Tailpipe

Sex and the Suburb

How can Tailpipe be delicate about this? We're talkin' here about, er, bathroom mechanics -- the things you do when you just gotta go. It was apparently an overpowering sense of urgency in that area that, on May 1, 2002, sent 36-year-old Fort Lauderdale resident James Reed into the public restroom at Wilton Manors' Colohatchee Park, known in the gay community as a spot for the occasional lusty rendezvous.

This is how it reportedly went down: Reed, who was there by himself, dropped his pants, did his thing in front of a urinal, then ran to a stall for tissue. He then ran back to the urinal and then again to the stall for tissue. An unusual way of doing things maybe, but so what? You'd ordinarily sweep this kind of information into the category of things you really don't want to know about.

But wait. Reed wasn't exactly alone. He was -- hard as it is for Tailpipe to believe -- being monitored by Wilton Manors Police Officer Gary Blocker, who was watching from a hidden camera. And from what Blocker could tell on his black-and-white monitor, Reed darn sure seemed to be relieving himself of, well, other fluids. (Former Catholic schoolboys might be reminded here of the joking admonition: "Any more than three shakes is a mortal sin.") Reed was arrested and spent the night in jail on a charge of lewd and lascivious behavior. The Broward State Attorney's Office later dropped the charge.

George Coghill

But Reed, a gay man who married his partner in San Francisco in February, filed a federal lawsuit against Blocker and the City of Wilton Manors, alleging that his civil rights were violated. The lawsuit was initially filed anonymously, with a John Doe as plaintiff, but an unsealed deposition recently revealed Reed's identity.

Aside from the fact that the police from what is reputedly one of the most enlightened cities in South Florida are suddenly acting like the commissars from George Orwell's 1984, what else is there to say? Those bathroom cameras in Wilton Manors are downright creepy. Police Det. Sgt. Pete Bigelsen wouldn't elaborate on their use. "I can't comment on the cameras because, number one, we have ongoing litigation; and number two, we have ongoing investigations throughout the city in which we use these cameras, so it would be foolish for me to reveal their number and locations," Bigelsen says.

In fairness, the case may be a little more complex than Reed and his attorney suggest. In his deposition, Reed, who has a previous cocaine bust in Palm Beach County, admits to a similar bathroom incident at Delray Beach's Lake Ida, another park known for the occasional anonymous romantic tryst. While standing in front of a urinal, he claims, he harmlessly looked over at the man relieving himself next to him. Turns out it was an undercover cop. On February 12, 1998, the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office cited him for a lewd act.

"I was in shock that I was being arrested for something, to me, as small as taking a leak in a public restroom and then trying to see who was next to me," Reed says in the deposition.

Two weeks ago, a federal judge dismissed Reed's lawsuit. But even if Reed really were a voyeur or public masturbator -- neither of which is clear from the evidence -- secretly watching him and other men while they do their business constitutes behavior that's a lot more disgusting than anything Reed allegedly did. If some wannabe Kojak ever comes peeping at Tailpipe's private emissions, he may find himself ingesting a tubal sandwich.

The Foreign Menace

Tailpipe always marvels at how South Florida hospitals even stay afloat nowadays, what with the influx of ailing citizens from foreign countries. Ask the Florida Hospital Association about this and it spits out some shocking numbers. An FHA survey of 39 hospitals frequently reported as gospel by all the South Florida daily newspapers showed that, in 2002, its members spent a collective total of $40.2 million to care for 705 uninsured, noncitizen patients. Think about it. That works out to $57,000 per patient, about seven times the average for all uninsured Florida patients.

Jumpin' Jonas Salk! Are our southern neighbors sending us boatloads full of uninsured heart transplant patients?

When Tailpipe heard about this, the tube felt a wave of sympathy for the poor hospitals, who charge their patients an average of more than $1,200 a day. But then Tailpipe started asking questions.

The news stories never mention that the FHA study is based on the worst, most expensive cases. Kim Streit, the FHA vice president in charge of the study, actually sent out an e-mail requesting not average costs but "cases that had a significant impact on your hospital," so that the FHA could "drive home the impact" of the problem. The 705 responses make up less than 1 percent of even the FHA's own estimate of the actual number of such cases. One Broward hospital, Coral Springs Medical Center, sent just its single most-expensive case out of 50 that qualified.

So what's the real, scientifically calculated, per-patient cost of caring for uninsured noncitizens? Nobody really knows, says Carla Luggiero, an associate director of the American Hospital Association. The cost of caring for uninsured patients is a huge problem for hospitals, but how big a role noncitizens play is a mystery, because case records often don't mention the citizenship status of patients.

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