Chasing Lightning

I missed the fedora years, but worked with a few reporters from that era.

Mark Twain said finding the right word is like capturing lightning.Sometimes the muse allows you to experience what that’s like. Sometimes the muse goes missing.

These days, I’m  chasing lightning. I’m trying to see things, trying to look deeper, trying to slow things down just enough to understand a little bit more.  I’m trying to catch lightning and put it out into the world.

I write this blog, have written two books (and sold two copies of those books!) but if you want to write, you write. It doesn’t matter if it sells, you keep putting your thoughts out into the world. And who knows, maybe someday…

I write because I love it. I write because it helps me order my cluttered mind and I write because occasionally I strike a nerve and someone sends me a kind note or stops me at the grocery store and mentions that they liked this or that.

You remember the slings and arrows—they leave a mark. But a kind word is fuel. High octane fuel.

I don’t expect to be James Patterson or Stephen King, I just write for the pure pleasure of it.

Once upon a time I made a living as a journalist. You make very little money, but you learn a little bit about a whole lot of things.I covered business, crime, government, agriculture, education and sports. I wrote feature stories and had a blast doing it.

There’s nothing like working in a newsroom, surrounded by young talent and grizzled veterans. Some of those grizzled veterans liked us newbies and others couldn’t tolerate us. I liked every single one of them. Those that were friendly, became friends and mentors. Those that couldn’t stand the sight of us also managed to teach us —a curse word at a time.

Our city editor when I started writing about Delray was a guy named Tom Sawyer. That was his real name. I was 22 years old when I started at the Monday-Thursday Papers and Tom took me out to lunch on my first day. We went to Tom Sawyer’s restaurant on Boca Raton Boulevard and he told me that the place was named after him. I think I believed him. Tom was slight in stature but loomed large in life. He had a big bark, but a soft heart. He had been around the block many times and would turn beet red when he was mad, which was at least once a day. You never wanted to be the reporter, editor or photographer who made Tom red. He would stand in the middle of the newsroom and cover his eyes with his hands waiting for the rage to pass.

I liked him. He was my “Lou Grant” and I knew if I listened he could teach me a lot.

I became especially close to a sportswriter named Jim. He was a terrific writer, immensely gifted but a classic underachiever.He wore sweaters year round, even in summer, had a beautiful dog named Mario and he loved women.I sat next to him in the newsroom and we exchanged copy. I’d look at his stories and he’d look at mine.I was young and trying to figure things out, he was older and experienced. He had style and craft and when I read his stories I knew I had a long way to go. He was good. Real good.He was also troubled.

Sometimes, after work, we’d go to a bowling alley bar off of Cypress Creek Road for a beer. I thought it was an odd location, but I’d follow Jim anywhere thinking that maybe over beers I’d gain a nugget of advice that would make me a better journalist.I soon learned that he went to the bowling alley bar because he had a thing for the bartender who looked a lot like Elvira—Google her and you may remember.He wasn’t exactly there to give me tips, but it was fun anyway.

One evening, the movie “Platoon” was playing at the bar and my cool friend suddenly broke out in a cold sweat. Without taking his eyes of the screen, he recounted his experiences in Vietnam as a medic. His knuckles turned white as he gripped the bottle of beer in his hands. He was riveted by the movie. “This is what it was like,” he said. And then he stopped talking, but in that instant I saw what my friend was wrestling with.

It was an unforgettable moment, and I learned a lot that night. Every experience makes you a better writer. Jim left the paper for a new life in Denver, but he made a lasting impression. I’ve been looking for him ever since.

I left journalism a long time ago, but journalism never left me. The writing part anyway.As we speak, I’m trying to write a play. It’s a stretch for me, the craft requires different muscles but I think challenging yourself as you get older is a good thing. I don’t know if it’s any good, or if it will ever see the light of day, but I’m determined to finish.I’m trying to catch lightning. And I don’t plan to stop any time soon.

Adventures In Writing…

It has been said that writing is a lonely endeavor. But I find it to be a joyous exercise.

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”

– Anaïs Nin

 

I have always loved to write.

I find it relaxing and cathartic.

Whenever I have a strong emotion—stress, anger, happiness, excitement, sadness—my first inclination is always to find a corner and write.

I’ve had fallow periods where the words didn’t come easy, but I can honestly say I’ve never been blocked. The words just flow. Sometimes the prose is terrible, but the well never runs dry and with patience I can usually get something to sound reasonably passable.

I write to order my thoughts, to quiet a busy mind and because I like the interaction I get.

Some of you comment on the blog itself, some of you text or email me and some of you comment on social media. I enjoy it all. Thank you and please keep it coming.

A few years back, I wrote a book about my experiences in Delray entitled “Adventures in Local Politics.”

The book was my attempt to capture my story of coming to Delray Beach and working as a local reporter before deciding to run for office in 2000. I wanted to get it all down before the years dimmed my memories. I wanted to leave something for my children to read and I wanted the book to be a resource for other people who may want to run for local office.

I was proud of the book and although I had no expectations and only limited time to spend on promotion, the book found a niche. Students in an urban planning class at FAU used to buy it, people I met in business would sometimes order it on Amazon and a few candidates from near and far managed to find it.

I appreciated their support.

The publishing company I used went belly up during Covid and I found out that other than buying used copies online, the book would be out of print. Since I still get the stray request for a book, I didn’t want that.

So, after a few inquiries I signed a deal with a California publisher. I’m going to do three books: we just finished an updated version of “Adventures” which includes some stuff on Covid, then I’m going to flesh out a book I’ve already written about my relationship with a well-known local entrepreneur and finally I’m going to team up with some colleagues on a book called “Letters to a Candidate” which is underway.

Here’s the introduction.

Please let me know your thoughts. And thanks for reading this blog, which is a labor of love that allows me to clear the cobwebs every Monday morning.

 

Letter to a candidate…

Once upon a time, we used to admire just about every candidate who threw his or her hat in the ring.

Running for office is not easy and we respect that.

Campaigning is grueling, nasty, and personal. There are easier ways to serve your community. So, we had some reverence for those who stepped up and put

themselves out there.

Not anymore.

We’ve seen too many bad candidates.

We’ve suffered too many fools, egomaniacs, buffoons, narcissists and empty suits.

We’ve seen the damage they’ve done.

We’ve also seen the opportunities they’ve squandered and frankly we’re tired. Bad politicians make us cranky.

We’ve all seen the memes and the funny Gif’s poking fun at the clown car of elected officials who embarrass themselves (and us) with their bad behavior,

failure to get anything done and inability to serve the people they promise to help. Yes, we’ve laughed and yes, we’ve shared a few jokes ourselves.

But when you think about it,  poor leadership isn’t funny, it’s tragic.

In the case of war or pandemic, poor leadership gets people killed.

On a local level, you may not be making life or death decisions every day, but if you tolerate a bad Police Department or fail to invest in Fire Rescue services you can cause people to die.

Yes, serving as an elected official is a big responsibility. So, while we are glad you are thinking about taking the plunge, we think you ought to know a few things.

That’s why we’ve written these letters to you.

Each letter contains a lesson that we’ve learned through practice as former elected officials and through observation as involved and engaged citizens who have been keeping an eye on all levels of government for decades.

We’ve seen the great ones. The special people who move mountains and leave a positive legacy for others to build upon—or destroy.

We’ve seen the ones who could have been great but fell short.

And we’ve seen the ones who have made a mess of things.

What you are about to read is a distillation of our combined knowledge and what we’ve learned from others who have served.

Over our many decades inside and outside the arena, we have known council members, mayors, county commissioners, state legislators, members of Congress, governors, cabinet officers, senators and we’ve even seen a president or two up close. We’ve also met a slew of presidential candidates during their trips to voter rich South Florida.

As former elected officials who remained involved in the community we are also often called upon by aspirants and office holders who want advice, endorsements and money—not necessarily in that order.

This is the book we’ll hand to them now that it’s written.

We wish that this book existed back 20 years ago when we ran for local office in Delray Beach, Florida. It might have saved us some pain and heartache over the years.

We hope you will learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of others. Along the way, we did get a few things right as well. We’ll share a few case studies on themes that you are likely to encounter as you begin your journey.

Enjoy and thanks for being interested in serving.

 

Note to readers:

We’d like to send our condolences to the Gallo family upon the passing of John Gallo Jr. February 12.

Mr. Gallo was a wonderful man, with a great sense of humor. He will be deeply missed by his many friends and admirers.

I got to know John through Lynn University where he worked over 30 years after a successful career in retail management. Mr. Gallo was the GM of the Jordan Marsh store in Boca Raton before joining the staff at Lynn.

He was active at St. Jude Catholic Church and at the Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce. He was also a proud member of the Boca Raton Sunrise Rotary Club.

A line from his obituary grabbed me: “We will miss our father greatly; he defined what it meant to be a good husband, father, and friend.”

You can’t do better than that.

Rest in Peace my friend.

 

I Loved Those Days

It’s not been a good moment for the news media lately.
Fake News has become a hash tag and public opinion polls consistently rank journalists low on issues of trust. But I’ve seen both sides.
I’ve watched lousy reporters botch or miss stories and I’ve seen great ones illuminate our understanding of the world. Broad labeling of people and institutions is the lazy way out–life is much more nuanced.
Readers of this blog know I spent my early career working—very happily– in newsrooms.
Today, I have an ownership interest in the Delray Newspaper and Boca Newspaper but because of a hectic schedule and a day job I don’t get to spend as much time as I’d like “newspapering.”
I miss it.
Especially newsrooms, which are just magical places filled with smart, funny, talented and colorful people.
My favorite newsroom was at the old Monday-Thursday Paper’s on East Rogers Circle in Boca Raton which was later relocated to Fairview Drive in Deerfield Beach.
Those newsrooms were filled with editors, reporters, photographers and assistants and they crackled with humor, activity, the clacking of keys and a fair amount of profanity.
I loved it.
The Monday Thursday Papers (later renamed the South Florida Newspaper Network) was one of the largest community newspaper groups in the country and the largest in the southeast.
We were big. We were good. We were relevant and we covered the news in a slew of cities from Dade to Port St. Lucie.
It was a blast because of the people. I loved coming to work because I was surrounded by talented characters who told stories that were often better than the ones we wrote. Why? Because the stories behind the stories were always better. We live in an area rich with characters and chasing them down often led to some great adventures.
Not that our news stories weren’t good.
They were and we regularly walked away with lots of hardware at Press Association gatherings.
We had grizzled editors, oddball reporters, incredibly inventive photographers and colorful people who designed the pages of the papers  on “flats” using glue, pica poles and exacto knives.
This was all before the advent of desktop publishing which revolutionized the industry and cost a few people their jobs.
We also had a huge printing press, a large circulation department and across the wall sat the advertising sales staff. We believed in a separation of church and state– so to speak– so while we were friendly, those of us on the news side were decidedly our own team.
We ate lunch together, gave each other space “on deadline” and served as each other’s human thesaurus when we found ourselves at a loss for words. After work, we hung together in places like Dirty Moe’s, sharing stories about the people and places we covered.
We had a managing editor named Tom Sawyer, who had a heart of gold but could be a curmudgeon of legendary proportions. We took pride when he praised us and also when we made him turn red with anger. He would chase us out of the newsroom with the famous words: “no news happens here. Get out of the newsroom. Go to your cities.”
And we did.
We hung out at lunch counters—the Green Owl, Ken and Hazel’s, bars—The Frog Lounge, Paradise Club, Powers Lounge, we rode with cops and firefighters, embedded ourselves in ERs and Trauma Centers and spent long nights at city commission meetings writing the first draft of local history. It felt like important work and twice a week our  stories ended up on thousands of driveways.
It felt like we were making an impact. And I think we did. We created a narrative for the cities we covered.
For me, covering Delray Beach, the narrative was of a fascinating and complex city that was determined to rise above its challenges and work together to build a brighter future. There were bumps along the way, but the arc was steady and it was fun to write about the progress and the challenges. It was my graduate education and what I learned from watching mayors, commissioners, department heads, business leaders, detectives, paramedics, volunteers and road patrol officers was invaluable.
Sometimes I find myself missing those days and especially those smart, vibrant and funny people who worked alongside me in the newsroom.
So I went online  to “hear” their voices, and I was able to find some of  their words on the Internet.
While it wasn’t ideal and there were many I couldn’t locate (Jim Baker, sportswriter extraordinaire, where are you?) I did find a few and I managed to enjoy their writing once more.
Here are a  few snippets:
From an editor I learned a lot from…

“As someone who loves history, particularly American history, I have long been astounded by the brilliance of our Founding Fathers. They gave serious thought not only to whether they were being unfairly taxed or lacked fair representation, but to the  question of what rights naturally fall to individuals of our species in the natural order of things — the very essence of liberty. They studied Greek and Roman history, read the works of those civilization’s great orators. And a central ingredient of the philosophical stew which became the spiritual and civil framework for our country was the inherent right to stand up against injustice — even to the point of taking up arms. Patriotism in their eyes was not flag-waving and anthem-singing, but taking bold action, whether on the battlefield or the halls of Congress, to ensure that every citizen be guaranteed fundamental rights associated with “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” (Those words were not just a political catch-phrase to the Founders.)  As an ardent fan of these great thinkers, I support every citizen’s right to protest in whatever manner he or she feels appropriate (and doesn’t physically harm others) and I consider those acts of protest patriotic. Even if it means allowing moral degenerates to peacefully espouse racial and ethnic hatred.”  

From another editor, who I thought was an exceedingly cool human:
“Summer 1985 and I have  press passes at SPAC to interview Aimee Mann and Til Tuesday. I wander off backstage to look around, make a quick turn around a sharp, dark corner, and run smack into this skinny guy with stringy blond hair, who I assume is a roadie until he says in a rich baritone drawl, “Hey, watch where you’re going there.” Realizing that it’s Tom Petty, I fire off an apologetic retort, something akin to, “Uh, oh, you homma, eya, yah,” and run away. I’m relatively certain he secretly dedicated “Even the Losers” to me later that night. (We get lucky sometimes.)
From a reporter who left for a big gig in The Keys.

“We are going to make it. We’re the Keys. We’ve done this before (though not on this level). We know our collective community character, and it is strong. We are going to make it, with all of us helping each other.’

From an editor who became a dear and lasting friend and confidant:

“Yeah, back in the day, there were no helmets or heart guards – just pure unadulterated playing. Our game was kickball out in the street. No helmets, no any kind of guards, and certainly no helmets when we rode our bikes. I actually had a hard time learning how to balance my two-wheeler, so I can’t imagine what it would be like if my head was weighted down with a helmet too. The only game I would admit could use some sort of protection was Dodge Ball – which I’m guessing is probably outlawed these days. Who would sanction kids throwing a big, round hard ball at someone – just for fun? And it was okay to get dirty, roll around in the grass and scrape knees. There wasn’t a lot of germ-a-phobic behavior – no hand sanitizer, for sure. But we all survived.”

From a reporter who spoke with a great Irish accent.

‘Time traveler’ says aliens are coming next year but he has no info on who wins 2018 world cup, clearly a fraud.’

 

I think my old friend from Belfast was reacting to a tabloid headline. He always had a razor sharp wit–most of the journalists I know do. Spend some time in that environment and you either develop one or get cut to pieces.

My great buddy Perry Don Francisco texted me last week to alter me to a story on NPR about community newspapers.

That’s how I met Perry, the legendary owner of Boston’s on the Beach.

I was a reporter. He was making news by doing great things in the community. He never wanted the attention but he liked that the causes got ink. We became close friends over the years and he has taught me a lot.

So following Perry’s advice I caught an NPR podcast last week about newspapers. It was a solid piece.

And it made me think about my newspaper days and all of those great voices who served this community so eloquently. Newspapers were better than tweeting, deeper than Facebook and the photos were better than what I find on Instagram (and I’m a fan and user of all three platforms).

And that’s why I’m so reluctant to recycle the old copies of those papers in my garage. I’m just not ready to say goodbye.

The Art of Being Quazzed

Best selling author Jeff Pearlman has a quirky interview series called the Quaz and it's awesome.

Best selling author Jeff Pearlman has a quirky interview series called the Quaz and it’s awesome.

Over the years I have often been asked by people whether I was the same Jeff Pe(a)rlman who wrote those great sports books about The Mets, Walter Payton and Barry Bonds and whether I enjoyed working for Sports Illustrated.

As someone who has dabbled in publishing and journalism since 1984 I always wished that I could have said yes. It would have been great to be the best-selling author of “The Bad Guys Won”, “Sweetness”, “Showtime” and “The Rocket That Fell to Earth.” But alas, my writing career, while enjoyable, never reached the heights that my namesake’s did.

When I was mayor, Jeff Pearlman the writer was running for City Council in New Rochelle, NY. We found each other, exchanged advice, became friendly and began an off and on correspondence. I liked Jeff. He was smart, talented, funny and fearless as a writer. Fearless is a tremendous asset as a writer—you just let it fly and it leads to great and memorable content. I’ve always aspired to fearlessness, but often felt that if I expressed what I was thinking I would have to move.

He was the writer who once aspired to be an elected official and I was the elected official who aspired to be an author. So when I wrote my book “Adventures in Local Politics” I reached out to Jeff to let him know about it. He was generous enough to make me the subject of a “Quaz” interview.

The Quaz is a quirky interview feature that runs the gamut from Shark Tank’s Daymond John and a guitarist from Blind Melon to singer Kim Carnes (Bette Davis Eyes) and well now…me.

In between are actors, authors, NBA players, former NFL stars, big wave surfers, Olympians and authors like Jennifer Weiner (In Her Shoes). It’s a cool bunch, Jeff is very cool guy and I was thrilled to be Quaz #248. (P.S. A Quaz party would be awesome…just saying). Here’s a link to the interview.

https://www.jeffpearlman.com/jeff-perlman/