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

On the Trail Again

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.

Touched By an Angel

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!

Juneteenth 2022 Book Progress Report

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.

Wish me luck.

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 [email protected], and you will receive pricing and shipping information.

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

a personal view