Tag Archives: St. Petersburg

Man of letters: Fans leave notes at Kerouac’s former home

Letters pile up outside the vacant corner house on 10th Avenue North at 52nd Street South in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Some are folded neatly into envelopes and sent through the Post Office to jam the mailbox to overflowing.

Others are written on crinkled scrap paper, hand delivered and stuffed inside the front screen door.

Jack Kerouac, once the home’s owner, died at a St. Petersburg hospital in 1969, but you wouldn’t know it from the correspondence he receives from grateful fans of his novel “On The Road” and other works.

“You remind me to stay true to who you are and to nurture the wanderlust gene in all of us,” reads one letter, handwritten by “Cindy” on stationery adorned with colorful butterflies and flowers. “I hope you’re writing, unrestrained, with a shot & a beer.”

A nonprofit group wants to create a Kerouac museum from the 1,700-square-foot, one-story house, built in 1963 and valued today at about $190,000. But John Sampas, Kerouac’s brother-in-law and executor of his estate, told the Tribune last week he has changed his mind and doesn’t want to sell.

Meanwhile, the letters keep pouring in.

“It’s become a cosmic mailbox that can reach the heavens,” said Pat Barmore of St. Petersburg, president of the Friends of the Jack Kerouac House, which took care of the house until a property manager was hired a year ago.

Tour buses also park out front so sightseers can try peering through the curtains inside, Barmore said.

Margaret Murray, secretary of the friends group, said she rarely drives by without seeing fans in the yard or parked across the street, catching a glimpse of where their hero lived.

“Drive by tomorrow and you’ll likely see someone staring at it,” she said. “Visit a few days after the current stack of letters are taken away, and there will be new ones.”

With permission from executor Sampas, the Tribune read a handful of the notes recently left inside the screen door.

“Cynthia” of Texas put her thoughts on yellow Post-it notes. She said she not yet read “On The Road” but plans to as soon as she returns home from her Florida vacation.

“I feel blessed to have been able to drink your favorite drink at your favorite bar ‘Flamingo,”” she wrote, speaking of The Flamingo Sports Bar at 1230 Ninth St. N., St. Petersburg, where Kerouac spent time during a stint in the area that stretched from 1964 to his death on October 21, 1969, at the age of 47.

His favorite drink, according to the Flamingo, was a shot of a whiskey with a beer wash.

“I hope you are writing in peace wherever you are!” Cythia added.

Another letter written on a small piece of lined, white paper is signed “Friend of Jack” and says, “I prefer to think of myself as a free spirit and a person who follows a path of her own choosing. You have always been my inspiration.”

It’s a common theme, Barmore said — appreciative fans making a pilgimage to a site associated with their idols.

One prominent example, Murray noted, is the burial place in Paris of “Doors” frontman Jim Morrison.

Throngs of tourists surround Morrison’s grave. Gifts are left. Some people scribble on the tombstone.

“I think people still reach out to Jack Kerouac out of a desire to connect with something bigger than themselves,” said Kristy Anderson, a filmmaker producing a documentary on Kerouac’s life in Florida. “He has touched the lives of many and will continue to.”

Kerouac’s longtime friend, musician David Amram, said he believes the late author would appreciate the attention.

“This new generation has come to Kerouac by reading his books, as he wanted,” Amram said. “That is opposite to what he felt happened when he was alive.”

Kerouac struggled with his fame because he thought it had more to do with his pop culture identity than his books, Amram said.

“He would say, ‘They are ignoring me,’?” Amram said. “And then he would say in his Lowell, Massachusetts, accent, ‘I’m an author, I’m a writer, why don’t they read my book?’ Even in the times before reality TV, when being a celebrity seduced most people, he was a modest person who didn’t want that. He only wanted people to read his books.””

Amram believes this contributed to the alcoholism that would kill Kerouac.

“People looked to him to perform for them, to be the Jack Kerouac character they envisioned rather than himself. They expected him to be a vocal leader in this new movement. He just wanted to write.”

There were two sides of the St. Petersburg version of Kerouac, filmmaker Anderson said _ one who wished to be left alone by fans who would stalk the house and one who openly pined for attention.

This Dr. Jekyll half usually appeared with some liquid encouragement, Anderson said.

“That Jack was usually the drunken Jack. And he drank a lot while living here. As much as he sometimes hated his fame, he would also go to a party and introduce himself as the ‘famous Jack Kerouac.’?”

On another occasion, she said, Kerouac and a friend were at an upscale bar in the Tampa Bay area dressed like “bums” and very drunk. The gameshow “Jeopardy” was on the television and the answer in need of a question was “He wrote ‘On The Road.’?”

“His friend, who wants to remain anonymous, said Jack jumped up and started yelling, ‘Me. I did.’ And they were kicked out,” Anderson said. “I don’t think the bartender believed he was Kerouac and thought he was just a loud drunk.”

A typewritten letter from Kerouac to his agent from September 1968 recently was sold by Boston-based RR Auction. Who made the purchase has not been announced, and it is up to the buyer whether to go public.

The letter was a pitch for his next book, to be titled “Spotlight.” He died before he could finish it.

“Spotlight” was to be an autobiography on the years following his rise to fame from “On The Road.”

“That would have been a fascinating account,” Anderson said. “It may have included his time in Florida.”

Among the episodes described in Kerouac’s letter are bar fights in a number of cities, bad experiences during television appearances and his frustration over people always recognizing him in public.

“I order my lunch but everybody’s yakking so much around me I begin to realize right then and there that ‘success’ is when you can’t enjoy your food anymore in peace,” he wrote, speaking of a meal experience in New York.

The auctioned letter was written in Kerouac’s native town of Lowell, during a brief visit away from St. Petersburg.

But considering St. Petersburg was his full-time home at the time, it is possible the book might have been written here, which would have added further allure to his local home, Anderson said.

The Friends of the Jack Kerouac House wants to buy the author’s house and use it in a way that honors Kerouac. Barmore, the group’s president, was disappointed to learn it’s off the market but said the group will keep raising money in case it becomes available. Options they’ve discussed include a Kerouac museum, a rent-free residence for talented writers where they could concentrate on their work, and moving it to a local college campus for a writing program.

The next time friend Amram vacations in Florida, he plans to stop by the house and perhaps leave a note of his own.

“I am so happy that people are still moved by his words and go out of their way to thank him,” he said. “Fortunately, Jack’s beautiful spirit has survived.”

One letter left at the home by “Jackie Z,” written on a piece of paper torn from a notebook, speaks of how Kerouac’s spirit has affected her. The letter seems to capture Amram’s own memory of his friend.

“When your books became popular, maybe it wasn’t like the be all end all experience, but I respect that so much,” Jackie Z says. “You wrote your personal, beautiful books not for glory or fame, but because you needed to write, needed to commemorate the people you met & experiences you had because they were transformative, colorful, MAD. You’re pretty mad & you lived it right.”

IPhone statue removed in Russia after Apple CEO writes about being gay

Shortly after Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote about being a proud gay man, a statue of an iPhone was dismantled at a university in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The statue, which was about 6 feet tall, stood on an IT university campus.

A statement from a company that removed the statue, ZEFS —Western European Financial Union, which deals on construction, advertising and finance — said Cook’s writing was “a public call to sodomy,” according to reports from The AP and Washington Post.

The statement also referred to Russia’s law banning minors from “homosexual propaganda” and said the statue, which was a tribute to Steve Jobs, violated the statute.

“Russian legislation prohibits propaganda of homosexuality and other sexual perversions among minors,” ZEFS wrote in a statement, according to the Washington Post. “After Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly called for sodomy, the monument was dismantled pursuant to Russian federal law on the protection of children from information that promotes the denial of traditional family values.”

Some Russian news sources have said that there were plans to remove the statue before Cook’s essay was published in Bloomberg Businessweek in October.

Cook’s sexual orientation was not a secret when he took the helm of Apple and the statue was installed after Jobs’ death. However, the Bloomberg interview was the first in which Cook wrote about his homosexuality.

Cook wrote, “I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.”

Russian police arrest gay rights activists

Russian police have arrested several gay rights activists protesting in St. Petersburg and Moscow. In Moscow, police quickly detained 10 gay rights activists who waved rainbow flags on Red Square and attempted to sing a Russian anthem.

One of the demonstrators, Gleb Latnik, said police insulted them and that one officer even spat in the face of an activist. He said he, and other protesters were released a few hours later.

Moscow police refused to comment.

In St. Petersburg, four activists were detained after unfurling a banner quoting the Olympic Charter’s ban on any form of discrimination. The protesters, who gathered on St. Petersburg’s Vasilyevsky Island, were quickly rounded up by police, according to Natalia Tsymbalova, a local activist.

Police there also refused any immediate comment.

A Russian law banning gay “propaganda” from reaching minors has drawn strong international criticism and calls for boycott of the Sochi Games from gay activists and others.

Russian law also bans any unsanctioned protests and violators may face fines or prison sentences.

Human Rights First, a rights watchdog based in New York and Washington D.C., quickly condemned the arrests of Russian LGBT activists.

“The most alarming thing is, despite the international attention, the authorities are still bringing more charges under the law and it is being applied on a larger scale,” spokesman Shawn Gaylord said in a statement.

All Out, the international group that organized events in 20 cities this week to pressure Olympic sponsors to condemn Russia’s “gay propaganda” law, also harshly criticized the detentions of activists.

“This outrageous move directly contradicts the IOC’s assurance that Russian laws are in line with the Olympic Charter,” said Andre Banks, executive director of All Out.

Mayors in Florida sister cities criticize intolerance in Russia

Three Florida mayors in Sister city relationships with Russian cities criticized Russian intolerance in a Jan. 30 letter to President Vladimir Putin.

The letter was sent to Putin as he and his nation prepare to host the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.

Tallahassee Mayor John Marks, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman urged the Russian government to repeal the nation’s controversial “anti-gay” law, which criminalizes telling young people that homosexuality is normal.

The mayors wrote, “As mayors of Florida cities with Russian sister city counterparts, we are writing to address a matter of great importance that affects the lives of millions of Americans and Russians alike. In June 2013, you signed into law a measure that enforces a ban upon homosexual ‘propaganda’ in Russia. Thus, it appears that citizens and visitors to Russian that identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgendered (LGBT) will be subject to discrimination, fines, and potential incarceration. This law represents a disconcerting violation of basic human and civil rights and does not reflect the ideals or beliefs of our citizens, nor do we believe that it reflects the values of the citizens of our Russian sister city counterparts.”

The letter earned the mayors praise from Equality Florida, the statewide LGBT civil rights group, which said, “Last year Equality Florida wrote a letter to all Florida cities that have partnerships with Russian cities, calling on elected leaders to speak up in the face of Russia’s persecution and violence against the LGBT community. We are pleased to see strong mayors in our state speak out and hope it will inspire others across the country to take action as well.”

Equality Florida, meanwhile, continues to encourage Sunshine State lawmakers to enact protections for LGBT citizens and is the plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking to overturn the state’s anti-gay marriage amendment.

‘Prison Break’ star Wentworth Miller attempted suicide as gay teen

As a special guest at the Human Rights Campaign Seattle Gala on Sept. 7, “Prison Break” star Wentworth Miller talked about his difficult childhood, including a suicide attempt at age 15.

In a video obtained by TMZ, the 41-year-old actor says:

“Growing up I was a target. Speaking the right way, standing the right way, holding your wrist the right way. Every day was a test and there were a thousand ways to fail, a thousand ways to betray yourself, to not live up to someone else’s standards of what was accepted, of what was normal. … The first time I tried to kill myself I was 15. I waited until my family went away for the weekend and I was alone in the house, and I swallowed a bottle of pills. I don’t remember what happened over the next couple of days, but I’m pretty sure come Monday morning I was on the bus back to school, pretending everything was fine. And when someone asks me if that was a cry for help, I’d say, ‘No.’ You only cry for help if you believe there’s help to cry for. And I didn’t need it, I wanted out.”

Miller remained closeted for years, but finally decided to come out last month in a letter declining an invitation to attend the St. Petersburg International Film Festival. He rejected the offer, saying that he could participate in a celebratory event in a place where “people like myself are being systematically denied their basic right to live and love openly.”

Artist who painted Putin in underwear flees Russia

A museum director says an artist whose paintings depicted Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in women’s undergarments has fled the country.

The director of St. Petersburg’s Museum of Power, Tatiana Titova, said that Konstantin Altunin left for France and was planning to request asylum there.

Authorities removed four of Altunin’s satirical depictions of Russian politicians on Monday and shut down the exhibition.

A police statement did not specify which laws may have been violated by the provocative works. A Russian law prohibits insulting state authorities. Another law bans so-called homosexual propaganda aimed at minors.

Last year, an exhibit that depicted members of the Pussy Riot punk band as holy icons drew the ire of religious and pro-government activists, who came to protest the exhibition’s opening.

Lansing, Mich., cuts sister city ties with St. Petersburg

Officials in Lansing, Mich., ended their “sister cities” relationship with the Russian city of St. Petersburg due to that country’s anti-gay policies.

The Lansing State Journal reported that the Lansing City Council voted unanimously Monday calling for end to the relationship.

A new Russian law is aimed at “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors.” It imposes fines for organizations, plus stiffer penalties for propaganda online or in the media. St. Petersburg was one of several cities to pass similar laws at local level before the national law passed.

According to the Lansing Regional Sister Cities Commission, the city’s relationship with one district of St. Petersburg formally began in 1994 with a youth exchange program but fell dormant after political and geographic districts of St. Petersburg were changed several years ago.

Last year, the city of Milan cut its cultural ties to St. Petersburg and Los Angeles is considering taking the same action

“The passing of this resolution sends a strong message that the city will not tolerate discrimination against our LGBT brothers and sisters in a sister city relationship,” said openly gay Los Angeles City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl when he introduced a resolution severing ties with St. Petersburg on Feb. 12. “We must stand together and continue to fight for our basic civil and human rights for all human beings on this earth.”

The resolution has gone nowhere since then, but there’s a renewed effort to pass it. Los Angeles is the ninth most economically powerful city in the world, and its adoption of such a resolution could create a domino effect among other cities.

Gay Pride activists beaten, arrested in Russia

Russian police arrested several gay rights activists and Russian nationalists who confronted them at a rally Saturday that was declared illegal under a new law against “gay propaganda.”

Officials in St. Petersburg deemed that the rally, which took place in a space designated for public demonstrations, violated the law. The statute essentially prohibits public displays of homosexuality, as well as talking about it to children.

About 200 nationalists also gathered at the rally, chanting slogans such as “Sodomy will not pass,” and throwing eggs and rocks at the gay-rights activists, who numbered about 40.

The state-run Itar-TASS news agency quoted an unnamed police official as saying police arrested dozens of people, including eight nationalists.

The official said city authorities banned the rally beforehand for violating the “gay propaganda” law, even though using the space does not require the prior approval of city authorities, unlike other public rallies.

Russia’s parliament passed a law banning “gay propaganda” earlier this month. St. Petersburg was one of several cities to pass similar laws at local level before that.

The federal law imposes hefty fines for providing information about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to minors or holding gay pride rallies. Those breaking the law will be fined up to 5,000 rubles ($156) for an individual and up to 1 million rubles ($31,000) for a company, including media organizations.

Gay-rights activists have staged several events aimed at violating the law in media-friendly ways. On Friday, three gay and two lesbian couples attempted to marry at a registry office in St. Petersburg, but were refused by authorities.

A widespread hostility to homosexuality is shared by much of Russia’s elite. Lawmakers have accused gays of decreasing Russia’s already low birth rates and said they should be barred from government jobs, undergo forced medical treatment or be exiled.

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Administrators reprimand boy for makeup, parents petition for tolerance

The parents of a Tampa Bay, Fla., student have started an online petition asking for improved tolerance training after their son was castigated for wearing makeup on the last day of school.

Chris Martin decided to wear black eyeliner, eye shadow and lipstick on the last day of eighth grade at Meadowlawn Middle School in St. Petersburg, Fla., The Tampa Bay Times reported. Administrators told the 14-year-old boy he was violating the dress code.

The two women who raised the teen say they understand why his shirt’s image – an anarchy symbol and sheath – violated the code but the makeup was no different than what girls wear every day.

“When I asked what was wrong with his makeup,” his mother, Jamie Himes said, “the face the principal gave me made my blood boil.”

The Pinellas County School District backed the principal’s decision. A spokeswoman for the district said there was more to the story.

“But that would mean sharing confidential student information, which I am not at liberty to discuss,” spokeswoman Melanie Marquez Parra told the newspaper in an email.

The parents started a petition on moveon.org to improve tolerance training for teachers and administrators. They say their son has been beaten up, teased and had his belongings destroyed. His parents said the school’s response has been inadequate.

In addition to training, the petition encourages schools to teach LGBT history and host Gay-Straight Alliance clubs.

“Schools need to be a safe place, and kids need to know they won’t encounter intolerance there,” Himes said. “It’s not about our son anymore, it’s about intolerance.”

Kerouac fans want to restore writer’s Florida home

Some Jack Kerouac fans are trying to raise money to restore the Tampa Bay-area home where the writer once lived.

The “On the Road” author lived in the St. Petersburg home in the 1960s with his mother and his third wife. He died of gastric hemorrhaging at a St. Petersburg hospital in 1969.

“I’m glad to see you, because I’m very lonesome here,” Kerouac told a St. Petersburg Times reporter who visited him shortly before his death.

The house is still owned by Kerouac’s brother-in-law. It’s been mostly uninhabited since the 1970s, but it still contains some of Kerouac’s things. A 1969 telephone directory for Lowell, Mass., is shelved on Kerouac’s desk in the bedroom, and an official mayoral proclamation for “Jack Kerouac Day” in Lowell hangs on one wall, near a Buddha statue and a crucifix.

Pat Barmore tells the Tampa Bay Times that Kerouac’s legacy is strong enough to merit and fund repairs to the home. Kerouac’s brother-in-law, John Sampas, who lives in Massachusetts, asked Barmore to take care of the property.

Barmore is working with other fans to start a nonprofit called Friends of Jack Kerouac. They host Kerouac-themed concerts at the Flamingo, a St. Petersburg bar where Kerouac drank and played pool.

Among the problems that need attention: a window replacement, broken furniture and some resident rats. Barmore and the other fans hope to clean up the house to make it look like it did when Kerouac lived there, and then perhaps open it for the public or for other writers.

The mailbox still contains fan mail for Kerouac.

“Dearest Jack,” reads one note. “Thank you for everything. Your work is why I write, and write to live.”

“Hey Jack, We came by to say hello,” says another. “Sorry we missed you.”