All posts by Mason

Grew up as a child prodigy on the piano. At age 12 participated in a Carnegie Hall Annex recital, followed by an encore performance for an audience of one: Louis Armstrong. Former writer and editor for the Miami News, technology columnist for The Miami Herald, freelance journalist for the Bucks County Herald in Lahaska, Pennsylvania.

Good News!
Our Pod Is on Its Way

Relief and elation.
Relief and elation.

Alice and I are breathing a huge sigh of relief.  At 3 am today, a Pod containing most – or some – of our stuff began its long transport from Hatfield, Pa. to the Kelly Point storage facility outside Portland, Oregon.

Already documented on this website were the roadblocks and obstacles faced, so there is no need to be repetitive.  In updating our experience of arriving high and dry in Oregon seven weeks ago, though, it’s necessary to relate that I took a leap of faith on Nov. 5th and paid Pods the shortfall of $1,511 on a third-party account.

Since then, we did not attempt to communicate with our former neighbor.  Instead, I nervously sat on pins and needles.  If he had further criminal intent, our former man Friday could have ordered the container back to Doylestown.

Confirmation came a few minutes ago, though, that the shipment is on its way.  Our supposed Good Samaritan-turned-nemesis is past the point of no return.  At long last, our stuff is scheduled to arrive Wednesday, Nov. 19.

As this episode unfolded, I never knew how much it would affect me.  Sleep-deprived nights caused friction between Alice and me.  Conversations at bedtime revolved around treacherous financial obligations, and I expressed little joy.  Without good clothes, my press clippings, Alice’s medical records, warm winter coats and precious family memorabilia, I was in the darkest of moods.

My dispirited nature came to a head last Sunday.  At a Unitarian Universalist (UU) church service, the sermon’s topic – “the notion of evil” – caused me to come forward before the congregation and spill my guts for an interminable period of time.

Since then, I officially joined the choir and have resolved to keep my mouth shut unless someone spoke to me.  To make amends, I want to uplift the congregation with accounts of resolution as Alice and I seek to restore ourselves to some semblance of financial health.

Creating this website has turned into a godsend.  These electronic submissions are taking on a life of their own, as old friends, newfound ones and relatives offer constructive advice and comfort.  I don’t have a crystal ball to see the future, but the people who regularly visit this site and offer feedback – public or private – truly reveal unmatched quality.

I could not be prouder of the support and your insight.  Thank you.

Oregon Goes Left While Country Swings Right

election 2014

Voters in Oregon’s populous Multnomah County, Portlanders’ home, overwhelmingly endorsed a measure legalizing recreational marijuana, allowing the initiative to overcome statewide opposition in sparsely populated eastern and southern sections of the state.

Fifty-four percent of all Oregonian registered voters said yes, but legalization doesn’t formally begin until July 1, 2015.  On Tuesday, Oregon joined Alaska and the District of Columbia where voters decided they would not sit by and “just say no.”  Two years ago, Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana possession.

In addition, by a 2 to 1 margin, California voters turned down a statewide proposition that would have ended a 29-year-long cap on pain-and-suffering awards.  Since limiting pain-and-suffering liability in 1975 to $250,000, California doctors have enjoyed one of the lowest insurance rates in the country.

The initiative originally focused on random drug tests for doctors, but it soon became apparent the vote would raise maximum liability for pain and suffering to $1.1 million.  A nonpartisan Legislative Analysts’ Office estimated if the initiative was passed, government health care costs “would increase from the tens of millions of dollars to several hundred million dollars annually.”

With the entire country appearing to shift toward the right, Oregon’s legislative body actually turned more Democratic.  Perhaps the national trend of this election is to see gridlock end, rather than enhance polarization.  Only wizards know the future.  For us mere mortals, time will tell.

Library science in Hillsboro

Library staff and volunteers have arranged piles of books into easy-to-peruse categories.
Library staff and volunteers have arranged piles of books into easy-to-peruse categories.  Photo by Alice McCormick.

Hillsboro Library is in the midst of a fund-raising book sale, and readers are gobbling up some bargains.  More than 60,000 items – fiction, nonfiction, children’s books, cookbooks, reference, mysteries, large print and audio, plus CDs, DVDs, videos and LPs – are on display at rock-bottom prices for Friends of the Library and its patrons.  The sale began on Halloween and continues through Sunday, Nov. 9.

In a forward-thinking civilization, libraries are necessities, not second-class services, and they require imaginative streams of public funding to keep pace with demand.  An ever-growing population knows the importance of literacy.  Oregon funds its libraries enthusiastically, with the health of the local economy a prime benefactor.

Here in Hillsboro, Oregon, the main library’s 77,000-square-foot building opened in 2007 near Intel Corporation.  Almost 300,000 items grace two floors, along with a quiet reading room with newspapers and magazines, study rooms, conference rooms and an art gallery area.  The library also houses a “Storytime” room for young people and public computers.

By contrast, Pennsylvania’s meager funding for these bedrock institutions is impacting future generations.  In Doylestown, a unique, picturesque town that celebrates a connection with hometown author James Michener, the strategy is to use public computers to displace titles.

A spartan countywide budget has cut staff to the bone and eliminated health-care benefits.  In New Hope-Solebury, an affluent part of Bucks County, librarians face the threat of closure; over half of a $212,000 operating budget is derived from fund-raising.

When I attended the University of Florida in the early 1960s, one prerequisite course study entailed library science.  Because I appear anal by nature, I aced the course, although I forgot much of what was taught over 50 years ago.  These days, I still revere the concept of a disciplined approach to cataloging print matter.

My grandmother, Grace Johnston, was a full-fledged librarian, and my mother, Thelma, a lifelong English teacher.  I can only imagine what my life would have been like without their access to a reputable library.

Hillsboro's library offers a ballot-drop box during election season.
Hillsboro’s library offers a ballot-drop box during election season.  Photo by Alice McCormick.

Do yourself a favor; visit Hillsboro’s marvelous, lakefront edifice and discover the treasures therein.  Hours are 10-9 weekdays, 10-6 Saturdays and 12-6 Sundays.  The address is 2850 NE Brookwood Parkway with plenty of free parking.

The back of the library offers a bucolic view befitting the most sophisticated reader.  Photo courtesy of Washington County.
The back of the library offers a bucolic lakefront view conducive for sophisticated readers. Photo courtesy of Washington County.

A Call from George

George takes pleasure in keeping his South Florida barbecue skills honed.
George takes pleasure in keeping his South Florida barbecue skills honed.

Last night I received a phone call from George, a former neighbor who lives across the street from my longtime home in Miami, Fla. that I sold in 2003.  He read the previous post on this website and expressed his deep concern.

As we feasted on pizza in our respective abodes, George compared the sticky situation in which Alice and I find ourselves with a similar incident unique to him.  George reminded me of the considerable emotional and tangible value of our stuff, and strongly advised that if $1,512 gets the Pod container to its intended destination, that’s the way to go.

I appreciate his advice, and that of others.  By exposing our plight here, I heard from friends and family, and their opinions help form the decisions I make.  Should I max out my credit cards and pony up the money to an account that doesn’t have my name on it, therefore out of my control?  Or should I go the legal route and visit whatever nastiness I can summon from a distance?

The former option offers no assurance that the transfer from Pennsylvania to Oregon will happen, while going the legal route gives up hope altogether and suggests a final solution cannot happen if or unless we return to Pennsylvania.

One family member says we should contact his probation officer.  What to do?

At the Sunday service of Hillsboro Unitarian Universalist Church, I bore witness to this demon afflicting me and how I think of our Man Friday.  Do I want to live in a world where I have to consider any trusted person to be a potential threat?  I must decide by Wednesday.  Otherwise, the container’s scheduled shipping date out West on Friday, November 7, will not happen.

I’m between the devil on the East Coast and Oregon’s welcome wagon.

Our Stuff is at Risk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update to ‘Where’s Our Stuff?’

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

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

More to come.

Legalize it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A talk with Millie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa Hart:
The Author Within

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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