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Gay Hill staffer remembered for humor, dedication

Crowe, 29, succumbed to staph infection

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Christopher Crowe (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The booming voice of Katy Perry accompanying a techno-dance beat of her song “Firework” jolted Kyle Murphy from sleep a couple months ago at 3 a.m.

Curious about the disturbance, Murphy arose from bed to find his best friend and roommate Christopher Crowe dancing on top of their kitchen island.

“I didn’t know what was going on,” Murphy said. “He had brought some friends home and the first thing I saw was him standing on the island in our kitchen dancing to Katy Perry. He was kind of the life of the party.”

For Murphy, who had known Crowe for more than five years since they interned together at the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, the memory represents Crowe’s over-the-top personality and willingness to go to great lengths to entertain others.

“Somebody had collected some quotes he used to say in his office, and one of them was ‘I say ‘no’ to drugs, and that’s it,'” Murphy said. “And that kind of, I felt like, summed up his personality.”

Crowe died last week at the Washington Hospital Center from a staph infection that damaged his heart after he contracted meningitis last summer.

Crowe, 29, who was gay, served as president of the LGBT Congressional Staff Association and as a staffer for Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas). The death of the Kentucky native struck many Capitol Hill staffers and LGBT advocates with grief and prompted fond recollections of his life this week.

Johnson issued a statement expressing sorrow over the loss of her longtime staffer and sympathy for his family and loved ones.

“He was respected by his colleagues for his professionalism; he was beloved by many for his generous spirit and good humor,” Johnson said. “He was a person who enjoyed life and always had a smile to share. He never met a stranger.”

Many friends who worked with him on Capitol Hill and in LGBT advocacy had similar recollections of Crowe’s outgoing personality, which they said enabled him to make fast friends.

Marcus Paulsen, who’s gay and an administrative coordinator for the nonprofit group Community Wealth Ventures, said Crowe had a unique way of making others feel at ease.

“He was always laughing, and it didn’t matter if you told the dumbest joke,” Paulsen said. “He always would find it funny and could find something hysterical about it.”

A Dallas native, Paulsen said Crowe helped him obtain a position as an intern, and later a staffer, in Johnson’s office, where the two worked together for a year-and-a-half.

Paulsen recalled a time in December 2009 when he and Crowe participated in a retreat for staffers in Johnson’s office in Texas. Identifying the experience as one of his fondest memories of Crowe, Paulsen said people he knew from his home state easily made friends with Crowe.

“For me, it was kind of two worlds coming together: my D.C. life and my Texas life,” Paulsen said. “I wasn’t really sure how people would react to some of my D.C. friends and Chris, but he just had this way of becoming really close with people and everybody just absolutely adored him.”

Jason Mida, the Victory Fund’s vice president of development, knew Crowe from his days as an intern at the organization in 2005 and said Crowe had a unique way of drawing others to him.

“It didn’t matter who you were, it didn’t matter what your political affiliation was,” said Mida, who’s gay. “People were drawn to Chris. He was a ball of life and people wanted to be around him because you just felt better. You felt better about yourself; you felt better about things in general when he was around.”

Scott Simpson, press secretary of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, knew Crowe from working together on the LGBT Congressional Staff Association and said he admired the confidence that gave Crowe the ability to speak with anyone.

“He had an ease about dealing with any range of people,” Simpson said. “Chris wouldn’t think twice about calling up the highest-level person in an agency or to the lowest-level person.”

Simpson said Crowe’s care for others enabled him to stay engaged with friends even as he struggled with meningitis for several months.

“This was a man who was in the emergency room,” Simpson said. “He was sending e-mails, text messages, asking how things are going, asking if he can help. If you didn’t know that Chris was sick, if you weren’t informed about it, people never knew.”

While always eager to have a good time with others, Crowe was also known among his friends as a passionate worker in both legislative affairs and LGBT advocacy.

Murphy, a communications specialist for the National Minority AIDS Council, recalled that Crowe’s dedication enabled him to rise quickly to become a high-level staffer for Johnson and to get elected as president of LGBT Congressional Staff Association.

“Everything that I heard about him was that he was amazing — not the greatest writer — but he had dyslexia, but he worked through that very well and didn’t let anything hold him back,” Murphy said.

Simpson recalled his days as president of the LGBT Congressional Staff Association before he left Capitol Hill when Crowe served as his deputy. The two worked on recreating the association after it had long been dormant.

Even though their work in recreating the association involved activity on rewriting bylaws and other less-than-exciting tasks, Crowe found ways to make the work enjoyable.

“Chris made people come to these meetings and actually enjoy themselves and actually laugh,” Simpson said. “He understood that in order to commit people to make change, they had to have a good time and that, I believe, was his secret weapon.”

As evidence of Crowe’s jovial personality, Simpson noted that Crowe would only refer to him as “Girl!” during the course of their work together. Simpson joked that he didn’t know if Crowe actually knew his name.

In his days as a Victory Fund intern, Mida said Crowe was dedicated and passionate about LGBT advocacy. He took a personal interest in working to elect Vivian Paige, a lesbian who ran in 2005 for city treasurer in Norfolk, Va.

“I remember how visibly upset he was when Vivian lost that night,” Mida said. “We’d only been there a few days, but he was so invested. I think that across the board —whether it was his work and whether it was relationships with folks — he immediately became invested in folks, and as a result, people were invested in him.”

Among the activities that friends cited as Crowe’s favorite was travel. In his work on foreign affairs issues for Johnson, Crowe would often take opportunities to go abroad as part of his work as a congressional staffer.

Murphy recalled that Crowe traveled to Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates as part of his work for Johnson, which Murphy said gave Crowe “a travel bug.”

Among the trips that Murphy took with Crowe was an expedition with him and his mother on a Key West cruise in 2009.

“We were both redheads and so we just kind of looked like brothers, so we just starting telling everybody that we were brothers from that cruise ship on — and I referred to his mom as ‘Mama,'” Murphy said.

Murphy recalled that he and Crowe went to Peru in 2008 and Crowe traveled with other friends to Bangkok and Hong Kong. Before Crowe’s death, Murphy said his friend had asked him to put together another trip together.

But dreams for travel and ambitions for further work on LGBT issues and politics were cut short. Murphy, who was present at the hospital where Crowe died, was the first of his friends to know.

“His mom had called me and was kind of frantic telling me the doctors had come out of the operating room saying they didn’t know if he was going to make it, so I rushed to the hospital,” Murphy said. “By the time I got there, he had passed.”

Murphy said in the operating waiting room he encountered Crowe’s mother, who was crying and at first unable to speak, but then said, “We lost him.” Murphy said the news was devastating, but he took on the responsibility of sending e-mails to Crowe’s friends and fellow Hill staffers to inform them.

Paulsen was one of the recipients of the e-mails and, in a state of shock, said he immediately left work upon hearing the news.

“I walked all the way over to Chris’ apartment to be with his roommate and family,” Paulsen said. “At first I couldn’t process it, but it was just very sad.”

Another e-mail recipient, Simpson said Crowe’s death came as a surprise because those who knew him thought he could just “smile through” his disease to become healthy.

“It didn’t seem real,” Simpson said. “I knew that Chris was sick, but it was never always clear that it would be this bad.”

Simpson observed that deaths at a young age are relatively uncommon in the younger generation of gay men — unlike what older gay men faced during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and early ’90s.

“We’re not used to death,” Simpson said. “He was the first of my peers to pass on. If you talk to gay men who are in their 40s and 50s, they had peers pass away all the time. That was one of those moments that I started to understand that this was just a hint of what gay men who were around in the ’80s were going through.”

Still, the memory of Crowe and his sparkling personality remain an inspiration for those who knew him.

Paulsen said he would always remember Crowe’s ability to find greater potential in others.

“He found some talents in me when we worked together and he made sure to always bring those up to the congresswoman or the chief of staff,” Paulsen said. “I think that’s what I’ll take from him — to try to make sure I see these things that might not be visible to everybody else and make sure that they’re aware of some of their talents.”

Murphy, who said he’s often a wallflower in social situations or nervous around guys he likes, expressed admiration for what he said was Crowe’s ability to embrace every situation head on and would try to emulate that approach to life.

“I think that’s something we and all of his friends really appreciated and his family, too,” Murphy said. “It’s something we’ll all probably try to live up to.”

For Simpson, Crowe’s memory inspires him to be proud of who he is and helps him stay grounded.

“Chris was aware of who he was and he fucking loved it, and played it up,” Simpson said. “Chris just knew that you have to be OK with who you are, but you have to be not just OK with it, but you have to own it and love it.”

A memorial service for Crowe is set to take place on Thursday at 12 pm in Room LJ-119 in the Jefferson Building at the Library of Congress. The Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus and the LGBT Congressional Staff Association are hosting the event. House chaplain Rev. Daniel Coughlin is set to officiate over the service.

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Autos

Surprise rides of 2022

Fun, frugal, and full of frills

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Nissan Frontier

Each January, I list my top vehicle picks of the year. But with so many contenders this year, the focus this time is on surprise rides: Three solid choices that are unexpectedly fun, frugal and full of frills.

NISSAN FRONTIER
$29,000
Mpg: 18 city/24 highway
0 to 60 mph: 7.3 seconds

Sure, Tesla, Rivian and other newcomers may be garnering lots of press these days. But other automakers also have been upping their game. Cue the Nissan Frontier pickup, completely redesigned with bold, bad-boy styling. This includes a pugnacious grill, menacing headlights and sleek LED taillights. Inside, new laminated side windows reduce wind and road noise. Refined, soft-touch surfaces are a pleasant surprise, as are various clever storage spaces. And then there are the zero-gravity seats, built to alleviate driver fatigue. Despite the space-age description, these NASA-inspired seats have a traditional design but are built with 14 different pressure points to reduce stress on tired muscles. They may not be as fancy as massaging seats in luxury vehicles, but they feel just as effective. Other cabin niceties include large easy-to-read gauges and an optional 9-inch touchscreen, along with wireless charging, Wi-Fi and 10-speaker Fender stereo. One minor annoyance: the steering column tilts but has no telescopic function. While there may be a few less-expensive pickups on dealer lots, none come with as many features. As for performance, the 310-horsepower V6 is the best in its class, and overall handling is more akin to a well-mannered SUV than a workhorse hauler. For off-road enthusiasts, a Pro-4X model comes with heavy-duty Bilstein shocks, electronic locking rear differential for better grip and beefy all-terrain tires.

JEEP WAGONEER
$60,000
16 city/22 highway
0 to 60 mph: 7.3 seconds

Jeep Wagoneer

While oversized rides don’t really fit my urban identity, the all-new Jeep Wagoneer had me almost pining for a Brady Bunch lifestyle in the burbs. Out of production since 1991, this resurrected land yacht made me feel safe and secure on the road. It also tapped into my love of a beloved cruiser: the Pontiac Grand Safari station wagon that I drove across country in my 20s. (Alas, those tawdry travel tales are another story.) But while such behemoths may be described as big and boxy, the Wagoneer is definitely chic, echoing many of the more sculpted elements of a ritzy Range Rover. Powered by a gutsy V8 Hemi engine, this super-sized SUV quickly hustles down the road. A mild-hybrid system not only helps conserve fuel but also adds some extra oomph. Front-wheel drive comes standard, though many buyers will prefer one of the four-wheel-drive options for even better drivability. Air suspension lets you raise and lower the Wagoneer, which has up to 10 inches of ground clearance and can trek through two feet of water. Along with offering more standard features than most competitors, there’s also more second- and third-row legroom. The rich interior, with contrast piping and stitching on the seats, includes a wraparound dashboard with up to three large screens. Two more screens are available for rear-seat passengers, who can stream thousands of programs via the Wi-Fi. Notable amenities include automated parking, rear-seat monitoring camera and premium 19-speaker McIntosh stereo. Fully loaded, a Wagoneer can reach $75,000. That’s still less than the primo Grand Wagoneer ($89,000), which can sprint from 0 to 60 mph in a wickedly fast 5.7 seconds. That glam model, with goodies such as a refrigerated front console and a hidden touchpad safe to store valuables, can easily top $100,000.

MITSUBISHI OUTLANDER
$28,000
Mpg: 24 city/31 highway
0 to 60 mph: 8.6 seconds

Mitsubishi Outlander

Of the three vehicles reviewed here, the updated Mitsubishi Outlander was the biggest surprise. After all, the automaker isn’t the most popular or reliable brand on the block. But like a washed-up diva making a stunning comeback, the Outlander is now taking its star turn in the highly competitive crossover market. The overall styling is dazzling, with sheet metal that has been stretched and pulled into an edgy origami design. Built on the same platform as the Nissan Rogue, this new Outlander is taller, wider and longer than that popular compact. It also offers a third seat, even if legroom here is miniscule. And despite what is a capable but rather tepid engine, the Outlander handling is crisp and spirited. Driver visibility is especially good, and I found the cabin to be pleasantly quiet. But most notable are all the amenities, including head-up display, wireless smartphone integration, 10-speaker Bose stereo, panoramic sunroof, power tailgate, heated steering wheel, heated seats (both front and back), a full slate of the latest safety gear and much more. Another plus: the 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty. All in all, it’s nice to see Mitsubishi start to regain its footing—with the Outlander center stage.

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Real Estate

Is cash always king?

How to stay competitive in the face of all-cash offers

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With more all-cash offers these days, there are still ways to stay competitive if you need a mortgage.

One of the frequently asked questions I get as a real estate agent serving the DC Metro area and Delaware beaches is: How can I be competitive in a market that is seeing an increase in all-cash offers? 

I get it, the real estate market is super competitive, but it’s not just because of the low inventory, it’s also because of the cash offers sellers are seeing.

Money is money right? Why would a seller be inclined to take a lower all-cash offer versus a higher offer with a mortgage. Let’s break it down a bit. 

An all-cash offer usually comes with very limited contingencies in addition to the more important piece, which is the timing. A cash sale can close in less than a week whereas a sale with a conventional mortgage can usually only be expedited to a 21-day close. Don’t lose hope! There are still a few ways you can have a competitive edge over cash offers with a few steps your agent can advise you through:

OFFER CASH – THEN ACQUIRE FINANCING: If the stars align and you are purchasing a home that the sellers currently reside in, you can expect that they will need some time to gather their items and move — they also have to gather their great great grandmother’s wedding dress and Uncle Fester’s golf clubs that they just HAVE to keep. This will allow you time to go the conventional mortgage route. Please note that this is a very detailed alteration and it is recommended fully that you speak with your real estate agent prior to doing this to ensure that you are fully educated with the pros and cons of this method and what is at risk. The biggest item to highlight is that a mortgage comes with the infamous appraisal. The appeal of an all-cash offer is that there is no appraisal. With a mortgage an appraisal is required. If the appraisal comes in low, you will need to be ready to come to the table with the difference in appraised value – in cash. For example: Appraised value is $100,000 and you are under contract for $200,000 – that is a delta of $100,000, which you will need to come up with in cash in order to continue with the transaction, separate from any other monies you have already placed down.

OFFER $$$ OVER LOW APPRAISAL: Following up on the appraisal aspect here – you can write a contract with financing in place from the onset and provide an addendum that you will pay the difference in low appraisal (referencing the example above) or you can offer an alternative that would be to pay up to XX over a low appraisal. In this example of paying a dollar amount over a low appraisal, you write into the contract that you are going to offer $50,000 over the appraisal if it is a low appraisal. So if the contract price is $150,000 and you offer to pay $25,000 over a low appraisal value and the property is valued with appraisal at $125k then you would have to pay a total of $150k for the home and that $25k difference would, again, need to be in cash. This allows a bit of leverage with lower cash amounts on hand – but again similar to the example of acquiring financing above, the sellers must allow for the timing of a mortgage application process to occur.

GIFTS FROM FAMILY: What is family for if it isn’t for providing you large sums of cash!? In all seriousness – this is a fully accepted method of cash funds. You will want to speak to a financial planner/tax individual to fully understand tax implications for both parties (giftor and giftee) to fully understand what this means, but there is always the ability to be gifted funds from parents, aunts, uncles etc., to ensure that you are liquid and can purchase the property of your dreams.

OFFER “RENT BACK” TO SELLERS: Following the guise that the sellers must find a property to purchase or perhaps they are moving across the country and need a month or two in order to get their affairs in order. This allows you to provide a “rent back” to the sellers and basically become their landlord. In this scenario you would typically charge them rent, which would be equal to your carrying costs for your home expenses. For the purposes of being competitive in this market, you can offer a “rent FREE rent back” where you afford them the ability to sell the home to you and they still reside in the home for an established time post closing at no cost to them. This sounds silly — why would you let someone stay in your new home rent free for two months when that means that you are paying for your mortgage and other expenses in addition to rent for an apartment or maybe shacking up with mom and dad again? 

It’s important to remember that in order to get a property in this market there is the need to think creatively if you don’t have all the cash in the world — you can still be VERY competitive.

Justin Noble is a Realtor with Sotheby’s international Realty licensed in D.C., Maryland, and Delaware for your DMV and Delaware Beach needs. Specializing in first-time homebuyers, development and new construction as well as estate sales, Justin is a well-versed agent, highly regarded, and provides white glove service at every price point. Reach him at 202-503-4243, [email protected] or BurnsandNoble.com.

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Real Estate

Leather and lace in your home decor

From couches to countertops, add some flair

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Leather isn’t just for couches anymore; you can find it in countertops and a wide range of décor.

When I was very young, I would visit my maternal grandmother and marvel at the hand-tatted and crocheted doilies that adorned the arms and backs of her sofa and chairs. They were also found on her dressers and side tables, and on the dining table as coasters and placemats, to prevent scratches on the furniture. Like snowflakes, the designs of the doilies were both intricate and individual.

I’m convinced that people had better posture in the early 20th century, because I never saw the remnants of men’s hair tonic, Macassar oil, or pomade on Nana’s doilies, even though they were there to keep the furniture from absorbing those hair products. Certainly, people weren’t the couch potatoes lounging on sofas then that we are today. Being able to Netflix and chill was a long way off.

I was impressed with the amount of work that had gone into such a little piece of fabric, so I later tried to learn to crochet. Sadly, all I was able to accomplish was string after string, never having been taught how to join those strings together to resemble a doily. At least with knitting, I was able to form squares large enough to be blankets for my Barbie.

In my mid-century childhood, doilies were put away and saved for grandchildren who, years later, would neither want them nor appreciate their historical value. The ‘50s saw polyvinyl chloride (PVC) go from a commercial substance used frequently in post-WWII construction to a residential fabric that we now refer to fondly as “pleather.” I can still remember the sound of my thighs peeling off the vinyl banquette at the diner when I would get up to leave a booth.

To be without a leather couch in the ‘60s was déclassé and, although styles have changed, such a couch remains a timeless piece. These days, if you are looking for a little more leather in your life and in your home, you can look beyond that couch and chair, where options range from the subdued to the highly decorative.

While vinyl is still the least expensive leather-look fabric, we now have “bonded” leather, made with scraps that are bonded together using polyurethane or latex. As you can tell from the prices of such furniture, the actual leather used in the process can vary from 10-90 percent.

Of course, top grain leather is the most expensive, and we have suede, die cut, embossed, patent, and a variety of other techniques used to change the look of a hide. In addition, there is now vegan leather.

For something unique for your kitchen or bar, check out the tooled leather countertop from Kosel Saddlery (koselsaddles.wixsite.com/marty) in Montana. They also make saddles and chaps.

Instead of the shiny granite counters that we all know, MSI Surfaces (msisurfaces.com) makes honed and leathered granite finishes for a more subtle appearance and has dealers throughout the DMV. 

For a do-it-yourself application, Amazon sells the Aspect brand eight-pack of leather glass, peel and stick subway tiles for backsplashes in five neutral colors for less than $20 each.

EcoDomo (ecodomo.com) in Gaithersburg offers a variety of custom leather treatments, including countertops, door and cabinet panels, floor planks and tiles, and wall systems. Your color choices aren’t limited to black or brown either. They can manufacture pieces in blue, red, green, and even in custom colors to match other items in your décor.

Many online stores such as Wayfair and Overstock carry real and faux leather headboards, footstools, poufs and benches at affordable prices. 

There’s always something in leather at Pottery Barn, even for the conservative budget: pieced leather pillows, tufted stools, basket collections, and even a leather-bound coffee table book for cigar aficionados. 

If you’re looking for small accent pieces, try a leather coaster, placemat, napkin ring, or my personal favorite, a cutlery pouch for your tableware collection from Lucrin Geneva (lucrin.com). They also offer office accessories such as crocodile desk sets, wastebaskets and storage boxes.

And for the connoisseur of leather, vinyl, rubber, or even neoprene items of a more personal nature, head to the Capitol Hill Hyatt Regency this Friday through Sunday for Mid-Atlantic Leather weekend. With plenty of specialty items, high-impact fashion, toys and games for all ages and yes, even custom-made furniture among the vendor exhibitions, you’re sure to find something that will tickle your fancy.

Just remember that you (and your puppy) must both be vaccinated and masked to attend. We take COVID (and rabies) very seriously here in D.C.

Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with RLAH Real Estate.  Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her via DCHomeQuest.com, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.

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