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.

Burmese Pythons in Washington State

While strolling around Lake Sacajawea two days ago, I came across a sight to be feared: a Burmese Python. Its handler, named Franklin, sat comfortably in the grass, showing no trepidation as the snake slithered all around his body.

That’s a real change from idyllic ambience at the Japanese Garden.

Developers of Lake Sacajawea added a Japanese garden.

What’s out of order? Aren’t Burmese pythons the scourge of Florida’s Everglades? This female is 12½ feet long and growing every day. And already in Longview, Washington, according to Franklin, there’s one snake larger.

Egad! I didn’t bother to tell Franklin how many eggs this female expels. That’s because he told me the name he’s given this snake:

Fluffy.

Nearing the Finish Line

When I started my memoir/love story, I was numb from loss. Yet I was given a mission.

The love of my life, Alice McCormick, had me promise “to write” ONE DAY before she left this planet. I was not about to let her down.

Then the Aphasia Network stepped in to comfort my loss. Sixty-three days after discovering Alice’s lifeless body, I was invited into a grief session on Zoom but paired with two naive, early-year students. With nothing else to talk about, I sought their input to determine a politically correct way to identify a racial epithet that neighbors and my grandfather used in the 1950s.

The two of them had no clue. They hit the PANIC button. Then they disappeared into the comforting arms of a supervisor who condemned my speech.

Welcome to cancel culture, and the scourge of it. I am anything BUT a racist; yet that word was hurled later at me. Is it because I emerged from that world and wanted to report on it? Do we choose to ignore how much African Americans have evolved since their squalid beginnings?

It makes me wonder what qualifies as history.

I learned about discrimination firsthand in Princeton, New Jersey, because I could not travel with much-whiter boys to perform in 1950s Ohio. That kind of stupidity never fails to enrage me, but I persevere.

I’m running on the fumes. Maybe reviving my Go Fund Me account would help.

No matter what, I’m writing the last two chapters. They’re about Alice.

My Amazon love

Remembering N-town

Sixty-three days after Alice McCormick passed away in 2020, the Aphasia Network planned its annual couples’ retreat. Because of Covid, they made it a “virtual event.” Aware of Alice’s demise, I was summarily invited as a “surviving widower.”

I accepted the invitation. It would have been stupid to refuse.

Both Alice and I loved the stroke survivors we met and several students-in-training, and I wanted to commiserate with them again. I suspected that seeing them on Zoom might help console me, but the virtual mass communication felt pretty empty.

In one of the sessions, two unfamiliar women in their 20s were chosen randomly to be my student counselors, and I determined I wasn’t going to cry for them. Instead, I looked for something else to focus on, so in desperation I grabbed hold of a page containing proposed chapter titles for my upcoming book. After a few strange-sounding niceties, I pointed to the proposed chapter titles. Chapter 4 stood out.

Typed in was a profane version of the N-word bandied about by white people in the 1950s describing the slum community close to downtown Miami. I knew if I ignored the epithets I heard about N-town, my book would be a fraud. Therefore, I tiptoed uncertainly. (I was denied a plum opportunity early in life because my skin color was too dark. Now that my childhood color has dissipated, I look like any old white man. But memories don’t disappear, so vivid moments from the past were relived in my head before currently residing in my manuscript.)

I read the objectionable word aloud and posed a follow-up question to the two students: “Do you think that’s appropriate?” I read the word again. “Is there another way to describe this?” Since these were university students, I wanted their input. We could work together to find acceptable terminology, right?

Wrong!

All of sudden, their live images disappeared, a blank wall took their place and a supervisor appeared forthwith on my computer monitor castigating me for saying and repeating an offensive word. Perhaps I was stupid. Or Pollyannaish. Or something. Nevertheless, my grief losing Alice was magnified.

This conundrum occurred three years ago. I’m a writer, not a coward, right? So afterward, while struggling to rewrite the harsh chapter title, I came up with a politically correct replacement: “N-town with three syllables.” And today, Chapter 4 has been completely written, rewritten and edited to conform to modern-day sensibilities.

Meanwhile, Portland’s Aphasia Network has risen from the dead. A gathering of old friends and adversaries is looming for a renewed camping experience June 9-11, this time in person at the familiar Methodist facility north of the fishing town of Garibaldi on the Pacific Coast. That’s fine with me. However, in anticipation of revisiting treasured memories, I’m being dragged through mud from the past. Former close friends in the group no longer communicate with me, and I suspect I’m being ostracized.

The Aphasia Network coordinates its camping weekends with Pacific University. This year’s event may be its last, so memories of our interactions are important. I also want to refresh the participants’ memories of Alice. But I don’t want any hint of a scandalous character assassination.

Historically, Pacific University once participated in eradicating Indian cultures, seizing their children to create strict boarding schools to “civilize” the “savages.” The infamous Carlisle School in Pennsylvania is an apt comparison. And Pacific originated in a state whose intent was to be lilywhite, threatening black people to leave its boundaries or face the sting of 39 lashes from a bullwhip in retribution.

Much of the state’s discredited liberal policies stem from an overreaction to its racist past. And that hasn’t changed much. Portland is still the whitest big city in the United States. That’s a fact.

Almost in tears three years ago, I related the hue and cry from my sorry interaction with students to my cousin, Margaret Johnston. She advised, “You will have to find a way to truly describe Oregonians – so open-minded but so un-worldly. So quick to judge and ostracize, while all the time touting to be fiercely liberal. But only as long as you think and act as they see fit.”

Margaret was “right on.” She now lives in Arizona.

In their book, The Coddling of the American Mind, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt reveal three false mantras guiding college students today: “Strive to avoid unpleasant experiences at all costs,” “always trust your emotions over reason” and “the world is a black-and-white battle between good people and bad people. There is no middle ground.” With all the money students commit to attending college, the university experience now panders to students and avoids controversy. Period.

Meanwhile, my three-year-plus writer’s narrative is transitioning to the day I met Alice. I remember how on September 24, 2010, Alice draped her long, sinewy arm around me inside Andre’s, a subterranean wine-and-cheese bar inside the Doylestown (PA) Marketplace, and cooed loudly in my ear, “Oh, here you are, dear. I’ve been looking all over for you.”

That’s when I was smitten. And I had it bad. It took 67 years to finally meet the girl I was made to love.

So I’m trying to avoid stupid distractions. Alice sometimes comes alive in my head, and I trust she will guide me.

At least, I hope she will, because this shit is getting old.

Three-year progress report

The gazebo appearing above was Alice McCormick’s pride and joy.

Ever since her passing three years ago, I’ve been working on the book she wanted me to write. It’s called How I Became a Lesbian (and other stories).”

Chapters 1-17 are complete. Chapter 18 finishes up life in Bucks County before Alice. It will include prime concerts, Grandfather Many Crows, meditation at Pebble Hill, Danawa Buchanan and revisiting the American Boychoir in Princeton.

I’m now 80 years old. Once I finish #18, I’m able – finally – to write about Alice.

That’s the latest. I’m preparing to look for an agent and see if a professional is suitably intrigued. Soon after that happens, I anticipate this website will be overhauled.

A Birthday to Savor

Thanks to everyone for your enjoyable birthday remembrances. Facebook is, indeed, a social medium.

The photo above was made possible by my one-time sister-in-law, Mary Schenck, who called a Longview bakery on Commerce Avenue named the Sugar Pearl. Mary asked if they could prepare an Amaretto liqueur cake to make my 80th milestone birthday a special one to remember.

Boy, did they! Not only did I receive a VIP-worthy delivery from the bakery’s owner, but this sweetheart of an all-natural-ingredients marvel measures 8 inches in diameter and 4¼ inches in height. That’s mammoth!

I attempted to take a selfie sitting next to the cake, but it doesn’t do justice to either of us. I’ll post it anyway, because the pressure now is on. I must make a dinner worthy of this sweet introduction to my dining room. What about spare ribs? And what about a sauce that celebrates my father when he functioned as a sous chef at the Waldorf-Astoria? Over egg noodles, of course.

I haven’t left this plane of existence, yet. I’m sticking around, because I have to finish this book-length homage praising the pitfalls of life. I survived because of some dedicated women who loved me, and it’s time I give something back.

Thanks for my great birthday memories!

Anticipating the first bite of a bakery’s masterpiece.

Over the Hump

Why did I leave the “Gold Coast” of South Florida? I had to examine that determination, and chronicle why working for the Miami Herald disaffected me.

The hurdles of writing about those times are behind me now. I’m getting ready to document some amazing experiences in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and its flagship newspaper, the Bucks County Herald.

The photo above of an unidentified Quaker salutes the mission of Pebble Hill church, the closest thing to heaven on earth. What an interesting assortment of photos I have.

An Electronic Greeting

Amid the Christmas/Chanukah cards you see this season, this one’s being promoted on Facebook: the social medium we love to hate.

Well, considering how much we pay for Internet service, it’s time – since I am one of billions inhabiting this crazy planet – to get on board.

So this is my humble card, with a little news.

Over the Christmas holidays, Kremlin-based Russians who hate my liberal ass have been trying to hack this website over the Christmas holidays, because of a previous post characterizing Vladimir Putin as an elite troublemaker.

That’s too bad. He’s making a nasty bed for all Russians to lie in, and the country has to change from within.

As you might infer from the photo above, there’s only a place-setting for one. Nevertheless, I dine at an Alice McCormick-inspired holiday table, and I thought you’d like to see it.

I have one wish for the approaching New Year, keeping in mind America finally left Afghanistan. Russia should leave Ukraine alone.

That is all. That is enough.

May we have peace worldwide in 2023.

A big shout-out to all the volunteers who spent Christmas supporting the Salvation Army.

Carsie Blanton: A Shenandoah Valley Musical Treat

I honed my talent in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, covering and reviewing top-drawer musical acts for the Bucks Count.y Herald. I became recognized in that hallowed community as a unique, reputable voice covering the music and art scene.

One major omission in my coverage, though. In 2012, a Doylestown, PA resident invited me to his home for a house concert featuring a professional folk artist constantly writing new material. What I heard was an amazing bundle of energy dedicated to the off-center writings of legendary artist John Prine.

Her name: Carsie Blanton, who appears to be following in Prine’s footsteps. I never wrote about her then, but I am writing about her now.

Blanton has been touring over the last 10 years, with the latest soul-draining tour ending Sunday night, November 20, in Seattle. A night before, she performed in Portland, which allows me to pen some overdue coverage.

Blanton is a true Philly troubadour capable of writing a myriad of songs, some with engaging hooks. She seems determined to give her talent a classical musical presence. That’s apparent from the sound created by two geniuses masquerading as side musicians: Joe Plowman, a Philadelphia area bassist, composer and teacher, and electronic music wizard Patrick Firth from Rockaway Beach, NY.

Assembled together, the musical trio succeeded in completely resonating the Alberta Rose’s 400-seat theater. Plowman amplified his stand-up bass so thoroughly he rumbled the walls on one end of the building’s stage. (His electric bass sounded good, but nothing like the stand-up instrument’s richness.)

Meanwhile, Firth tickled the ivories of an electric piano to test the treble range of one’s hearing on the other side. His ancillary performance on an adjacent harmonium, which looks more like a stand-up accordion with bellows, captured music-lovers’ fascination.

My ears, along with Carsie Blanton’s, of course, never had it so good. Her music filled the room with effortless verses containing challenging tonality, a chorus working up to high notes, and a peculiar message adding unexpected humor.

Bodies in the crowd shook as incredible musical lows rumbled around, accompanied by jazz-flavored trills tinkling the treble clef’s upper limits.

Blanton still works her audience to raise recognition for music online, and patrons are asked to request specific songs on Spotify. The music business has changed, not so much for the better these days as performers selling CDs after performances are vital to keep musicians’ tours solvent. A flawed appearance on Public Radio’s “Mountain Stage” tops her list of lost opportunities. The performance I heard on Saturday night testifies to the outstanding efforts of working musicians.

What about Blanton’s long-held anti-establishment message? Well, the intensity of her philosophy is likely to change. On the present tour, a one-night performance in San Francisco suffered a vehicle break-in, affecting the band’s instruments and gear. This kind of thievery is prevalent on the West Coast, perpetrated by well-organized criminal enterprises operating out of homeless camps. Nevertheless, without all their original equipment, Blanton’s entourage prevailed with a spontaneous, well-received performance.

Another Philly musical artist, Brittany Ann Tranbaugh, appeared prior to Blanton, entertaining a near-capacity crowd for 25 minutes with unexpected musical twists and turns prior to Carlie’s show.

Blanton comes from a world of mountain greenery, quite a bit different from Pennsylvania. She lives the life of a folk artist who emanated from the town of Luray, Virginia, not far from world-famous Luray Caverns. And she speaks her mind onstage, almost transparently. Accordingly, you don’t have to travel too far to know how this particular mountain entertainer with curly Angela Davis-styled hair expresses herself.

Through an old adage, “You can take a girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of a girl.”

Carsie Blanton’s next tour is scheduled for mid- and late-April 2023 with performances in Washington, Philadelphia, New York and the Northeast. More details on her website: Shows | Carsie Blanton