Archive for May, 2014

Mark Cuban’s comments about hoodies is revealing

I’ve been wearing the clothes of a scary thug for 40 years and I didn’t even know it.

I’m talking about the hoodie, the low-cost hooded jacket that intimidates both neighborhood vigilante George Zimmerman and business tycoon Mark Cuban alike.

It all depends on where you get your fashion sense, I guess.

My first hoodie dates back to 1974, when I was making $130 a week in northern New Hampshire, where winter temperatures often hover around zero.

My car was a 1966 Chrysler convertible with a broken rear window, so you can imagine my delight when I found my first hooded sweatshirt at the local Army-Navy store. Finally I could protect my neck from frostbite when I drove the leaky Chrysler. Indeed, hoodies are standard apparel for construction workers and other folks who spend a lot of time outdoors in Northern winters.

Since 1978 I have been living in balmy Florida, but I always keep a couple of lightweight hoodies handy. In Florida a bald guy needs all the protection he can get from UV rays. And even in Pensacola the winter temperature occasionally dips into the 20s.

So I was stunned when Zimmerman said that one reason he became suspicious of Trayvon Martin is that the black teenager was wearing a hoodie as he walked through Zimmerman’s neighborhood.

I know only one scary person who wears a hoodie, and that’s a white guy — the evil football genius Bill Belichick, coach of my beloved New England Patriots.

I dismissed Zimmerman’s hoodie phobia as some wacky hang-up until Cuban recently announced that he would cross the street if he were approached by a black youth wearing a hoodie.

Let’s get real: Is it the hoodie, or is it the color of the person’s skin?

To be fair, Cuban also said he would cross the street if he was approached by a “white guy, bald head, tattoos everywhere,” he told Inc. magazine last week.

Fortunately for me, a certified bald white guy, my only tattoos are on my arms – hidden by my hoodie, perhaps – so presumably Mr. Cuban would be willing to share the same sidewalk with me.

It’s tempting to dwell on the irony that Cuban, the multimillionaire proprietor of the Dallas Mavericks, is such a sissy when it comes to hoodies and tattoos – especially since some of his employees may favor tattoos and hoodies. For a guy who noisily struts around courtside at games in a snug T-shirt, Cuban suddenly doesn’t look so manly.

But let’s give Cuban credit for trying to have a dialogue about how many people are full of fear often caused by stereotypes and fear.

He’s on especially perilous turf; Americans’ discussions about race are mined with all sorts of gotchas, and Cuban, as a highly visible person, is brave to address the subject. Many American business leaders have done just the opposite, preferring to hunker down and let the conversation be steered by extremists.

The rest of the nation should join the conversation that Cuban has generated; it’s long overdue. Just one last suggestion: Yes, clothes make the man, but a hoodie shouldn’t make the man so scared he crosses the street.

Mark O’Brien is a writer who lives in Pensacola. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

There’s a nursing home in your future

There are no fancy brochures for this nursing home, no limousines to ferry the residents to malls and concerts, no menus offering an array of choices.

It’s not a bad nursing home. It’s old but it’s clean, and the halls are full of staffers who mostly seem cheerful and helpful and attentive even though the patients are low-income folks with all sorts of problems. The residents have plenty of activities in the nursing home cafeteria and they usually can get a ride to Wal-Mart or the bingo game and sometimes even to the casinos in Biloxi, Miss.

In this nursing home, there are no single-bed separate rooms, no private nurses.

There are two, three, sometimes four patients to a room. That means two, three or four televisions making noise; two, three or four sets of smells and sounds; and two, three or four minds facing – or ignoring — the approach of death.

This is how it might be if you’re unable or unwilling to save enough money during your working days to afford a better sunset.

It’s a bit like Robert Frost’s description of home in The Death of The Hired Man, which teaches a lot about the value of kindness:

“Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

Sharing a room at this nursing home is like a lottery. Maybe your roommate and you get along well, or maybe he sleeps all day, making strange, guttural noises. Or maybe he tells the same stories again and again. Or maybe your roommate is much younger, but he has a closed-head injury and can’t speak and there was no other place to put him.

Some residents get frequent visits from friends and relatives. Others, not so much.

That’s a reminder about the need to make lasting friendships and family relationships. Ask yourself, “Would this guy visit me in a nursing home? And how often? Would it be once a year to salve his conscience or often enough to take me for a ride and a meal that’s something besides nursing home food?”

I visit some people in this nursing home every week. Some might live for years, others for only a few weeks or months.

Every visit reminds me of the days when I and so many Baby Boomers scoffed at visions of nursing homes when we were younger. No, we assured ourselves, we’ll die of something else long before we get too old to take care of ourselves. Besides, who wants to think about aging and death when we’re young and invincible?

But life has a way of not working out the way we thought.

And now a whole generation of Baby Boomers is edging toward a slope of nursing homes, extended care, assisted living facilities and all the other diminishment that comes with getting old and sick.


Mark O’Brien is a writer who lives in Pensacola. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Good to see the Bahamas, better to be home

The beaches in the Bahamas are beautiful, but some are more beautiful than others. Some beach-goers are more equal than others, too. The beach at the Treasure Bay Casino seems especially nice, but you must be a card-carrying guest of the casino and pass through a gate and show identification before you can loll on the well-kept sand and splash in the aqua water.

If you’re not a (paying) guest of the casino, you must settle for the public beach. It’s down past the police station. Just walk along the rutted path with wind-blown debris and litter accumulating around the chain link fences. Be careful; you have to share the path with trucks making deliveries to the back side of the casino property. Also be careful in the public beach’s shallow water, which you must share with jet skis and boats.

Here’s a great reason to appreciate the beautiful beaches of Santa Rosa Island and Perdido Key. Almost all the land is open to everyone, from Freddy Fat Cat of Birmingham to Bubba and Bootsie of Ensley. Sure, occasionally there’s a cultural clash, but generally everyone gets along on Pensacola’s beaches.

Rich or poor, we all get to go to great beaches here.

So let’s be grateful for Pensacola’s open beaches.

While we’re at it, let’s give thanks for some other things that make Pensacola life extra nice in the summer:

• Bands on the Beach concerts, especially enjoyable in May before the temperatures rise and the crowds grow.

• The prospect of fresh corn on the cob, blueberry pie, and homegrown tomatoes so much tastier than the stuff they sell in most stores.


• Blue Wahoos’ baseball in the waterfront stadium, a great community setting for a game, whether our team wins or loses. • The DVR button that will allow us to fast-forward through the 3 million political ads that Charlie Crist and Rick Scott will throw at our televisions this summer. That’s a big waste of money, considering most of us already made up our minds and ain’t changing them for nothing.

• The reborn Palafox Street, a fun place whether you’re there for fresh fruit and vegetables on Saturday morning or partying any night of the week.

• Friends with swimming pools and boats. A wise man will wait for an invitation to a pool party or a boat trip rather than own either of these money-guzzling, headache-creating contraptions.

• Big Lagoon State Park’s many options that let you enjoy woods, water and peace.

• The way your mood automatically improves when you roll down your car window and inhale the air as you cross the Three Mile Bridge or the

Theo Baars Bridge.

• Bars that are full of great music and food on Sunday afternoons, offering us working stiffs a nice way to ease back toward Monday morning job mode.

Remember, some people pay large amounts of money to visit Pensacola for a week a year. We get to enjoy it all the time.

I wrote this column for the May 2014 issue of Splash! magazine