Living Loud: Resolve to fight for a statewide DPR in 2014

By : Mary Meeks
Comments: 0

Share this story:

MaryMeeksHeadshotLike Ralphie in A Christmas Story who yearned for his perfect present, I yearn for mine: equal protection under the law. The thought of it consumes me daily, just as the BB gun consumed Ralphie. And although this past year saw some exciting advances for LGBT equality across the nation, here in Florida we could only watch from the sidelines.

Sure, 16 states plus D.C. now have full marriage equality, covering approximately 37% of the U.S. population. And sure, the married same-sex couples in those states now are entitled to all of the federal rights and benefits attached to marriage, thanks to the Supreme Court striking down Section 3 of DOMA. So yes, let’s spike the eggnog and drink a toast to them—but what about Florida?

Continue Reading >>

Watermark Staff 2012 Holiday Mix

By : Administrator
Comments: 0

This year, Watermark's staff decided to give a little gift – we selected our favorite holiday songs and created a Spotify playlist to share them with our wonderful readers. We also told you why those songs are our favorites this time of year.

Hope you enjoy! Happy holidays to you, from your friends at Watermark!

Hear the playlist: Watermark Staff 2012 Holiday Mix

Here's the track list:

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year performed by Andy Williams, selected by Mark Cady, sales manager. “Andy Williams has been one of my favorite singers since I was a child.  We had the Andy Williams Christmas Album and every time I hear that song it takes me back to my childhood and the Christmas' that were always over the top in our house.  Mom's baking, picking out the REAL tree, decorating it as a family, the presents that filled the living room and anticipation of Santa loading us up with more toys than we could ever play with.”

Merry Christmas from the Family, performed by Robert Earl Keen, selected by Don Williams, sales representative. “Because any song with these lyrics is a hit with me:
Carve the Turkey
Turn the ball game on
Mix margaritas when the eggnog’s gone
Send somebody to the Quickpak Store
We need some ice and an extension chord
A can of bean dip and some Diet Rites
A box of tampons, Marlboro Lights
Haleluja everybody say Cheese
Merry Christmas from the family

I Wanna Hippopotamus for Christmas performed by Gayla Peevey, selected by Steve Blanchard, editor-in-chief. “I remember my parents playing the song and as a kid it made me laugh. It actually still makes me laugh.”

Blue Christmas by Elvis Presley, selected by Jamie Hyman, director of online media. “I had a great childhood and was generally pretty cheery as a kid but I seemed to have this odd morbid streak. Much to my mom's chagrin, my favorite song in any genre was the saddest. (My obsession with Wayne Cochran’s “Last Kiss” was especially disturbing.) Blue Christmas is not the most depressing – that honor goes to the wretched Christmas Shoes – but Elvis crooning about unrequited love was a weird choice for a 5-year-old's favorite carol. Oh well. I still love it.”

O Holy Night by Clay Aiken, selected by Rick Claggett, chief financial officer. O Holy Night is by far my favorite Holiday song.  “I like almost every version but Clay Aiken's version stands out to me.  It isn't just because he is gay nor because he should have won American Idol Season 2 (Ruben who?), but because his voice is clear and powerful.  Great… Now I sound like a ClayMate.  I swear I am not.”

Publisher Tom Dyer also chose O Holy Night, saying “It’s my favorite because when they get to the “Fall on your knees, hear the angel voices, oh night divine, oh night when Christ was born” part I always, always get goose bumps.”

Christ is Born, performed by The Carpenters, selected by David Moran, writer. “Nostalgia alert! Karen Carpenters’ voice makes my heart melt and this song, from one of my Mom’s favorite Christmas albums, reminds me of her and my family.”

Baby It's Cold Outside performed by Cee Lo Green and Christina Aguilara, selected by Scott McCauley, sales representative. “Cee Lo is an amazing all around musician and Christina Aguilera to me is better at Jazz than any other genre.”

The Bells of St. Mary performed by Sheryl Crow, selected by Sam Rennels, sales representative. “It's my favorite version of my favorite holiday song. It was on a Christmas CD given to me by a client when I was here [working at Watermark] in 2001.”

12 Days of Christmas Medley performed by Straight No Chaser, selected by Ed Blaisdell, proofreader and a capella enthusiast. “Originally performed in 1998, this clever a cappella version of the Christmas classic became a YouTube sensation in 2006. As a result of its newfound popularity, the original members of this Indiana University men's a cappella group reunited and launched their highly successful performing and recording career. Basically, this is every college a cappella singer's fantasy come true. Happy Holidays!”

Flurries performed by August Burns Red, selected by Jake Stevens, creative director. “It was the most metal I could get without blowing people's minds straight into the stratosphere.”

Silent Night performed by Rhan Wilson, selected by Andres Duputel, creative assistant. To me, the song itself always sounded very sad to begin with. This version, set in a minor key, adds a haunted, dark and bittersweet quality which I love.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas performed by Judy Garland, selected by Erik Caban, administrative assistant and writer. “It's just not Christmas to me without hearing her rendition. I guarantee if you watch Meet Me in St. Louis – for which the song was written for her – you're bound to not have a dry eye by the end of Ms. Garland's performance of it in the film. Her intensity and unadulterated talent pull at my heartstrings every time. And yes, that was a nod to The Trolley Song.”

Loose Cannon: Reconnecting with Dad

By : Jim Walker
Comments: 0
7a981d076e88d6f2ea2c4ffeb0d44ee9

Share this story:

JimWalkerMany of us go through it every Christmas. Despite all the gains the LGBT community has made, especially in the last five years, many of us still face the pain and isolation from our families during the holidays. The reasons behind our estrangement from family are many, but the feeling is the same. As the calendar flips to 2013, I'll celebrate the end of my isolation from my dad. Earlier this month, I saw him for the first time in more than 22 years.

Dad was a drinker long before I was born. My brother, 10 years older than I, was into drugs. The two of them often physically fought, bringing my mother to tears.

Dad was verbally abusive to us. He used to tell me repeatedly how worthless I was, and how I’d never amount to anything. I think Mom feared he might get physical at some point. Many nights, we went to bed dressed just in case we’d have to leave in the middle of the night.

After 20 years of marriage, Mom finally gave up on him ever getting sober. They divorced when I was 10. He continued to drink during his second marriage and accrued multiple DUIs. The second wife was an alcoholic, too. I can remember the two of them fighting and knocking over the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. After running over and critically injuring a motorcyclist, Dad went into an alcohol treatment program, followed by AA for years.

I came out to my Dad in 1990. I was 20 at the time. He said he “accepted” me, but didn’t want to hear about my “sex partners” or friends.
I decided that I was not going to edit my life for him and that if he didn’t like it, he could “go to hell”—my exact words.

The last time I saw my grandfather was  in 2002. I had “come out” to him as well in 1990, but he had long since decided to let his personal judgment about that go, and to focus on trying to “know” his adult grandson before it was too late.

Grandpa died last summer. He was 97. The obit mentioned family, friends—virtually every detail of his life—but my name was left out.  

I assumed my dad, my dad’s wife, or my grandpa’s window was responsible for the omission. But my brother explained my grandpa’s widow had been in a home suffering from Alzheimer’s for many years. My Dad’s 3rd wife had died just a few months before my grandpa—and she had died after a long, painful and debilitating battle with diabetes.

My anger transformed into a feeling of sadness and compassion for my dad. So I found my dad on Facebook and sent a note saying I’d like to talk to him. Within a week, I worked up the courage to dial his number and speak the first words in more than two decades. Eight months of weekly phone conversations lead to my visit in early December.

When I saw him, I realized both of us are different people than we were two decades ago. Dad actually apologizes for things and thinks of other people before himself. I’m not all consumed with having to be right about everything.

One night after dinner I stood in the kitchen, watching him do dishes. I was astounded. I never once saw him offer to help Mom. When we went to dinner out the next night, his new wife drove. My Dad of 20 years ago would never think of letting a woman drive if he was in the car.

His new wife is wonderful. She, like my mom, is a retired teacher. She has traveled all over the world and experienced things I can only imagine. She, like me, and like Dad, is a severe liberal. We had many great discussions together. I think I talked more with her than with my dad. I’m very happy that at age 76, my Dad so quickly found someone who is kind, adventurous and open-minded.

I got to see my brother, John, as well during my trip. We went to dinner with my brother and his wife. It would be the first time my Dad, my brother, and I had been together since 1989. My Dad didn’t say much. He seemed to just take it all in as conversation flowed around the table—vacations, kids, pets and who we are today. I think Dad was, as I certainly was, amazed at the moment and that things were finally on the right track again between all of us.

The time with Dad went by quickly—much too quickly. I promised to return for another visit within the next year.

Driving back to the airport in Sacramento, I called Dad to thank him for his hospitality. The last and most profound thing he said to me was “I hope you can come visit again soon, and bring your partner with you.”

In many ways, I had been waiting 20 years to hear those words—an indicator that he fully accepts who I am and who I love.

I said “I love you both.” And while he couldn’t get the words out to say “I love you, too,” what he said just before that told me all I needed.

Long ago, God gave me the grace to free myself from the bondage of our painful past, and to forgive this man. Now, God has given us the chance to finally know each other as father and son.

Jim Walker blogs at Loose Cannon.

A gay twist re-invents Dickens' characters in Scrooge & Marley

By : Gregg Shapiro
Comments: 0

Ever since Charles Dickens first published A Christmas Carol it has been acted on stage and on film countless times with a variety of actors, settings and themes. But in 2012, the story is retold once again—this time from an LGBT perspective.

In Scrooge & Marley, which will be screened in St. Petersburg at Muvico Baywalk on Thursday, Dec. 6 by the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festiavl, our modern day Ben Scrooge hates the holidays, but that's where the similarities to the classic character end.

This Scrooge has made it his life's mission to make the gay community miserable, and we learn it's all linked back to his painful coming out as a teenager, his luckless love for a man in his past and his bitterness toward his happy, lesbian niece who is expecting a baby with her partner and the life his employee Bob Cratchit shares with his partner and five adopted kids—including Tiny Tim.

Out actor David Pevsner plays the updated Scrooge—his first leading role in a film. But he may seem familiar to film and Broadway buffs—especially those who saw the recent Lifetime film Liz & Dick, where he played Elizabeth Taylor's doctor, and the off-Broadway hit Howard Crabtree's When Pigs Fly.

Pevsner's newest role is a challenge, but a challenge that took the actor back to his hometown of Chicago, where the entire movie was filmed, and a chance to recreate Scrooge in a way that would have been unimaginable a decade or so ago.

WATERMARK: What was it that drew you to the role of Scrooge in Scrooge & Marley?
DAVID PEVSNER: At first, I saw the opportunity to work in Chicago. My family's still here and I thought it would be great to spend time. As far as the role, I never thought of myself as the guy to play a typical Ebenezer Scrooge, but I loved the take on the character here, and I could really identify. He's built this whole world for himself that has no real connection to anyone or anything except business, yet in his earlier incarnation, we see him so full of love and wonder. How he gets back to connecting on a human level is the story here, and I found it so relatable.

I've had my dark void-y times and it made me see him as more than just a mean, cranky antagonist. I love him throughout, because even at his meanest, he's still sort of witty.

How do you think people will react to this variation in the treatment of the classic Dickens' A Christmas Carol story?
I hope they take it to heart. It's a “gay” film in that a lot of the stock Dickens characters are in a gay context, but the feelings of family and inclusion and self-esteem and love are so universal. It's sort of the family Christmas film for the gays and their friends and family. There's another fun gay Christmas film that was directed by my friend Rob Williams (Role/Play), called Make the Yuletide Gay. Scrooge & Marley has an entirely different feel. Why can't we have two perennials?

It would be so great if this could be a film that people revisit every year, like Miracle on 34th Street and It's a Wonderful Life.
Shooting it, it certainly felt that way. It was shot with such heart and goodwill, and our directors Richard Knight Jr. and Peter Neville were terrific—supportive, funny, smart, direct, always with an eye to make us look good; a pleasure all the way around.

The cast of Scrooge & Marley includes out actors including Bruce Vilanch and Richard Ganoung. What was it like to work with them on this project?
What a great group. I already knew Bruce from writing Naked Boys Singing and I see him in L.A. a lot. I only knew (director)Richard based on his work and he is a total sweetheart and a wonderful scene partner—all the gays were! That means you too, Megan Cavanaugh, and the honorary gay, Rusty Schwimmer! The whole cast was so wonderful, mostly great Chicago-based actors who really stepped up to the plate and made me keep up. I would list them here, but they were all fantastic.

Scrooge & Marley is a Christmas movie, yet you're Jewish. How did you celebrate the holidays as a youth?
I'm Jewish and was raised as such in Skokie, Ill.—Hebrew school, Bar Mitzvah, all of it. We did go to (the) Sauganash (neighborhood) to look at the Christmas lights, but we never had a tree. Every year I campaigned for a “Chanukah Bush,” but that was never gonna happen! Face it, Chanukah is menorahs, dreidels, potato pancakes, and dirge-like songs, while Christmas is lighted trees, sugar cookies, decorated houses, and caroling. We Jews got the short end of the celebratory stick [laughs].

Do you have a favorite holiday-themed movie?
DP: I love It's a Wonderful Life but as a little boy, my fave was Shirley Temple's Heidi. I can imitate her calling for her grandfather, played by Jean Hersholt. “Grandfeather! Grandfeather!” [Laughs]

What did it mean to you to make a movie in your hometown?
So nice. The six degrees thing was working overtime—actors knowing folks I went to high school with or family members, plus I got to see my best girlfriend of almost 50 years and my high school drama teacher, besides getting to see my folks and my sister. I'd love to do a play there again. Chicago has some great actors and a bunch were in the film. I felt lucky to share the screen with them.

Do you have a preference for stage or screen?
I really enjoy playing a great role. Luckily, I'm getting more substantial stuff in films these days, and it's so damn fun. They say there's no such thing as small roles, only small actors, but girl, I've done the small roles and still do on TV, and I like the big roles better! I was shooting a short film recently that called on everything I have as an actor, including a fight scene, and I just thought, it doesn't get better than this. Oh wait, that one was unpaid; still, a ball. As far as I'm concerned, it's the role, not the medium.

What is next for you?
I wrote a new one man musical called Musical Comedy Whore, a sequel of sorts to my last show that I did at the Bailiwick (in Chicago) a few years ago called To Bitter and Back. I'm working on getting that up. I'm also touring with the production of Terrence McNally's play Corpus Christi that we've done all over the world, but now we're taking it to cities that we feel really need to hear the message of the play.

Along with showing Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption, the documentary that was produced about us, we will perform the show as a part of the “I Am Love” campaign to help fight the bullying epidemic. Film-wise, besides Scrooge & Marley,” I play James Deans' acting teacher (based on James Whitmore) in a film called Joshua Tree 1951: A Portrait of James Dean that's out on the festival circuit. Later this year I'm in a sci-fi/romance film called Love and Teleportation, as well as a bunch of short films for festivals, one of which, Coach, was directed by Sam Raimi's son, Lorne (who was) so fantastic to work with. I've had a very busy and creative couple of years, and I'm so grateful to get to be an artist full time.

More Info
WHAT: Scrooge & Marley
WHEN: 8 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 6
WHERE: Muvico Baywalk, St. Petersburg; Also available on DVD
TICKETS: $10 at TIGLFF.com

Preaching to the Converted: I Am Not the Next MasterChef

By : Ken Kundis
Comments: 0
603bd61365ef491e56cc0ba213b1babe

Share this story:

KenKundisHeadshotIn October 2010, I lost my job of 13 years with the employer that moved me from Orlando to New York City in 2009. The economy was still reeling, so I was lucky to find a marketing job with a financial services company based near my apartment in Jersey City. But they soon informed me I would be moved to the company's Lake Mary office. Either that, or look for another job.

So I moved back into my Audubon Park home, but my heart remained in New York. I had fallen in love—with the city and a certain guy. Even as I drove down I-95 to return to the place I still considered ‘home,' I knew I would look for a way to get back to the city and to Phil.
In the meantime, I was bored and lonely.

Enter MasterChef. The second season of the American version of the show became my must-watch moment. Here were home cooks with no experience in professional kitchens competing for cash, prizes and the kind of prestige that four-star Michelin chefs crave.

Each week contained a new challenge: fillet a fish; make a cake from scratch; produce a soufflé in 40 minutes. I recorded each show, tried to replicate the challenges, and began to enjoy cooking in ways previously unknown to me.

Fast forward to the present: I'm back in Manhattan, Phil and I live together in a high rise on the Hudson River, and I'm still a huge fan of MasterChef. So when a New York casting call was announced at the end of Season Three, I signed up.

I expected a crowd at the trendy Flatotel on 52nd Street, but nothing like the one I encountered last month. More than 300 hopefuls were waving hand-made signs or cut-outs of Gordon Ramsey and chanting “MasterChef! MasterChef!” Over-the-top enthusiasm is not in my repertoire, so I felt out of place… until the editor yelled “Cut!” and everyone went silent. The producers, who had made the signs in the first place, stepped in to rearrange them. This wasn't enthusiasm or ambition, it was marketing; something I could understand.

In line, an unexpected Orlando connection materialized. Directly in front of me, a forlorn ex-hippie grandmother from nearby Christmas radiated bitterness and disappointment.

“I tried out in Miami, but I didn't make it past the first round,” May hissed. “They picked the blonde bitch.”
So she packed her Christmas cookies—yes, her audition ‘dish' was a collection of Christmas cookies—and flew to New York to take another shot.

The young, good-looking African American man behind me seemed more suited for reality television. Jay resembled comedian David Chapelle—in looks and personality—and seemed to know his food. If his dish was as accessible and interesting as his personality, I figured he was a shoe-in.

And so we waited. An hour went by, and then another. Once we finally got in and plated our food, I felt a little better. We had been told that there would be no way to heat up our dishes but not to worry; the judges would focus on presentation and taste.

May's spread—mini blueberry pies, banana bread and the aforementioned cookies—shouted “Christmas in Christmas, Florida.” But it would be fine (or not) at any temperature. Jay plated a dish with pasta, shrimp and salmon. I felt for him; it didn't look appetizing cold.

My pan-seared lamb chops and parsley pesto would be better hot, but paired with a fennel and Mache salad with grapefruit segments it made for an attractive plate.

A beautiful and very-LA production assistant came around with a cameraman and asked questions. At the end of each interview we were told to hold up our plates, look straight into the camera and ask, “Am I the next MasterChef?”

Turns out, I'm not. But I felt victory in making it through the tough ‘food' round, with compliments from the food editor. My inability to manufacture that over-the-top enthusiasm (or “fandemonium” as the production assistant had called it) was my undoing. Incidentally, Jay's salmon brick and bland pasta failed to impress the food judge. May's Christmas cookies must have been tasty, but she blew the interview by acting like an unpleasant schoolteacher.

My audition to be MasterChef was exactly what it was supposed to be: a lark. Even if I'd made it, I'm not sure I could have taken the required nine-week leave of absence from work. (Who can?!) But I got to see the inner workings of one of my favorite shows, meet chef/judge Joe Bastianich (my least favorite), and get feedback on my cooking. 

Not a bad way to spend a free afternoon back in Manhattan.

Ho-Ho-Ho from Fire Down Below

By : Erik Caban
Comments: 0

With so much goingErikCabanHeadshot_copy on during the holidays, you might be missing out on some pretty neat happenings, gift ideas and shows. I've compiled a list of my not-to-be-missed choices:

Sister Act: The MusicalBob Carr Performing Arts CenterDirect from Broadway, this five-time Tony-nominated musical smash, produced by the rollicking Whoopi Goldberg. Based on the movie, a showgirl, Delores, witnesses a murder and is put in protective custody in the one place cops are sure she won't be found – a convent! Through her fabulous disco-ness, she inspires the choir and breathes new life into the church. Playwright Douglas Carter Beane, who wrote the musicals The Little Dog Laughed and Xanadu, throws his own gay nod into the show when the singing nuns have to help save the church from being sold to a couple of “bachelor” antiques dealers. You're sure to find salvation – if not hilarity. December 4 – 9.

First Annual Miss Comedy Queen Spectacular!The Venue – What better way to kick off the holigays than with your favorite comedy queens! Not only will it be pure comedy but this event will benefit The Barber Fund! So, if you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, Ashura, Bodhi, or even Boxing Day, bring your friends and come celebrate with the funny ladies of comedy in this great drag show event featuring some of my faves, Ginger Minj, April Fresh, Eureka Fish and Blue!

Steppin' Out with Irving BerlinThe Winter Park Playhouse – I can't think of the holidays without thinking of Irving Berlin. This lively romp takes you through the life of American songwriter Irving Berlin via his catalogue of songs, including “White Christmas” and of course, “Steppin' Out.” Thru Dec. 15th. AdamLambert

Adam Lambert doll – I live for this!! This one of a kind Adam Lambert doll was specially created by Mattel to benefit Project Angel Food.

Transiberian Orchestra – Amway Center – For the first time ever, one of my favorite rock-opera bands, Trans-Siberian Orchestra is teaming up with Hallmark Channel to present the live debut of the band's multi-platinum rock opera, “The Lost Christmas Eve,” their newest holiday tradition. Dec. 16th.

NewGirlA Very She & Him Christmas If you love Zooey Deschanel and – like me – can't get the New Girl theme song out of your head, you'll love this Christmas album by the duo She & Him, consisting of Deschanel and M. Ward. Deschanel's wispy vocals mingles beautifully with her renditions of Christmas classics like “Have Yourself a Very Merry Christmas” and “The Christmas Waltz.” If that's not enough Zooey for you, New Girl: Season 1 just came out on DVD as well!

Wanzie’s GLITTERING  STAR-STUDDED “A CHRISTMAS CAROL”: A Dickens’-      Inspired Celebrity Cavalcade Holiday Spectacle! The Footlight Theater – Far from traditional, Michael Wanzie’s cracked version of A Christmas Carol has become my holiday tradition for the past three years. Wanzie’s comic adaptation of Charles Dickens’ tale assembles an all-star cast to act the story, played by a veritable cast of comedic crazies. Twistedly funny and wildly inappropriate casting: Carol Lee as Carol Channing as Scrooge, Gidget Galore as Liza Minelli as Tiny Tim, Doug Ba'aser as Marlee Matlin as Bob Cratchit. And Miss Sammy as Cher, who as the Ghost of Christmas Past belts out “If I Could Turn Back Time.” Pure Christmas Cher! Saturdays, thru Dec. 22nd.

American Horror Story: Season 1 on blu-ray –
If you have yet to see the incredibly wicked, breath-taking, dark and twisted show from mega producer Ryan Murphy, you are seriously missing out! If not only to be able to see – and pause and rewind – Dylan McDermott's perfectly-aged naked butt, AHS offers up a Golden Globe winning performance by Jessica Lange.

AHS

Charles Dickens' A Christmas CarolTheatre Downtown – If you're looking for the classic, Theatre Downtown's annual performance has got you covered. Thru Dec. 23rd.

Next Generation Ballet’s The Nutcracker, The Great Imperial BalletDavid A. Straz Center – Dancing snowflakes, sugar plum fairies and men in tights; can't get much gayer than that. Seeing this ballet is quickly becoming a holiday tradition for me. My partner says it's because I'm a control freak and a ball-buster. Dec. 22ndand 23rd.

FiessoFiesso Black and Red Diagonal Suede Genuine Leather Loafer Shoes – :::Drool::: ‘Nuff said.

Drip Orlando – Remember that Christina Aguilera video for “Dirrty”? Take that, add paint, colored beer, water and a number of other mediums being utilized in a full dive bar setting with full audience interaction and you get “Drip!” Creator Jessica aka “MARIKO” has turned what was once a 15 minute Fringe show that she debuted six years ago, starring only two people into a full-on intense art experience including a substantial venue setting, full cast and a live rock band! It's an in-your-face explosion of color and movement and music. There's really no way to describe it but dress down, drink up, rock out and get dirrty! Thursday, Friday and Saturdays, 8pm.

6.21.12 Editor’s Desk

By : Steve Blanchard
Comments: 1
470186001219e6e1afb8140ba3bffb6f

Share this story:

SteveBlanchardHeadshotA few weeks ago I heard someone refer to Pride events as “Gay Christmas.” There's a huge buildup, lots of preparation and then, once the celebration is over, a feeling of disappointment that the festivities have come and gone.

I laughed and essentially agreed with the sentiment—not to say that Christmas isn't for everyone, regardless of sexuality.

It wasn't until a week or so later when I thought about that conversation again. I was in stand-still traffic on the Howard Frankland Bridge crossing Tampa Bay when I noticed a sticker on the vehicle in front of me. It was a white outline of characters portraying a manger scene with the message, “Remember the Reason for the Season.” It was obviously a sticker commemorating Christmas.

It's a message we hear every winter. The December holiday is supposed to be a celebration of the birth of Christ. Yet, the shopping, parties, gift wrapping, candy and Santa Claus hoopla often overshadows the simple message of “Peace on Earth.” It's a concern we hear from church leaders the moment the Thanksgiving Day Parade wraps up its route on that cold November morning.

It's frustrating to many when the reasons behind a celebration are overlooked, and it's not a far stretch to feel that same frustration during Pride month.

St. Pete Pride is arguably the biggest LGBT Pride event in the state—Come Out With Pride boasts similar numbers, so who's to say which is the largest. But beginning in late May, St. Pete Pride rolls out its official program, published by Watermark, and events pepper every week of the June calendar. It all leads up to daily Pride events the last week of the month and culminating in the Promenade, Street Festival and after-parties. It's a whole lot of fun spanning a long, hot month.

As we prepare for the big day, gay men and women flood the gyms so their bodies are ready to be bared in the June heat. Designing costumes, floats and booths take priority for a majority of the businesses represented along Central Avenue. It's a distracting month that celebrates our diversity, our families and our Pride.

But how often do we, as a community, remember the true reason for this season?

When the Stonewall Riots of New York unfolded on that June night in 1969, I wasn't even a thought in my parents' minds. I didn't learn about the riots until I was halfway through college and could finally think the words, “I'm gay,” in my own mind. When someone would ask me why we have LGBT Pride, I couldn't come up with an answer until I educated myself about our history.

Every year I hear comments about the Florida heat and the “inconvenience” of sweaty, shirtless men and mid-drift baring lesbians celebrating who they are in the June sun. “Why don't they move it to the spring,” is often suggested, as is, “Couldn't we have this in the winter?”

But if we truly believe in the real meaning of Pride, why reschedule it just because a different time of year may be more bearable?
Most LGBT people see the Stonewall Riots as the birth of the new LGBT equality movement. When that original group of drag queens finally had enough of the constant raids on their favorite gay bar and decided to stand up to authorities, its doubtful they were thinking about the summer heat. They were thinking it was time to change the way our country looks at its LGBT citizens.

While some of those who were involved in the original riots are still with us, a growing number of them have passed on, leaving us to cultivate the movement they started more than four decades ago. And look at what we've accomplished! Same-sex marriage is legal in a handful of states and more and more same-sex coupled households are raising children. A glimpse at pop culture shows acceptance unimaginable even 10 years ago, when St. Pete Pride began.

As we celebrate our diversity, our sexuality and our community this year, maybe we should stop for a moment or two between floats, parties and drinks to think about those who came before us. Because really, aren't they the true reason for our season?

Abundant Blessings: The gift of you

By : Rev. Phyllis Hunt
Comments: 0
2771892bdf9d89632589038c366f0c14

Share this story:

PHyllisHuntHeadshotChristmas has come and gone and we're already looking at Valentine's Day advertisements and displays in store windows. But according to the Christian church calendar, the season of Christmas ventures into the first week of the New Year with Epiphany.

The church calendar identifies the major holidays like Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy week, Easter, Pentecost, etc., and in between these major holidays is what is referred to as “ordinary time.” Beyond the festivities, holiday parties, gift giving and entertainment of the of classic and traditional holiday performances we manage our daily routines.

The reading titled “Ordinary Times,” is a quote from Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas by Jan Richardson. It is much like a daily meditation book offering insights and reflections during the Christmas season which runs thru the first week of January ending with the celebration of the Magi’s visit which is called Epiphany. Richardson's writings offer the reader an opportunity to notice life in the midst of this eventful and oftentimes demanding season.

Richardson writes, “I don't care what the church calendar says; there is ordinary time in this season too. There is walking, working, talking, eating. There is sweeping, shopping, washing dishes, laundry. There is checking all the doors and windows before bed. There is turning down the covers. There is sleeping. There is rest.”   

Even if you do not celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, at times the season gets lost in the business of shopping, parties, decorating, cooking, and gift giving. Packed in between these holiday traditions is the busyness of our life and soon you realize its late January, and the holidays have passed you by. And for some, maybe even for you, that season is not all about joy to the world.  

There may be memories of loss and pain that wraps your soul like too many stands of Christmas lights on a tree. Seasonal movies are one of the ways that mark the Christmas season. While these movies may not be everyone’s holiday tradition, the old classic, It’s a Wonderful Life is one of those movies that help ground us in the gift giving meaning of this season.

We are all familiar with the story of the very compassionate George, who gets caught up in the difficult events of his life that he feels are too big to manage. His fears paralyze him and he thinks that his life never really mattered and the world would be better off without him.

In the movie, an angel enters his life and shows him what his town would have been like had he not made decisions motivated by compassion and caring for the people in his life and business.

It's a Wonderful Life retells the story of a man’s life and the gifts of life he brought just by being himself.

What would the world be like without you? It's a question that is difficult to answer, especially for oneself.  Ask those near and dear to you to help you see what others know about you. Get still in the busy time and let it teach you something about yourself for there may be a personal epiphany ready to bless you.  

Richardson writes, “Still me until I hear Your heartbeat. Quiet me until I feel Your breathing. Make me one with Your rhythms. Move me to the cadence of Your love.”  

What would it take for you to hear the heart beat of God or feel God's breath on your brow or become one with the rhythm of God or be moved by the pulse of God's love? Most of us do not think in such poetic language or understand God to be a intimate and tangible part of our bodies. Even if that idea or belief does not resonate with you, what would it take for you to be so still that you feel your own breath moving in and expanding who you are and taking small pieces of what you offer the world out with each exhale.  

The invitation is to just be still at some point in your hectic life. Just be. What would that feel like for you?  How long would it take to go from your fast paced day to stillness?    

What would you have to give up to be still?  Would it even be worth it?  

Just find a moment or two, stop, take a couple of breathes and give thanks. If those moments take you to a deeper place of stillness then so be it, but at least you will have taken a moment to replenish your soul.  

Recognizing that you are the greatest gift you could give may free you in this busy life, and what a wonderful gift to give yourself that no one else can give you and no one else can take away.

As we move forward into a new year and the memories of Christmas and the holidays become more distant, I hope you will carry with you the gift of life you have discovered in this time of reflection, the gift of you!

All I Want for Christmas is a Jew, Part 2

By : Erik Caban
Comments: 1
382f5064c8b02b498c708177f6cb1b15

Share this story:

ErikCabanHeadshot_copy

Over the next few weeks, John and I continued to spend time together and yes – sleep together. I wasn't sure what we were; friends, boyfriends, friends with benefits but we were actually communicating. It seemed like we were actually on the same page as far as working toward a goal of getting back together.

Meanwhile, my apartment lease was almost up. Since John and I still owned a house together and we were getting along so well and because being single is expensive, we decided I should just move back in – of course, into the guest bedroom.

While at first, I was ok with not defining our relationship, there came a point where I just needed to know. I mean, after months of spending so much time together and being intimate, why shouldn't you be allowed to know where you stand with someone you're, for all intents and purposes, dating? I knew I wasn't dating anyone else. Besides that, I've never been one to just have sex with people without the benefit of monogamy.

At dinner one night, I found myself desperate to ask but I kept psyching myself out of it out of fear that it would scare him away. Experience showed that John had an aversion to commitment. That night, while in bed, my heart took over for my head.

“I love you,” I blurted out.

John paused. He looked like a deer in headlights. I quickly tried to backtrack.

“…inside of me,” I added.

He knew what I meant, though. I guess I could no longer avoid bringing it up. As we were getting ready for bed, I asked.

“So, what are we?”

“We're reconnecting,” he stated.

“Ok…What does that mean?”

“Ugh, Erik,” he began sternly, “I thought you had changed.”

“What does that mean?”

“I thought you were able to just have sex without getting emotionally attached.”

“Excuse me?! My morals have never changed!”

“Well, I can't make a commitment.”

There it was. The statement no hopeless romantic wants to hear from the person they're helplessly in love with.

“Well, what are your intentions with me, then?”

“I like being with you but I'm working on me right now.”

An infuriating response.

“If you're working on yourself and your commitment issues, then don't you think you shouldn't be dating anyone then?” I asked, dumbfounded.

“I care about you but I don't expect you to wait for me.”

Another knock to my ego.

“So, what you're saying is, you still want to date other people?”

“Yes, I want to keep my options open.”

Pow! Another sucker punch. To me, that says ‘you're not enough.'

It sucks when you realize you're at a different emotional place than someone else. What could I do except respect his wishes and take care of myself? So, I began going on dates again and actually met a few that I was really starting to care for.

Apparently, John couldn't respect his own wishes. Any time he learned I was going on a date, he'd make snide comments.

This is what you wanted, though.

While I was out at a nightclub with a date, John happened to show up with CJ, who of course, he was still seeing. Normally, I would've been uncomfortable or jealous even. Since John had set boundaries, I was fine with seeing him with another man.

As I was locking lips with my date, John happened to walk by. I swear, total coincidence. I'm not one to try and throw something in someone's face so, when I saw him, I instantly pulled away from my date. John had definitely caught a glimpse and stormed out of the nightclub.

Later that night, when I got home, I tried to talk to him calmly about it and tried to empathize with his feelings and vice versa but he would have no part of it.

“John, I'm so confused,” I stated.

“It's not you, it's me,” he whined.

Oh, no, he didn't just use that line on me.

“I am NOT going to apologize,” I snapped. “I'm single. If you want to change that, all you have to do is say the word. Until then, go to Hell!”

“Yes, I'm the asshole,” he said passive aggressively.

Clearly, we weren't on the same page. All these months, I thought John had grown. I guess I just had delusions that after more than a year apart would've allowed him to realize that I was the only man he wanted to be with – that maybe he'd see that there must be a reason we never really left each other's lives after the break-up and why we were reconnecting romantically again. I knew that he was my Chosen person but alas, he just saw me as an option.

With that, I also realized that if he couldn't be monogamous, I definitely couldn't have sex with him. To me, that comes with intimacy and trust. It was then, I knew the best Hanukah gift I could give him — and myself was to back off; see him as any other man I was casually dating.

“I want–and have always wanted– to build my life around you,” I began. “I am proud to be with you. I want you to feel the same about me. I don't know what role do you see me as in your life but if it's just a friend, that's fine but I just ask that you please be honest with me. I feel like I've been the only one fighting for the chance to make it work. I think about you all the time. I think about how much fun we have together, how much you make me smile and laugh, things you taught me, conversations we had and as I've said before, even just sitting doing nothing with you made me feel complete and content. I know that is all still there. I miss us. I love you but I love me more. So, with that, I think the best thing I can offer you, is to let you go and stop pursuing you.”

Erik Fact: If after months or years of dating someone, they still can't be in a state of monogamous, as far as I'm concerned, they're in a state of denial. And I'm in a state as well. It's called single.

Monday Ripples: Recycling Christmas Lights

By : Scottie Campbell
Comments: 3

“Steve Jobs was born out of wedlock, put up for adoption at birth, dropped out of college, then changed the world. What’s your excuse?” – @jwmoss

I have to admit it was on my mind again, as it has every year since I was a young guy watching it on our small black and white television. I have to do that Time Square New Year's Eve thing. It didn't help that one of my NYC transplant friends, Art, was tweeting live from Time Square. He had made his way there because he's a huge Lady Gaga fan. I would honestly rather play canasta in a hot tub with Mitt Romney and Mel Gibson than see Lady Gaga, but I still would have gone.

“Since time flies consider mapping out what you’d like to achieve this year,” tweeted Richard Branson on new year's day (who would argue advice from this guy – not I) and I took his words to heart. So I've made my mind: 2012 will be the year I check NYE in NYC off my bucket list. Well, I guess technically 2012 and 2013 will be the years that…oh hell, you get the picture.

I hope your celebration leading into the new year was grand, if not at least safe. Brendan and I went to a house party thrown by friends. Now in its 10th year, they do an art trade party. People bring art they've created then haggle with other attendees to trade each other's art. It's quite a nifty thing and our art collection grows – eclectically and in size – each year we go.

This year one room was converted to a silent auction area. People would bid on artwork and the funds went to support a local food bank. The amount garnered from this simple act of kindness? Over $1800!

You know I always like to be honest with you, so let me just admit that I didn't buy anything in auction. My biggest contribution to the evening was approving Brendan's art trades and drinking free beer. I tried to auction off an empty bottle of beer I drank from, but my efforts were unsuccessful. (Apparently the last lesson 2011 had for me is that any celebrity I have may be in my own head.)

So here we are late in the day on the first Monday in 2012. I've had some time off lately, so getting my head back in the game is currently set to snail mode, but I wanted to get these Ripples out to you.

Welcome Back, Kanamori
Teaching: The Noblest Profession
It's amazing the impact our teachers make on our lives. Have you ever sat there and tried to remember how certain thoughts got into your head, then realized it went back to a teacher you had in elementary school? That's happened to me. When I watched this heartening video posted by Elephant Journal, I immediately knew I had to share it with my 5th Grade teacher Miss Fanning. She still out there in the trenches shaping lives and I knew Mr. Kanamori would inspire her, so I posted it on her Facebook wall. Here's to all the teachers – let's hope they're actually paid what they deserve someday!

You Are My Sunshine
Sun powers Orlando man's electric car
You may be doing a lot of the environment, but I bet Bob Stonerock out does you. Bob has outfitted his house with solar equipment so well that he is selling surplus power back to the Orlando Utilities Commission. Think about that next time you're rushing down to OUC with the bill you forgot to pay – or wanted to try to forget.  Now Bob is driving a Volt and since he plugs it in at his house, the Orlando Sentinel surmises that Bob drives on sun. I kind of see it that way too.

Déjà Brew
Recycled Beer Bottle Candle
Upon reflection, trying to pass my empty Shock Top bottle was probably not the best reuse. This gentleman, who goes by the rather no nonsense moniker of “homebrewsoaps” on Etsy, is probably onto something though by making candles out of used suds bottles. Cute and clever – it might just be that unique gift you're looking to give the beer lover in your life.

Saving Christmas
String Lights Made Into Slippers in China
This is a fascinating video, but it left me with all kinds of questions. How do you make sure your old Christmas lights get recycled? Why in the hell aren't we recycling them in the USA? We ship them to China to be recycled? When the camera isn't on, do you think they all bitch about their job? They seem surprisingly content in their occupation. Anyway, this is what's happening to the extraordinary amount of Christmas lights we throw away.

All I Want for Christmas is a Jew, Part 1

By : Erik Caban
Comments: 0
d20a1d20a88f1d6332d287e902e4a84f

Share this story:

ErikCabanHeadshot_copyPassion; a force so potent, we still remember it long after it's faded away. A drive so powerful, that it can push us into the arms of unexpected lovers. A sensation so overwhelming, it can break down walls we've built to protect our hearts. A feeling so intense that is resurfaces even though we tried so hard to bury it. Of all emotions, passion is the one that gives us a reason to live.

It's been quite the year of “woohoo's” and woes for this sanguine scribe. A matchmaker, facebook, dating sites and yet countless dates later, John continued to be an unwavering part of my psyche. I'm sure a big part of that had to with the fact that I still ran into him among our social circles and he made a conscious effort to approach me.

Then, there was the feedback from my blog on the topic of being friends with an ex, which forced me to rethink the possibility. Or maybe those suitors didn't work out because I hadn't made peace with my past. So, a few months ago, John and I attempted again to reconnect. We started small; a cup of coffee, then a brunch, then a movie. We made sure to not have alcohol or talk about our demise. Oh, and no sex.

After awhile and with boundaries in place, I was really starting to see him as a true friend. Of course, our friends were skeptic.

One fateful night, while I was out dancing with some friends, John happened to be there with CJ, who he'd been dating for a few weeks. As usual, that didn't stop him from making a beeline to me. After chatting for a bit and some mild cocktail-fueled flirting, he leaned in to kiss me on the lips. I turned my head so that he landed on my cheek.

“Kiss me,” John whined.

“Um, I don't kiss my friends on the lips,” I replied.

“So, what? Kiss me.”

“I thought we were trying to be friends. Besides, you're here with your boyfriend.”

He went on to enlighten me about the issues he was having with his current and how much he missed me. In typical fashion, I tried to lend a sympathetic ear. The conversation turned serious when we began discussing what we were looking for in a partner.

“Erik, I love you,” John blurted out.

“What?!” I stated shocked, my eyes beginning to tear up.

“I'm in love with you,” he stuttered.

“Then, what are we doing?”

“Do you love me?” he sobbed.

“Yes. I do. I never stopped.”

As tears began to fall down both our faces, John clammed up.

“I have to go,” he said.

“Why? I thought we were actually making progress here?”

“Come with me,” he beckoned as he cut his way through the crowd to find CJ.

A part of me thought he was going to drop the other guy like a hot potato and leave with me in true cinematic fashion. Instead, they simply began talking like nothing had just transpired between him and me. I stood off to the side, watching them have a heartfelt discussion about their relationship. What just happened here?

After what seemed like an eternity, I couldn't take it and walked up to the two of them.

“Just so you know,” I directed to CJ. “John just told me he was still in love with me and wants to be with me, so you might want to save your energy!”

“What?!” CJ said stunned.

“I'm only telling you that so you don't waste your time like I almost did again. He's clearly playing games with both of us,” I stated as a mortified John stormed off.

After CJ left, I went to find John at the bar.

“I can't believe you did that!” he berated.

“Granted, it wasn't my shiningest moment but I won't allow you to play games with me or anyone.”

“If you would've given me a chance, I was trying to end things with him.”

“Yea,” I said doubtfully. “That's sure what it looked like.”

“Fuck you,” he uttered. “You're a bastard.”

“No. Fuck you,” I said nudging him in the chest.

“Oh, yea?” he challenged, pulling me towards him forcefully.

“Oh, no you don't,” I said with a smirk.

“I want to fuck you,” he whispered as he started kissing my neck.

“I want you to, too.”

John grabbed my hand and led me out of the club and towards our cars. Before we even got into the house, we were pulling each other's clothes off. The passion was definitely still there.

Before I start to sound like an erotica novel, cut to post coital. Now what?

Scott Joseph knows good food, isn't afraid to point out the bad

By : Scottie Campbell
Comments: 0
e4f5400ba6f2b000de3a9152e5eb34b9

Share this story:

Food critic Scott Joseph has a unique relationship with food. His career as a food critic directly affects people's opinions, and those who serve up the fare.

“I know that people lost jobs because of things I wrote,” says food critic Scott Joseph. “I know that people lost money because of what I wrote.”

It might surprise those who seek to vilify critics that Joseph doesn't see himself in a position of power, but something more akin to an educator.

“To call it power sounds sinister,” he says, “I think I had the opportunity to influence and introduce people to restaurants that they might not find.”

Joseph's writing career had an unlikely start in 1987 when he learned that the Phoenix New Times was looking for someone to write about food. He had no clippings to forward to the editor, because he had no experience as a published writer. He knew how to cook some things, but had no substantial food career. Still something about the job intrigued Joseph, so he wrote a two and a half page letter describing the approach he'd like to take and won the position.

New Times is an alternative weekly and it was the first in the country to have a full-time food section. It didn't take long for the paper to realize why they were the first. Grocery stores, Joseph gives an example, tend to be more conservative and didn't understand the tongue-in-cheek tone of the publication. One week before Christmas, Scott Joseph was fired from the Phoenix New Times.

Helped by a friend with a thick rolodex, Joseph began applying for food critic jobs in various parts of the country while freelancing. Early on in the process, his friend recommended checking into Orlando. “I said, ‘No fucking way',” laughs Joseph. “Just not moving to Florida.”

Eventually the unpredictable world of freelancing began to wear on Joseph, so when his friend suggested he apply for an open position at Orlando Sentinel, he decided to at least check it out. He arrived in Orlando for his interview—by now armed with writing clips—scared to death that he might get the job; but after two and half days of interviewing, he was scared to death he wouldn't get it.

He was that impressed with the operation at the time. He chuckles when he remembers how he followed up the interview with phone calls in case they needed more information. Joseph may not like to think of it as power, but for the next 20 years he was the word on restaurant going in Central Florida.

“The newspaper industry is staring the future in the face,” says Joseph of the anticipated death of print in favor of online resources. It is among the reasons that Joseph decided to take a buyout when the Sentinel first started offering them. He thought the timing was right to explore other challenges—he had also heard that the first buyouts would be among the more lucrative.

So in 2008, Joseph left the Orlando Sentinel hoping to explore other career avenues, but those opportunities fell through with the onslaught of the recession. To keep in the game, he began writing a food blog and, based on feedback, decided to make it something more substantial and launched ScottJosephOrlando.com, a restaurant guide to Orlando's restaurants complete with restaurant listings and Joseph's reviews.

While the Sentinel may have been an envied “bully pulpit,” Joseph seems to have maintained his respected voice in the restaurant community and moved more toward the educational aspect that has always been important to him. To wit, Joseph recently developed an iPhone app that gives people a GPS listing of the 10 closest restaurants.

ScottJosephOrlando.com is essentially a one-man band, but he does get help with web maintenance and has employed people to sell ads for the site. Interestingly, he won't allow restaurants to advertise on his site unless he has endorsed them. In this way, he hopes to maintain the integrity of his opinions, while making the site profitable, at the same time.

“I've joked that family-style dining means that everyone gets into the kitchen and starts arguing,” Joseph says when referring to the stress of entertaining at home during the holidays. He recommends keeping things traditional when preparing meals, avoiding the temptation to try new things. Your guests anticipate “certain flavors and certain dishes.”

When it comes to dining out on for Christmas, Joseph says he can only recommend what a restaurant is like on a regular day. On Christmas day, “All bets are off.” On that day, the restaurant is usually serving a menu that is foreign to them.

“Everybody wants turkey,” says Joseph. “So here's a restaurant cooking turkey that normally doesn't and they are cooking not just one, but several.”
When dining out for Christmas, people usually take the leisure attitude of wanting to linger, so restaurants tend to get backed up. Know that, even with a reservation, you're in for a wait, so “chill out, knowing what you're in for.” On the same token, the restaurant will be busy, so the staff will have a “get ‘em in, get ‘em out” attitude.

Above all, Joseph pleads, “Don't start getting nasty with the people there—they're working on Christmas! Be nice to them.”

As for his own holidays, Joseph will be vacationing in London. He's learned that the entire country shuts down on Christmas day—no shops open, no restaurants open, everything is closed. He is expecting to have his Christmas dinner in a hotel dining room…where you can bet he will be cordial to the staff.