It wasn't my first memory of the etched and sketched green-haired forest of downtown Orlando in 1997, but for some reason, it's one of the more resonant echoes of a Wall Street of long ago. There's a context to verbal defiance, a certain hue to hurled directives intended to dissipate more than to maim, and on this particular occasion, it suited the mood of Orange Avenue. It didn't even hurt. We were all outsiders, Ponyboy, but some of us weren't so far outside that our seating arrangements were sidewalk skateboards and our pale faces pierced and bleating epithets that were so weakly piercing. Yab Yum, the Go Lounge, Kit Kat Club – all of it was virtually anomalous to what we see at downtown's core in the thickets of pinstripes and the cigar-clouds of ambition now. The lawyers are in love. The lawyers won.
But it was far from a disappointment to arrive on the landlocked island of downtown Orlando in the late '90s. We were the pigs, we were the swine, at least to some degree, but that didn't mean that we didn't matter. Some of the greatest friendships ever forged in Orlando – friendships that exist today around the world for those lucky enough to still be breathing – grew defiantly from the triumphs and tragedies of our little town in transition. Sure, you could buy the Rolling Stone superlative codifications of a rave culture run amok and the nitrous oxide after-parties and the stupid jeans and stupid 'zines that made it all blend into that color wheel of 4 a.m. splendor. Mostly, though, it was about being poor and being out, so when we scraped our quarters from the couch cushions (right next to the poppers!), we made certain that we were fit to be seen (or tied).
The "faggot" thing was actually a preface to my semi-permanent arrival here. I was touring with a band from Canada called Treble Charger (along with the Dandy Warhols, because, Jesus Christ, where did my life go?) the summer before I made the big Orlandoan leap. They were sound-checking, I was stall-snorting, everything was a brilliant blur; at some point there was skinny-dipping.
What struck me about downtown Orlando, having just survived the towering heights of downtown Tallahassee, was its humble vitality. I knew, just as I knew when I spent childhood summers here with my father post-divorce, that this was where I belonged. Where Visage happened. Where people knew of Adam Ant and Strawberry Switchblade. You could go to Barbarella's (now the Independent Bar) and slap the floor with post-teenage angst and leather tassels affray. Orlando was, and is, where suburban met urban at the mall.
But I'm not here to spin a yarn about the way it used to be; I frankly can barely remember anything beyond my last published adjective. What I will say is that Orlando became my home by the virtue of some wonderful people and an atmosphere of luck. Yes, I rode the boy-band horse right into the pool of NSync manager Johnny Wright at a party at his house; yes, I did see Lou Pearlman without a shirt; yes, I know things I shouldn't know about a lot of people. Yes, this town and this paper have been kind to me.
When I grew out of plastic pants, Orlando did, too. When I needed to mature a bit in order to function as an adult, Orlando kind of followed. I wrote my first music feature for Orlando Weekly in late 1997. I wrote my last feature for Orlando Weekly, arm-wrestling the mayor (whom I ran to replace in 2005!), in June of this year.
I just want to say a quick few words about the space between. This town – and especially Orlando Weekly – defined me in more ways than anyone will ever know. From the ups of digging for ginger pubic hairs in public restrooms on St. Patrick's Day (it happened) to the downs of letting a whole town carry my grief when my then-husband Alan Jordan killed himself on April 8, 2012. From my fights with politicians, my bizarre political career, the awards and bonhomie that have followed and the promise of what's to come – there isn't a more decorated version of grateful I can think to issue, so I'll just say that I'm super fucking grateful.
I'm over at the gay paper Watermark now, sometimes even sporting my own green hair. But if you ever want to tap me on the shoulder and hear a story or two about everyone you thought you knew, please do. Orlando Weekly built this city and it built me. I will never forget. This "faggot" will never, ever forget.