Let me tell you a story. In person.

Now’s your chance to see Lance live.

For those of you in St. Pete/Tampa/Sarasota, I’ll be stepping out from behind the comforts of bloggyland to spin one of my yarns into a microphone (gulp), in front of a crowd (gulp) Friday night at Creative Loafing’s Story Time, Volume 2: Fate and Fortune at the CL Space in Ybor City.

I’ll be telling a new story about an old flame. And no, it doesn’t involve guardian bum angels. It does, however, involve Sinbad.

Yes, the comedian.

A journalist’s liner notes

Back in December, I interviewed Toby Perlman, the wife of violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman.

It was a phone interview and Henry started whimpering in his crib midway through it. I was having a bad day. I was stressed and sleep deprived. I had dried baby vomit on my shirt. I was swigging cold coffee and biting my nails. The last thing I wanted to talk about was classical music.

Prior to the interview, I received an email from Toby’s publicist encouraging me to read over the materials about her music residency for young gifted string players.

“(It) will help you focus your questions on what is relevant to the interview,” the publicist wrote.

Point taken.

When I got on the phone with Mrs. Perlman, I began with the most obvious and relevant questions. All was going well for the first ten minutes. She was chatty and I was informed.

And then Henry started crying. Although Toby couldn’t hear him, I found myself immediately torn between continuing the interview and tending to my infant.

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Best. Mag. Ever.

Say hello to Jane.

If you’ve not met, let me properly introduce you:

Jane was the BEST magazine ever. This issue –– the PREMIERE issue –– was (and still is) my favorite issue of any magazine ever.

Jane is why I became a journalist.

Jane and Mark Twain and a couple of other things.

But mostly Jane.

And Sassy.

Jane was the brainchild of Sassy Magazine’s founding editor Jane Pratt.

Jane Pratt was my idol.

The magazine premiered in my favorite month (September) in 1997, with my girl Drew Barrymore on the cover.

I’ve had a girl crush on Drew for a long time. Turns out so did Jane. The two dated in the early 1990s.

This issue has moved with me six times over the course of 13 years. That’s my copy up there. I scanned it. It remains in pristine condition, except for a few pages I foolishly cut up in 1999 to decorate the cork board in my bedroom.

My sophomore year of college, I tore out the best first-person essay ever written from the pages of this premiere issue. It was penned by Powder actor Sean Patrick Flanery and it was a beautiful sun-drenched piece of writing. One of my journalism professors had asked us to bring in a prized possession. I brought in this story, shoved in a manila folder. When my classmates looked at me cross-eyed, like how can your most prized possession be a magazine story? I replied that it wasn’t the ink and paper I was attached to, it was the story that wouldn’t leave my head.

I could have brought in any number of possessions, but this one seemed the most worthy. At the time nothing filled me with more passion than writing. I wasn’t cherishing a trinket. I was cherishing a dream.

I’ve still got the story. It’s stuffed in the same Rubbermaid bin that contains the above issue of Jane.

When Jane ceased publication in August 2007, it’s readership was devastated, but not surprised. By 2006, the magazine was an emaciated version of its former self. Jane Pratt had resigned as editor-in-chief and issues had become increasingly difficult to find.

The magazine business is as much a cutthroat corporate beast as is any creative mass market industry.

I understand why Jane folded. She was too smart for her own good.

She was wicked, misunderstood, goofy, open-minded, cutting when need be and flowery when the topic warranted it. She was snarky before I even knew what snarky meant. She cared about fashion enough to pass as hip, but not so much that she snubbed the joys of thrift store shopping.

I recall Jane stories the way Joe recalls movie lines.

I remember in one issue, the magazine ran a scathingly honest profile of country diva Faith Hill and a back-of-the-book essay on why it’s far more interesting to wear a giant pink rabbit costume for Halloween than it is to dress up as a slutty nurse.

Every so often I come across a Jane writer’s byline in some other magazine and I run to Joe with the book flung open like I’ve just unearthed a diamond from the crusty earth.

It’s no secret that most magazines for women are dumbed down, fluffed-up, prissy, neutered wastes of paper. The puffy, always-glowing celebrity profiles make me gag. The writing is banal and packed with cliches.

If I had an older sister like Jane, we’d start fires with the pages torn from dim-witted women’s magazines.

We’d have a freakin blast.

PS. In 2002, Adweek Magazine named Jane Pratt “Editor of the Year.”

My red carpet needs vacuuming.

*IMG_0134

Sigh.

It’s been 11 days since I last posted. I’m all clogged up. I need some brain drain-o. When I get my hands on some, I’ll be back with entertaining stories. I promise. 

In the meantime, let it be said that tonight I beat Joe 500 to 265 at Rummy. I shall sleep like a baby. 

PS. I took this picture at the Sarasota red carpet premiere of HGTV’s Design Star. Jason Champion, one of the show’s contestants, lives in Sarasota. I was really happy with how my profile of Jason turned out. To read it, click here.

There’s fairy dust on my keyboard.

My mother told me this when she and my dad were out visiting last week. It was the first time I’d heard this story and I thought it explained a great deal everything:

When I was about five years old, I moseyed into my bedroom with an ice cream come. You know the type that come in a big store-bought box? The kind that go stale in 10 minutes if you don’t roll down the packaging immediately after opening?

Those kind of cones.

I loved them even without ice cream scooped on top. They were a nice cardboard-flavored snack.

I reckon biting into stale ice cream cones is a fine way to hurry along loose teeth and considering I was fairly cash-strapped at five, gnawing on these things until teeth fell out was probably a small price to pay for dividends from the Bank of Tooth Fairy.

So yes, on this particular day I lost a tooth. And when I woke up in the morning and the tooth was gone from under my pillow and a dollar bill was in its place, I noticed that cone crumbs were in my bed and on my floor in a trail leading out the door.

“MOM!” I yelled. “COME HERE!”

Pointing to the crumbs, oblivious to where they’d come from, I explained that the tooth fairy must have left dust in my room.

My mother, amused and well aware of my sloppy eating habits, let me believe the crumbs were fairy dust and entertained my request for a sandwich baggie so I could bring them to kindergarten class that morning for show and tell.

A few days later, when my teacher saw my mother, she said, “Nice touch with the tooth fairy stuff. Crumbling up food and calling it fairy dust. Cute.”

My mother replied, “It wasn’t me, Kathy. She walked into her bedroom that day with an ice cream cone and dropped crumbs all over her bed. When she woke up in the morning she was convinced they’d come from the tooth fairy.”

Thank you Mom, for letting me believe in things like this. I love you.

PS. That’s me up there in the pumpkin patch, showing off my baby teeth.

11 people I’ve interviewed in Sarasota


Divine guidance can be found in a reporters notebook.

No one ever wanted to ride with us in the winter because we only had two blankets. And in the summer, when temperatures reached 95 degrees, we choked from the heat because the car didn’t have air conditioning.”

- Roberta Tengerdy, with husband Tom, on the 1967 Volkswagon Beetle she bought her sophomore year at Colorado State University, the same year she met Tom. 
You’re lost if you don’t believe in it. It’s something you don’t exactly feel. You just know it’s there. You know that when you die, times going on forever. It’s not the end. It’s the beginning.”
- 100-year-old Mildred Bessie Barton Hill on heaven. 

That’s a good question. If the cheese were square it’d stick out the side of the sub.”
- Subway superstar Jared Fogle on why the sandwich franchise that made him famous cuts its cheese into triangles.

He needs his shade. He’s a very spoiled bird.” 
- Johnny Malone on why he sits under the awning at Whole Foods with his cockatiel, Bobby.

“Everything has changed but everything has stayed exactly the same. Often people will say to me, ‘why do you still have Cathy on a diet?’ And I say, look at the headlines. It’s an endless turf out there. While it’s redundant in a way, these are the things we keep wrestling with – our relationships with food, our relationships with the opposite sex, our relationships with our mothers, our relationships with the clutter on our desks. The things we face each day are what I love writing about and women have this fabulous capacity to keep having hope even if there’s no hope to be had.”
- Cartoonist Cathy Guisewite on why she’s refrained from changing “Cathy,” to conform to 2008 post-feminist ideals. (The comic strip, which debuted in 1976, began as a series of sarcastic sketches Guisewite would mail her mother ripping on her pathetic mid-20s love life.)
“I‘ll tell you one thing. He changed. I think he saw a lot of things too young for his lifetime. He came back a  man and I never thought I’d say that. He’s a little more guarded and careful now. He’s quiet now.”
- In 2004 Sherri Vroom’s then 20-year-old son, John, served eight months in Iraq. Two years later he was deployed again.

“Well, she has beautiful hair. She has a beautiful face and beautiful eyes.”
- Seven-year-old Caitlyn Gutierrez on why her mother is beautiful.
“I‘m gonna de-bone them first. That way I’m not sitting on one wing for too long.”
- Gilberto Noriega on how he planned to win the Munchies Fire-In-Your-Hole wing eating challenge. (He lost.)

“I look at the bus as a research and exploration vessel. It functions as an idea and information hub. We’re researching, exploring and recording our findings.”
- Roth Conrad on why he and friend Bob Downes (right) bought their old high school bus, converted it to run on vegetable oil and drove it across the country. See link.)

“I‘m an outgoing person. I like to be the funny guy. I want people to notice me. If I had any other role, I wouldn’t have been as funny as I was.”
- Baseball catcher Connor Davis, 13, on how he knew he owned his middle school production of The Wizard of Oz when his drama teacher cast him as The Cowardly Lion. (His dream role: Dracula.)

“What I told the jury at the onset was that I was going to ask the questions that needed to be asked … because if not me than who?”
- Assistant Public Defender Adam Tebrugge on how he handled the pressure of defending Joseph P. Smith, the man sentenced to death for the 2004 murder of 11-year-old Carlie Brucia. 


PS. Cathy Guisewite photo courtesy of People Magazine. All other photos are mine.

The naked part was easy.


This is a story I wrote for my paper that was scooped before publication by the big hairy daily in town. Since it never saw the light of day, here’s an unfinished version: 

STRIPPERELLA, Feb. 18, 2008

Let’s play a word association game. I say a word. You say what immediately comes to mind.

I say pole. You say north.

I say dance. You (maybe) say shake.

I say pole dance. You say stripper. (It’s OK. It doesn’t mean you snap ones under garter belts on the weekends.)

Unless you’re a firefighter and your association with poles is of the lifesaving variety, most people hear pole dance and think stripper.

You’re not alone in this conjecture. Even Nicole Phillips, the instructor of Cherry Blossom Pole and Exotic Dance Fitness gets inundated with stripper jokes whenever she talks about her new teaching gig. 

Curious. I decided to take her class.


Beam me up hottie.

Before reporting for pole duty, I Google it first.

Pole dancing, according to the Wikipedia entry, requires muscular endurance, coordination and sensuality. Several hits later I discover that pole dancing is also the next big thing since Richard Simmons sweated to the oldies.

It was exactly one year ago that The New York Times ran a story on how pole-dancing parties were dethroning Tupperware parties in the Jersey suburbs. I dubiously eye my salad in a Tupperware container. Smirking, I think if this thing catches on like Tupperware, I’ll be buying my Aunt Shirley stilettos for Christmas.

I run to the office bathroom, change out of my work attire and into something more aerodynamic, something more pole-worthy.

Phillips’ class is held every Friday night in Rosemary Court, a colorful klatch of cottages off Central Avenue in Sarasota’s Rosemary District. Before I go any further suffice it say this is not where I expected to pole dance.

Rosemary Court is adorable with its babbling Zen garden in the middle of a semi-circle of clapboard cracker shacks dedicated to wellness. Yoga. Pilates. Meditation. Aikido. Outside the semi-circle of holistic empowerment, Central Avenue still tries to catch up. Since we’re talking sexuality here, lets just say that when Sarasota bloomed into adulthood the Rosemary District hit puberty.

As I walk past the Zen garden and through the door marked “Pole and Exotic Dance Fitness” I imagine the voice of the Rosemary District cracking as it says, “Wait for me guys. I’m on my way.”


 The Clark Kent factor. 

Phillips is tiny, lithe, like a portable pole dancer. Like someone you might hire to baby-sit your kids. I had expected someone more, I don’t know, burlesque?

She works at a Sarasota engineering firm where she spends most of her days seated quietly behind a desk. She says when she started pole dancing two years ago she felt like she was leading a double life. Typist by day. Pole girl by night. 

“It’s like my superhero personality,” she says, giggling. “Only I know I can do this super cool thing. At night it’s kind of like I come out of the phone booth.”

From second grade on Phillips, 26, was a competitive cheerleader, but she tired of most fitness routines and dabbled in yoga, Pilates and the gym. But all of these, she says were such a chore.

How the pole entered her life is as non-sexy a story as choosing a college major. She researched it on the Internet, purchased a pole for her house and practiced for six months before contacting Vertical Dance, a school out of England often credited with pioneering pole fitness.

Like any fitness instructor, Phillips wanted legitimate certification so she completed a six-month program over the Internet, turning in written exams and session plans, student teaching pole fitness classes and performing routines via web cam.

“It was something that was important to me. I’m not just some girl doing that pole thing,” says Phillips.

In November she started offering pole lessons to the public. Surprisingly she wasn’t the only lass in town looking to spin. One Sarasota woman celebrated her 59th birthday with a pole party.

“I hope I celebrate my 59th birthday with a pole party,” Phillips says.

 

Idle hands make farting noises.

The pole is slippery from my sweat. And thanks to the wall of mirrors that spans the front of the room I can’t escape the fact that I move more like a mechanical bull.

The amateur class consists of five women 40-ish in age, all of whom ask me to not identify them. Pole dancing has a bad reputation they say, which baffles me because a.) all of them are way better than me at this and b.) pole dancing is supposed to be empowering not humiliating.

One woman, we’ll call her Dallas (her idea, not mine) signed up for Phillips’ six-week session in January. Beaming and sweating Dallas confesses she lost 14 pounds in Phillips’ class.

“I’m a powerful woman,” says Dallas. “So this is an opportunity for me to get in touch with that other softer side.”

Turns out Dallas is a motivational speaker in town. She travels up and down the Gulf Coast pitching her inspirational two-cents to salesmen in Sarasota’s male-dominated boat industry. 

“You don’t dress like a girl. You don’t talk like a girl,” says Dallas of her day job. “You kind of have to address the guys on their own wavelength.”

I praise her for stepping outside her comfort zone and then foolishly attempt a cross-legged fireman spin mid-conversation.

As I spin, I hug the pole like I’m a toddler clinging to my mother’s legs. Be sexy, I repeat. Slither. Wither. Be Demi. Be Elizabeth Berkley. Be Madonna! TLC’s Red Light Special comes on and I shake it off. I attempt one more serpentine motion with the pole between my legs and a death grip above my head, and as my clammy palms make their way down the steel beam a farting noise triggers immediate rubbernecking and at least one eye-roll from a woman in the class.

 Kyle, my coworker and cameraman, smirks and snaps a picture for the story.

Goddammit. It was my hands, I want to shout. My hands! But I don’t because that would be Turrets of me, so I step aside to make room for Dallas since she and I are sharing a pole.

“Ah,” she says grimacing. “It’s you whose been making the pole so sweaty.”

Great. I’m certifiable slime. I run to the bathroom to wash my dirty hands while Phillips, at the front of the class, demonstrates a Cirque Du Soleil bridge move. 

When I return, I sit the next move out and hide behind my Bic pen, scribbling notes in a reporter’s pad. In the margins I write things like: sux hairy monkey balls, strippers need raises, go to Cheetah Lounge tonight and bring fifties.


Epilogue.

Three days later my arms were still sore. I felt like I bench-pressed my coworkers. No, I felt like I bench-pressed my coworkers whilst they polished bowling balls dressed in chain mail. And to think I clumsily swung around a strippers pole in front my coworker Kyle, who photographed the whole sorry display for the paper — spandex, fart noises and all — only to have the story scooped Monday morning by a schlubby male Herald Tribune reporter.

Oh the humanity.