Monday, July 24, 2017

“I CAN MAKE THEM DISAPPEAR...”

I began writing this article in June, 2009 and finished it in May of 2010. Today, I’m compelled to reprint it because I cannot stop thinking about Tracy. I did bring pertinent information up-to-date.
In February of 2009, Chris George’s car was found abandoned near a wooded area in Apopka, Florida. Also known as George Onda, family members and friends didn’t think much of it because he often took off to go on drug-induced binges. Three weeks later, the family called Apopka police and a search ensued. One of the volunteers was a guy by the name of James “Jimmy” Hataway. He was one of only two people who last saw George alive. When the case went cold, police closed it out, but reopened it later. Today, the Ocoee Police Department has linked a total of 6 victims to James Virgil Hataway. In 2011, Chris George’s bones were found in Lake Carter, about 15 miles outside of Orlando.
Tracy Ocasio was last seen on May 26, 2009, leaving the Tap Room bar on Raleigh Street in Orlando’s MetroWest neighborhood, at 1:30 AM. Her car was found abandoned about 15 miles from the bar, not far from Hataway’s home.  A year later, the Ocoee police department named him as the only suspect in her disappearance. Until then, he was only a person of interest.

Soon after Tracy went missing, I went to pick up a few prescriptions from the pharmacy. As she was ringing up my purchase, I asked the always friendly woman behind the counter if she knew anything about the missing woman and the guy police have in custody (on another charge) who might also be tied into Jennifer Kesse, last seen on January 24, 2006. (It was pretty big news around Orlando for both women.) At first, she didn’t quite know, so I mentioned the bar a mile or so away called McGuinnty’s Irish Pub. I told her he used to go there.
“Oh, yeah, I remember seeing him on the news. I thought he looked familiar,” she said. “I think I used to see him in here.” I told her McGuinnty’s was one of his hangouts because he lived nearby at the time.
As a single mother, I just don’t picture my clerk as much of a drinker and, needless to say, neither am I any longer, but I was more of one back then and I knew who this guy was the first time I saw his picture on the local news. McGuinnty’s has been closed for about ten years now, but I can remember some of those times like it was yesterday, and I can easily remember the people who oftentimes frequented the place.
I never befriended James Virgil Hataway at that bar and there were some very good reasons why. The people he hung around with were skinhead types. Hoodlums, plain and simple, and most of the time the regular crowd stayed on one side while they planted themselves on the other. They were young - mid 20s to early 30s - the way I saw it. Today, Hataway would be around 36. They shaved their heads and had goatees. They were a tough group hanging with rough, but good-looking women. There were a few I knew by name, but not much else. Dallas was a good guy. Today, I don’t remember most of the names but I do remember the faces. To give you an idea, Matt had at one time been a nice young man until he got mixed up with that bunch. His change was overnight. Clean cut one day, shaved head the next, with tattoos and piercings all over and a nasty, punk, degenerate attitude. He went from saying hello and friendly conversations to wanting to beat the living crap out of anyone in his way and for no good reason. Of course, I never said a word to him again after he snarled one night. These were the guys who had no respect for anyone but their own small clique of friends. They had the ultimate chip on their shoulders. They had no respect for anyone but their own and it’s clear that Hataway had no respect for human life from what emerged from law enforcement accounts.
Hataway was always the quiet one in the crowd, never starting trouble, yet it didn’t surprise me in the least that he became the only suspect in Ocasio’s disappearance. A surveillance video from the Tap Room showed Hataway and Ocasio leaving the bar together. Allegedly, she offered to give him a ride home to Ocoee, a couple of miles northwest of the bar. Although never charged with her disappearance, he was found guilty of first-degree attempted murder, burglary, robbery, and false imprisonment, and sentenced to life in prison in 2011. That incident occurred in 2008. He choked his victim, Rachel Clarke, tried to snap her neck, and repeatedly slammed her head into the pavement. Fortunately, there were witnesses that heard her screams for help and she was rescued.
Hataway was a guy who fancied himself “the worst criminal in the universe” by using the alias Vader McGirth on his now closed MySpace page, named after the Darth Vader character in Star Wars. He was no stranger to police because of his extensive criminal record dating back to 1993. It includes kidnapping causing bodily harm, drug possession, and many traffic offenses.
When I questioned one of the former bartenders at McGuinnty’s, she told me he used to ask her for a ride home once in a while. Did you ever give him one? “No,” she said, “I always told him I live in the opposite direction.”
I asked her if she was glad she didn’t and she emphatically responded, “YES,” but she never would have thought that he could have done such a thing, other than because of the type of crowd he was always hanging with. Where did they all come from, I wondered. Why did they congregate at McGuinnty’s? She said many of them lived in the trailer park behind the bar. She also told me that most of them had since outgrown that skinhead phase, and some are married. For the record, much of that trailer park is now a housing development.
“He wouldn’t care who it was, he would make them disappear, just like he told me. The way he would talk about people … what he would want to do,” said a former roommate who did not wish to be identified, because he said he had received threats from some of Hataway’s friends.
Before his arrest on drug charges in 2009, Hataway lived with his father in Ocoee. He also worked with his father dredging ponds. Clearly, police wanted him off the streets.
“This Jimmy has a preponderance to do violence, he snaps, he gets angry, it’s always a woman, ride home, end up alone,” said Sgt. Mike Bryant of the Ocoee Police Department, in June 2009. “He’s very familiar with going out into open land at night and not getting caught dumping land debris and waste, that’s a concern…”
“We believe he did it. He’s always been a suspect,” the detective added. “He is suspected of killing her.”
Too bad for Tracy because this young woman was a true blue Orlando Magic fan. That’s why she went to the Tap Room bar that fateful Tuesday night on May 26, to watch her team win, and win they did, against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Too bad another James, James Hataway, was there to watch her lose her life in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. No one ever saw her again. Just like magic, he made her disappear.
She needs to be found.




Friday, June 23, 2017

When I was a professional newspaper reader

I wrote this just after the Casey Anthony trial ended. It's still one of my favorite stories..

Years ago, I was a hardline artist for an ad agency in Orlando. Everything we created was for the Belk department store chain, based out of North Carolina. Hardline included shoes, furniture, electronics, and other items unrelated to fashion. I would never consider myself a fashion artist - then or now, but I worked there for 11-years.  I also designed and built ads that ran in a good number of newspapers throughout the state. Previous to that job I was mostly in the restaurant business. Soon after I started working at Stonebrook Advertising, I saw a fast food restaurant up the street called Beefy King. Since I had come from a background in that industry, I thought it would be a nice place to eat and meet new people. It didn't take long for the owners, Roland & Sandee Smith, and I to become good friends.
One of the interesting, if not quirky, aspects of my job was our daily morning ritual. My boss insisted that we come to work at 8:30 am, but he (almost forcefully) encouraged us to take a break from 9 to 10. Go out for an hour! Enjoy yourself! Strange, but that was Mr. Stone's way of doing business. Because of his edict, on most mornings, I would drive up the street to Beefy King, make myself a sandwich and pour a cup of coffee. Black. No sugar. Sometimes, I'd help slice meats or whatever, but most of the time I'd just stand at the front counter reading the newspaper. I guess it depended on whether they needed a little help that particular day. Mind you, I was always glad to pitch in. Since they didn't open until 10, I never interfered with any customers.
On one particular morning, there was a man working on an ice machine that had broken down. I'd say he was, what you might call, pleasantly plump and he had a personality to match. In other words, he was a very nice fellow. The next morning, he was still tinkering on the ice machine. Good thing the restaurant had a spare. On the morning of the third day, he finished his work and quietly talked to Roland about the bill and something else that caught his attention. As they stood in the hallway between the dining area and the back room, he whispered, "Hey, that guy up there. He's been here every morning, just standing there reading the newspaper. Doesn't he have a job? I mean, what's he do for a living?"
The acoustics were just right and our jovial buddy had no idea I heard every word. "Why, he's a professional newspaper reader," Roland replied.
The guy said, "No way. There's no such thing."
Roland said, "Go ask him."
There I stood, deeply ensconced in my work, oblivious to anything else, and completely unaware that he was sauntering my way to ask about my profession.
"Excuse me," he politely said, as if not wanting to take up too much of my very important time.
I took my eyes away from my work, looked up and in a face that showed great concentration, I said, "Yes?"
I tried not to snicker.
"Well, I've been here three days now and I see you reading the newspaper. I was just wondering what kind of job you have. What do you do for a living, if you don't mind my asking?"
"Why of course not. I'm a professional newspaper reader."
"Get outta here. I've never heard of such a job."
"Yes. That is what I do."
"You're kidding! You get paid to read newspapers?"
"Yes. It's a rather lucrative job, I might add. There aren't that many of us in the state."
"Well, I'm from Florida - born and raised, and I know the state like the back of my hand. What's the name of the newspaper in Leesburg?"
"Which one? The Commercial or the Gazette? Also, the Orlando Sentinel has a zoned edition."
"No kidding! Alright. What about St. Augustine?"
"The St. Augustine Record."
In rapid succession, he asked me about another half-dozen or so cities and towns throughout Florida and no matter what he came up with, I had the correct answer. He had no idea that Belk advertised in all of those newspapers. Actually, we did. Back then, newspapers weren't as consistent as they are today, so ads were designed to fit each publication.
"Okay... fine... I believe you... a... professional... newspaper... reader. " It took a little time for this revelation to sink in. "I gotta tell my wife when I get home tonight. She's not going to believe it."
As the guy drove out of the parking lot, Roland and I got the biggest chuckle. To this day, I'll bet that guy still tells people about the job to stump all jobs. A professional newspaper reader.
All kidding aside, there's one thing I must tell you about Beefy King. I went there almost every weekday morning for about 10 years and I can tell you that it is, by far, one of the cleanest restaurants I've ever set foot in. Not only could you practically eat off the floor, the food is very good, to boot. It's been in the same family since 1968, with the third generation running the show now. There's not a restaurant critic in town that wouldn't give Beefy King a glowing review, and for good reason. The place is legendary. If you are ever in Orlando and have some spare time on your hands, try to stop by for lunch. It's on Bumby. You can tell them a professional newspaper reader sent you. 

Factory Air

This story is dedicated to my father since it's about him.
For most of my life, I didn't know anyone who knew more about cars than my father. He used to own a front end alignment business in Flemington, NJ, and worked on every one that was brought to his shop. In his later years, we could be sitting around watching old B&W movies on TCM and he'd recognize the cars. “Oh, there's a 1941 Buick!”
One of his favorite lines about those old cars was that, “Back then, you could order a car in any color you want as long as it's black.”
In 1986, he bought a new Topaz from a local Mercury dealer. Of course, this being Florida and all, it had to come with air conditioning. Being that he knew a lot about cars, he took a look under the hood and noticed something that didn't look quite right. “Is that factory air?”
The sales rep responded, “Of course it is.”
“Are you certain this is factory air?”
“I absolutely guarantee it. It's factory air.
OK, he thought, so he bought it.
Years later - and out of warranty, of course – his factory air stopped working. Yes, they do get overworked in the Florida climate. He couldn't fix it himself so he took it to one of his mechanic friends.
“This isn't factory air conditioning. It's after market.”
“You're kidding! The dealer swore it was factory air.”
“Trust me, it's not anything Ford ever made. I can't fix it.”
That totally infuriated my father. He had a terrible temper to begin with, but when someone did it over cars; something he was quite knowledgeable about? Forget it! He tore out of there and headed straight to the dealer to give them more than just a piece of his mind.
Parked at the service department, he jumped out and approached one of the reps. “I need you to take a look under the hood and tell me what kind of air conditioner it is. My mechanic can't fix it!” When in a fit of rage, my father was known to use language he didn't learn in church. “When I bought this car, the salesman swore it was factory air. He lied to me!”
“No sir, he was telling you the truth,” the man replied.
“NO HE WASN'T!!!” And from there, I'm sure it escalated. “You're nothing but a bunch of liars!”
“Sir, please come with me.” He led him to the parts department. Along the wall and stacked high were boxes and boxes that said it all. Printed in large, black, bold letters, was the brand name of the after market air conditioners that are installed by the dealer...
FACTORY AIR. Yes, the brand name was Factory Air.
“We'll be more than happy to repair it for you.”
“No way!” and my father stormed out. Only the dealer carried parts.
While there's nothing wrong with the brand, my father felt he was taken advantage of. Lied to. And he was. Because of his very stubborn German blood, he refused to let the dealer touch the car, so he drove it for years without air.
Personally, I had to agree with him. I think it was a very shady way to do business in the hot Florida sun.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Stew Bacheler


It’s almost mandatory for me to turn the volume down on my phone when I crawl into bed each night. Actually, I turn it off because I don’t want to be alerted to anything when I’m asleep. Due to impending old age and the memory problems that come with it, oftentimes, I forget to turn it back up in the morning and I’ve been known to miss phone calls.
Two Saturdays ago, I was milling around, putzing along, when my best friend’s wife messaged me.
“David are you there?“
“Yes I am.”
Since Sherry doesn’t normally text me, I thought that something may have happened to Stew. I mean, he is getting old and decrepit. Like me.
“This is Stew. I have been calling you and I texted you.”
I picked up my phone and called. At the same time, I was quite relieved it wasn’t bad news. The older we get, the more we worry.
“Do you want to go to lunch today? Eat some sushi?” His wife was going to go to Busch Gardens for the day and he had some free time.
You have to understand that it’s almost three hours to drive from his place to mine. That’s nearly six hours on the road. Just for lunch. I mentioned that.
“So,” he responded, “I have a Maserati.” Which is true. “How much more comfortable can I get?”
He had a very valid point. So, he drove over to my place, picked me up and off we went. This is the first time I saw it – a brand spanking new Ghibli with the special $4,500 wheel package.
My favorite sushi place is called Happy Teriyaki heading up 17-92 in the Lake Mary area. We went there, only to find that it doesn’t open until 4:00 PM. Did I mention how comfortable the car was yet? We turned around and went to Bay Ridge Sushi in Longwood, only a mile or so away.
Instead of sitting at the sushi bar, we got a booth. “Since you drove over, how about if I buy you lunch?”
“No, I got it. I told you I was coming over to take you to lunch. It’s on me.”
Everything was delicious. Did I tell you I love sushi yet? After we finished, we stopped to see the Senator, or what’s left of it, at Big Tree Park. It was the largest and oldest cypress tree in the world, estimated to be 3,500 years old. Five years ago, a young woman set it afire one night to see the drugs she was using.
After a few minutes there, he took me home and off he went, back to Bradenton. Now, let me ask you… How many friends do that? Drive for hours just to have lunch with their best friend? You have to understand, we’ve been close since childhood. That’s 50-plus years. Under normal conditions, it’s asking for a lot, but not when you’re driving the dumpstermobile. Did I tell you he owns a roll-off dumpster company? Alpha Dumpsters.


Thursday, March 09, 2017

Casey's back!

This was published online at dailymail.com yesterday:
During the interview with the AP, Anthony said that the day her daughter disappeared, on June 16 2008, she was in the care of her father.
'The last time I saw my daughter, I believed that she was alive and was going to be OK, and that's what was told to me,' she said.
“'My father told me she was going to be OK. That she was OK,' she added when pressed by the reporter if her parents were babysitting Caylee that day.
When asked about the lies she had told police, Casey Anthony said cryptically, 'My dad was a cop, you can read into that what you want.'
On Tuesday, George and Cindy Anthony released a statement to People Magazine through their attorney Mark Lippman, saying their daughter was forcing them to relieve the darkest period in their lives from which they had tried to move forward.
‘After years of silence, Casey Anthony has decided to complete an interview and has once again pointed to George Anthony, her father, as a suspect in the disappearance and death of his granddaughter, Caylee,’ George and Cindy stated.
At trial, Casey's lead defense attorney proposed the theory that her father was involved; that Caylee drowned in the back yard pool, and George took care of it by dumping her body in the woods near the Anthony home. What's so interesting today is that Casey clearly disputes that theory by stating that she believed her daughter was OK, and that's what she was told. This means either of two things. One, Casey has decided to change her story by throwing her attorney under the bus; or, two, Jose Baez made the whole story up. Baez told the court it was an accidental drowning (as per Casey) and he stashed the body. Who does that sort of thing? The natural inclination is to call 911 immediately for help.
Today, Casey says nothing about Baez's account other than to indirectly contradict it. No, she thought Caylee was doing swell. At least, that's what she was last told.
Personally, I don't believe anything that spews from her mouth. She came out of the termite infested woodwork because she's a fame whore. To be truthful, I will never trust a word and she doesn't care. She doesn't care about anyone but her narcissistic self. At the same time, she was raised by a family of liars. She learned at a very early age.
The remainder of this post is from an article I wrote nearly five years ago, on March 17, 2012. Don't worry, I gave myself permission to reprint it. Also, it was a theory. Take into consideration that it was from years ago and read into it what you wish. Yes, I believe George and Cindy are pained over this, but who created the monster?
I have said on several occasions that the possibility is real that George and Cindy Anthony made a pact with the devil in order to get their daughter out of jail. By that, I don’t mean literally. It’s a euphimism, unless you think Casey is, in fact, the devil. Just prior to the start of the trial, Cindy and Mark Lippman met privately with Casey’s attorney, Jose Baez. Lippman is George and Cindy’s lawyer. George was not invited to the meeting and this said volumes to me. It meant that Cindy and Lippman were in on the defense strategy to do a character assassination of George — one that began during Baez’s opening statement at trial — or it meant that George was conspicuously absent from the meeting to make it look like he had nothing to do with the made-up story.
At one of the final hearings before the trial began, I was in the courtroom when Baez asked George on the stand if he would do anything for his daughter. Most of you should remember it, too. George’s reaction? Yes, absolutely, he would do anything, and he was quite vocal about it. When asked if he would lie for Casey, his answer was a resounding YES!
This signalled (to me) that what most of us had sensed all along was true. The Anthonys were, and remain, natural born liars. With the information gathered from the mouth of George Anthony, he spoke the truth, under oath, that he was willing to do anything to rescue his grandchild’s alleged murderer. Did this include his willingness to be the fall guy? All he had to do was take the bashing because, in the end, no one in the public would believe he ever sexually molested anyone in his family, let alone do any harm to Caylee. Simply put, just deny everything on the stand, which he did, but in the end, it confounded the jury and the plan worked. George came across looking like a liar and a loser — and that’s all the jury had to see to create a semblance of doubt. George looked guilty of something.
Want more? Cindy stated under oath that she made chloroform searches at home on two separate dates, while her bosses at Gentiva Health, Deborah Polisano and John Camperlengo, testified that she couldn’t have because she was at work and logged into her work computer. They also had time cards to prove she was there. Despite their testimony, the defense still managed to muddle the evidence and Casey is free because of it. Job well done, George! Take a bow, Cindy!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Sprinkle Sprinkle Little Jar

I went to Dollar Tree last week. I purchase things like bar soap, body washes, and household cleaning stuff. Greeting cards are great buys, too. Everything's a buck! Sometimes, I take my mother because she always finds deals on things whether she needs them or not, and it's those little pleasures that make life more fun, even when she buys glittery pre-teen nail polish she ends up detesting.
This is a relatively new store in Longwood, FL. It's a little bigger than the one I usually go to, so it's better stocked. The manager described it as a showcase store. Usually, I saunter down each aisle, basket in hand, just to make sure I don't miss out on anything new. On one of those aisles, I found a couple of shelves stocked with spices. When it comes to dollar store spices, I pretty much treat them the same way I treat dollar store vitamins and supplements, like B-12 and fish oil. Quite simply, I don't buy them. Why not? Because I don't trust the source – and I don't know how fresh and pure any of it is.
While perusing those “exotic” spices, I stumbled upon a container of kosher salt. I don't know what prompted me to pick it up because I never put salt on anything. Nope, no sprinkling for me. Never. Perhaps, it was the large and impressive Star of David emblazened on the front label. Whatever the reason, I simply picked it up out of curiosity and probably because of one small detail that caught my eye, somewhere around the far left corner of my peripheral vision.
Upon careful examination of the container and label, I saw that it contained one simple ingredient: Salt. That's reassuring. It means the salt, of the common rock salt variety, is just what the label proclaims it to be. Sodium chloride. Halite. NaCl. I don't know if I have to write a short history of where salt comes from, but it's safe to say that salt mines (where most of it originates) are in abundance throughout the world, and many of the deposits are millions of years old. Maybe older.
That leads me to a very simple question. Please take a look at the image I provided because it's this one little detail that caught my eye. What you see is the exact container I picked up to examine. Note what its only ingredient is. Nothing more. Ancient salt extracted from an abundant source from beneath the ground. Pure and white. For something that's millions of years old, why is there an expiration date stamped on the bottle? Best by 03/10/20. Are you kidding me???

Friday, December 16, 2016

MY LIFE'S IN JEOPARDY!

I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2005. There's no telling how long I had it prior to finding out. It could easily be eight years or so, one of my doctors once told me. During that time, I smoked and drank and ate whatever I wanted, with no knowledge of the damage it could easily have been doing to my organs, particularly the kidneys. That's because of the tiny blood vessels that feed them. Sugar makes the vessels very brittle. If they're brittle, they snap. Kidney disease is the one thing that frightens diabetics the most. With five stages of chronic kidney disease, one being normal and five being complete failure, I am holding steady at stage three. Age itself diminishes function, but diabetes is the silent killer if you're not careful.

Fortunately, I was sensible enough to quit smoking in 2007. Cold turkey. Just like that! After nearly forty years, I did it and never looked back. A few years later, I stopped drinking alcohol. I don't remember the year because I slowly weaned myself away from it until I simply lost the desire. I wouldn't say I'd never have another drink; I just don't have an appetite for it and it's been like this for many years.

When I reflect on all that's happened in my life since the diagnosis, I sometimes ponder how boring my life has become. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m not boring and I’m never bored with myself, but it’s a far cry from my days of youth. After all...

It doesn't seem like so many years ago that, in my 20s, I could stay up partying until 4:00 AM, sleep a couple of hours and go to work like it was nothing. Heck, I could do this for the rest of my life, right? Well, not every night.

In my 30s, I could party with the best of them until 2:00 AM.

In my 40s, it was more like midnight.

In my 50s, I might be able to handle 11:00 PM on a good night, but...

In my 60s? Heck, I'm 64-years-old now, and I start thinking about going to bed soon after watching Jeopardy!



Monday, December 12, 2016

Another Beat on PULSE?

This past June, the 30th to be precise, my mother had an appointment to see an eye specialist located next to ORMC, the Orlando Regional Medical Center. It's right up the street from the LGBT-themed Pulse nightclub, scene of the nation's deadliest mass shooting of innocent civilians by a single person. 49 people died and 53 were injured before the killer was neutralized by law enforcement. I took my trusty camera along for the ride. It was 18 days after the murderous spree on 12 June, 2016.
Rumors rapidly spread that the shooter, Omar Mateen, was a disgruntled, closeted gay man. People who frequented the club said they had seen him there before. Others who came forward claimed he used gay dating sites and apps. There was a problem with the allegations, though. Like witnesses at the scene of a car accident, no one could give the same story. After careful examination of the facts, the FBI found no evidence on his cell phone or elsewhere that any of it was true. No real evidence existed.
During one of his 911 calls, Mateen swore allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State. He said the shooting was triggered by the US killing of Abu Waheeb and that we must stop bombing ISIL. The CIA conducted an investigation and found no link between him and Islamic State. As a matter of fact, the shooting was classified as an act of domestic terrorism, although IS did release a meaningless statement. Mateen's pledge of allegiance to ISIL was interesting because he had once claimed to be a member of Hezbollah, a Shi'ite militia based in Lebanon. The Islamic State is affiliated with the Sunni sect, and are at war with the Shi'ites. They hate each other. That made Mateen a thoroughly confused individual.
I wonder if there's a third possibility; something that could be added to the other two – something that might paint a more complete picture. Many years ago, I knew an Egyptian family that fled their homeland because of religious persecution. (They were Christians.) The Masoods were genuinely lovely people; very caring, giving, hardworking, and everything you'd hope for in people coming from a foreign land to live the American dream. They would give you the shirt off their backs. When I met them, their children were in elementary school. I watched them grow up and after their son graduated high school, he enrolled at the University of Florida in Gainesville. The first time he returned home on break, he was a bit disgruntled and resentful about something. Now, mind you, he was merely complaining, not angry. He was a good guy and not at all violent or vindictive. He said that, because his skin-tone was a bit darker, he passed as Latino and many of the students addressed him in Spanish. “¿Cómo está Ud?”
“Dave,” he said, “I don't speak a word of Spanish!”
Is it at all possible that Omar Mateen had a hatred for Latin Americans because he was always confused as one? Proud of his Pashtun heritage, it served to enrage him? And wasn't that fateful Saturday night/Sunday morning “Latin Night” at Pulse?














































































Saturday, November 26, 2016

Nadie es profeta en su propia tierra


For eleven years, I worked as an artist for an ad agency in Orlando. I moved to the area in April of 1981 and was hired that August. There were three (and sometimes four) artists in one room, each of us having our own artboards and niche styles reflected in our work. We were old style artists compared to today's. Alicia was our premier fashion artist. Extremely talented, she was a Cuban who left the island nation soon after Fidel Castro took control.

Before Castro, Alicia's family was successful. They were rather upper-middle class. Poof! It was gone. Their loss, our gain. To work with her was a real delight and I deeply appreciated her insight, especially when we discussed her homeland. It was her pure passion that resonated inside my heart. This wasn't hearsay, it was a first-hand account of what took place in her beloved country; what happened to her and her loved ones.

After the 1959 overthrow of President Fulgencio Batista, Castro set up shop and proceeded to expropriate land, bank accounts, and personal possessions; everything the new government deemed to be an asset. Many people, including her family, fled the country. Everything of theirs - everything of value and every personal possession they accrued over the years - was taken away. Businesses were nationalized and socialism took hold. Communism immediately followed. All of her father's hard work went down the drain, where a thirsty regime hungrily lapped it all up. They came here with nothing but the strong desire to rebuild in the land of opportunity.

Alicia was married when she left Cuba with her family. Her husband soon followed. She brought one suitcase filled with clothes. That was it. Even her perfumes were confiscated. While going through a security checkpoint at the airport's departure gate, a guard stopped her.

"Give me your ring," he demanded. 

"But this is my wedding band."

"Give it to me or we will take it from you and you will go to prison." Reluctantly, she turned it over. 

Today, millions of Cuban Americans in the US are celebrating the death of Fidel Castro. I haven't seen Alicia in 26 years, but I can certainly understand why she would feel no remorse at all. How many of her compadres lost their lives or rotted in prisons?

Lo que bien se aprende, nunca se pierde.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

C stands for Confusion

I know about AEIOU and sometimes Y. In the English language, that's our vowels. Y isn't always a vowel, though, and it's why there's that little "sometimes" clause. Take the word YES. It's a consonant. In the word GYM, it's a vowel. That's how it works.
Only a year or so ago, I was comfortable with LGBT because it was used almost exclusely for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transsexual community (or is it communities?) I kinda got used to it and accepted it. I'm open-minded. Suddenly out of nowhere, the Q popped up. Huh? What the..? Oh, I see, the Q stands for Questioning or Queer. But it's not always used. Is it LGBT and sometimes Q? I don't know what's right and I don't want to offend anyone. Some use the Q and some don't. OK, fine, but I'm not interested in looking up the differences between Q, L, and G.
Now, there's the LGBTQIA community, which includes Intersex and Asexual people. According to the Urban Dictionary Website, "LGBTQIA is a more inclusive term than LGBT for people with non-mainstream sexual orientation or gender identity." Oops! They didn't include the Q. Is that considered politically incorrect?
As an H male, how am I supposed to keep up with these designations that change out of the blue, at a moment's notice? There's still Pansexual, Omnisexual, and Nonmonosexual to go, and I guess we can run the gamut from Ambisexual to Zensexual and everything in between, but with only 26 letters in the English language... what happens when the alphabet runs dry?
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go make myself a BLT, light on the M.  

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Working Days and Sleeping Nights

In the mid-70s, I worked for a peritoneal kidney dialysis company. It was a much needed break from the Weiner King (although I did return.) I traveled throughout Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey delivering care packages to patients. While away, I stayed in motels; just simple motels in any old honky-tonk town I descended upon. Late one afternoon, I wheeled into one in Maryland, location unknown, and got a bed for the night. When I parked and got out of my vehicle, I noticed a large man standing outside his room, door wide open. Big, black hair and matching mustache. I knew immediately who it was even though his name was painted on the van parked right in front of him. FREDDY FENDER! He was smoking a cigarette. I nodded. He nodded back. That was it, but it was a very good experience. No fancy hotel. No entourage. Just him. A regular guy taking a break from where life was sending him.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Wart Tree

In the late seventies, early eighties, I was in the Weiner King business in New Jersey. It was at the tail end of my restaurant career. At one of the locations, there was a large window along the side of the building, next to the front counter. (Actually, the restaurant was mostly glass around the sides and front.) When customers entered the place, the dining room was to the left and the ordering area was to the right. Very easy to navigate. This particular window and sill was all the way to the right, at the far end of the counter. The sill was just above waist-high and sitting on it was a very handsome ming aralia, about 18-inches tall, that looked like a small, leafy tree. No, it wasn't a bonsai.
The Weiner King had quite a loyal following, no matter which of the six stores you visited. At this one, one of the customers was a very nice lady who came in at least twice a week during the lunch and/or dinner rush. Quite the regular, it came as a surprise when she walked through the front door around 4:00, not her usual time. (You get to know your customers' schedules after a while.) Between 2:00 and 5:00, it's called 'slump time' and it could take forever to get through if you don't keep yourself busy. I must have been bored that day and let my mind wander -- which was nothing new. I was working with a girl named Lauri, who was a college student on summer break. The lunch crew was gone and the evening crew hadn't yet arrived. Just us. And one customer.
She walked over to the counter to order but, instead, kept going toward the plant with her arms extended. Her hands got within inches of it, as if to fluff up the leaves, when she said, "I've really admired your plant. Every time I come in, I stare at it. It's beautiful! What is it?"
"It's a wart tree." I have no idea why the idea popped into my head, but it did. I said it, it was too late, and, in a flash, she retracted those arms faster than a toad can stick its tongue back in its mouth.
"A WART TREE?" she exclaimed with an almost look of puzzled disgust on her face.
I had to think fast. "Yes, a wart tree. You've seen Lauri working here before? She's studying biochemistry at Rutgers University. You know how some warts have seeds?"
"Yes..?"
"Well, someone she knew had a wart. She removed the seeds in a lab and cultivated them into what you're looking at here."
"You're joking, right?"
"No," I insisted. "Ask her."
I hated to put Lauri on the spot but, despite her abundance of intellectual prowess, she was one heck of a good sport with a great sense of humor. After collaborating my story with some kind of details pertaining to the structure, functions, and interactions of macromolecules between animals and plants, the woman seemed to buy the story. 
"It was, after all, a plantar wart," I added, just to ice the cake. "You know, plantar... plant?"
"Oh. Huh. A wart tree. I'll be darned. I never knew that." She composed herself but was still perplexed. "Well, I'd better order dinner for my husband and me."  
I went back to man the grills and Lauri stayed up front working on the rest of the order while making small talk. The woman, meanwhile, stood far away from the little tree. After she left, the two of us laughed pretty hard. It was dumb, but it was done.
I'm convinced that when she got home, she told her husband all about it, and I'll bet you he told her how there is no such thing, while rolling on the floor, laughing hysterically. In the end, though, she was either afraid of the tree, warts and all, very embarrassed, or too angry, because I never saw her again.
Was I silly for doing it? Yes, but working 80 to 100 hours a week will do that to you. And my old boss, Jack, who worked at least 100 hours, used to do it all the time. Just not to customers.