Norm, Norm, and NORML

Who's Smokin' Funny Cigarettes?

Lawyer and activist Norm Kent gets around. He made a flash in the news a few weeks ago, when Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle said that he felt most gay people were unhappy — and that he was basing that statement on his friend, Kent, whom he's known for years through political circles. (Not so, Kent tells Tailpipe. He's actually gay and happy.)

Kent made even bigger headlines a month earlier — in Minnesota, where he was shaking up the race for U.S. Senate.

You see, in the late 1960s, Kent attended Hofstra University on Long Island, where he became friends with a campus organizer named Norm Coleman. While Kent moved on to Fort Lauderdale, founded the Express Gay News and later nationalgaynews.com, hosted a radio show, and joined the board of NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), his friend Coleman migrated to Minnesota, became a Republican, and lost a hard-fought governor's race to Jesse Ventura. Coleman finally struck it big when he got elected as U.S. senator after Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane crash.

mark poutenis

Though the two friends drifted apart ideologically, they stayed in touch; Kent's name is still on Sen. Coleman's mailing list. Kent recently got a letter in which Coleman stated that he opposed the legalization of marijuana. Such a measure would make schools and workplaces "more dangerous," he said.

Whaaaat? Was this the same guy Kent used to burn with at Hofstra? Kent fired off an open letter calling bullshit on Coleman's hypocrisy.

Kent named names (including Coleman's brother-in-law) and recalled specific incidents: "Sure, we had to tape the doors shut, burn incense and open the windows, but we got high, and yet we grew up okay, without the help of the Office of National Drug Control Policy's advice," he wrote. "We smoked pot when we took over Weller Hall to protest administrative abuses of students' rights. You smoked pot as you stood on the roof of the University Senate protesting faculty exclusivity. As the President of the Student Senate in 1969, you condemned the raid by Nassau County police on our dormitories, busting scores of students for pot possession."

Once Kent's missive was posted publicly — on celebstoner.com — Minnesota newspapers and political blogs jumped on it, cartooning and chastising Coleman. The effect could help Coleman's opponents, including author/Air America radio host/ Saturday Night Live alumnus Al Franken, who has candidly admitted using cocaine, LSD, and pot.

Coleman's camp released a statement: "It is a well known fact that years ago, as a college student, he smoked marijuana. Years later, with the hindsight of maturity, he realizes that it was a dangerous time in his life and could well have had seriously negative consequences on his health and on those around him."

In the end, Kent said, he will always admire what Coleman accomplished as a young leader, and the two remain pals. "Causes are transcendent. Friendships are lasting. I will always be Norm Coleman's friend but will continue to speak out against political positions he's adopted. I have his home number. I can pick up the phone and talk to him. It's political debate and not personal hate." He contrasted that with his take on Jim Naugle: "Jim crossed the line by insulting so many individuals by trespassing into their personal life."

Corporate Sledgehammer

With roughly the same frequency as a full moon, Take a Byte, a tiny shop on a desolate stretch of Hollywood Boulevard, sells a computer. Over the past three years, shopkeeper Fred Baker guesses he's sold about 35.

So early last year, when a new customer declared he wanted to buy three computers, it was a bona fide bonanza. The man explained that he needed the computers for a small business he was opening down the street. For Baker, it seemed too good to be true — and it was.

In reality, the man worked for Microsoft, and he was setting a trap. On June 27, the corporation filed lawsuits against Take a Byte and seven other Florida shops, alleging they all sold computers containing pirated Microsoft programs. (The defendants say it's standard practice among struggling storefront dealers to load new computers with borrowed Microsoft programs.)

No slap on the wrist here. The complaints demand that independent computer shops pay damages to Microsoft as well as attorney fees. But in his answer to Microsoft's complaint, Baker told the federal court judge that "the cost of [Microsoft's] pleadings easily exceed the entire gross revenue of 'Take A Byte Computers Inc.' "

Indeed, Baker can't even afford his own lawyer, much less the hotshots Microsoft is paying. "If I get a lawyer, it's going to cost me up the yin-yang," Baker says. His only hope is that Microsoft will name a settlement price that he can afford, but that seems unlikely — even to Baker. His legal options boil down to one phrase: Bite the bullet.

Christopher Neita, owner of Compuglobe in Plantation, finds himself in the same predicament. "I don't know what I can do," he says of his own pending suit with Microsoft. "They have so much money." Neita says he sells about ten computers a year out of his Broward Boulevard shop.

In a public statement issued at the same time as the suits, Microsoft spins its aggressive legal actions as a victory for the little guy, since "people who buy that [counterfeit] software won't get the technical support that comes with a legitimate copy of the same software."

In other words, why spend hundreds for a little extra tech support when the computer giant can throw hundreds of thousands at flyspeck-hunting lawyers?

Condo Slash and Burn

It used to be real estate guys saying, don't worry about the numbers — the market is sound. Well, that mantra seems to have died an inglorious death. Now the real estate guys listen, then try to swallow.

The fallout from filling Miami with pricey skyboxes has grabbed headlines across the country. Now Peter Zalewski, who compiles a monthly database called Condo Vultures, says the losses in Broward are getting ugly too. And Palm Beach County is next. Zalewski tracks properties east of Interstate 95 that have sat on the market for 100 or more days or that have had at least 10 percent or $100,000 knocked off their list prices.

In Fort Lauderdale alone, at the end of July, there were 428 condos, townhouses, and single-family homes in this unpleasant position — roughly four times the 104 such vulnerable properties on the market a month earlier.

Many of the owners slashing their prices are speculators who are losing their shirts, Zalewski says. "They're basically like boaters out to sea shooting a flare gun to say, 'Somebody, come save me!' "

It's exactly the sort of distress call a vulture investor wants to hear.

During the first seven months of the year, the typical Broward condo in Zalewski's database sat on the market for 382 days. And the owners of those condos had to slice 30 percent from their asking prices (average cut $142,596) before unloading the things. Meanwhile, Broward homeowners in similarly dire straits had to reduce their list prices by an average of 33 percent ($396,884) and wait 360 painful days before clinching a sale.

The shakeout is also hitting realtors. The Florida Association of Realtors has lost 6,000 members since the start of 2007. Although, they say, there are still 154,000 agents in their ranks — more than twice the number in 2001. Many of the newer agents went into real estate to make a quick buck, Zalewski says. "Now they're heading back to the strippers' poles or whatever they did before."

But, hey, the market is sound.

The Way Things Happen

There's a cautionary tale here somewhere. Like, maybe, don't get too carried away by those sunny feel-good moments, especially when they're chemically induced? The night of August 4 started like any other Friday night at the Coliseum Night club in Fort Lauderdale. Drag queen DJ Daisy Deadpetals pumped house music through the club as gay young men boogied on the dance floor.

Boyfriends Cristian Peña and Patrick Calhoun, both 24, had gotten on the guest list because they knew the DJ, and they were sipping cocktails. As happy hour came to a close, they prepared to take off.

Peña and Calhoun headed up a ladder to the DJ booth to give hugs and say goodbye — something they had done a hundred times, Calhoun says. But this time, lighting director Logan Landau was watching. And according to the Coliseum rules, nobody is allowed up the ladder except the DJ. As Calhoun descended the stairs, with Peña behind him, Landau closed in.

What happened next depends on whom you talk to.

According to managers and bouncers at Coliseum, Landau's reprimand offended the young men, who seemed half-cocked and drugged-up, and they attacked Landau. Bouncers pulled the angry pair off the lighting director and kicked them out of the club. When they came back, refusing to leave, the bouncers again escorted them out.

Landau was hurt badly enough that he had to go for medical treatment, while, club staffers say, Peña and Calhoun were unscathed.

How did Peña end up at a hospital, at risk for a collapsed lung?

"They probably beat each other up," club manager Gary Santos says. "They were such angry kids."

The offended couple, now engaged, tell a very different story.

They say Landau grabbed Calhoun's throat after he came down from the DJ booth, choking him to the point that he was "seeing stars." A bouncer grabbed Peña and yanked him down the stairs. Numerous bouncers then strong-armed the two slightly built men out of the club, roughing them up along the way, Peña and Calhoun say. When Peña resisted, a bouncer kicked him in the stomach, he says.

"They almost murdered my only love," Calhoun said in a posting on MySpace.com.

Calhoun's ankle was twisted, his tank top ripped off, his pants torn, and, after he called 911, his cell phone seized and broken, he says. A burly bouncer called Calhoun "a nelly faggot," he says.

When police arrived, Peña — who had an outstanding warrant for driving with a suspended license — was arrested.

Calhoun says that Peña was too dazed from the beating to know he needed medical assistance. But when he arrived at the Hollywood Police Department, he was having trouble breathing. Instead of booking him, the cops took him to Memorial Regional Hospital, where doctors told him he had a broken rib and a lung in danger of collapsing.

Peña is recovering, but Calhoun says he's looking for a doctor to help with his own panic attacks.

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