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.
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.
Thanksgiving is a time when one is supposed to feel grateful. This year, though, I believe my gratitude is far more abundant than at any other time in my life.
One particular cause of such supreme gratitude is our condominium unit and the community we now live in. Alice and I thank my cousins, Margaret Johnston and Carolyn & Jeff Levin, for investing in our vision, transforming us into stewards of a beautiful property overlooking the mountains of Washington. If it were not for them, our place would not be as spectacular as the view.
24-unit condo community with a view
Take a peek outside my second-floor writer’s office window. That’s one of several mountain ridges in the distance where a few developments punctuate the landscape. Frequent rain events during the fall/winter obscure their top-of-the-mountain view more than ours, which encourages a certain personal, snobbish feeling of superiority. And during an occasional burst of heat during the summer, a smaller ridge to the southwest shades our valley community an hour before dusk.
Inside the Loika/McCormick home
Our living room has become an audiophile’s wet dream. The television is mounted on the wall and the audio connected to my Bose surround-sound system. Before we moved in, Reid Rasmusson, a local Longview painter and stalwart resident who has knowledge of our building’s architectural history, applied several coats of paint to the entire apartment. What stands out is how Alice directed Reid to reinvent a cranberry-red wall into a more-aesthetically pleasing olive-brown accentuation to an artistically constructed fireplace. An added attraction, thanks to Bose: the acoustics are outstanding.
Therefore, one wouldn’t blame Alice for reclining on our six-month-old sofa toward the entertainment center. But that’s not her usual position. Alice lies in the opposite direction, sharing my outside view, but the downstairs window position aligns her 6-foot frame next to a riot of greenery. Already, Alice is adding her creative touch to the outside backyard.
(Our cat, Millie, complains loudly every day of wanting to go outside and explore. But we hear that bobcats, cougars and coyotes prowl about, so we admonish Millie for expressing reckless desires and keep her inside.)
After Reid finished painting, the carpet people showed up to execute our carpet and flooring plan. Every old piece of carpet was discarded in favor of a tan-colored replacement, with a luxurious feel and look we enjoy today. The carpet installers were finishing up barely moments before our movers were scheduled to arrive. The movers? That’s a different story, and a future post will detail the story of that near-disaster.
One particular view of the upstairs railing reveals light shining through the upstairs bathroom. (We have 1½ bathrooms, by the way.) That’s sunglare coming through the bathroom skylight. That’s cool, isn’t it? A skylight for the bathroom? Oh yeah, try to get that in a condo in Portland!
A feeling of community
Our digs are so splendoriferous that I hesitate to include the generosity of spirit from our neighbors. Nevertheless, I’m dutybound to report our next-door neighbors meet two criteria: quality and congeniality. Terry and Carole Sumrall introduced us to a restaurant they favor: Fiesta Bonita Mexican Grill and Cantina. Of course, our journey turned out to be a late afternoon on Halloween, so the tradition in town conjured up a wannabe for the Village People instead of a waitperson.
Other neighbors are equally generous with their time and talents. Already, Longview is full of revelations, and the history of this town is worthy of more national attention than it gets. This is a true community, and my future writing here may reveal what I call “living in a Gentile kibbutz.” I only wish I didn’t have to drive to Portland to buy whitefish salad, a proper bagel and latkes. Or cheese blintzes! A full story about Longview, Washington will appear in a future post, or perhaps be contained in the book I committed to when moving West.
Teri’s Restaurant is what’s happening
The photo at the top of this post was taken by one of the employees at Teri’s Restaurant in our newly adopted hometown. Besides a continuous dedication to provide restaurant fare a cut above the standard, Teri’s is a hubbub for local musicians and their groupies. (No age requirement to become a groupie.) We met a dean from Lower Columbia College (in Longview, naturally) who got on one knee in front of us to encourage Alice to return to work for child care. How is that for a welcome?
A quick apology
Please excuse the delay in getting this post written. There were plenty of chores for me to take care of, not to mention the time I wasted while being hooked on DishTV during this college football season. Yes, I am still functioning, sometimes badly, on the aftermath and life after a bladder removal surgery.
But I am far more than just alive, and I’m married to an Amazon woman who sets a pretty high standard for how she looks after me. That’s why every time she allows herself a genuine smile, my heart continues to go pitter-patter.
Dr. Seuss said, “You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep, because reality is finally better than your dreams.”