Tag Archives: Portland

Where’s Our Stuff? Part II

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.

Never suffered any mishaps with this fine-looking limo. Photo taken on the grounds of Solebury School, New Hope, PA.

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.”

While waiting for the movers, Alice made sure the front door was clean and spiffy.

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.

The weigh station was mostly empty, a fitting scene for the empty feeling in my stomach.

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.

My furnished office is an occasional haven for Millie. She was very content to sleep in the author’s chair the night we moved.

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.

Longview Condo Is a Done Deal

On her birthday in March of this year, Alice told me, “This year, don’t buy me anything.  Instead, please, please get me a house.”

Alice realized the bloom had fallen off the Portland Rose City.  We started looking around and found a two-story townhouse for sale in Longview, Washington, next to a public golf course.  The photo above shows the crown jewel of Longview: Lake Sacajawea, a former channel of the Cowlitz River turned into a picturesque manmade lake, surrounded by 67 manicured parkland acres.  Live music fills the air on six consecutive Thursday night concerts.

Alice and I were in a difficult spot, because we didn’t have money for a down payment.  We were caught up in Portland’s rent crisis, and each year an increasing amount of money was being squeezed from us to rent a tiny 900-square-foot apartment next to a major freeway.

Eddie McCormick was recently honored as a Navy Seal.

Mason Was a Navy Reservist

Thinking about my Uncle Eddie McCormick, though, led to an overdue realization.  During the early 1960s, Eddie convinced me into joining the Naval Air Reserve.  As far as the Armed Services were concerned, I was not a “man’s man.”  This was especially true after I took the Navy’s aptitude test and set a new record for LOWEST score in mechanical ability.  Eddie suggested I join the Naval Air Reserve’s six-month active duty group known as “Weekend Warriors.”

During that era, I was subject to the draft.  So I enlisted as a preventive move and served six months of active duty – from October 6, 1960 until April 5, 1961, followed by 5½ years of active reserve duty spending one weekend a month at Jacksonville (Fla.) Naval Air Station and serving two weeks active duty during the summer.  Most of those two-week tours took me to Guantanamo Bay, but my experience did not include combat, thank God.

After my discharge, I discovered legislation that disqualified 1960s reservists who served 180 or fewer days active duty from receiving VA benefits.  This was a strike against six-month reservists, and I harbored resentment about the limitation of opportunity and expressed it to Uncle Eddie a few times.

Embracing a Revelation

Eventually, I found my niche as a broadcaster turned journalist, and regarded my military service as irrelevant history.  My military history soon became relevant as I wracked my brain figuring out how to finance a condo purchase.  I don’t remember how a flash of brilliance overcame me, but somehow I started counting my days of active duty from October 6 through April 5.  That added up to more than 180 days, it was 182.

Oh my God, the commander at Jacksonville Naval Air Station must have mustered me out two days late.  I was qualified!

Alice is greeted by the condo association president. We would share this backyard common area with one other resident.

Realtor Tami Cheatley was super-skeptical about VA financing, though, shunning it with a passion, but the Veterans Administration proved it was there for us.  It recognized Alice and me as a married couple, and acknowledged my service.  Oh yes, the VA did exact their pound of flesh, requiring me to document numerous explanations of every black mark our credit suffered over the last seven years.

We needed to get files from years past, copies of court judgments, visit the IRS, give every possible explanation for any bump in the road we experienced in life.   But we did it, and today, on Eclipse Monday, we closed on the sale.

Mason and Alice celebrate with a cold bottle of sparkling wine, just itching to have its cork popped..

As we celebrate our hard-won victory today, I acknowledge what Uncle Eddie did for by getting me into the Naval Air Reserve.  And I dote on his memory.  So congratulate us, for today Alice and I became homeowners in a quiet, desirable neighborhood.

Happy Eclipse Monday.

 

The Bloom Is Off the Rose City

Since Alice and I arrived as mid-Atlantic transplants to the Left Coast almost three years ago, driving around, through and beyond Portland has revealed a downside of the Rose City.  Over 600,000 of the city’s residents – over 2.3 million are cramped inside a flexible, but meticulously zoned, metro area – populate this formerly pristine forested area. Many locals reveal a thoughtlessness attendant to litterbugs who discard fast-food trash and cigarette butts carelessly.  Franchised McDonald’s and Burger Kings are high-stakes fixtures to some of the worst body shapes we’ve seen in America.

Our patio reflects Alice’s care and love of gardening. But what’s next door?
Next door, garbage is piled outside, attracting vermin and flies, and dog waste accumulates in the backyard. The apartment’s residents use the patio as a smoking area — yech!  And complaints go unheeded.

“Portland is the fastest growing metropolitan area in the country,” say a myriad of surveys comparing growth here with the rest of the country.  City administrators wring their hands about a town that grew into a city and now create “zero-death” goals, because driver impatience or carelessness no longer resolutely yields to pedestrians and bicyclists.  Freeways have become obsolete, because of bumper-to-bumper traffic on all roads leading into and out of downtown.  City fathers and mothers speak openly about charging everyone a mileage toll for driving on city streets, enforced by mandatory GPS counters.

Homeless beggars jockey for freeway exits to display their homemade signs pleading for money.  Buildings sprout upward at an astonishing rate, with new construction closing lanes around almost every block.  Artists and people on fixed income complain about being priced out by the workers from high-tech industries, the two largest being Intel Corp. and Nike.

Most bridges across the Willamette River that bind the East and West sides together are always under construction in one form or another, as a nonstop crush of trucks, cars and buses steadily pound the newly added improvements into submission.  Portland’s traffic ranking is worse than Philadelphia.

Driveways inside apartment complexes as well as residential streets are pocked with speed bumps, serving as automated enforcement of sensible speed limits.  Portland police do not have the manpower to enforce restricted lane-changing.  The turn lanes of downtown roads onto stop-and-go freeways outgrew their capacity years ago, and there is no room to add new infrastructure to accommodate exasperated recent arrivals.

The TV series “Portlandia” reflects the Chamber of Commerce image of the area; it serves as “Fake News.”

I have seen the urban side of the Great Northwest here, and the future doesn’t portend well.  As an Uber driver over two years, I shared Betsy, our 2010 Ford Escape, with almost 3,000 riders and now realize this West Coast enclave has capitulated to the millennial nerd rush from Silicon Valley, California.  With matching prices to boot, greed rules the mindset of today’s landlords and homeowners in the Rose City area.  Alice and I are struggling to keep up with rising rents in our complex adjacent to a busy freeway.  And visitors from Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco say it’s even worse there.

Here’s the good news: We found a place that would accommodate us nicely and not flaunt our presence.  Two weeks ago, we made an offer to buy a two-story townhouse (listed as a condominium) in a quiet neighborhood 40 miles from Portland, where the unfettered sound of freeway traffic, police and ambulance sirens will become an unpleasant memory.  I will not elaborate more yet, because we await word from the Veterans Administration to see if we qualify for a mortgage with no money down.

We do not wish to jinx our prospects, because the universe is working on our behalf.

Now it’s time to savor our reclining years.  It’s also time to get off my duff and write a book in earnest about my life.  Because Betsy’s air conditioning system is scheduled for repair on July 17, I will have time, albeit involuntary, to reinvigorate my creative juices.  Alice will also feel more independent with the car at her disposal.

Wish us godspeed.

Completely Cured!

As Alice and I prepare to celebrate Christmas Eve with my cousin Margaret Johnston, here’s a Christmas tale of good fortune and considerable divine providence to share:

On Monday morning, Dec. 12, after having my bladder and prostate removed, I met with surgeon urologist, Dr. Daniel Janoff.  When Janoff walked into my patient room, he looked directly at me, beamed and uttered two words summarizing my pathology report: “Completely cured!”

Omigod!  Am I hearing correctly?  Then, like a proper surgeon, he muttered, “Well, unless something microscopic gets through.”

That’s as good as it gets, and the insurance I bought into by undergoing major surgery seems to be worth this post-procedure pain and rigmarole.

Cancer Affects Everyone Differently

The elation I allow myself to feel adds to the joy of this 2016 holiday season and causes me to count my blessings.  How many cancer sufferers endure the diagnosis of a malignant body part without years of heartache, excruciating pain and mind-numbing self-doubt?  For many of them, they’re always looking over their shoulder dreading the day when it’s confirmed that cancer has made its way into other vital organs.

On the other hand, what are the ramifications to a cancer patient when he or she loses a reproductive organ?

At an art exhibit opening in Bucks County, I once became attracted to someone related to one of the most famous show-business families in America.  We were so instantaneously enraptured that we began making out passionately on the second floor of the Lambertville, NJ gallery next to the Delaware River, in full view of everyone there, and I entreated her to see me again.

Upon calling her for the first time, though, she expressed inconsolable shame at having contracted ovarian cancer, saying she was no longer a real woman because her ovaries were being surgically removed.  She asked that I never call her again, and hung up the phone.  What horrible expectations some of us have while fighting cancer!

Other friends and relatives have faced the “Big C” diagnosis with far worse implications and over a far-longer period of time.  Therefore, it makes sense for me to be stoic about sacrificing certain body parts.  After 73 years of life in this state of consciousness, I rationalize that some organs can be regarded as irrelevant.  Considering I was diagnosed with “high-grade” cancer – somewhere between Stage 3 and Stage 4 – this was no time to play coy with life choices.

Earlier This Year

My cancer ordeal started in March, after Providence primary care provider, Dr. Mathew Snodgrass, confirmed another in what was a series of urinary tract infections.  He referred me to Dr. Janoff, a master urologist/surgeon.  Janoff, one of the busiest surgeons I ever met, ordered a CT scan, and in May diagnosed my urinary problems as being caused by bladder cancer.

The wicked carcinoma, he said, was caused by the chemical additives U.S. cigarette manufacturers put into their products to enhance addiction.  Throughout life, I always concerned myself with lung cancer.  But bladder cancer?  No way, I thought!

That’s why I recoil whenever I see anyone smoking a cigarette, and I retreat as far as I can get from the sweet seductive scent of tobacco smoke.

Looking back, I am grateful.  My ordeal lasted only nine months.  How many other cancer sufferers can say the same?  My late uncle underwent years of deteriorating health from Lou Gehrig’s disease.  How can I put my health challenges on the same plane as his?

I am one lucky guy.

Undergoing Chemo

Janoff recommended that before surgery, I undergo four rounds of chemotherapy, and oncologist Dr. Daniel Gruenberg at Compass Oncology kept an eagle eye on my changing blood work.

Three-and-a-half months of intense chemotherapy – consisting of Cisplatin and Gemzar – followed in July through early October at Compass’s location adjacent to Providence St. Vincent Hospital.  When my white blood cell count dropped precipitously in September, an injection targeted my bone marrow to precipitate increased white cell formation.  The stratagem – although quite painful days later – worked, enabling me to finish the course of treatment.

The surgery followed, and its results are now a matter of record.

Alice has been my confidante and partner throughout, although she would have preferred to see if cannabis oil alone would cause me to turn the corner.  I decided otherwise, and she shares this victory without mollycoddling me through the rehabilitation process.

The future ahead, she declares, lies in writing my own book, and she asks that I focus more on such an effort.  She is right, because we cannot continue our lives without seeking some semblance of adequate compensation for my creative work.

But on the eve of another Christmas Day, it’s time to spread some holiday cheer with my personal accomplishment.  It’s no accident that Hanukkah begins on Christmas Eve this year so whatever Jewish blood I inherited simultaneously shares season’s greetings with Christianity everywhere.

Merry Christmas, and Happy Hanukkah, everyone!

RELEASED!

“They say ev’rything can be replaced
Yet ev’ry distance is not near
So I remember ev’ry face
Of ev’ry man who put me here

“I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released”

Bob Dylan

This photo was taken two days ago after I walked into Alice’s and my apartment on Portland, Oregon’s west side.

I am a post-operative rejuvenated human surviver after Dr. Daniel Janoff, an eminently qualified urologist, removed my diseased bladder, prostate and a nearby lymph node in an operating room at Providence St. Vincent’s Hospital on Tuesday, Nov. 29.

I am left to wonder what life will be like without ordinary manly attributes.  Will my creativity be compromised?  Will I be a shell of the man I once was?  Will I be fun to be around?

Well, the true relevance is being able to contemplate essential questions.  That’s a gift.  No matter my mood, at least today I ponder such questions in my Mason Loika way.

I am alive.  And a team of doctors and nurses in one of this nation’s great hospitals is responsible for that mean feat.

So let’s bless today and every breath I take.  I have been RELEASED.

The beast within

If Uncle Richard could see me now.

Frankly, it’s good he cannot; otherwise, he would be crestfallen.

I have bladder cancer.  And, according to urologist/surgeon Dr. Daniel Janoff, who specializes in this aspect of cellular malignancy at Providence St. Vincent Hospital in Portland, my 40 years of cigarette smoking – which ended on Nov. 14, 2000 because of an inspiration while visiting my now-late uncle – is to blame.

How could that be?  People who smoke are at risk for lung cancer – not this – right?

Wrong.  In my case, almost dead wrong.

But I’m lucky.  My cancer was caught early, due to a urinary tract infection (UTI) that required over two months of antibiotics.  Since I had a history of UTIs over 10 years in Pennsylvania – relegated by a urologist there as prostate-related – I underwent a standard surgical procedure here, known as a TURP.  While under the non-invasive laser, a tumor was detected and sent to pathology.

Janoff was quickly direct.  “You have cancer,” he announced, as a matter of fact.  I appreciate the news wasn’t sugarcoated.  And I am planning on following doctors’ orders and the road ahead.

Bladder cancer exposed

This particular grade of cancer is aggressive and vicious.  I write this post as a warning to anyone who smokes corporately manufactured cigarettes.

It’s not the nicotine that causes bladder cancer, Janoff says.  The chemical additives purposely put in cigarettes to enhance their addiction are to blame.

I credit the use of cannabis in 2000 for enabling me to quit tobacco products.  I even wrote a poem about it in 2006 dedicated to my uncle (the poem needs further editing to develop a more consistent meter, but it’s time for these preliminary lyrics to see the light of day):

“Muir Woods”©2006
by Mason Loika

I hugged a redwood tree and smoke came down,
His brother, the Devil, issued warning sounds,
So I gotta experience my epiphany
And declare myself tobacco-smoke free.

Redwoods been ’round since time began,
Way before the first human,
Poisons can kill both trees and men,
The question’s not if but rather when,

I hugged a redwood tree and smoke came down,
His brother, the Devil, issued warning sounds,
So I gotta experience my epiphany
And declare myself tobacco-smoke free.

Light up a monster and breathe deep the scent
How deep shall it go till the intrusion is spent
Enough is enough, how sick must you get?
Blocked windpipes and cancer are a good bet.

I hugged a redwood tree and smoke came down,
His brother, the Devil, issued warning sounds,
So I gotta experience my epiphany
And declare myself tobacco-smoke free.

Next time you light up, better think again,
You won’t feel better, cigarettes ain’t your friend,
Wheezing and coughing, hear my point of view,
Smoking’s no good if it takes something from you!

I hugged a redwood tree and smoke came down,
His brother, the Devil, issued warning sounds,
So I gotta experience my epiphany
And declare myself tobacco-smoke free.

The road ahead

I began the first of four rounds of chemotherapy on June 29; it continues Wednesday, July 6.  Each round consists of three weekly injections through my blood stream.  After the final injection, I am given a week off, preparing for the next round to begin.  That means each round takes four weeks.

Needless to say, chemo can get old in a short time.  But I will persevere, and eventually undergo a major operation in Portland.  How appropriate, eh?  Was I a real pisser growing up?  Irony serves as my dearest companion.

I sense that Creator became impatient with my lack of written copy for a book I had set my sights on producing.  This way, I am being given a divine deadline to meet.  Deadlines are a writer’s curse – as well as a blessing – because they force a writer with a work in progress to eventually say, “It’s done.”

Well, the work needs to be done, before I am done, right?  And so on Independence Day 2016, I announce that I will charge ahead – into the wonderful world of oblivion – because that’s how we were meant to live life.

As someone once wrote, “Growing old is not for wimps.”

Photo above by Spitzi.

Halfway done!

Alice has finished 50 per cent of intensive speech counseling.  My partner in life began speech therapy on Jan. 4 at Portland State University (PSU), and my hard-headed woman has less than four weeks left.

We were anticipating professional guidance once we learned Alice qualified for the highly regarded research program, and, like a prized racehorse, she was chomping at the bit to get started.  Communication has become Alice’s nemesis, especially when a critical word gets lost in the translation from thought to speech.  Consequently, her frustration shows and builds.

Communicating is vital to intelligent beings, so Alice’s word-block syndrome takes a toll on both of us.  While waiting for her two hours of therapy downtown to end, I sat on a wooden bench waiting for Alice to appear.  Three weeks ago, though, a kindly professor took pity on my aching posterior and showed the way where a nearby cozy waiting area with cushioned chairs invited this weary interloper to ease those sore buttocks.  Ah, relief!

The wait affords me this opportunity to chronicle her progress, because whenever we’re at PSU, I cannot Uber.  However, on alternate days, Alice’s speech therapy is handled at our apartment.  Wesley Allen, therapist extraordinaire (shown above), gives intense one-on-one sessions at aphasia sufferers’ homes and at PSU.  The home sessions are extremely helpful to Alice and free me to drive for Uber and keep the financial ogres away, although writing takes a back seat to chauffeuring skills.

Researchers at Portland State University’s Aging and Adult Language Disorders Laboratory joined forces with the University of Washington’s Aphasia Lab to offer hope to sufferers of speech aphasia.  Researchers want to understand more about aphasia and its related communication disorders.  Alice’s participation not only helps her own recovery; it provides signposts for speech therapists who treat subsequent stroke victims.

Reflections of Christmas 2015

Because I haven’t written in two months, it’s important to report that Alice, Millie and I spent a pleasant holiday season.  Close friends and family received our traditional annual photo with Millie around our grown-in-Oregon Christmas tree.

Millie posed on our carpet prior to my attempts to have her join us next to our Christmas tree.
Millie posed on our carpet prior to adventurous attempts to hold her by the Christmas tree.

On Christmas Day, we once again celebrated as if we were Jews.  We went to a movie and intended to eat at a Chinese restaurant.  However, the Living Room Theaters in downtown Portland served so much fine cuisine and wine at plush seats where we watched “The Big Short” (which we wholeheartedly recommend) that our appetites were summarily squelched.  Therefore, Chinese food was postponed until a week later.

I worked almost all day/night New Year’s Eve, prior to an unexpected invitation from friends to party hearty at their house less than a mile away from our apartment.  We arrived half an hour before the clock struck midnight, and were treated like guests of honor.  After some moderate drinking and smoking, kisses of congratulations were shared all around after the TV channel of our hosts’ choice showed the Times Square ball drop (on a three-hour tape delay).

Alice and I stuck around until 2 am.  By the time we made it home, we didn’t fall into bed until 3:15.  That equates to 6:15 am on the East Coast, so Alice and I became born-again party animals.  What’s more, my cousin Margaret invited us to partake of a New Year’s Day sumptuous ham dinner joined by her offspring Brantley, Rori and Lauren.

Snow in Portland

Apartment residents bring their children outside to revel in less than an inch of snow on the ground.
Apartment residents bring their children outside to revel in one inch of snow on the ground.

It’s a good thing I worked New Year’s Eve, because the night of Jan. 2nd and the next morning this part of the Great Northwest was hit by 1-3 inches of snow and ice.  Portland doesn’t salt its roads, claiming the product — used liberally in the rest of the country — is bad for the environment.  Consequently, an outbreak of wintry precipitation shuts down sensible highway travel.

Travel aftet a little slow can be extremely hazardous.  This roll-over accident occurred on the freeway outside our apartment complex.
Travel aftet a little snow can be extremely hazardous. This roll-over accident occurred on the freeway outside our apartment complex.

East Coast transportation is similarly affected, but only after the two-feet-plus snow event that buried the Northeast, including our friends in Doylestown, Pa.  And oh, does Alice gloat!  I suppose enduring a $400-plus monthly electric/gas bill for numerous years can do that.

Yes, Alice and I have reasons to embrace our newfound Portland life, but we are extremely wary of the explosive rental market and what a new lease on our modest apartment might entail.  Nevertheless, we are optimistic about our prospects (at least most of the time), and Alice might surprise us all by going back to work.  More to come!

 

Alice Qualifies for Aphasia Research Study

Great news!  It’s now official.

Alice McCormick has been chosen to participate in a joint research project with the Aphasia Laboratory at the University of Washington and Portland State University.

Once her selection was announced, Alice consented enthusiastically.  Participation begins Jan. 5, 2016 with a week of comprehensive testing.

Aphasia followed Alice’s stroke

The Aphasia Laboratory at the University of Washington conducts research to better understand the complex processing of language and how it affects individuals with aphasia.  The project studies the theoretical nature of word-retrieval deficits in aphasia-stricken individuals with emphasis upon rehabilitation.

Word retrieval is related to one’s attention and cognitive processing, and the disorder known as aphasia is a common aftereffect of a stroke.  Except for the speech aphasia and an inability to put words to paper and/or keyboard, Alice appears to have fully recovered from her mishap.

Difficulty finding words is a core feature of aphasia, which affects approximately 80,000 people each year in the U.S.  Director of the University of Washington’s Aphasia Laboratory is Diane Kendall, whose focus is on rehabilitation and understanding the theoretical relationship between phonology (sounds) and aphasia.  Her overall career objectives are to conduct systematic treatment research that creates better patient outcomes.

Through various awards and grants, Dr. Kendall continues to systematically test and refine protocols in phonomotor treatment for word-retrieval impairments in aphasia.  In 2013, the quality of her Standardized Assessment of Phonology in Aphasia won Dr. Kendall a Fulbright Scholar Award to teach and conduct research at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.

Treatment at Home and at Portland State U

The Aphasia Research Laboratory is affiliated with the University of Washington Integrated Brain Imaging Center.  After Alice’s pre-testing week, she will receive six full weeks of treatment on a one-on-one basis with Wesley Allen, research speech-language pathologist, who works directly with Dr. Kendall.  For Alice, this is big time.

Once the six weeks of hands-on treatment is finished, four more days of testing will follow, culminating three months later with a final round of testing.

I hope to report in depth on Alice’s progress and the rigorous treatment road ahead.  We are both enthusiastic about this turn of events and hope this development signifies giant opportunities for the two of us.

Alice has been supportive of my partnering with Uber as a driver, but deep down inside, she prefers that I be at home writing my memoirs while she is working.  Driving in Portland has turned out to be a dependable source of revenue for us, but it distracts from the goal we set back in September 2014 for our trek West to the Beaver State.

My life story hangs in the balance, and so does our survival.  Onward and upward!

Read more about Alice’s stroke and recovery in the archives of this blog beginning with March 2015.

 

Our Move Is Complete

Over the last two weeks, Alice and I – with the help of two freelance movers – transferred the entire contents of our two-bedroom, two-bath apartment from Hillsboro to the Tanasbourne section of Portland.  The two of us are now officially Portlanders.

The distance involved (five miles) was relatively minor, considering the nearly 3,000 miles our initial move from Pennsylvania entailed during the fall of 2014.  However, the cost of relocating from Hillsboro was considerably more than projected, and the two-week-long move required a great amount of work on our part.  We’re not as young as we once were.

The Quest, an outdoor marble sculpture and fountain, was carved from a single 200-ton block of marble and situated in front of the Standard Insurance Company's building at 900 SW Fifth Avenue in Portland. The sculpture, carved in Italy from a single 200-ton block of white marble quarried in Greece, was installed in 1970. According to its artist, Count Alexander von Svoboda, the figures represent man's eternal search for brotherhood and enlightenment.
The Quest, an outdoor marble sculpture and fountain, was carved from a single 200-ton block of marble and situated in front of the Standard Insurance Company’s building at 900 SW Fifth Avenue in Portland. The sculpture, carved in Italy from marble quarried in Greece, was installed in 1970. According to its artist, Count Alexander von Svoboda, the figures represent man’s eternal search for brotherhood and enlightenment.  Not all Portlanders look at it this way, though.

The price of progress in Portland

Portland is booming.  The number of people moving into the area has been overwhelming the city’s resources, although real estate speculators are hungrily maximizing sizable financial rewards.  No one argues with the proffered observation that the “Rose City” – also known as the city of bridges – is being San Francisco-sized.

This hookah bar and restaurant on Belmont Street appears built like a gingerbread house.
This hookah bar and restaurant on Belmont Street appears built like a gingerbread house.

Everywhere one travels appear massive construction projects.  Part of the allure can be attributed to stunning scenery as well as marijuana retail outlets that are popping up to market the wacky tobaccy’s mind-altering products starting October 1.  Traffic snarls continuously challenge long-term residents’ commutes and exasperate newcomers.

But back to Alice and me.  Only two days ago, our new apartment was so crammed with possessions that boxes were piled to the ceiling.  I felt depressed and worried.  Fortuitously, a newly vacant nearby garage was a godsend, but our overflow of goods had to be taken there before the apartment complex’s parking lot was repaved – Sept. 5, as it turns out!

As I look around our 40-year-old rental townhome and walk through its two-story layout, the aesthetics of Alice’s arrangements are striking.  In addition, the landscaping here is not sterile as was the case at the Commons at Dawson Creek.

Living in a multi-ethnic housing complex

Our new neighbors represent a true mix of ethnicities, many of whom are working people.  Yes, Virginia, many are Mexicans, but we represent a true melting pot that abhor the divisions being exasperated by a certain Republican candidate for U.S. President.  More about my feelings on that subject in a future post.

Our new digs should serve as an ideal window on life in Portland while I continue to explore my ancestry.  The photo atop this post shows Alice’s arrangement of the home office from where I write.

Writing is as important as ever.  Trusted, valued family members already archived voluminous records of my mother’s side of the family, but much is unknown about my father’s side.  To remedy this mystery, I submitted a DNA sample to ancestry.com yesterday to see where that might lead.

Looking back

Alice and I dealt with a variety of challenges; we accomplished them because I drove for Uber often over the last eight weeks, leaving Alice alone.  If Portland had not allowed Uber into town, we would not have had the necessary resources for a second move in less than a year.

Room arrangement by Alice McCormick, whose sense of aesthetics knocks me out.
Our living room arrangement by Alice McCormick, whose sense of aesthetics knocks me out.

A word of thanks …

goes out to our Farmers insurance agent, Jasper Torrence.  She and husband Zack treated us to dinner and wine at Golden Valley Brewery’s Beaverton restaurant immediately after the move was complete, and both pledged help in case an emergency arose.  Jasper even greased the wheels so we could donate a carful of non-essentials to a nearby Goodwill outlet.

This couple’s Christian spirit went beyond the call of duty.  (Jasper was born into a minister’s family.)  We shall remember their hands of friendship for a long time, and we hope to reciprocate.

During the next two weeks, I will add more segments of “Virgil’s Story,” and more posts will appear on this blog, too.  To those who stuck with us, I say, “Thanks.”  It means a whole lot to Alice and me.