Jason Handelsman: the Poet Preacher of Cutler Ridge
Untitled rough draft manuscript for The President's Reality Show sequel.
The night before I met Jason Handelsman at the Sports Grill on the Green (the one at the Palmetto Golf Course off U.S. 1), I was pacing in my bathroom and brushing my teeth when, out of nowhere, I felt like Jason and I were communicating somehow -- both of us in our respective lavatories, toothpaste burning our mouths, and that tingly feeling in the back of the skull that comes with what people sometimes think of as telepathy.
Handelsman -- writer, poet, musician, performer, and ordained pastor -- is glowering proof that our identities and lives are not cohesive, straightforward things. Not because of all the creative capacities just listed but rather due to the fact that before becoming a man of God, Handelsman was Azar Alcazar. He was also the Ghost of Dirty. Not to mention, The President, a practicing freemason, and more.
Harder things first, though: In 2009, Handelsman was writing for New Times, interviewing countless luminaries such as Rick Ross and Lil Wayne and growing an audience for his out-there, Dadaist style of writing and humor. It was then, while rising in the sordid ranks of South Florida's cultural journalism circuit, that everything came to a bloody halt. On Halloween night, on assignment in South Beach, Handelsman struck a man with his car while driving drunk.
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This was a pinnacle moment in Jason's long struggle with drugs, alcohol, and the various forces within that more or less everyone has but that Jason experiences (and controls) more forcefully. "Born and raised in the County of Dade," as he says, he went off to Europe as a young man and lived in various punk squats, doing things like snorting Polish speed with his then-girlfriend. There was also his visit to Auschwitz while on psilocybin mushrooms, where the two of them cried the whole way through.
After a few years in New York in the early 2000s, Jason moved back to Miami. He started going by Azar and lived the life of wandering crust punk. He lived on a houseboat in Biscayne Bay, where he was visited not only by extraterrestrials but also by the ghost of Ol' Dirty Bastard shortly after the MC's untimely death by drug overdose in 2004. Azar was then inhabited by the ghost of ODB and started rapping semi-eponymously as the Ghost of Dirty.
Always a keeper of notebooks, jotting poems and doodling effigies, Jason lived an inner life that is creatively rampant and intellectually vibrant, even when it was dangerously itinerant. As a kid his favorite books were Crime and Punishment and Naked Lunch, and he was a student of the characters of the world that you and I only read about.
Jason had been living under a bridge near Dadeland Mall before he started writing for New Times in 2006. The work brought him off the street, and a newfound sense of purpose invigorated his drive to get his life together. It was during this time that Rick Ross told him that if he worked hard enough, he could do whatever he wanted.
As mentioned, though, the excess of the entertainment industry spurred his self-admitted proneness to addictive tendencies. It got the best of him, and he nearly ended a person's life as a result.
The judge in the case against Jason gave him a very lenient sentence of probation. Filled with regret, his life was in a shambles -- yet Jason recognized that he was given a second chance. He felt a new spirit enter him: the Holy One. Jason listened over and over to the 16-CD box set of Johnny Cash reading the entire New Testament and set about to his new obsession. This was around the same time he started the process of becoming a freemason.