Our Stuff is at Risk

On Thursday, Oct. 30, our stuff was locked far away – inside a large storage container in Hatfield, Pa.  The Pod people picked it up, because our man Friday came through with a substantial payment of $2,275.  He is still short, though, of the total amount due, and his good faith payment was made under duress from an express mail letter.

Unless Alice and I return to Pennsylvania and file criminal or civil charges for theft by deception, our options are limited.  We must either bite the bullet and pay the $1,512 balance due, or allow our belongings to languish inside Pod’s Philadelphia area storage facility.  We found out too late the person we trusted has a criminal record for similar manipulations, including Vietnam Veterans of America.

Luther K. Bates, 70, lives across the street from widow Alice McCormick’s former home in Doylestown.  For $4,400 cash, he promised to remove our possessions from the house, squeeze them inside a Pod and ship them out here.  He fulfilled the first two obligations, but frittered away the cash on his own bills.  Because Alice and I spent all our money to make this deal and move to Oregon, we have little recourse.

The limit on our personal credit cards prevents us from going back.  If we could, Alice and I would need a lawyer, and Doylestown barristers ain’t cheap.  In the meantime, our precious possessions inside the Pod could be treated as “abandoned” unless we come up with the rental fee necessary to keep them in storage.  And maybe, maybe come up with the balance due to have the contents shipped to our apartment complex.

Although best journalistic practices employ high standards to avoid libel and slander, I have no fear of exposing Bates on this website for his failure to perform.  What’s he going to do?  Sue us?  We have no assets, no money – and no stuff.

Without the newspaper clips gathered over the years, I have no way to prove my journalistic credentials, except what can be inferred from this website and a Google search of my name.  My suits are in the Pod, as well as our printers.  The Bose surround sound system that adorned my office: supposedly stored there, too.  So are photos and memorabilia of my mother, grandmother, my deceased brother, Jon, and the surviving sibling, Chris.

So are Alice’s medical records and family pictures.  All the furniture that was squeezed into the Pod could be removed and auctioned off.  Losing our stuff would be a personal disaster.  Shall I blame Alice for trusting a neighbor who became her confidante over the 10 years they knew one another?

We are short of ideas and in a tight squeeze.  Bates doesn’t return our phone messages.  Either he will come up with more money, or the container will languish and incur monthly rental fees.  So we have to do something.  To add insult to injury, a trusted musician about whom I wrote glowingly in a Bucks County newspaper has stiffed me for $100 on a futon.  He doesn’t answer my calls either.

On a lighter note, I volunteered to work in the Hillsboro Library, and eventually could wind up with a paying part-time job there.  Also, I joined the choir of Hillsboro’s Unitarian Universalist Church.  And if you re-read my review of Melissa Hart’s author presentation called “Author Within,” she added a glowing comment about my coverage.  Hart teaches journalism at the University of Oregon.

Therefore, all is not bleak, but that doesn’t stop me from being pissed.  Happy Halloween, everybody!

Update to ‘Where’s Our Stuff?’

Within the next 48 hours, Alice and I will know whether we have been scammed, or if our Man Friday in Doylestown has come through for us.

Whether we lose all our stuff, or whether a large Pod is scheduled for unloading in the parking lot here, our future hangs in the balance.  Let’s think good thoughts, and find out if our karma carries the day.

More to come.

Legalize it!

Portlanders assert a distinctive endorsement of Measure 91.  (George Rose/Getty Images News)
Portlanders assert a distinctive endorsement of Measure 91. (George Rose/Getty Images News)

Recreational marijuana is on the ballot in Oregon.  If passed by voters, the adage “smoke ’em if you got ’em” will take on a new meaning.  A recent poll showed 48% of registered voters favor the measure, with 15% undecided.

Ballot Title 91 “allows possession, manufacture, sale of marijuana by/to adults, subject to state licensing, regulation, taxation.”  If enacted, Oregon will join Colorado and Washington where recreational pot already has been embraced.  Similar measures are on the ballot this November in Alaska and the District of Columbia.

The measure in Oregon will permit possession by any person 21 years or older of up to one ounce of marijuana in a public place, and eight ounces at  home as well as the growing of up to eight plants for personal consumption.

Since the right to privacy became an inevitable casualty of the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01, I hope soon we can become one America and that the distinction between “red” and “blue” becomes nothing more than a sad commentary about an antiquated Age of Differences.

I suspect some law enforcement officers will oppose legalizing marijuana in other states.  After all, getting a defendant to plead guilty to lesser charges has always greased the justice system in America.  But the cost of having two distinctly different Americas – where illegal behavior is subject to search and frisk – extracts a difficult price on those whose sole priority is keeping all of us safe.

We can’t afford a secret society of smokers and tokers.  For those who have hidden its personal use for decades, it’s time to finally come out of the closet.  We make no bones about it; Alice and I voted “YES.”  Ending the prohibition on marijuana is more patriotic than spending billions of dollars on a failed War on Drugs.

On another note, casting one’s ballot in the Beaver State is radically different than voting in Pennsylvania.  Asserting one’s constitutional right to vote in the Keystone State entails waiting in line on Election Day, running a gauntlet of candidates and their supporters who pretend to be helpful, displaying acceptable identification (preferably a photo ID), and showing up at the right polling place.  Newspapers serve as the primary source of explaining ballot issues and identifying candidates with their respective positions on topical issues.

By contrast, the entire process here out West offers comprehensive information in advance about each issue and candidate, facilitates voting by mail and is citizen friendly.  Ballots are sent to registered voters by mail more than two weeks before an election, preceded by a voluminous “Voters’ Pamphlet” from Oregon’s Secretary of State.  (For this election, the book-sized “pamphlet” consists of 164 recyclable pages supplemented by a county 48-page insert).

The booklet, written in plain English with arguments for and against each ballot measure, gives a full column of space to each candidate to spell out his or her position and insert a personal photo.  The end result translates to a leisurely experience of marking one’s ballot at home while simultaneously perusing the wealth of information provided about each race.

Oregon is a forward-thinking state, and the ease of voting here sets a high-mark standard that the rest of the country needs to emulate. Perhaps some of those who can rewrite the laws should take a hit – of fresh air.

A talk with Millie

A heart-to-heart conversation didn't go anywhere.  Photo by Alice McCormick.
A heart-to-heart conversation didn’t go anywhere. Photo by Alice McCormick.

I’m not used to dealing with a cat as a colleague.  Felines are finicky and easily spoiled.

Nevertheless, after our cat Millie hacked my website account and wrote an article from her perspective, I needed to find out why.

An article I read on an Internet website remained open on my browser.  Appearing on Vox Media’s site, the story reported cats were selfish, unemotional and environmentally destructive.  I don’t know why I didn’t close the browser immediately after reading it, but I realized the cat was out of the bag, so to speak.  (You can read the case against owning cats by clicking here.)

Last night, I had a conversation with Millie to try and dislodge any grievances she had.  But all she did was put on a blank, innocent expression, and I swear she looked absolutely smug and content.  I even brought up the subject of her litterbox, but she would not say a word.

I changed the password to my website to something more complex, and it appears secure.  I still worry about her, though, and I don’t sleep as well at night.  This morning, I found a note, “Never let sleeping dogs lie.”

I know in the future to be wary and do no harm in her knowing eyes.  It’s bad enough having a conscience.  Now I have a cat.

Melissa Hart:
The Author Within

Melissa Hart at Annie Bloom's Books in Mulnomah Village, Oregon.
Melissa Hart at Annie Bloom’s Books in Mulnomah Village, Oregon.

An old axiom states that writers write, and those who don’t teach.  Well, whoever originated this misguided quote did not know about Melissa Hart, a journalism teacher at the University of Oregon.

Hart gave an entertaining presentation on Sept. 25 at Annie Bloom’s Books in Multnomah Village, a quaint suburb of Portland, Oregon, to promote her recently authored book, Wild Within.  The book chronicles parallel passions about saving injured raptors (birds of prey) and adopting a child.  The final manuscript took over 20 drafts to complete, illustrating how self-critical a teacher can be.

Annie Bloom’s Books is a modest-sized shop supported by a host of writers.  One such watchdog, Jeffrey Shaffer, a contributor to the Huffington Post, introduced Hart to an enthusiastic group of 30 people, some middle-aged, some young enough to be college students, as he watched over the gathered audience hawkishly.

Three birds of prey and their handlers appeared at ease before an attentive audience.
Three birds of prey and their handlers appeared at ease before an attentive audience.

To show support for the raptors with whom Hart identifies, on hand were three birds of prey (chief among them a barn owl) and their respective handlers from the American Wildlife Federation.  Unfortunately, an undisciplined child ran around the store, causing some consternation for enforcers of decorum.  However, Hart pretended everything was copacetic and at times used one-hand gestures to dramatically egg herself on while delivering passages from the book for half an hour.

Wild Within was released in August by Lyons Books, and Hart is in the thick of immersing herself into book-signing events, a traditional self-flagellation associated with author tours.  Hart’s approach this night consisted of trying to engage would-be readers with fierce, vivid readings, surrounded by a support group of students, well-wishers and practitioners of the written word.

By practicing what she teaches, Hart is refining a do-it-yourself blueprint for new and practicing authors who hope to enjoy a modicum of financial self-support in economically uncertain times.

Upcoming events for Melissa Hart include a lecture on nature writing at the University of Oregon’s Natural History Museum at 5 pm on Oct. 28, a celebration of animals at the Barnes & Noble’s bookstore in Eugene, Oregon on Nov. 16, and a Wild Within book-signing event at 10 am Nov. 28 at the Wild Wings Raptor Center in Honeoye Falls, New York.

A tribute to Bacco’s Pizza

From the moment one walks past the flaming brick oven to be seated, you begin to anticipate a sensory delight ahead.
From the moment one walks past the flaming brick oven to be seated, you begin to anticipate a sensory delight ahead.

Life in Doylestown had its perks, and specialty Italian restaurants and food markets were chief among them.

On the north end of town, three businesses stood out.  For high-end cuisine, no one topped Ristorante Il Melograno in the Weis Market shopping center.  A high standard for take-out, pre-prepared food or Italian groceries was set by Altomonte’s on Easton Road.  But when it came to pizza pies, only one place would do: Bacco’s in the Doylestown Shopping Center.

The sign inside the front door assures diners they're in the right place.
The sign inside the front door assures diners they’re in the right place.

Its thin-crust pizza is beyond belief.  Gone are the days diners have to stuff themselves with thick dough to savor the best of Italian plum tomatoes, virgin olive oils and flavorful cheeses.

A multitude of toppings – thin-sliced pepperoni, mushrooms, prosciutto, peppers, onions, sausage, anchovies, all the way to black and/or kalamata olives, green and/or hot peppers, roasted red peppers, spinach, and many more – turn each pie into a virtual work of art.  And specialty pies – especially Margherita, Neapolitan, Brooklyn and Drunken Brooklyn – are to die for.

The Cipullo family opened their first Bacco’s restaurant in North Wales eight years ago and followed up with a Doylestown location and an 80-seat capacity two years later.  During the dinner hour, there could be a half-hour wait until tables are available.

Once seated, though, what sets Bacco’s even further apart from other restaurants is its low-key, fastidious attention to customers.  A member of the Cipullo family is usually on hand to facilitate each customer’s order and offer a complimentary dish or dessert whenever a problem is discovered.  And Bacco’s offers the best tiramisu in town.

That attention to detail, and the warmth offered by an involved family business, set Bacco’s apart.  As much as I reminisce over its great pizza, I deeply miss how much Alice and I were treated like family.

Where’s Our Stuff?

The master bedroom looks inviting, but no bed or furniture is inside.
The master bedroom looks inviting, but no bed or furniture is inside.

From our window, we feel like a part of Oregon’s natural world. Inside, though, our apartment is barren.

Barren?  What’s going on?

Someone we trusted to pack our possessions — and ship them cross-country — is letting us down.  Three weeks after we arrived here, our stuff remains in Alice’s house.

Two weeks ago,  he said he drove his Ford truck with a hitched box-type trailer loaded with our furniture and cardboard boxes and broke down on the Pennsylvania Turnpike outside Harrisburg.  That was a bald-faced lie.  Our possessions still remained in Alice’s home in Doylestown.  In fact, our bed was not disassembled.

He finally ordered a Pod for us, but  refused to answer our phone calls until the container arrived Saturday, Oct. 11.  Since then, our trusted Man Friday claimed to be locked out of the house, but the Realtor came by and showed him the proper lockbox and its combination.  Another helpful person demonstrated how to open the garage doors.

So he has no excuses left.  All that remains to be done is pack the Pod and have it picked up so it can be shipped.  Because of the delay in removing our possessions, including Alice’s medical records and my written press clips, oncoming winter storms could wreak havoc with their transcontinental shipment.  Our only possessions are the clothes on our back, what we brought in our Ford Escape, and furniture we obtained from relatives and the Salvation Army Store.

More updates will appear as developments warrant.

Alice packed our possessions carefully and moved them into the garage.  We wonder what they look like now.
Alice packed our possessions carefully and moved them into the garage. We wonder what they look like now.

Any suggestions you offer will be welcome.  (If you don’t want them to appear on this site, feel free to email me at mason@masonloika.com.)

Thanks.

 

Travelogue Update

Utah's barren landscape can be forbidding and foreboding.
Utah’s barren landscape can be forbidding and foreboding.

Twenty photos have been chosen for inclusion in the last installment of our cross-country travelogue.  We have gone over them, cropped most and decreased their file size to fit the criteria necessary to upload them onto this site.

All that remains is for me to spin the narrative necessary to weave it all together.  We should have it up and presentable within the next two days, maybe even tomorrow.

Check back here then to see what passed in front of our eyes.  Alice’s photos are wonderful.