How to Kill a Woman

While rummaging through the corners of my life, I came across the second book I helped create. I was introduced to real-life “carnie” Rick West, a hawker of circus freaks and a barker for Old West-style carnivals that separate a man from his money.I always heard whispers about such people; and that they will rarely expose the inner workings of such early 20th century legendary institutions. So when I heard he wanted me to edit his book with the ideal title, Pickled Punks & Girlie Shows: A Life Spent on the Midways of America, I jumped at the chance. Could I take this person from concept to publisher?

During the Bucks County (Pa.) February 2011 blizzard, Pennsylvania-proud publisher Peter Schiffer personally called me to say he accepted our submission and would use his Atglen facility to produce a coffee-table fomatted, soft-cover gem with photo-quality pages.

I felt proud; I knew we created something special.

The book, although printed in China, contains an image that haunts me still. And here’s why.

It reveals the ultimate way to legally kill a woman.

When the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the war on women goes into overdrive. An increasing number of states have trigger provisions to outlaw abortion, including – and this is no lie – the health of a mother.

Take a close look at the book’s front cover above, particularly the lower left-hand image. It’s a photo of an actual fetus with two heads. Imagine a woman being forced to give birth to such a baby. I doubt she would survive being cut open.

That’s how to kill a woman.

Vladimir Putin: A Despot in Drag

As the first-born child of a Hungarian émigré, I had two reasons to avoid my father, Virgil. The primary escape was to avoid him, because he would spank me for no reason at all. Lately, though, I remembered a second reason. I had so much respect for his talent arranging music for big-band jazz bands that I gave him privacy.

I learned about politics when I was admonished to play “duck and cover” at Hialeah Elementary School in 1952 Florida. Russia presented itself as an alternative to the “evils of capitalism,” threatening a holy nuclear war, while chiding the U.S. around the world for the sanitized “I Like Ike” way we treat black folks.

That resonated with freedom-loving people I knew. Unfortunately, anyone who licked at the mud puddle of freedom expressing sympathy for the unprivileged could wind up accused of being a communist, a cruel twist of logic. This version of America hid its own dark history. Since then, I’ve grown up, resisted various forms of deception, and I’m not ashamed to say I became a liberal.

You, Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, have shown yourself willing to use the dark forces of deception to hide a shameful childhood.

Your grandfather was the personal chef to Joseph Stalin. Joseph Stalin! And what did he teach you? A message directly related to bigotry.

You regard Ukrainians to be an inferior race compared to pure Russian royalty. Inferior! You’re doing the same thing you philosophically attacked America’s conscience for practicing in the 1950s. In 2022, you advocate a new dark policy for your people, resulting in an invasion. An invasion!

So I see through you. For a long time, I’ve been around people who carry racial hatred and speak with a politically correct tongue. Don’t try to fool me.

You’re a despot in drag. And you just woke up the world.

Writing Gulag to Rhapsody: A Survivor’s Journey

I once wrote for the Miami Herald, but an editor’s displeasure drove me away. Then a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity came my way 20 years ago.

Paul Tarko, former Siberian Gulag inhabitant and “freedom fighter” who taught kids to resist the Russian attack in 1956 Budapest and wanted to preserve his memories in written form, telephoned me. I agreed to meet with him, observed the disorganized notes he put together, and realized I could write his true history in narrative form. Paul was the perfect protagonist.

I am descended from a Hungarian refugee big-band musician named Virgil, who took his own life when I was 16. My father never shared his history with me; therefore, Paul became a soul-mate. And my actual Hungarian history seemed irrelevant.

Using the phone to get inside his head before he went to bed, I asked him everything he could remember about vital moments in his life so I could imagine being Paul, visualizing his surroundings vividly.

At our first book signing in 2002, a Hungarian woman in her mid-50s walked up to me and said, “Your book is the best one I ever read.”

The “best?” My English-teacher mother would be proud.

That’s when dreams of being a respected author took hold. And that’s why I’m working on my own book.

Meanwhile, with a Russian bully threatening a third world war with its occupation of Ukraine, I feel Paul close to me. A book about Paul would bear comparison with the evil Russia represents.

Copies of the book I wrote for the late Paul Tarko are still available. Send me a request at mason@masonloika.com, and you will receive pricing and shipping information.

You might glean a true-life perspective on what’s going on with Russia.

Fearful of the Internet

Ten minutes before sunset on Christmas Day, I was treated officially to a White Christmas, and the photo taken the next morning depicts a bird’s large footprints outside my townhouse. Lovely, right?

Well, reiterating a conversation at our Christmas gathering two weeks ago, all is no longer peachy. I was warned not to give any of this condominium association’s officers any publicity, even if it’s favorable.

Two of them cite fear of the Internet for choosing to shun attention, but it causes this experienced journalist to wonder why. Or could it be because I am now an East Coast widower in their closed circle?

So much for hometown hospitality.

Since the portrayed happy mood of the pre-Christmas gathering is inaccurate, I am removing that post. But thank you for reacting positively.

I better finish my book. And soon.

A Life-Changing Discovery

My previous post showed I am writing again. It didn’t disclose what memories I uncovered during the fire.

I was knee-deep in creating the book Alice wanted me to write, currently titled, “Confessions of a Boy Soprano.” That’s when a neighbor fulfilling a relatively pedestrian task – killing weeds – interrupted my progress for more than six months.

The inappropriate tool for the task – a mini-blowtorch – set fire to the townhouse that Alice and I created, and the pleasant ambience she lent was obliterated in one careless act. There is no scent left behind; she is gone. To say I felt vindictive doesn’t tell the whole story. During the summer, my feeling of devastation was complete, and interactions with family or relatives reflected anger.

One week short of being declared a Quality Inn resident (five fucking months!), ServPro informed me I could move back home. The repainting and re-carpeting of the entire second floor was complete, and I would be able to use my office and bedroom again. Because the people who cleaned my bedding and anything else cleanable were scheduled to return all contents on Tuesday, Sept. 21st, I made preparations. “I was in high cotton,” as my late mother would say.

Even though I never spent the night in the smoke-affected townhouse, I used my unit’s washer and dryer every two-three weeks, allowing me to survive on a limited clothes’ supply. Therefore, I came back on Monday, a day before all my clothes would be returned, with plans to wash and dry my dirty ones. Once the fire damage restoration service, FRSTeam, would bring everything back clean, I could be set to write again!

No such luck.

When I put my cold-water wash inside the washer, added a Tide pod, turned on the water and listened gleefully to the sound, I breathed a deep sigh of relief.

For only thirty seconds. Thanks to the carpet installer downstairs, my feelings of joy were interrupted.

“There’s water coming down the light fixture,” he yelled. Feeling panicky, I shut off the washer.

I called ServPro, and Luna immediately showed up to determine the painter had removed the hose from the washer and, after painting the walls and ceiling behind them, had not bothered to replace the hose. No warning, no sign and no person to shield me from doing my wash.

Therefore, another claim had to be filed with Allstate, an employee washed and dried my clothes at ServPro’s facility, returned them to the motel, and I was not allowed to return to my condo for another two weeks. This felt like premature ejaculation.

With my tale of woe, and Ned Rauth’s demise, that poor man’s soul became a visible target to be shunned for my six months of banishment from home. No other significant creative energies, other than micro-managing ServPro, were spent positively.

Today I am left to wonder what effect the act of shunning might have contributed to his demise. If I dare to call myself a Quaker, what should I have done otherwise? Although shunning is regarded as non-violent, could it be considered otherwise? Should I summon my late wife’s spirit at Halloween, so I am not to blame?

Of all the comments to my last post, one particular comment affects me most: paraphrasing it says I should be grateful I was not injured and remain in one piece. But something else needs to be reported.

Because of the fire and having all my memories uprooted, I opened a box marked, “Computer & audio-video cables” followed by “Bridge Books.” I was ready to throw it out, but to confirm its contents, I opened it.

On top was a cloth-bound Baby Book shown above, which my mother, Thelma Johnston, created on the day of my birth, March 23, 1943. Apparently, it was a tradition no longer the rage during this millennium. My Baby Book contains the movements, measurements and doctor’s findings of my first two years of life, accompanied by 1943’s Halloween-day declarations by my godmother and godfather.

Underneath is correspondence my father and mother sent one another in the 1940s while he was playing club dates around the country, especially Grossinger’s Resort in the Catskills.

My godfather: Horace Gerlach.
An amazing find 78 years after declaration by godfather Horace Gerlach.

Here are the revelations I discovered in my Baby Book. My godmother was Queen Brantley, a dearly beloved ancestor. But I am stunned to discover my godfather was Horace Gerlach, known to be Louis Armstrong’s trusted creative advisor. No wonder I performed Mozart’s most famous sonata for Louis himself! My Baby Book is family history preserved.

So yes, I am grateful. How else should I feel knowing the fire could have destroyed such a precious memento? How else should I feel, other than gratitude? I have been blessed.

Looking at this old photograph, I wonder how old I was then.

How Should I Feel?

Two posts ago, I wrote about an adjacent neighbor who set fire to my condo while utilizing a mini-blowtorch to kill weeds, then went back into his unit to watch TV while mine smoldered. The front of his apartment is pictured above. To this day, I remain astonished why the town of Longview didn’t cite him for criminal negligence.

To put my discovery of the fire in perspective, in late April I was appropriately convalescing from a four-hour hernia operation at Kaiser Permanente’s Sunnyside Hospital, courtesy of cousin Margaret Johnston within her natural-beauty surroundings in Tigard. Before walking into my condo, I strolled around Lake Sacajawea with distinguished Professor John White, recently retired from Pacific University.

I unlocked the condo door and stepped into a dwelling filled with smoke. My fortuitous discovery prevented a smoldering carpet from blossoming into flame, thus saving all my memories, my condominium, and five other units.

After five months and 10 days being confined inside Quality Inn Room #101, my townhouse – at long last – was ready for re-occupancy. The work was performed by ServPro, a national organization that works hand-in-hand with three national insurance companies – Allstate, State Farm and Farmer’s. Most of the delay is taken up by insurers’ paperwork for their bean counters. By the way, I have Allstate, and adjuster Michael Broszczak treated me right.

Hector Luna coordinates fire-restoration work in Longview for ServPro. Hector knows much, and is a loyal employee.

A couple weeks later, most relevant items are unpacked, and I’m trying to figure out the appropriate wall hangings, while the good Professor promises to visit and celebrate Alice’s epicurean tastes so this place doesn’t turn into a museum.

But enough with all that.

For the first time, this post contains the name of my next-door firebug: Ned Rauth.

And here is why his identity can now be known.

On the night of October 26, Rauth was transferred by ambulance with a blood oxygen count of 40, and designated another victim of Covid.

At the hospital, he didn’t make it. Ned died.

How did it happen?

The spirit of my all-powerful late wife, Alice McCormick, could have caused him harm, because the day Rauth had to be transported from his townhouse – exactly adjacent to ours – was October 26, precisely six months from the day he set OUR apartment to blaze.

Creator continues to bless me.

Keeping in mind I am a Quaker, I ask, “How should I feel?”

Happy Halloween.

Printed image from an old tee-shirt worn annually.

Reconstruction: Longview Style

Why do I look so happy? How have I survived misfortune?

In my last missive on this website, I reported that a fire impacted my Longview condo four months and five days ago. As aggravated as I steadily became, I kept my impatience quiet, because waiting for insurance to take effect magnifies the tedium. While adjusters battled to save every last penny, it would have been premature to describe my fly-by-night, day-to-day existence at a local Quality Inn as the future.

Second-floor view of inside stairs

During my four months of unplanned isolation, only one person made the trek to my apartment to supply companionship and some semblance of normality: former occupational therapist for Pacific University, Professor John White. He prepared some vegetables for side dishes, plenty of tomatoes, peppers and squash to inspire healthy eating and satisfy my palate. Pear jam, too! We also strolled around Lake Sacajawea. John is not a relative; he is a friend. Thanks, John.

More relief was supplied by my cousin, Margaret Johnston, who picked me up at the Quality Inn for day trips to Mt. St. Helens and Astoria. Her thoughtfulness is appreciated. Thanks, Margaret.

But the big news: On Sept. 1st – finally, finally, finally – I received word that the check required by the contractor – ServPro – was deposited in the condominium association’s account and is now accessible for the required cash deposit. Later this week, reconstruction will begin, which will include a complete repainting of the entire interior and re-carpeting of both floors of the townhouse and inside stairs. Smoke damage is pernicious and is not easily removed.

Carpeting on stairs was removed after an area was smoldering.

I acknowledge help from Allstate Insurance’s local Joe Cleveland Agency – specifically Kyla Rose McCoy – and Philadelphia Insurance Companies of Bala Cynwyd, where tourists struggle to correctly pronounce its Pennsylvania location. I had to fight to have proper restoration work promised, and I empathize with anyone who has to undergo property repair from Hurricane Ida and now must wait for losses to be specified, validated and confirmed.

Only a tarp separates the empty space beyond the utility room’s water heater.

While trying to remain sane, I finished two more chapters of my book concerning the five years (1968-72) in Hollywood, Calif., where I was told how blues icon Janis Joplin was murdered and my stint as a deejay for L.A.’s only pirate radio station. That part of my story is now written, and now I must describe my return to Miami where I began my journalistic career 30 years ago as a full-fledged writer for two metropolitan daily newspapers.

I must relive those years in my head and clippings, then describe the remarkable events of that time, including meeting Mary Jo Vecchio, the woman famous for standing over a fatally shot student at Kent State University. It’s a sad observance how an ordinary young woman was affected while in the media spotlight.

I will be leaving Longview as soon as I can, prepping for the release of my re-titled full-length tale, “Confessions of a Boy Soprano.” Alice McCormick made me promise to write this tale, and I look forward to announce the book’s release. Once upon a time, I lived a life unforeseen. I promise you will laugh at some events, shed some tears for lost innocence and remember times that were greener than today.

Onward and upward!

Displaced by a Fire

It could have been worse. Much worse.

Instead, my remarkable recovery from abdominal surgery – repair of a distended hernia – and an occupational therapy professor’s oversight probably saved my life.

Let’s review the past 15 days. On April 21, I underwent the uncertainty of surgery, the expectation of an invasive operation, with surgeon John M. Roberts in charge. The threat of complications was on the table, requiring overnight medical observation in Kaiser Permanente’s Sunnyside Medical Center.

The preparation was easy, though – full of promise. No awful goop to drink in advance. The only requirement: nothing to eat or drink for eight hours preceding my date with a scalpel at 5:30 am. Once I was cleared to go upstairs and an IV administered in a surgical pre-op room, I felt reassured, especially after my surgeon arrived bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, full of vim and vigor.

I looked around at my surroundings. I counted at least 30 pre-op rooms like mine, all in use simultaneously, turning this section of Sunnyside into a virtual factory. Welcome to Advanced Medical Care in a Time of Covid-19.

Anesthesia was applied so precipitously that I never got a chance to count down from 100. And four hours later, I was awakened by the anesthesia team with great news. The mesh that now held my hernia’s unsightly distension was inserted laparoscopically during a marathon procedure. Because surgery was mostly non-invasive, recovery promised to be a snap.

And it was. I received a modest supply of oxycodone from the hospital’s pharmacy (after responding to four separate text notices the prescribed pain pills were ready for pickup). I took two of the tablets at six-hour intervals in the hospital, and one pill a day later. Otherwise, I avoided them completely, having been pre-warned about its constipating side effect. Furthermore, I don’t like the blurry aftereffect when the pills kick in.

Once Kaiser released me, I was on the mend. Two days later, I walked briskly for a half-mile under the care of my cousin Margaret and her cairn (a breed of dog) around a tony Tigard, Oregon neighborhood. I was recovering rapidly. No sweat!

Three days later, John White, former occupational therapy professor at Pacific University, transported me 50 miles to my Longview, Wash. townhouse. The good professor brought a sleeping bag on which to stay overnight, along with his trademark guitar, and we enjoyed a smashing good time watching the 2012 Oscar-nominated movie, “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” The next morning, after White fried up two eggs, a sizable portion of hash browns (and spicy pork sausage for me), we journeyed to Lake Sacajawea to traipse along the park’s tree-lined gravel paths.

Professor John White at Lake Sacajawea..

Three hours later and two miles under my belt, with my body feeling fit as a Southern fiddle, White pronounced me in perfect condition and we drove back from the park. Upon entering my townhouse, I walked into a smoke-filled maze, looking around to find the cause of the smoke, and discovered the outside southeast corner of my apartment was smoldering.

My next-door neighbor, Ned Rauth, immediately appeared, admitting culpability by using a hand-held blowtorch to kill weeds adjacent to my apartment. Hmmm, stupid is as stupid does, but why did he ensconce himself inside his apartment to watch TV and fail to extinguish the fire?

He tried using a garden hose, but why was it still smoldering, emitting toxic smoke throughout my apartment? Why did he leave the scene of the fire? Had he called the fire department? Or was he just avoiding the aftermath of what he had done?

No matter; I called the fire department. Within 10 minutes, an engine company showed up to put out the smoldering mess, stabilizing my living quarters and the contents therein.

The fire is extinguished, but the carpet inside shows how close disaster struck.

What if Professor White had not accompanied me? What would have happened if my rehabilitation proved to be troublesome, and I went to sleep inside my apartment instead of walking around the park?

The fire department determined my hard-wired smoke detector wasn’t working. Knowing that smoke inhalation is the No. 1 killer from a house fire, I readily admit I am lucky!

But let’s imagine I waited a day to return home. Yes, I would have survived, but all my personal records, data, pictures and memorabilia would have gone up in smoke. So much for the book!

As far as recovery is concerned, ServPro is on hand to clean my clothes, possessions – as well as everything my late wife, Alice, used to appoint and decorate our dwelling. Most everything of sentimental value looks to be recoverable.

Industrial-strength fans have been in force since April 27, constantly scrubbing the air inside, but at night it’s cold inside (upper 40s to low 50s) since all the windows must remain open. I’ve learned to close off one room – my office – and put on the heat to temporarily avoid the outside chill. Looking ahead, only some of my three-year-old plush carpet may require replacement, especially the living room, but I suspect (hopefully) my furniture and electronics will remain undisturbed.

Until the recovery is complete, I spend nights inside a Quality Inn room, and may stay there as long as four more weeks.

So am I complaining? Nah!

A wheelbarrow holds the damaged pieces of my townhouse.

That’s all the belly-aching I can withstand. I could feel sorry for myself, but what would that accomplish? No sir. It’s back to work on Chapter 10, “Square Grouper,” because that’s the next integral part of my true-life love story, She Danced on Bandstand.

Up and at ’em!

Alice Begins Star Journey

Once Alice snaked her right arm around my neck in Doylestown’s Marketplace, I was hooked.

“Oh, here you are, dear,” she cooed loudly. “I’ve been looking all over for you.”

The two “honeys” on the other side of the bar I had been impressing with tales of derring-do emitted muted harrumphs, paid their tab hurriedly and left the building quicker than Elvis. “This guy is married,” they must have thought. “What a cad.” I bet they muttered more explicit language under their breath.

Alice grinned bigger than a jack o’ lantern; she had me all to herself.

The woman towering over my bar seat measured a full 6’3″. And I was struck by her boldness. All my life, I supported women becoming emancipated; finally at age 67, I met one. It was put up or shut up time; otherwise, I was a fraud.

Alice was pleased as I described our route through Colorado and beyond.

That’s how I met Alice McCormick on September 24, 2010. One year later, on September 24, we committed to one another utilizing a guide for gay and lesbian couples to demonstrate support for same-sex couples. Our commitment became a solemn promise, because an Apache prayer recited by Danawa Buchanan, self-appointed chief of the Allegheny Cherokee, made it so. The ceremony was guided by David DiPasquale, an interfaith minister with the township’s Pebble Hill Church.

Alice had a rough life, but SHE DANCED ON BANDSTAND. That’s all I needed to know. It didn’t matter she danced in the back row in ABC affiliate’s Philadelphia studio. Because of her Amazon-like height, whenever she bopped in rhythm with other girls, the TV studio and number of dancers appeared greater than the cramped physical space allowed.

Saying I would be the last man she ever loved, we moved to Oregon (the “left” Coast, we were told) in September 2014, a harrowing journey described elsewhere on this website. Six months afterward, Alice endured a stroke. Unlike the 90 percent of men who leave after their partners suffer a stroke, I stuck around. By comparison, 90 percent of women don’t leave a male partner. Loving is the meaning of the game; it means being around when a stroke survivor needs a friend the most.

Due to our new life in Oregon, later into Washington, Alice quickly became an inspiration for student nurses, administrators, stroke survivors and related care partners. At the Aphasia Network’s spring and summer camps on Garibaldi’s spectacular peninsula, I witnessed how Alice bonded with stroke survivors barely able to speak, encouraging all in a foreign unspoken language.

I fell deeply in love with Alice witnessing how she made friends with anyone who needed her ear. Those who no longer can rely on enunciated speech will substitute sounds, make gestures and point to turn a conversation into two-way communication. Alice knew this intuitively! Even better, she managed me (something men need to curb brutish behavior). I learned to appear brilliant by not saying a word. What a woman!

My time on Earth with Alice was cut short on March 27, 2020, after she suffered her ultimate coronary end. She never became stricken with Covid, an ailment she insisted we shun like the plague, so yes we managed to stay safe.

But now she was gone, and I faced the heartbreaking task of having her precious body cremated. With the help and encouragement of my first cousin, Margaret Johnston, we arranged it. The grief was seismic for Margaret, too. Alice instantly related to Margaret like a true sister.

So how did I manage without Alice? The pandemic was tough enough, but as a former Miami TV/radio/audio-video writer, I found more than enough distractions to get me through. But two questions continued to nag on me, “How should I dispose of Alice’s ashes? And when?”

The Northhead lighthouse, northern end of Long Beach peninsula, similar to lighthouse at Cape Disappointment. Photograph by Rick Schafer.

Alice was attracted to lighthouses, especially the one at Cape May, NJ. During our first visit to Long Beach, Washington, I watched her pulse quicken as we scaled the steep driveway leading to the Cape Disappointment lighthouse. The structure’s revolving lamp possessed majestic candlepower to guide ships entering or exiting the vast Columbia River’s manifest destiny.

It made sense to scatter Alice’s ashes on the Pacific Ocean’s beach north of the lighthouse, ending the continent-ending journey we undertook to escape the hard life she experienced growing up in Philly.

And when? Our commitment ceremony firmly established one year – precisely – as our timeline.

I realized my mission of remembrance seemed foolhardy. After all, the month of March was notorious for serious storms moving parallel to the coastline; nevertheless, I kept moving ahead. There was a slim chance the weather would be benign, since Alice, Margaret and I once enjoyed a 72-degree St. Patrick’s Day on Long Beach. That day, we made faces at one another marveling about Long Beach’s unusual warmth while folks inland were under clouds and cooler. But this time the odds were significantly not in my favor.

Somehow Alice must have prepared our way. Gale warnings were hoisted for Sunday, March 28. But on the day before Saturday, March 27th, the anniversary of Alice’s passing and our precious remembrance, weather conditions on the beach turned serene. Oh sure, it was cool – 50 degrees air temperature, water temperature to match – but the usual gusty wind off the water calmed down to a reasonable 10 miles an hour in advance of an onrushing winter storm.

(l-r) Kailey Cox, Kyna Seale, Jordan Horner and Taylor Luty.

Six of Alice’s fans from the Aphasia Network had driven out to the Coast to be welcomed for an introductory dinner by my First Cousin Margaret and her friend, Bruce Douglas.

From the moment John White arrived, Kailey Cox warmed up by practicing guitar with a distinguished picker of melodies. Photograph by Kyna Seale

Later, Douglas built a traditionally correct, crackling bonfire – for an after-dinner observance at which we related tales of Alice’s inspiration that mesmerized each of our hearts while she walked this planet.

As we huddled close to the warmth of the talkative fire, John White, a dedicated professor of occupational therapy and semi-professional troubadour, performed songs chosen for the occasion. Two numbers  – Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and John Lennon’s “Imagine”  – stood out as I sang along. In Doylestown, Alice had gifted me the sheet music for both songs so I could play them on her basement’s player piano.

While darkness shifted into a protective embrace around our retinue, a full moon glowed above our heads peering down through a thin, steady layer of clouds. No glare; moonlight was glowing blue across the sand! And Alice would love this extra touch; March 27th was Passover!

The good professor performed Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold,” a song that speech therapist Jordan Horner inspired Alice to join her in a sing-along, facilitating her recovery at RIO (Rehabilitation Institute of Oregon). White capped off the songlist with Willie Nelson’s song of forbearance, “One Day at a Time:”

“I live one day at a time,
I dream one dream at a time,
Yesterday’s dead and tomorrow’s blind,
I live one day at a time.”

With my voice straining to reach the high notes, thus came the moment to gather the bag with Alice’s ashes, with the purpose of casting them across the waves.

The creeping darkness honored us with anonymity as we padded across the soft sand. Photograph by Kyna Seale

Astonishingly enough, the onshore wind settled down even more, as our sacred gathering padded across the firm, pleasantly cool, beach sand for almost half a mile before our party made its way to the water’s edge at low tide. I looked up to the reassuring full moon, noticing how its blue reflection outlined the incoming waves, on guard for “sneaker waves” known to sweep unsuspecting visitors out to sea.

As my guests kept watch, I didn’t have to walk far into the water until I was up to my knees. I opened wide the heavy cellophane bag, turning it upside down, and saw Alice’s remains sweep slightly toward shore, until the breeze succumbed into a dead calm. Then her ashes dropped vertically to surround my legs. This wind was unpredictable!

Suddenly, I became thunderstruck by the culmination of a sacred mission; how did I manage this feat so deliberately without pausing? Without any doubt?

Everyone gave me a pat of congratulations as I emerged from the water, but I barely felt their happy hands. I was oblivious to White, who sang softly while walking the full distance playing his guitar. I focused my attention to the four forces of nature that gathered together this special night: water, air, earth and fire. What could have been more perfect for Alice’s remembrance than the environment Creator set?

As another chill encouraged our party to head off quickly toward the bonfire, leaving me straggling behind, something amazing happened.

While staring at the ground to ensure safe passage, I felt a warm breeze from shore envelop me, an answer from the seabreeze, another reassuring shift from one to the other, until suddenly I felt thrust into a mist-shrouded vortex that seemed to circle into the heavens above. What a bizarre occurrence!

I sloughed it off as nothing to remember.

(l-r) John White waving arms, Mason Loika, Bruce Douglas and Margaret Johnston. Photograph by Kyna Seale

Three days later, though, while at a doctor’s appointment, the attending nurse kept me later than usual.

Why? Because my heart was racing so fast she feared for my safety.

I had to tell her why. I realized the mist-shrouded vortex reaching heaven-bound three days ago was Alice’s embrace from a parallel universe, as she welcomed her Star Journey. Tears flooded my face, and I heard Alice’s voice call out, “Thank you.”

Her cry of appreciation infused the awareness that I had fulfilled her ultimate dream: moving the two of us to the West Coast into an area eminently inhabitable. What glories I was gifted! To love a woman like Alice? A woman who could love me, and moved heaven and Earth, not just for me but for members of Portland’s Aphasia Network as well?

The more I know, the more I realize what I don’t know. But one thing is for sure.

I will sing praises to Alice McCormick forevermore, because on March 27th, 2021, I experienced an unabashed encounter with eternity. It was a lovely remembrance.

Justice Is Served

A new comment relating to Alice McCormick’s and my predicament after moving West in 2014 is now on this website, goodbye-luther-bates.

As longtime friends learned back then, Alice and I were scammed by her former neighbor, Lu Bates. Everything we owned was back in Doylestown, being held by Bates in violation of his promise via a prepaid contract to ship everything to our new address. The photo above shows some of the boxes, including all my press clippings from Miami and Doylestown. Needless to say, I was bereft and inconsolable.

My cousin, Margaret Johnston, remembers our predicament. If it were not for some clothes she donated, we would have been completely ruined. And who was our eventual white knight? Bucks County Consumer Affairs Protection, eventually leading us to Bates’ probation officer.

photo of man
Luther Bates

The comment I received yesterday (Friday) is from Bates’ first wife. She learned he is doing four years’ time at Pennsylvania’s Camp Hill prison for other dastardly deeds. I have confirmed his imprisonment; therefore, I am releasing all letters received in response to the May 2015 post about the friendly neighbor who lived across the street. What we didn’t know: He already had lost his conscience.

Alice would be pleased.