This is more than a perfunctory post to honor the fast-moving political climate nearby. The time has come to acknowledge a comment to my website by a dear friend:
Too bad Portland’s gone the way of Detroit, Newark, Trenton, etc. etc. Wonder why?
My answer: Perhaps there’s sincerity to the demonstrations that were taking place in downtown Portland, Oregon, eh? And why lump the progressive city of Portland with big-city ghettos? Is that a convenient way of saying people of color embrace lawlessness?
Prior to 2020, I knew nothing about a massacre that took place in Tulsa, Oklahoma targeting African Americans. As horrendous details came to light, my soul shuddered and I wondered why I never was taught about such an outrage in my high school history class.
There’s more to learn.
Last night on HBO, John Oliver took the lid off another massacre. This one was perpetuated by a Southern circle of 19th Century Democrats who subscribed to racist fear, Jim Crow behavior and white supremacy. On Nov. 10, 1898, they led a mob of 400 insurrectionists to burn down Wilmington, North Carolina’s local newspaper, murder 60 people and overthrow the local government elected only two days prior. It was the first, and only, successful coup d’état in the good ol’ USA.
In subsequent years, American history books spun a story that depicted black victims as the cause of the massacre and the perpetrators as heroic. What really happened, huh? Citizens of color were systematically butchered, brutalized, and their contributions to the American Dream sent backward. What better way to reinforce a prejudice saying people of color were intellectually inferior?
Those black lives mattered, because leadership from whatever sector it originates serves to advance this country’s progress, enriching ALL our lives. If it’s left to free thinkers like John Oliver to uncover the skeletons in our closets, we cannot tout our freedom worldwide when it’s more an illusion.
This is my way of saying I finished writing the first three chapters of my book. Tomorrow I plan to start a chapter about my life as a person of color. If you look at my images now, you might find it hard to believe.
Just as you might find it hard to believe what happened in Wilmington.
I needed some time off to reflect on fast-moving events. And I thank everyone for honoring my period of reflection – and accomplishment.
An event occurred in June that reflects political correctness run amuck, something endemic to the West Coast. If the behavior of some well-meaning proponents of social change cannot recognize we share a common priority – a change in leadership – we could be doomed to four more years of madness.
The spirit inherent in writing a book of merit brings out my Quaker experience of reflection. In the long run, my support of the Aphasia Network shall be constant. Any complaint I have pales in importance to what appears in a book. These are the same sort of compromises our new activist generation needs to learn, or else the winds of change will fail to recognize ideals still thought dear.
I want to recognize Professor John White of Pacific University and speech therapist Jordan Horner for their kind assist in helping me determine the importance of my book’s contents. Also, former University of Oregon professor Melissa Hart oversaw my first three chapters and overall organization. I’m writing the book – finally!
How long can I keep my pedal to the metal? We’ll see.
One more thing: I miss Alice more now than ever.
The photo above reveals my left eye is half-closed, due to a burst blood vessel. Awww!
Above: On the wall behind me is an artist’s impression of a pianist tickling the ivories next to a photo of my father performing in a big band during the 1940s. I once played Mozart for Louis Armstrong.
Once upon a time, I rushed to create new posts each week on this website to increase the number of visitors it receives. The idea was to create anticipation for the book everyone is waiting for.
Well, last week some stupid shit hit the fan, and I’ve been spending a good amount of time and effort wiping it off my psyche. This spurred the realization that each consequential distraction interrupts the focused madness necessary to writing a complete book.
(You can anticipate what’s coming next, right?
Well, congratulations.) This website is going on hiatus for a little while.
Don’t be sad. If you want a further taste of who I am, peruse this website. A tribute to Danawa Buchanan can be found, a cross-country journey with a CHECK ENGINE light may humor you, and how my immigrant father emigrated here cum laude after arriving 101 years ago should comfort subsequent immigrants.
AT&T has managed to incorporate an amazing library into its HBOMax service, but the technological metamorphosis in how we watch television currently is overshadowing the life-changing creative accomplishment of one particular singer: Bruce Springsteen (Alice’s other heartthrob).
With little fanfare, HBO (Home Box Office) acquired Springsteen’s life achievement film, “Western Stars” from Warner Bros. Then to obscure (unintentionally, I assume) a prospective masterpiece, AT&T incorporated a vast amount of copyright-protected works to its on-demand subscription library a few weeks thereafter.
Once you locate the movie that Springsteen co-directed with Thom Zinny, “Western Stars” must be seen and heard to be believed. He invited 30 orchestra members to perform his insightful songs inside a spacious New Jersey hay-barn that holds up to 100 people. The acoustics in the barn are top of the line, and my Bose system delivers perfectly. You will notice the “Boss” doesn’t perspire at any time; he is completely attuned to the blend of sound inside the barn.
In the film, Springsteen himself explains, “‘Western Stars’ is a 13-song meditation on the struggle between individual freedom and communal life.
“There are two sides of the American character: One is transient, restless, solitary, but the other is collective and communal in search of family, deep roots and a home for the heart to reside. These two sides rub up against one another – always and forever – in everyday American life.”
Springsteen gleans insight from his own past behavior, and expresses it in deeply personal songs. None of his words appear inflated; if anything, his inner emotional state appears muted. Although one critic panned it, “Sleepy Joe’s Café” is nothing like the place the Coasters sang about.
If you are over-saturated with the defugalties this country is putting up with, you could do a lot worse than watch “Western Stars,” co-directed by Springsteen and Thom Zimny. You may not jump up and down, but you might shed a tear for an America that is rapidly being lost.
“Western Stars” is available through subscription to HBO/Max or Hulu. It can also be viewed through Vudu, YouTube, Google Play, Microsoft, iTunes, Fandango and Amazon, or purchased at Bruce Springsteen’s website.
The photo above shows Alice checking her camera before hitting the beach during our first time at Couples Weekend on the Coast under the auspices of the Aphasia Network.
A few weeks ago, I published a Post-It that Alice wrote before she and I engaged in a commitment ceremony. The outdoor setting with a running-water, rock-garden fishpond occupied by spectacular baby koi, a six-foot deep swimming pool and a 12-person-size, screened-in gazebo was made complete by 30 invited guests. Alice planned to feature me as the last man she was ever going to love.
Alice had a rough life, far greater than anything I ever experienced. Each of her children and grandchildren had it tough, too. Comparatively speaking, I was just a babe in the woods.
Perhaps I sensed my innocence in the commitment letter Alice asked I write before our commitment ceremony, deliberately scheduled to occur Sept. 24, 2011, one year beyond the day we met.
Currently, the Aphasia Network is holding its annual Couples Weekend, but, because stroke survivors and care partners are especially at risk during this pandemic, we began meeting this week in a virtual setting using the Internet program Zoom.
Everyone loved Alice, almost as much as she loved them, and the next 10 weeks will emulate the weekend event, the first camp since Alice’s passing. Students, educators, stroke survivors, care partners and staff members are clamoring for details about our love.
I watched an extraordinary video prepared by computer-savvy Mollie Wang, in which she sang and engineered pitch-perfect duets with Professor John White of Pacific University. The second and last song performed, “You’ve Got a Friend,” was written by James Taylor, Alice’s heart throb. At a meaningful moment in the song, an image of Alice appeared, and my heart flowed deeper than expected. Tears filled my eyes.
Today, I ran across the commitment letter I wrote to Alice on August 28, 2011. Shortly after Alice’s passing, I shared Alice’s commitment note here.
Since the Aphasia Network formally started its extended Couples Weekend celebration on Tuesday, the time is perfect to publish the commitment letter I wrote her. After all, it’s only fair, right?
As we witness the last hurrahs from Hurricane Irene’s visit to the Northeast, I recall the time George and I went streaking during South Florida’s version of the hurricane’s namesake in 1999. So much has changed since you became part of my life.
All my worldly possessions are now stored inside your house, a place you insist I call “ours.” My environs are surreal, far beyond any expectations. I feel out of kilter.
So far in life, my expectations as a writer have not borne fruit. In order to cope, I declare myself a musician first, a writer second. Somewhere in the scheme of things is my fallback identity as a limousine driver, bringing in the meager income I contribute.
Why do I try to defend myself from you, as if you are an intruder and not a friend? Have I grown terrified of life, reverting back to the frightened boy depicted in my nightmares?
I decided to write this letter, even without a pat ending. Perhaps I should write more this way using my subconscious, rather than wait until ideas ferment and scream to come out. Anything worth investing into a sit-down exercise at this computer should attempt to glean insights without a glossy finish.
I love you in ways I know little about; I break new ground with every step we take. I can predict nothing beyond tomorrow; is that what scares me?
I don’t know what you see in me; maybe that’s why you love me. Little of it makes sense. Just know I am trying to be true to myself and to our relationship. Everything else seems up for grabs.
Like many people around the world, I was heartbroken to see last year’s news coverage of massive blazes that destroyed 20 per cent of Australia’s natural forests. Thirty-three people were burned to death attempting to flee the mega fires, while 400 more Aussies were determined to have perished from the smoke.
It’s already recorded that Australia suffered the hottest, driest summer of record prior to the catastrophic fires that destroyed so much forest land, but do you think it’s all climate change to blame for how bushfires turn catastrophic?
Meet Australia’s arsonist: the black kite, known to aborigine people as the karrkkanj. In order to cause grasshoppers and small reptiles to reveal themselves, these colorfully beaked birds actually pick up a burning stick, carry it to a nearby unburned area and drop it in the bush to create a new blaze. No wonder fires can grow to unmanageable extremes.
I learned this by watching a video chronicling this grotesque occurrence in a three-part 2017 PBS series entitled, “Magical Land of Oz.” Obviously, there are far more depictions of the Down Under continent’s extraordinary wildlife throughout each episode, but I was astonished at this particular quirk of nature.
If you’re looking to while away some hours during this era of self-quarantining, you could do a lot worse than to order this DVD from Public Broadcasting. And know you’re supporting public television. Here’s a link to that PBS series.
In the meantime, if you know an Aussie, tell him his country is for the birds!
At uncertain times like these, some of the smallest chores can turn out to be huge.
Take, for instance, while arranging dinner dishes to go into the dishwasher. Earlier this week, I discovered the top cover to the butter dish was missing. With an increasing record of futility, I began to look all over the apartment. No matter how much I fretted and frantically fumed, that cover was nowhere. I systematically covered every nook and cranny in the kitchen, dining room and living room.
Now I’m invested in honoring the original purpose of this chore. Why give up now? I hurriedly climbed the stairs, wondering if I might have carried it around in one of the bedrooms or the master bath.
Storming around with increasing frustration for a full 30 minutes, I decided it might make sense to stop being stubborn. I reached up in the kitchen cabinet holding another butter dish and cover, and pulled them out to use as a substitute until doomsday.
Looking at the original butter dish, I see there’s only a dab of butter left. Regimentally, I scoop it carefully onto the substitute butter dish. Efficient, eh?
With the original butter dish in hand, I finally put it into the dishwasher next to – you guessed it – the cover!
Spend half an hour this way, and one can logically wonder if newfound freedom during a pandemic is a good thing.
For those who are HBO subscribers, be sure to catch this week’s episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. (I once worked as a proofreader for The Miami Herald and later became a TV-radio writer for the Miami News.)
Oliver’s 25-minute complaint about bumbling coronavirus strategy is humorous enough, but wait until he moves on to the Sunshine State, entitled “Even during a pandemic, Florida just can’t help but be Florida.”
Oliver relays news accounts of Florida lawyers showing up for a virtual hearing wearing – nothing?!!! Our wacky host shows video of a manatee and alligator not practicing “social distancing,” and finally we learn about WWE – an outrageous wrestling simulation – being declared “an essential business.”
After a hilarious jab at my former home comes the “snapper to the capper,” a tribute devoted to the feline lover, called “Cat TV.” Those ubiquitous pets of ours are highlighted in a segment creatively hosted by TV and movie star Martin Sheen. Just to recognize their quirky behavior takes us away from this challenging time in American history.
So enjoy that part of the show. And this friendly TV viewing tip is meant to let you know I’m furiously working on the book. This time in personal history is an opportunity to capture memories that mean something.
The photograph above is the last image taken of Alice McCormick, and I am the lucky guy who took this picture. Alice and I were on the verge of returning home from the north side of Vancouver, Washington, where we “scored” a large package of Kirkland toilet paper during Costco’s senior shopping time. Twenty-four rolls, oh boy!
On the drive back home, Alice must have been musing about something, because she was notably silent. And once we sat down in the living room, she asked me to promise something. As I think about it now, I wonder if Alice knew she was close to leaving this gray-green planet.
“Mason, I need you to promise me something,” Alice began.
“Oh sure,” I responded. “What is it?”
“Mason, I want you to promise me that you’ll start writing again,” Alice said seriously.
“Well,” I said, “I’ve stopped [rideshare] driving. That means I have the time to do it.”
Alice looked into my eyes, and said, “Promise me.”
I mulled it over for less than five seconds, and muttered, “Yes, I’ll go back to my writing.”
Alice nodded to show her satisfaction, stood up, and went into the kitchen to put our Costco goodies away.
(Alice managed me so much that I was left few tasks in which to reciprocate. She simply wanted to witness me make a bona fide attempt before she took over.)
I look at the featured picture above and wonder what Alice was thinking about. In the almost 10 years living together, Alice was consistently good at concealing some pretty serious things.
I have no clue what Alice knew on the eve the day before I found her body wearing a faraway, wistful expression. (Alice would wake up early each morning to putz around the kitchen, cuddle the cat, open the blinds and gaze at the nearly 1,000-foot-high hill north of our development before coming back to bed.)
And now, I know I must write, I cannot screw around, I must make good to my promise, because Alice is all around, watching and guiding me. Dammit, I’ve already written one book, got it published, chronicled some major bands in concert (the Marshall Tucker Band, Heart, Norah Jones, Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen), and won the heart of Alice McCormick, a remarkable denizen of a historic Pennsylvania town known as Doylestown.
My grandmother was a librarian, my mother was an English teacher and my father was a professional musician.
I went to private school in Princeton, N.J., and do I have a tale to tell about being there! Imagine a boy from Miami thrust into an environment where Albert Einstein was known to stroll, and being schooled with fewer than 8 children per teacher.
Twenty years later, the managing editor, Gloria Brown Anderson, at the Miami News increased my workload until I had to drop out of Florida International University in the late 1970s. Anderson justified this tactic by confessing she did not want to have an unknown scholar destroy a “natural gift.”
In 2002, I wrote a book: Gulag to Rhapsody: A Survivor’s Journey, for Paul Tarko, who was imprisoned in the same Soviet workcamp later occupied by noted Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn. (After a literary agent showed interest, Tarko decided to self-publish.)
After promoting the book in Hartford, Connecticut, I discovered the Pennsylvania borough of Doylestown (30 miles south of Princeton), where I met Alice McCormick, although, in fairness, I say she met me. I have never been loved by anyone so unabashedly, so flagrantly, so wholeheartedly and so fairly. Yes, Kailey, you’re right, Alice was amazing!
So give a lot of credit to Alice for this decrepit creature I am becoming again. Every time I sit down to write something new, I’m fulfilling my promise to Alice. What comes from these slender fingers dancing over the computer keyboard is a celebration to that long-legged lady. Each phrase is a commitment, revisited over and over, checked and re-checked for readable style.
But here’s the amazing part: Alice made me a promise eight years ago. She said that when she disappears to an unnamed place, I would find a hidden message inside something I used, but a place where I seldom looked. She giggled when she told me.
Three days ago, in the top drawer of a small bureau in my writer’s office, where Alice had commandeered some of her possessions, I came across a Post-it note written by Alice, written on Dec. 22, 2011, approximately three months after our commitment ceremony:
I am honor-bound to follow up what I promised. Alice is all around me.
I have begun the book.
Members of the Aphasia Network created a GoFundMe page to support me during the time ahead. To see their message and hopefully donate, follow this link Alice was amazing
One thing about undergoing grief; some moments stand out more than others.
Take the matter of a tortoise-shell, short-haired cat named Chloe. With incredible claws.
She turned out to be praise-worthy, where once upon a time she looked scraggly, barely alive. You can read this website’s story about her adoption using the link at the end of the previous sentence.
For nine months, Alice adopted, fed and nurtured, brushed Chloe’s coat into something astounding, guided her bathroom habits toward the litterbox, and instructed the cat never to tip me off about how she was going to use our new, semi-plush carpet.
In that time, Chloe became a fully grown cat under Alice’s tutelage, and was taught “not to care.”
Then Alice passed over.
Almost from the outset, Chloe began performing her version of Mozart’s Urine Sonata.
Within two weeks, she awakened me by peeing loudly in the bedroom. On previous mornings, I discovered bathroom throw rugs tossed askew while I made morning rounds. Maybe I need to change all the kitty litter in the upstairs bathroom, I thought, so I took pains to make the litterbox immaculate.
Chloe took this gesture the wrong way. The very next morning, she shit on the bedroom carpet next to the window curtains. My eyes opened wide, I went ballistic and explored an option I previously considered blasphemous: take Chloe back to the same place where we adopted her, the Humane Society of Cowlitz County.
To understand the depth of my anxiety, readers need to consider my second wife. For 22 years, she became the woman with whom I intended to spend my life. We met in Miami in the winter of 1980 while I was attempting to get the city’s Bicentennial Park renamed in honor of John Lennon.
I was devastated by that tragedy. The night Lennon was shot, I was listening to the Miami Dolphins game against the New England Patriots in the Orange Bowl when an announcer breathlessly interrupted the lengthy commercial break after the third quarter to report John Lennon was shot and had died. When the broadcast feed of the game returned to the stadium live, it was impossible to tell.
The rowdy Orange Bowl home crowd had fallen silent.
As a Lennon admirer, my would-be partner stood by my side during a public show of grief, so I married her. I also married quickly, because I needed to heal from Wife #1, but that’s another story.
Wife #2 was carrying some work-history baggage, though, relating to animals.
She worked as a secretary at the Humane Society of Greater Miami where more than 90 percent of its intake animals were euthanized on site. As much as I asked her about that time in her life, she would shut down and give few details.
Back in the 1970s, Miami’s Humane Society became a dumping ground for unwanted animals where an onsite gas chamber was in frequent use. I visited the facility twice and felt an overpowering sense of doom walking past cages of desperate animals that sensed the Animal Holocaust awaiting them.
(A San Antonio reporter’s 2004 visit to that city’s Humane Society shelter is comparable to conditions I witnessed in Miami. Read that report here, if you have an ironclad stomach.)
Could I possibly be delivering Chloe to an unspeakable end of life? What kind of animal would do this?
I worried, frantically speaking at length with good friend Kailey Cox Wednesday night and cousin Margaret Thursday morning. I explained at length without saying what animal shelter care was like in Miami. Instead, I seriously castigated myself on the phone, imagining the worst possible results of an encounter at the Humane Society of Cowlitz County.
At 11 am on April 16th as I walked toward the Longview entrance, Chloe and I were intercepted and steered to a side door for cats, when another staff member in personal protection gear guided us back to the original entrance, and my heart sank. These people are desperately confused, I thought, and everything inside was going haywire.
Carrying Chloe within her cat carrier, her woeful howling announced our entrance. Tears were creeping out of my eyelids, and I peered around my coronavirus mask. We were “socially distancing,” but I thought how damned inappropriate it was to be “social” around would-be executioners.
How inaccurate my apprehensions turned out to be! These folks were here because of love for animals. The Humane Society of Cowlitz County turned out to be an adoption center where virtually all animals wind up being adopted by locals. The revelation I discovered yesterday is each Humane Society can be as different as night from day. It’s characterized by its citizenry.
Looking at the sunny side of life, Chloe is on the verge of becoming the ideal outdoor cat within the same wild environment in which she survived, gave birth and was neutered before Alice and I adopted her in a condo development prohibiting outdoor cats. Alice brushed her daily and treated her like the queen both of them were, and Chloe grew fat in respect and stature.
Chloe’s aptitude for barn use is off the charts. She can dispatch all kinds of critters with her uncut sharp, long claws, and she knows how to be wary in an environment of bear, cougars and maybe Sasquatch. By being adopted with Alice’s constant care, Chloe’s warrior royalty should be at its prime.
Inside the Cowlitz County’s Humane Society building, I could not have been treated better – and neither could Chloe – by hard-working, blue-collar ladies who live by a no-kill policy, except for creatures at death’s door. So now I feel an amazing sense of relief, colored by the firm, yet gentle, way I saw its staff handle animals.
Have fun, Chloe. I’ll miss you, and so will Alice.
But somehow, I suspect I might miss Chloe more.
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