About Random Paper Cuts

I'm a journalist. I ask questions.

The White Party jam or the HOA bitch?

The White Party stage on Amado Road is going up.

When I lived in the condo complex across the street, I used to dread the weekend-long party that caps off with a Ferris wheel and Tea Dance.

The White Party, held over Easter Weekend, is expected to draw more than 30,000 revelers to Palm Springs this weekend. It is the largest, gay circuit party in the U.S.

white party

Former T-Dance erformers include Lady Gaga, Mary J. Blige and ke$ha. But The Real Housewives of Atlanta reality TV personality turned really bad singer Kim Zolcaik was by far the worst. No amount of cotton frantically shoved into my ears could block out her “Tardy for the Party” and the multiple out-of-tune encores forced upon the neighborhood because Zolcaik at the time only had one song in her repertoire.

It wasn’t so much that it felt like I had an unwanted front row seat in my condo across the street nor that my furniture vibrated, along with the bass, but that the concert always went long and I had a 6 a.m. shift the following day.

White Party 2

Now I live safely a mile away. Next to the HOA bitch.

So, OK, it’s a toss up.

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Journalism pay sucks

This is what’s wrong with journalism: $15,000 job offers.

The Journal wants applicants with journalism training and reporting experience to apply for a $15,000 job in New Ulm Minnesota, wherever the fuck that is. College graduates are “encouraged to apply.”

Oh, and the JournalismJobs.com ad says “photography, video and page layout” is a plus.

Journalism Jobs post

The ad posted on Friday. I think I’ll apply for shits and giggles. Let’s see if I can get Mr. Managing Editor to offer me the high-end salary of $20,000. I mean, I do come with 13 years of experience, a shit-load of journalism awards and the ability to do social media thanks to the shitty economy and online pressures.

And, I can toss around all the media buzz words. I’m proficient, for example, in digital storytelling and social engagement, regardless of the media platform.

I hate to start packing before I’ve even sent in my resume, but I went ahead and did some preliminary checking, just in case I get offered the job. The median household income in New Ulm – population 13,000 – is $44,000, according to Citydata.com. The good news is I already found on “Hot Ads” a one-bedroom apartment, heat included, for $360 a month in Gibbon. The bad news is it’s a 17-mile commute and my Jeep is a fucking gas guzzler.

Yeah, I read this week Allyson Bird’s blog, “Why I left news” as did 165,000 other people. Turns out she left the news because of the pay, and after fewer years than me, I might add.

In her own words:

“News was never this gray, aging entity to me. It was more like young love, that reckless attraction that consumes you entirely, until one day – suddenly — you snap out of feeling enamored and realize you’ve got to detach. I left news, not because I didn’t love it enough, but because I loved it too much – and I knew it was going to ruin me.”

At least I don’t have to worry that she’ll be my competition for The Journal gig. They’re also looking for a $15,000-a-year sports reporter in New Ulm. Maybe I’ll apply for both.

Facebook isn’t cool anymore

Facebook really is evil.

And I’m offended.

So, I worked a follow up story on the Palm Springs High School teacher arrested Thursday on a felony contact with a minor today. I wanted to message someone who commented on the online story. I got this polite message:

“You aren’t connected to Katie Mariger on Facebook, so your message would normally get filtered to her Other folder. You can:

Send this message to her inbox for $1.oo or

Just send this message to her Other folder.”

What the fuck?

I paid the buck. At least I didn’t try to message Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg or journalist Michelle Li. Then I would have been charged $100.

I wonder if there’s a charge to message me?

The fantastic thing about these social media platforms used to be the fact that it is a great equalizer. If I wanted to talk directly to a celebrity, skip all the PR flacks and Tweet @ladygaga or @AshtonKutcher I could. I still can of course, but now if I want to on Facebook, it’ll cost me.

I watched “The Social Network.” I’ll say this: All that time Suckerberg spent saying no to advertising to keep Facebook cool has gone to shit.

 

Tales from the red carpet with Richard Gere, Bradley Cooper

I’m a little miffed at La Quinta Councilwoman Linda Evans.

I read her Palm Springs International Film Festival star sightings list this morning with disgust. Naomi Watts, Helen Hunt, Alan Arkin, Tom Hanks and Dale Chihuly.

Who the hell is Chihuly?

Anyway, her Facebook list goes on and on. I didn’t see near as many stars from my vantage point. To be fair, Evans did post a picture of herself in a black dress on the red carpet, so, unless she also got arrested that means her star sightings came with a ticket. Me? I didn’t get no stinking $1,000 ticket. But I did get the next best thing. That was a red-carpet spotters place across the street behind the fence and security.

By Jay Calderon/The Desert Sun

Richard Gere yells to Diane Lane on the red carpet Jan. 5. By Jay Calderon/Desert Sun

I was in great company, too.

I got to meet Vera Brock, also known among carpet goers as “Palm Desert Vera.” She’s a retired school teacher who taught kindergarten 28 years at Desert Sands Unified. This was Brock’s first red-carpet trip. She came because of the Connecticut massacre.

“I thought, that could have been me; me and my kids,” Brock said. “It’s just a time to wake up and start living my life.”

So, she called some old friends she hadn’t spoken to in years. And she packed a folding chair and lunch to camp out with a couple hundred strangers Saturday.

And then I met Billy Ceilo, a red carpet pro. He had a bag full of movie posters from Argo, Gangster Squad, Les Misérables and Lincoln. A Michigan transplant who lives in Northridge, Ceilo had hopes of snagging a couple of autographs and pictures. But I’ve got to tell you, the pictures were a long shot. I saw a self-portrait Ceilo took of him and Breaking Bad actor Bryan Cranston. Ceilo cut his own head off.

“I suck, absolutely suck at taking pictures,” Ceilo said.

Well, duh. He can laugh about it, though. I have to remember to check out his failed photo attempts at http://www.miketehfanboy.com.

Me and my god daughter, Aracely Herrera.

Star gazing with god daughter, Aracely Herrera. By Wade Byars/Desert Sun

I also met Steven Markin and Sandy Jones. The two friends met on the red carpet last year. Jones called her red carpet friends “family.” Markin, who
lives in Cathedral City, found himself a prime spot right next to the KESQ camera area. But he had to get there at 4 a.m. to get it. Me and my little crew weren’t that gung ho, this year.

Jones was a hoot! Apparently she met Ben Affleck on the red carpet here last year and threw herself at him. She got a photo, which she made in to a t-shirt she wore Saturday, and a kiss. Well, Affleck got the kiss.

“It wasn’t true that security had to untangle me from him,” she said.

I laughed. And then I realized she wasn’t joking. That’s what a media outlet had reported. Jones brought newspaper clippings of the exchange with her.

I also briefly met Joy Chuang from Fullerton. But we didn’t speak long because she was busy making a poster that read, “Happy Birthday Bradley Cooper.”

In all, it was a very friendly group. And then the limos carrying movie stars started rolling in.

Who is it, people began to ask. Richard Gere? Sally Field? Helen Mirren? No, too early. The big stars always arrive later.

Just hanging out with Bradley Cooper. By Annie Torres

Just hanging out with my good pal, Bradley Cooper. By Annie Torres

It ended up being 16-year-old Tom Holland, who played Lucas in The Impossible, which tells the true story of a family’s experience during the devastating 2004 tsunami in Indonesia. The young Brit only has two movie credits to his name, if you count a voice over for an animated film I’ve never heard of that he did two years ago. It hardly gives Holland film star status, but this is the red carpet and things were about to get crazy.
The crowd inched closer. Some waved their hands. Others waved movie posters.

“Tom! Tom!” someone shouted. Then others joined in the chorus. One guy yelled, “Tom! I have something for you!”

People pressed and pushed each other straining for a peak. Even a 90-year-old woman – who had dragged a broken leg and her walker to the red carpet – got caught up in the celebrity madness and shoved me.

What really got the crowd incensed was the short man with an enviable spot against the railing who wore cowboy boots and a smug smile. No one had noticed him, though, until he stood on a stepstool.

The crowd’s reaction was swift and immediate.

“Jerk.”

“What a selfish asshole.”

“It’s so rude. It’s not enough that he’s in the front row.”

And a threat that sounded more menacing in the German accent, “You better be careful.”

Mr. Smug pretended not to hear until he didn’t. Then he shot back, “You get here at 8 (a.m.).”

Well, OK then.

To be sure, there were some funny moments, too. Like when the Spanish-American comedienne and flamenco guitarist Charo turned up. “Who invited her?” someone asked to laughs.

Then came the chant “Hey, ho! Charo!” followed by “Cuchi-cuchi!”

And there was the birthday song wars between our side and those obnoxious bleacher fans across the street. “Late, late,” the German accent said. “Nice try. Stop copying us!”

Ah, what a night. The stars we managed to coax over – Gere, Cooper and Mirren – were close enough to touch, but not so close to get spittled on.
I’m guessing a red carpet trip is on many a bucket list. Now I can cross it off mine.

Half fanny and the boring council meetings

LQ YouTube screenshotIt’s amazing what one pissed-off resident can achieve.

After being told for years that televising council meetings was cost prohibitive, Linda Gunnett was sick and tired of the City Hall excuses. So, she hired a videographer for $100 from a Craig’s List ad to stream a recent La Quinta City Council meeting on YouTube.

Clever.

Gunnett told me she wanted to make a point.

“This is perfectly serviceable for somebody who can’t make it to the meeting,” Gunnett said. “It doesn’t have to be Oscar worthy. The meetings are boring anyway.”

Funny.

Council didn’t exactly see it that way. And here’s the line that had me rolling on the floor from Councilwoman Kristy Franklin, “If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right. There’s no point in doing anything if you’re going to do it half fanny.”

Half fanny? She kills!

But that was last week.

You tell me if you think City Hall got Gunnett’s point. The council tonight is expected to consider a 1 percent franchise fee for cable users to retrofit City Hall for televising future meetings.

Here’s the kicker: that 1 percent amounts to about a buck on a $100 cable bill. Most people are never going to miss it. And now, the city with a 4 o’clock meeting suddenly can become more accessible to the residents who work 9-to-5.

Journalism is all about choices. What to leave in, what to take out. My reporting on the 1 percent tax, unfortunately, was cut in the story that ran last week. But my questions obviously spurred city staff to do their own investigating.

Of course, this turn of events begs the question, “Why hasn’t the city moved on this before?” But that’s a question I think I’ll save for another story.

To watch the Nov. 6th La Quinta City Council on YouTube, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OaV4KAn8aeE

Indian Wells needs an arbitrator, decision coming today

Ah, Indian Wells. The city that keeps giving.

On Nov. 6 voters approved by a two-to-one margin a city ordinance that establishes a formal policy for selecting the mayor. Those following the drama know why. Two years ago the council changed its long-held policy of appointing the longest serving council member to the city’s top post to pass over Mayor Doug Hanson.

Since being elected in 2010, Hanson had been mired in controversies that included being accused of harassment, creating a hostile work environment and misconduct stemming from an incident at the city-owned IW Club dubbed “Hamburger-gate.”

The council eventually relented and Hanson claimed the post last December. He has pushed for the ordinance ever since and Indian Wells residents, who have grown increasingly mistrusting of City Hall, passed Measure Q with 65 percent of the vote. Seniority not politics was supposed to rule the day.

Councilwoman Mary Roche is next in line. No one disputes that. Given that the only other councilmember with seniority is Patrick Mullany, who has already served as mayor, the next likely candidate would be Ted Mertens, the top vote getter in the recent election. Residents assumed this much. But this is Indian Wells. Nothing is ever that simple.

At a patio party earlier in the month, Hanson introduced Mullany as the next mayor pro tem. (Cue fireworks, please.)

Three separate residents have threatened the city with a lawsuit. Council met in closed session Nov. 15 and emerged with an idea: to hire a retired judge with JAMS, an arbitration group, to settle the dispute for an expedited $10,000.

Interim City Manager Rod Wood said last week that he hoped the decision would head off any possible litigation.

“What we really want is a judge who will look at it from a legal stand point,” Wood said. “We’re not giving the judge any indication what our view is. There’s no argument from our side and the other side because we don’t have a side.

“This is so we can avoid an unnecessary fight in the community.”

A sticking point seems to hinge on the fact that the mayor must serve for at least one year prior to being selected and that the same applies to the mayor pro tem. Here’s the problem, though. The ordinance doesn’t say that. In fact, it’s fairly quiet about the whole mayor pro tem issue. But what it does say is that the second-most senior council member who “without serving as Mayor shall be appointed” mayor pro tem.

That should disqualify Mullany, right?

So, I contacted Stephen Deitsch, the city’s attorney. It’s truly amazing how you can talk to someone for five minutes and nothing be said.

“I rendered initial advice to the city, but that does not necessarily mean that would be my final, formal opinion,” he told me.

Sometimes attorneys make me want to pull my hair out.

Mullany has been staying quiet. I can’t get him to return my phone call. But behind the scenes, residents say Mullany believes he rightfully should be mayor pro tem, which means the former FBI agent would serve as mayor twice in his four-year council term.

Residents see this as a “power grab,” said City Hall watcher and Indian Wells resident Andy Elchuck.

“They’re trying to circumvent it because it was poorly written by the attorney and now it’s costing us another 10 grand,” Elchuck said. “This is all about the existing council members wanting to put the new members in their place.”

I’ve done some calling around and everyone I spoke to seems to think the judge won’t be siding with Mullany.

We won’t have to wait long. Wood tells me the city has already received an opinion and he promises I’ll know – which means you’ll know – today. God help the council if the judge sees it Mullany’s way. Elchuck promises fire and brimstone, which is always fun.

Mayor Adolph, I’m sorry

This is my mea culpa.

To the mayor of La Quinta: I’m sorry. Normally, I’d tell him so directly, but he won’t take my phone calls. Apparently Don Adolph is still miffed that I printed his age – he’s 82 – in a candidate bio several weeks ago. I guess Adolph figured I wouldn’t because he had refused to tell me his age, but I’m resourceful. I had to get it through a public records request.

I would have never known he was so upset with me except that I called a day two later about something else entirely. And that’s when he let me have it. I tried to apologize, but Adolph wasn’t having it. Some voters, he scolded me, may think he’s too old. I said something about Ronald Reagan’s quip to Walter Mondale about being too young and inexperienced.. He didn’t laugh.

So, I pressed on and asked about La Quinta’s reserves. It was a bear of a story I’d been working for months. The gist of it is this: municipal finance experts recommend cities save about 20 percent of their annual budget in reserves. Most of the valley’s have that and much more, including La Quinta. Adolph called the experts “stupid.” And then he said if I believed the experts he had some beach front property to sell me in Kansas.

OK. Here’s a little news tip: never chat with reporter when you’re pissed. I quoted him. Well, not the Kansas part.

It’s customary with an in-depth story like this to do a follow up. So, a day later, I called the mayor to see if he’d gotten any feedback from residents.

“Nicole, I have no comment for you,” Adolph told me. And then he hung up on me. Call me ballsy, but I called back. I got his wife.

“Hi, Diane. This is Nicole with The Desert Sun. I was just speaking with the mayor and I think we got disconnected.”

“Oh, no. I think he was finished talking with you.”

Ha! How’s that for unbridled honesty? I put the hang up in my story.

Fast forward to this week.

The mayor and I are still not on speaking terms. When I called Monday for a feel good story about a woman in a wheelchair he helped, I could hear Adolph in the background telling his wife, “Tell her to call me at the office. Tell her I’m busy.”

When I was a kid, my mom called that kind of behavior, “Cutting off your nose to spite your face.” I call it blog fodder.

Inside out

Coming out kinda sucks.

Unless you’re a celebrity you inevitably have to come out over and over. I did it again last week in a piece for the Desert Sun’s LGBT magazine, Desert Outlook, on reparative therapy. I didn’t particularly want to write the column.

I’m a journalist. That means the stories aren’t about me, even when sometimes they are. I agree with Anderson Cooper’s journalistic sensibilities. The less people know about me the more likely I will be judged for my work, not for who I am. Of course, I am the sum of my experiences, even if I don’t fit neatly into anyone’s preconceived ideas.

At the time I wrote the story and my column, Gov. Jerry Brown hadn’t yet signed the nation’s first reparative therapy ban into law. He would make it a nail-bitter event waiting until the last possible day he could sign or veto the bill. Already the conservative group Liberty Counsel that uses litigation to press its religious agenda is challenging the law in court.

There are no reliable statistics on the number of gays who attempt to change their sexual orientation through reparative therapy. The largely discredited therapy has been criticized by all the major associations. Called “reparative” or “conversion” therapy, the pseudo-psychological method relies on the antiquated premise that homosexuality is a deviant, lifestyle choice.

Gay activists are hailing its passage as an important weapon in the culture war. I’m not so convinced. The battle over hearts and minds isn’t going to be won with legislation. It’s going to take men and women of courage everywhere, sharing with conviction their life openly and honestly.

Here’s a link to the magazines and my story: http://www.mydesert.com/desertoutlook/October2012.htm.

Misquoted!

Reporters are supposed to misquote people, not get misquoted. Welcome to Indian Wells.

Indian Wells ekes money. From their lattice flowered bus stops and manicured luxury golf homes, residents boast the highest per capita income in the Coachella Valley and pride themselves on old fashion manners, propriety and decorum. Irony being what it is, those are the very things that have been sorely missing in the council meetings I’ve covered the past year. Their taped meetings are can’t-miss, unscripted reality TV at its best.

So, last Thursday, council members finally voted after months of haggling to voluntarily lower their monthly stipend from $2,300 to $1,750. The move comes weeks before voters will have their say about reducing the pay even further, to $1,000 a month. No one that I recall has spoken favorably of the council doing this. It’s widely viewed as an effort to circumvent the voter initiative. But I still had to scramble on deadline to find someone.

Here’s what Gail McQuary said in my Sept. 20 story:

“Lowering council’s pay, McQuary said, means the job will only attract those who are retired or wealthy.

‘If you want the best people on the council you have to pay for the best,’ McQuary said. ‘You pay them what you think they’re worth. If you think your council people are only worth $1,000 a month then your council people aren’t worth very much.’

‘I think it shows that we have no respect for them.’”

Of course she said more than I could ever print, which is always easier than someone who gives one-word answers. In the course of our discussion, McQuary lamented the amount and asks if I would ever work for $1,000 a month. Naturally I have, but I don’t relish minimum wage much. I see what she’s getting at, though. She’s equating council members’ public service to a fulltime job, which goes to the heart of the issue: Are council members full time employees? I don’t want to debate her. I just want a quote. I say no, which is of course true because I don’t want to ever have to work for $1,000 a month again, if I don’t have to.

Fast forward two weeks.

Gail steps up to the microphone and talks about being quoted in the newspaper and how she got calls from a silent majority who agree with her. All very nice. And then to press her point, that council members are underpaid, she added, “When I asked Nicole if she would work for $1,000 a month, she didn’t hesitate to say no.”

Good grief!

All I could think was, Jesus! These meetings run on TV. Next thing you know, I’ll be endorsing candidates.

Don’t get any ideas, Gail.

This is why I do it

EDITOR’S NOTE: So, I’m messing with my blog today and I see my “About Me” category is empty and I think, Shit. And I bang out a couple of graphs, press “publish” and notice I’ve already written an introduction of sorts. Oh well…

I’m a journalist. I ask questions.

I wasn’t the kid who always dreamed of being a journalist. I sort of stumbled into journalism because of a really cool professor who thought I had talent. But I’ve stayed in journalism because of Lupe, a West Texas widow who sought a 21-gun salute for her war-decorated husband. After the initial story, a reenactment group contacted me and I put them in touch with Lupe. A week later with gunsmoke still hanging in the air, I walked across the cemetery with my reporter pad and asked Lupe the dumbest question, “What does this 21-gun salute mean to you?”

A big crockadile tear spilled from her eye and her lip quivered as she choked out, “Thank you.” And then Lupe embraced me and cried.

I learned two very important things that day. First, there really are no dumb questions because it’s not about the question. It’s about the answer. And the second thing I learned was that my stories can make a difference. That was 2001, and I have never looked back.

I’ve won plenty of awards and accolades for my work over the years. But the greatest thrill for me is still listening to people’s stories and seeing my byline in print.