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.
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.
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
On the first day of September, my Acer computer crashed. Although my files were backed up externally, I was well on the way to learning a brand-new computer, a brand-new operating system, brand-new software with upgrades, updates, and more importantly, money.
A new Dell computer was supposed to arrive over the Labor Day weekend. At least, that’s what Dell promised. But after a business day came and went, a computer geek gave me the bad news: It won’t arrive for seven weeks.
That’s when Creator (and Alice) stepped in. Next to Alice’s mirrored closet is a working computer with the same operating system. Since her connection with the electronic world still worked, could we find a way to marry our two computers, including my data?
I posed the question to a local (Longview) nerd, whose employer, Hamer Electric, makes IT house calls. Pictured above is Michael Bryan, who worked in my townhouse to cause my words and equipment detailing a life’s journey flow better than before.
After a 33-day departure from Chapter 14 of my book, and after absorbing a quick consultation about the correct functionality of using different backup programs, I’m humming away. I’m on the trail again!
This time, my life is enhanced by Alice’s Rolls-Royce of a computer. And you guessed it; her spirit will live in the words I type. What more could I want?
Accordingly, I continue my book’s journey to honor love.
While perusing Facebook to check on Native friends, a name from Bucks County popped up frequently. I saw she was friends to many people that I knew from that lovely section of the world. And before I knew it, I became in awe.
This person evolved partially through Pebble Hill, a multidenominational church south of Doylestown, Pennsylvania. She is a spiritual leader, honoring sacred places where Native Americans suffered mind-numbing massacres. She has an active website documenting her self-guided mission: soulofcynthia.com.
Her name: Cynthia Greb. Not one word can describe her journey other than “holy.” And her journey took her into the heart of Weed, California where a raging forest fire decimated the Lincoln Heights section. Also affected was the Shastina Lake community where a close friend lived.
Cynthia survived. So did her friend who was able to evacuate with her pets, despite roads being closed. “Divine providence,” Ms. Greb reports.
On her way from Northern California to the Seattle area, Cynthia shared my apartment for rest and recovery. While spending quality time here, Ms. Greb perused part of my book’s manuscript and revealed some helpful changes I should make. She’s a natural-born editor who is able to hone into the purpose of a book.
Ten years with Alice is crucial to revealing whom I’ve become; therefore, I should no longer use the title, Confessions of a Boy Soprano. Instead, my pending tome should wear the mantle: How I Became a Lesbian (and other stories). Talk about sprinkling fairy dust. Wow!
When I started writing my tell-all book, I had an agenda to chronicle my childhood, teen, 20s and 30s years, landing in Hollywood, California. (That’s where I became a disc jockey in West Los Angeles’ first and only pirate radio station, K-POT where you were “always one hit away … from another hit away … to another hit away …”)
Yeah, I excelled in that experience best explained by magician Jimi Hendrix. But why, oh why, am I befuddled by the 1970s?
That’s when I returned to Miami, regained my skin color, got married and divorced twice. Concurrently, I wrote for the iconic Miami News’ entertainment section while The Miami Herald engineered the News’ demise. Next, I became part-founder for a successful weekly business newspaper named Miami Today. But eventually, I left Miami, realizing Wife #2 was more married to Miami than to me.
Southeast Pennsylvania, specifically Bucks County, becomes the ultimate cherry in my life, where I hobnobbed with the rich and famous. That should be fun to recall.
It’s taken more than a year to restore a semblance of normalcy after the fire here. But everything is back in place, and it’s past time to pick up where my story left off. What happened before Doylestown and Alice? True-life moments happened in the blink of an eye, so how should I chronicle them?
Just start writing; that’s what. A vivid recall of life-changing scenes during those tumultuous years 1972-2003 is proceeding and has a deadline in mind: the 4th of July.
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.
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.
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 [email protected], and you will receive pricing and shipping information.
You might glean a true-life perspective on what’s going on with Russia.
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.
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.
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.