I brought you home yesterday, but only ashes remain.
I think you will like the vessel you’re in. It’s perfectly color-coordinated to match our audio-video cabinet, although I know you would say, “I don’t care.”
You are no longer in this plane of existence, and that makes me miserable. I have moments when I try to speak, but it’s garbled with tears. That’s become my own brand of aphasia, right?
No matter how competent a writer some people credit me with, that won’t bring you back to life. Please know that my grief is shared by your family and close friends in the aphasia community. I share the picture of your urn on this website post to substitute for a viewing ceremony in these days of coronavirus.
Please know I continue to practice physical distancing. (I don’t like to say “social distancing,” because there is nothing social about staying 6 feet away from well-meaning friends.) The coroner’s report says your cause of passing was “probable myocardial infarction,” but you looked peaceful when I found you.
I believe your passing was due to the strain of movement caused by ever-increasingly painful arthritis. Well, your hips and legs stopped hurting March 27th, and that makes me glad.
Being physically unavailable to lie naked beside me, though, makes me sad and lonely. Now I must let you go to ease the star journey you earned after this life. You put up with me so patiently, my love.
I hope you like the funeral home that cousin Margaret Johnston researched the day after you passed. Green Hills funeral home and crematorium is located 500 feet up in the hills east of Kelso, Washington. And both Margaret and cousin Carolyn Levin stepped up to pay for the whole shebang.
Also, please know that Kailey Cox drove up here Thursday morning to adopt your plants before they go to ruin. I never had a green thumb, and Kailey wanted to make sure I didn’t give visible testament to a plant cemetery.
I hope you like the reverence the funeral home director, José Nuñez, showed as Margaret and I oversaw the disposition of your physical remains. I kissed your chin at our viewing, but your skin was so cold I realized you were no longer imprisoned in that fragile body. Your slender fingers and expressive hands will no longer hurt you.
Unlike your skin, our love will never grow cold. Alice, I love you. So blessed much.
The picture you saved from one of our aphasia gatherings on the Coast contains the following message from a Chinese fortune cookie: “Rarely do great beauty and great virtue dwell together as they do in you.”
Please accept my tears of grief as a gentle rain, and may each drop bring you peace on your unending journey. Save me a spot, okay?
Members of the Aphasia Network have begun a GoFundMe page to support me during the time ahead. To see their message and hopefully donate, follow this link Alice was amazing
Jane McCormick, 76, formerly of Doylestown and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, suffered
a massive heart attack and passed away Friday, March 27, 2020 in her recently
acquired condominium home in Longview, Washington. A private viewing prior to cremation is to be
held Monday, March 30.
Mason Loika, 77, Alice’s domestic partner and co-conspirator in life, survives Ms. McCormick’s passing, along with a horde of students, nurses, organizers and teachers from the Aphasia Network who are devastated at her loss. Besides Mr. Loika, she is survived by sons Ed Goetz, 59, Park County, Colorado; and John Goetz, 54, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; daughters Elaine Krasousky, 52, Philadelphia; and Linda Goetz, 48, Philadelphia; as well as six grandchildren.
One of those grandchildren, Shelby Krasousky, was raised by Ms. McCormick. Ms. Krasousky and her son (Ms. McCormick’s great grandson), Vinny, reside in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
a statuesque 6’3″ height, Ms. McCormick told me she made frequent
after-school excursions to the ABC-TV Philadelphia studio to dance on the
national broadcast of American Bandstand. Nevertheless, Ms. McCormick faced a
bleak future after dropping out of John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School
at the age of 15.
Ms. McCormick was born and raised in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, and gave birth to five children, rearing them in the beautiful Lawndale area. After 13 years of physical abuse, though, she fled her husband and divorced.
She eventually was awarded an associates’ degree from Camden Community College, Camden, New Jersey, and later worked with autistic children as a certified special education teacher.
March 6, 1944, Ms. McCormick met Mr. Loika on Sept. 24, 2010, and exactly one
year later, they underwent a commitment ceremony led by an interfaith minister
and a now-deceased Native American leader who guided them in an Apache prayer.
beauty surround you both in the journey ahead and through all the years. May
happiness be your companion, and your days together be good and long upon the
McCormick survived a stroke in March 2015 after moving west with Mr. Loika to
Oregon, and her speech was never the same. However, the two of them became part
of the Aphasia Network, where she regained enough of her speech to proclaim her
independent spirit and speak openly of her love to Mr. Loika.
Now she has begun her star journey, and Mr. Loika has promised to honor the request she asked of him the day before she passed over: to write.
Members of the Aphasia Network have begun a GoFundMe page to support me during the time ahead. To see their message and hopefully donate, follow this link Alice was amazing
Five and a
half years ago, I, Mason Loika (climate-change refugee from Miami), and life
partner Alice McCormick (a true Philly girl) moved “Westward Ho.” We
left a historic Pennsylvania town — Doylestown – to wind up in Longview,
Washington, 50 interstate miles north of Portland, Oregon. Longview has quite a history, but currently the
sleepy town remains below the radar.
between Mt. St. Helens and Washington’s spectacular Pacific Coast, the
self-contained industrial-residential town runs alongside the Columbia River,
and was founded by timber-baron R.A. Long. Next to downtown is a magnificent, Japanese-styled,127-acre
Lake Sacajawea, where residents wear their casual best to stroll – or show off
their dogs’ pedigree – around a 3½ mile maintained gravel trail. (Lake
Sacajawea is named after a Shoshone woman who guided Lewis and Clark west.) Longview’s
population and that of sister town, Kelso, totaled 50,000 in 2017.
In September of
that year, Alice and I bought a roomy two-bedroom condominium in Longview next
to a manicured golf course, leaving three years of price-predatory apartment developments
and unforgiving traffic in Portland, Oregon.
The Portland metro
area incorporates Vancouver, Washington (not Canada), and has obscenely grown –
over 2.4 million residents. Once, pedestrians
felt safe crossing city streets, but today population centers all over the West
are bursting at the seams. Everywhere, people are increasingly crowded together. Much of what ruined Miami when I grew up is
happening today in Portland, and an unexplained number of Florida license
plates can be observed.
five years, I kept the financial wolves at bay by driving for Uber and Lyft in
Portland. Nowadays, Alice and I live a
better life in Longview, although I continue “ride-share” work in
Oregon. We have good neighbors in our newfound socially interactive community, and,
after closing my garage at night, a neighbor offers me a solid toke from a
well-stacked pipe containing some of the finest locally grown agricultural
here, y’all! So we don’t have to lead
double lives to protect our right to partake.
Surrounded by the greenery on a nearly 1,000-foot-high, properly populated
hill north of our development, this could be our forever neighborhood, limited to
whatever Creator decides to gift us.
And mercy of
all mercies, musicians get work here.
I’ve already touted Teri’s Restaurant, which keeps getting better. Teri now reserves Friday nights for local
bands to perform in her two-story saloon-style roadhouse, just perfect vibes
for performing musicians to jam together. And on the coast recently — Long
Beach, Washington – a recent weekend event celebrated “Oysters and
Jazz.” Mmmmm. Sustenance for the
body and soul.
continues to manage me, occasionally making progress with her stroke-affected speech.
Each year our closest buds in The Aphasia Network host two weekends at a Methodist
church camp on the tip of a scenic peninsula on Oregon’s pristine coast. We
attend regularly, and – especially – treat each other like family. (During
breakout sessions, caregivers discuss relationship concerns with their group
apart from their respective stroke survivors who simultaneously participate in
activities designed to simulate everyday chores and challenges.)
around at the Aphasia Network staff – nurses, professors, occupational
therapists, speech therapists, students, and executives (who don’t act that
way), – we delight at how one musically astute professor appears to be attached
by the hip to a guitar, with which he schedules bonding hootenannies with invited
amateur musicians. This is, simply put, glorious territory for an elder inhabitant
of Planet Earth to traipse about.
There is still much to share with readers. While Alice and I cocoon to avoid the coronavirus, Creator has decreed this time of fear and worry as a prospective blessing. Or as Jim Morrison once sang in “Light My Fire,” there’s “no time to wallow in the mire.”
ago, Alice fulfilled her prophecy and adopted another cat. She included me in the adoption process to
represent our eight-year union as worthy of the necessary commitment to make an
addition to our family.
above praises Chloe, whose name was gifted by the Longview Humane Society.
gorgeous? Chloe immediately bonded with
each of us separately and together. However,
Chloe’s litterbox training is still a challenge to Alice’s persistent, watchful
know how old Chloe is, because her physical being is stunted by time spent in
the untamed areas of Washington where she incurred a pregnancy and gave birth
to an unknown number of kittens. After
the Humane Society received her into its protective custody, she was spayed,
and treated for worms and other native, tiny varmints.
time in the wild, Chloe must have known terror; nevertheless, she appears to be
a loving animal. I discovered this when
she first rubbed up to me. Once feeling
my caress, she lay down, purred almost desperately and invited me to rub her
I’m away, Alice now has a companion to call her own, and any jealousy I might
feel about their kinship is quickly erased as Chloe cuddles up to me when we
retire for the night.
This spring is graduation season, and I take pride In two cousins – sisters Rory and Lauren – who are finishing Southridge High School in Beaverton, Oregon, with flying colors and earn their diplomas in June. I also celebrate another cousin, Max, who received a bachelor of art’s degree in math and physics cum laude from Lewis & Clark College out here in Portland last weekend. But this post is dedicated to a dogged achiever bearing the Loika name: my nephew, Sean Paul Loika Englert.
Sean is 49 years old. After dropping out from Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas 30 years ago, surviving a spirited youth and eventually moving to Brooklyn, Iowa, he dedicated himself to the many sacrifices, lack of sleep, and who knows what else to complete a higher education. On Sunday, May 19th, he receives a bachelor of art’s degree in social work summa cum laude from Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, a 65-mile commute from his home.
How he managed to attend all his classes, write several scholarly papers, commute and excel in school while holding down a full-time job – and a budding romance – is a true miracle more than a measured achievement measured by Sean’s grades. Every paper he turned in, he worried whether his grades were good enough.
They were. Sean excelled in school with a 4.0, so on Sunday, May 19th, Mount Mercy will award Sean Englert his degree.
However, one day before his baccalaureate, Saturday, May 18th, Sean will marry Leslie Stanley, a woman who shares his wry sense of humor. The forevermore commitment will take place – believe it or not – in the Brooklyn Memorial Cemetery at 3 pm.
ceremony in a graveyard? Perhaps it’s
indicative of how Sean worked himself to death preparing for this weekend. But he’s still ambulatory, right?
this noble accomplishment filled with sweat, worry, planning, carrying on a
romance and displaying the right household sensibilities to sweep Leslie off
There’s no easy way to view the end of another being’s last breaths. Nevertheless, in providing hospice care, we fulfill our responsibilities.
Alice and I drove Millie, ever complaining about our Ford Escape’s motion, to
Cowlitz Animal Clinic, here in Longview, Washington. The well-regarded clinic sits on a wide
commercially zoned highway with little weekend traffic. Because it was Saturday, we appeared to have
the clinic almost entirely to ourselves.
history here: A month before we moved to Longview, Millie disappeared from our
cramped Somerset West (Portland) apartment for 17 days. Somehow, our tabby feline was found by a
respectable homeowner more than a mile away, a fortuitous happening.
uneventful months with us in Longview, where we kept her indoors (and to our
neighbors’ delight) Alice walked the cat several times a week outside on a
leash, Millie was deemed to have diabetes.
Skeptical about treating her with daily insulin shots and frequent
bloodwork; Millie was already down to skin and bones. Less than six weeks later, even after
changing her diet from Meow Mix to Iams, she was on the doorstep of wasting
away — literally.
This visit to
the clinic was made tolerable by a sensitive doctor of veterinary medicine,
Kayleen McLain, who shared a professional sense of grief with us, especially
while trying to find a vein — any vein — to administer the needed dosage to
send Millie away to a permanent dreamland.
some as we said goodbye to her spirit, but found comfort once we noticed the
serene look as she passed over. We did
not mourn long, because doing so would hinder Millie’s journey to “the
I once read
that bonding with an animal comes with a limited contract: One of you will go
before the other. After that, life goes
probably why, at the moment we returned home, Alice cleaned up Millie’s area
from visible memorabilia. Today, Alice
is gardening outside, watching for hummingbirds, working up a sweat, and
encouraging new life.
Millie was a
great companion. We dare not weep,
because we would be crying only for our loss.
We will not be selfish.
After beginning childcare duties on May 15th with the YMCA of Southwest Washington in Longview, Alice McCormick received the following email from the facility’s executive director on June 7th:
The Y’s Rainbow Corner “has some concerns about your communication skills with kids and parents [emphasis added]. Because you are still in the 90-day probationary period, she [the Rainbow Corner’s director] is letting you go because she does not feel like this is a good fit for our members.”
Alice never returned an invitation to speak further to the Y about its decision, so I pressed Alice to forward me the terse communiqué. Once she did so (after two months), I wrote directly to the Y’s executive director who in turn refused comment to me, her life partner, or to anyone other than Alice.
My wife, Alice, can hold a conversation, but lacks the verbal pathways to do so eloquently, which self-explains her recalcitrance to hold a formal conversation with Longview’s YMCA about such an important matter without my participation. Therefore, no further communication is anticipated between us and, accordingly, I spoke with Alice to relate her impressions, and here are some of them.
Inside Longview’s Y
The childcare room in Longview’s YMCA was touted as a “Rainbow Corner,” but painted only with a stark white color. No accompanying artwork, such as that appearing in Doylestown, PA.’s YMCA (where Alice once worked), is part of the color scheme. Half of the children’s toys were, in some way, in a state of disrepair.
The Rainbow Corner’s director expected Alice to continually consort with a mentally challenged co-worker, whom the Y was proactive enough to hire. However, the assignment convinced Alice that her speech aphasia was considered by her superiors as another form of mental incompetence. Not one person volunteered to be Alice’s trainer or a confidante.
I could go on, but Alice and I have no plans to be mean-spirited. But something happened here, and we won’t be silent about it.
Alice excelled in the field of special education and served as a substitute teacher for four years in the Philadelphia School District, no mean feat. She is an elder, an experienced parent who nurtured five children and one grandchild through childhood, teenage angst and later development. These skills remain intact.
Alice’s speech suffered significantly after her stroke in March 2015, and she found out what anyone here who does not speak American English fluently innately knows: She has become a second-class citizen. As I once quoted Hungarian film star Paul Javor in my book, Gulag to Rhapsody: A Survivor’s Story, “The less English you know, the more likely it is that people will spit on you.”
Alice deserved better than what the Y’s mission here exudes. Working with infants and toddlers provided Alice an opportunity to offer attentive caring, a safe atmosphere and love. This mission doesn’t require her to speak much. When wide-eyed children look up at her (because Alice is considerably taller than her peers), they feel love.
The Aphasia Network is our advocate
People with aphasia are not mentally deranged or incompetent. This is plain wrong. The pathways through her brain were interrupted by a stroke and must be rebuilt through years of therapy and practice so she can feel confident to communicate as well as the rest of us. Alice manages me, and I’m not easy.
Two weeks ago, I broke this sad news to over 100 stroke survivors, care partners, occupational and speech therapy students and instructors at our Aphasia Adventure Weekend on the Coast. Now I share it with the readers of this blog.
Today, Alice freelances by occasionally cleaning people’s apartments. She only works for those who treat her (and me) the same way. Unfortunately, Longview’s YMCA does not meet Alice’s standards. The neighbors in our condo association do.
We remain hopeful that an aphasia awareness campaign will open new doors for people who suffer the debilitating effects of a stroke. For survivors and their care partners, more education and interaction with the outside world needs to be done.
As much as I expressed love for Alice when entering our civil ceremony seven years ago, I love her in a deeper way now. All her struggles inspire me to match her courage. Every little thing she does for me behind the scenes gives me an air of organization. Alice’s dedication to my wellbeing is akin to the Portland (Oregon)-based Aphasia Network’s ever-expanding programs.
Yes, we are exceedingly grateful, and our gratitude is only matched by the unmitigated embrace of support offered by our delightful extended family.
Two weeks ago, Alice and I visited the Longview YMCA to tour its facilities. I have put on 20 pounds since my bladder operation, and we both could use some shaping up. Our guide turned out to be the Y’s executive director who took a keen interest in Alice’s renewed ambition to care for infants and toddlers.
The director handed Alice an application, and the two of us put together a multi-page submission, hand-delivering it on May 2. Two days later, as we prepared for a weekend with our extended family at the Aphasia Network’s Couples Retreat on the Oregon Coast, Alice received a call back from the Y.
Alice was offered a job!
We shared the good news with over 60 student counselors and staff, as well as other aphasia-recovering couples that night, and the people went wild. After three years of wondering whether she could adequately function as the professional she expects from herself (Alice’s stroke was March 12, 2015), here was the promise of a new beginning.
Back from the Coast
After our return last Sunday, Alice returned to the Y for a late-afternoon confirming interview. Two days later, Alice underwent training, and guess what?
Her first day at work is Tuesday morning.
The initial assignment calls for Alice to work one day a week. If Alice is able to progress at the Y, will I finally feel confident to take a break from driving for Uber and lately Lyft? Will I finally knuckle down and begin to write the book I’ve been bragging about?
At this point, it’s one step at a time. Four years ago, we moved to the Northwest to fulfill our manifest destiny. Now Alice is 74, I’m 75, and we’re settled in a beautiful condo apartment where we can jump-start our talents.
No one should mistake my criticism of how I lost my virginity at the American Boychoir School as a condemnation of the institution itself. A previous post on my website goes into detail here. Followup posts can be viewed here, here and here.
Its founder, Herbert Huffman, dedicated his life to growing a selected cadre of gifted musical boys into a nationally beloved choir in Columbus, Ohio. Huffman oversaw its move and transition to the academically elite community of Princeton, NJ, where boys explored a community where they learned it was acceptable to learn as much as they could – as fast as they can.
That’s quite a contrast to the peer group pressure exerted by boys in Miami’s suburbs of Hialeah and Miami Springs, where I grew up. When I returned there in the 9th grade, classmates asked me not to do so well academically, “because it makes the rest of us look badly.”
I coasted, and made straight A’s. That’s how outstanding my Princeton education was.
More than 50 years after a twisted genius by the name of Donald Bryant orchestrated a loss of institutional control, the Princeton-based Boychoir’s inmates have finally taken over. Some of what transpired was revealed in well-written investigational stories by the New York Times and New Yorker magazine. Boychoir management only sought to quash these sensational revelations, revealing a serious disdain for transparency.
After I wrote my own story here of encountering a sexual predator, I heard enough response to sense a troubling undercurrent of suspicion resided in the surrounding area of Bucks and Mercer counties from women who had married previous members of the Boychoir. The lid of damnation that caused editors to censor stories about the American Boychoir had backfired. Eventually, bankruptcy was the only course the venerable institution had left.
The people I refer to as “inmates” are its new leaders, men who have matriculated through many of life’s pitfalls. They are accomplished in their fields and recognize what the Boychoir meant to them and its potential to future generations.
According to Kris Brewer, spokesman for the resurrection committee, “It is a shared sentiment and goal to make sure that if we are successful … that acknowledgment, transparency, learning, prevention and healing are essential to the success of the Foundation and a future ABS… We are not interested in keeping silent about or hiding the past. It does no one any good now or in the future.”
Chet Douglass and Aaron Smyth are joining Brewer to step forward as a triumvirate and promulgate a concept as time-honored as Christianity itself – a resurrection.
My personal story is meant to bequeath their cause far more than the $10 gift I donated; it is meant to inspire Messrs. Brewer, Douglass and Smyth to continue and persevere.
Back in the winter of 1955, I auditioned for Herbert Huffman, founder of the Columbus Boychoir. I don’t recall much of that audition, except it took place in Coral Gables. I remember Huffman as a gentle soul, whose interest in great music was legendary.
I remember my mother spoke with Huffman privately after I sang for him. I don’t know if she told him about my father, Virgil, but he was a tormented musical genius who once played with each of the Dorsey brothers in New York City, but evolved into a frustrated musician who savagely and frequently beat me for no reason at all.
At home, I had retreated into a private world in which I pretended to be a television programmer. (The quality of my first journalism gig – a TV writer – reveals how much I used media for an escape.) I developed a good singing voice by singing in the shower, and my mother, Thelma, who played piano for the First Presbyterian Church in Hialeah, hoped to get me away from my father’s physical abuse.
I was chosen, an unlikely selection because of the pigment of my skin. During the spring, summer and falls of my life, Virgil took my family to South Beach where we played with other boys on the soft sloping sands along the Atlantic Ocean. The constant exposure of the sun on my skin darkened me considerably; however, brothers Jon and Chris turned red from the exposure and suffered with serious sunburns. I sometimes burned, but kept getting darker and darker.
At Albemarle, where I lived in a dormitory setting with the other choirboys, I never thought of myself as outside the cultural norm until one day. We previewed a never-before-seen video film taken of us while performing a sacred choral piece. Each choirboy – one by one – was paraded before a camera while singing a Christmas hymn. The film was ready and edited with sound, and we were the first to enjoy it.
Because I tried not to care, my nonchalance was rewarded. I never saw myself! But some other boys said they had, so the film was rerun for my benefit. I didn’t see anything distinctive, except for an apparent Negro boy who walked through. I recognized almost everyone else. Who was that black kid?
“That’s you!” the other boys exclaimed. “Look again.”
Once again, the film was rewound to where I walked through. After strong urging, I recognized some of my features. I was the black one!
No way, I thought. What was going on?
After all these years, I think I understand. Because of the lighting used in the newspaper and on TV channels that was specific only to me, I appeared white and Caucasian. Compared to the other boys at the school, though, the camera portrayed me as dark.
Herbert Huffman chose me despite my complexion, because he saw the potential of my musical gifts. I played piano well, and I was a decent second soprano. So Huffman rescued me from my father.
I never revealed these details before, so you, readers of this blog, know them for the first time ever.
I saved and scanned the official story about me written courtesy of Jay Morton, publisher of the Hialeah Home News who on Feb. 11, 1955, announced my selection to the Columbus Boychoir.
(By the way, Jay Morton was no ordinary publisher. After studying art at the Pratt Institute in New York, receiving a master’s degree in Paris, he had moved to Miami to write and draw the animated cartoon, “Superman,” for Fleischer Studios. He was responsible for describing Superman as “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” He also drew Felix the Cat, Betty Boop and Popeye.)
As publisher of the Hialeah Home News, in the 1940s and ’50s, he ran a one-man crusade to drive the Ku Klux Klan out of Hialeah. He passed away on Sept. 6, 2003, the same day as my late brother Jon’s birthday. I am proud to share the text of his article verbatim, especially because it contains no typos, as follows:
When state and national honors are passed out, and individual achievements are brought to the attention of the American public, it’s a source of pride to Hialeah-Miami Springs that local residents come in for a goodly share of the limelight.
Latest addition of this roll of honor is little Mason Loika, son of Mr. and Mrs. Virgil Loika, 810 N.E. Third pl., Hialeah. Mason left this week for Princeton, N.J. where he won a scholarship at the nationally famous Columbus Boychoir School.
Mason looks like any other boy who is almost 12. His brown locks have a tendency to be unruly with a cowlick indicating, as the saying goes, bedevilment. But just let Mason don his choir-robe – a long, black, monk-like skirt, a white, wide-sleeved tunic, and a big, black bow under his chin …
Then he’s transformed into an angel, and surely sings like one.
That’s what Herbert Huffman, director of the Boychoir, thought when he auditioned Mason at the University of Miami two weeks ago. Huffman and his boys’ ensemble were here for a concert, and the Loikas felt fortunate when he consented to hear Mason’s voice.
Their joy was irrepressible when Huffman offered the boy an $800 scholarship at the non-sectarian school. But finance reared its ugly head. A year’s tuition, room and board, costs $1,600. The Loikas could raise $400 on their own, but where was the other $400 coming from?
That’s when Mrs. Loika came to the Home News (he is a Home News carrier) to pick up Mason’s papers. The story came out, and Publisher Jay Morton resolved that, if he could be of help, this opportunity and honor would not be bypassed.
Morton has been on the phone soliciting support from the city’s civic organizations and this week when Mason departed it looked as though his dream would come true. The pledges aren’t all in yet, but the Loikas are proceeding on faith.
Mason’s father is now employed at Pan-American, but he has 25 years as a professional musician behind him. He gave his son all the training he could. Mason’s mother, a music-teacher and music instructor for kindergarten, has been giving him piano lessons.
At Princeton, Mason will have a regular curriculum which will cover at least what he’s learning now in the seventh grade at Hialeah High. He’ll also have choir practice twice a day, plus individual voice training.
The Columbus Boychoir is renowned throughout the country. Besides appearing at festivals and secular gatherings, the boy choristers have been heard on national hook-ups of radio and television, and in recordings. They were on Ed Sullivan’s “Toast of the Town” at Christmas. They always “bring the house down” at every concert they appear in.
Just as Mason won applause at the Kiwanis club luncheon on Tuesday. While his mother accompanied him, his childish treble rose in melody and he won the hearts of the Kiwanians.
You know that feeling that overcomes you when functioning blind? Not literally, but the sensation realized outside one’s comfort zone. Visually, you can approximate the feeling by driving in foggy conditions, where you literally can’t see eight feet in front of you.
In Pennsylvania, I experienced that dysfunctional feeling several times while driving a six-passenger stretch limo, especially on icy roads, climbing the top of a snow-covered hilltop manor’s long driveway, or the disgustingly narrow Washington Crossing bridge during an ice storm, and especially downtown Philly’s jammed South Street during New Year’s Eve. My first trip to the Dakota in Manhattan, where the late John Lennon lived, produced a similar tingling the first time I pulled inside the covered driveway of the famous 72nd Street building.
Anyway, I digressed, as I am wont to do. Alice and I recently moved to Longview, Washington, escaping from Portland, Oregon’s growing pains and rent crisis, accompanied by a reprise of asking what happened to our stuff.
To recap, Alice and I managed some serious downsizing before moving West, so that all our possessions at our two-year Portland location were contained within a 900-square-foot apartment, plus 30 boxes of assorted stuff laid about a dusty, dingy garage.
We already had some heart-stopping moments moving out West and you can read about those here. (Follow succeeding posts in the archive to learn the resolution.)
Preparing for our second move in three years
In looking around the Internet, which is how almost everyone functions in Portland, I came upon a moving company based in Vancouver, Washington, that specified its territory includes Longview and Portland, with nothing else beyond. I put down a $100 deposit, and arranged a moving day for September 27th.
As typical, a plethora of tasks were left to the last minute, so we awoke before the sun did. As the 8 o-clock AM hour began to wane, my phone rang, and the young driver managing our move explained he and his crew would arrive around 9:30. I gave him instructions how to find our apartment, and like clockwork, three strapping young men showed up on time in a 17-foot-long box truck.
The rented garage across the parking lot was summarily emptied. While we carefully moved our respective desktop hard drives and monitors into the Ford Escape (“Betsy”), the crew set upon the entire apartment beginning with the upstairs bedrooms. The queen-sized bed was disassembled, and everything appeared well organized. My fragile, well-used computer hutch was deftly moved outside.
Two flat-screen televisions were wrapped carefully. Our newly purchased extra-long sofa was carried outside by two of the guys with nary a complaint or mishap. As the truck’s contents rose to its top, new rows of stuff utilized its full width. Alice and I were amazed how the guys managed to fit EVERYTHING into a small, contained space.
Nothing more could fit inside the moving truck. While the movers were doing their thing, we toted the computer peripherals into the SUV with the rest of our PCs, nonetheless saving a prime space for Millie inside her cat carrier. Alice packed some odds and ends from the fridge, enabling us to munch upon sustenance during the upcoming 50-mile drive. Amazingly, everything was packed inside our respective vehicles by 12 noon.
Before setting off to our new Longview address, I asked the driver/supervisor of the crew if he was going to drive to Longview using US-30 (St. Helens Road) paralleling the Columbia River, which involves a nearly 1,500-foot ascent and descent over Cornelius Pass, the route we planned to take. He declined, saying the crew requires a lunch break in the Vancouver, Wash. vicinity and that they “probably” would take the I-5 route to Longview.
We said goodbye to the truck, professional crew and 99% of our stuff, as we set out to Longview. I called the carpeting/flooring installer to alert them of our arrival, checking to see if everything was copacetic, only to discover that a problem area in the upstairs bathroom required the crew to work until the midnight hour the previous night.
Arriving in Longview
The carpeting and flooring were in place though, the salesperson assured us, and all was ready for our arrival. However, when we drove up to our newly acquired garage to unload Betsy’s booty, the carpet people were still working.
“Oh crap!” I thought, although a full crew was hastily vacuuming our newly installed carpet, promising apologetically they would finish in half an hour. In anticipation of that deadline met, we unloaded the computers and emptied the car, nervously checking our watches, hoping the movers’ arrival would not be imminent.
“Ask, and ye shall receive.”
A half hour went by. Then an hour had passed. I checked the elapsed time again: an hour and a half!
“Where’s our stuff?” I worried.
Finally, I received a text from the driver: “Got stopped at weight station. Getting inspection done. This time will not count toward your bill.”
“Ah, finally,” I thought, wondering about the station’s location, but relieved to know there was only a slight delay. An hour passed without further word, so I texted the supervisor again, “What is your status now?”
Within a minute, I received a reply. “We are stuck at weight station. There is a problem with our insurance. We are getting it figured out. I will let you know as soon as I know more.”
My heart sank. “What in God’s name?” I mumbled. I wrote back, “Is your truck being impounded?”
“No,” came the reply. “Just can’t leave until the system is updated.”
By this time, several of our new neighbors had gathered around, volunteering to help as much as they could. I looked around and texted, “All our neighbors are hanging about to help us with the move.” I asked for directions to the weigh station, hoping my appearance could smooth a quicker arrival for the truck.
“I intend to drive there and see what I can do,” I wrote.
“One second,” was the answer. “There isn’t much you can do. It’s an issue with our insurance. They messed up somehow and are working to fix the issue.”
Five minutes later came a phone call from the moving company’s female representative, whom I surmised was the moving company’s part-owner, and she revealed the awful truth. Our moving company did not have the proper INTERSTATE insurance paperwork that permitted it to operate a commercial moving business from the State of Oregon to Washington.
The Washington State Police had impounded the truck, refusing further movement into Washington, although its contents belonged to Alice and me. The only way this stalemate could be solved legally, the woman said, was for me to pick up a rental truck, pick up all our cargo, and drive it back personally to our Longview address.
WTF! The owner was asking the impossible. He wanted me, an Uber/Lyft driver at the ripe age of 74, to pick up a U-Haul rental truck large enough to hold our possessions – 20 feet long, but lower in height.
Heading south on Interstate-5
The clock read 4:30 pm as I proceeded to correct this move-it-or-lose-it situation. After one wrong inquiry at a location where I received blank stares, I arrived at the correct rental spot, whereupon I learned that credit card info given to U-Haul turned out to be “not authorized.” I waited around, twiddling my thumbs, until the owner of the moving company, who shall remain nameless, volunteered a different, acceptable credit card that absorbed the $204.29 charge.
Remember what I wrote about the feeling of operating blind as I began this website post? Sure, I had experience with limousines, Lincoln Towncars and driving for Uber and Lyft, but steering a 20-foot-long truck in a manner compatible with other commercial drivers along Interstate 5? Before I was able to realize the full extent of my dread, another “sizable” problem:
“I am stuck in Longview rush hour traffic adding another 10 minutes to my trip,” I texted the moving truck supervisor. “There is a narrow lane that I am coming to, which is only 10 feet wide. Do you think I will have a problem clearing that part of the road?”
No response. The silence was deafening.
I gripped the steering wheel tightly in true white-knuckle fashion, barely clearing the dreaded, offending section to emerge onto the busy interstate highway and drove like I belonged there. Nevertheless, I proceeded watchfully, looking for the weigh station 20 miles southward.
Once I recognized the station on the northbound side south of Exit 16, I turned around at the next exit. I pulled into the offending area where I was met by the same Washington State patrolman who was the bane of our movers’ existence. I identified myself by displaying my Oregon driver’s license.
“Okay, you can drive the truck back after it is loaded,” he ordered, “but only YOU can drive.” He then had me claim our possessions.
Was this a official order by the State of Washington or an invitation to a mishap?
My watch read 6:30 pm, Mount St. Helens was visible in the distance and the Washington State trooper allowed the transfer to commence with one more notable proviso: The contents of the moving truck were not allowed to be unloaded onto the tarmac until reaching the back door of the U-Haul. Everything inside the movers’ truck had to be rearranged, due to the major difference in dimensions of the two trucks. Nevertheless, the moving crew’s supervisor managed to direct the whole shebang in 90 minutes. None of our possessions were left behind, damaged or even dented during the entire ordeal.
The logistics in motion appear as the cover photograph of this post.
The first crew did their part, now it’s my turn
Then came the fun part. I drove a fully loaded 20-foot rental truck – filled with all our possessions from our seasoned lives — onto a frenetically busy interstate highway in the dark of night for a full 45 minutes – past mountainsides and over Washington’s military-green bridges.
As tightly as I gripped the truck before it was loaded, I believe the veins on my wrists were on full display as I steered the truck – which seemed to have L-O-O-S-E steering. I slowed the truck to ridiculous speed at every turn I encountered, until I pulled into the condominium’s driveway in front of our new residence. A new moving crew had been dispatched to greet me, and I noted the time: 8:45 pm.
“Would you mind backing the truck toward your garage door?” the new supervisor asked. I pulled forward about 10 feet, put the truck in reverse and proceeded warily until my new “friend” yelled out, “That’s okay. I’ll take it from here.”
I hit the brake, put the gear shift into PARK, and when I stepped down from the truck’s running board, I saw why he relieved me. I backed up the truck within a foot of the garage door. I could have hit the damned thing!
Whew! I was nearly done. The crew stayed with us, asking where we wanted every item of furniture or box to be placed inside our newly carpeted, sumptuous apartment. The moving crew worked tirelessly and when they were finished – at 11:30 pm – they said goodnight.
No one presented us with a final bill, and nothing more was communicated to us ever again. After 2½ months of silence, it’s safe to assume the final bill was the $100 deposit for the initial contract. After all, in return for my participation, the owner’s wife promised a “substantial” discount for getting the moving truck and crew released from their Washington Weigh-Station impoundment.
I don’t remember how we ate that day. I know I slept like a rock after going to bed at 2 am. Nevertheless, we’re happy in our new condominium, and Alice believes we will never have to move again.
That’s terrific news, because I never, ever want to ask myself, “Where’s our stuff?” again. That shit gets old – fast.