in the article, his teenage daughter is dating a black teenager who lives in the projects. This young man is being raised by a single mother. His dad is, um, not in the picture. This young man is, if you take both the teenager and Louis at face value, not the sort of man you would think Louis wants his daughter dating. But Louis respects the young man because he didn’t see skin color and decide the man was “that word.” He admits he struggles with the idea of his daughter dating a black person, but he makes it clear: When he thinks of “that word” he does not think of this young man, who has enlisted in the Marines and is trying desperately to break the cycle he sees around him. Also, I see how Louis feels about the white boy his daughter dated last, and I’m hard-pressed to think Louis would be thrilled with his baby girl dating anyone, ever.

But people are crucifying Louis and his wife and totally missing the point of the article: Even this man, this 71-year-old man who was raised in a time and town when and where segregation thrived and racism sat down to dinner with you, can evolve on ideas of race. But some people refuse to see that, and while I understand the shock value of seeing “that word” in print, let’s look past the words and look in Louis’ heart and actions, because his actions don’t speak of hatred. I can point to many elected and appointed officials whose actions drip with racism, but they would never dream of using “that word.” And so I ask you, which is worse? Please don’t blindly bash someone and try to suppress them for speaking honestly. Look, I wish people wouldn’t use “that word.” But they do. Telling them they’re jerks and that they should shut up doesn’t change anything but what you hear.

Louis Worthington doesn’t like people who feel they can steal because the person from whom they’re stealing has more than they do. When those people happen to be black, he uses “that word” to describe them. Is it racially based? Of course. But notice that in his mind, the behavior is first and race is second. To him, yes, I know. But still, I think that’s worth exploring. Of course, we won’t, because we’re all too upset that he dared utter “that word”, which is, pardon me, fucking ridiculous.

So, we want to have an honest conversation about race? Let’s take Louis and, say, the president of the Childs Park Neighborhood Association (a predominantly black neighborhood across the 49th Street corridor, and I single him out because he’s a black leader in the local community, and I think, capable of adding insight I think will help foster growth) and let’s allow them to have a conversation. Will it be uncomfortable? Hell, yes, but that isn’t a reason not to have the discussion; actually, it’s a pretty good argument in favor of it.

Instead of berating people who think like Louis does – and believe me, there are a LOT of folks out there who feel that way – why not attempt to understand what they mean and why they feel that way? Why not talk with them instead of about them? Look, the problem in places like Gulfport isn’t that a few people are horribly racist; it’s that many more people have muddy ideas about race and we’re only telling them to sit down, shut up, and change how they feel.

That actually doesn’t help, and it doesn’t signal an enlightened populace. Suppressing something doesn’t make it go away; it just makes us feel better, but the feeling won’t last because it isn’t real.

I’d rather be real.

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.

Sebastian Inlet State Park

Not too much now, because I’m sitting on the dock of the bay. Well, the inlet. The past two days have been… wonderful and horrible. Wonderful because a leisurely drive down A1A reminded me that not all of our coastlines are 3-for-$10 t-shirt shops and trinket stores; horrible because I can’t believe a few miles inland at Pahokee such poverty exists in stark contrast to the riches funneled out of the town to those who raise cane. Sugarcane, that is.

One more day to go on this pilgrimage into sunshine. I alternately crave my Tempurpedic and regret every little hovel I will not see this trip.

By the way, if you ever camp at Sebastian Inlet State Park, try and get site #14. The view is inspiring.