Unsettled leaves of night float by Falling from treetops in anguished cry, Meadowlarks scream for all their worth Trumpeting the end of this gray-green Earth, And yes, sing on, Oh God, sing on, The days of discovery have found no one.
I wandered through heaven to find myself, Encountered instead a harmless elf, A figure of speech he seemed to me And out of his mouth flew a bumblebee, And yes, sing on, Oh God, sing on, The days of discovery have found no one.
The weather report calls for mushroom clouds, Peyote prisms in a nuclear crowd, While butterflies argue with tsetse flies, Isn’t it funny how time goes by? And yes, sing on, Oh God, sing on, The days of discovery have found no one.
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.
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:
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.
Last week my niece, Kessa, reminded me what family means by saying 13 simple words, “I love my dad – he’s the best I could have ever hoped for.”
Her unconditional love toward Chris revealed the same bond I felt toward my mother, Thelma. Mom wrote a remembrance about how she married a talented New York City big-band musician and started a family in South Florida on my website, called “Virgil’s Story.” How she single-handedly kept the family in one piece testifies to her ingenuity, persistence, warrior spirit and maternal love.
In 1969, brother Chris Loika Englert married a girl who lived two houses away – not quite the girl next door, but pretty damn close. I found his hand-written marriage invitation earlier this November, which was sent to my Los Angeles address as a birthday card. “I’m getting married April 4 (Friday). If you can, come on down and see another person led to his doom. If you have any doubts as to who – it’s MaryLou.”
Nine years later, I enthusiastically followed my brother’s lead. Instead of a neighbor, I married “a nice Jewish girl,” who carried the seed from at least 30 nights’ passionate lovemaking in a North Bay Harbor Island condominium above Biscayne Bay. When presented with the moral responsibility I faced, my expectant wife-to-be’s family proposed an instant marriage before a Justice of the Peace in Golden Beach, a quaint town north of North Miami Beach.
I didn’t reject the idea of responsibility; after our matter-of-fact ceremony, I soon awaited a doctor’s confirmation of her pregnancy and planned a celebration immediately thereafter. That’s when I encountered the ultimate betrayal. My wife underwent an on-demand abortion in the city’s ghetto side of town accompanied only by her mother.
While I sat at the foot of the stairs for two-and-a-half hours outside our Miami Shores apartment building, trying my best to keep a bottle of celebratory champagne chilled, I waited, and waited, and waited some more. Then in confusion, I went upstairs where a phone call from my bride’s mother an hour later revealed the awful truth.
That was the terrible price I paid when my newly discovered three-member family, who descended from Egypt, expected me to completely reject my mother’s influence. After I couldn’t awake from an expectant parent’s ultimate nightmare, I filed for divorce in two weeks, and the court approved our annulment nine months later.
Last week in the Covid-19 world of 2020, I spent the day after Thanksgiving with my cousin, Margaret, surrounded by socially distant well-wishers from our Johnston clan, and I was served ceremonial turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, rolls and two heaping portions of love.
While reflecting on my mother’s Southern roots, I wondered why it wasn’t acceptable to become attached to both families. Was it our two religions? I later married for a second time – a marriage that lasted 22 years – whereupon Wife #1 phoned one night seeking to have an affair while I was relatively happy. Was she serious? Did she expect a repeat performance?
What nerve! How awful! How painful!
This year, Thanksgiving 2020 was filled with lots of needless curiosity about my preschool years, which came to an abrupt end, thanks to my niece’s unabashed expression of a daughter’s love for her father. Somehow, I began reflecting on the innocence lost from my first passionate marriage and the child I never knew. Perhaps the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, but I miss having a son’s and/or daughter’s affection.
Who knew tragedy could co-exist with a horn of plenty adorning a holiday table? What a dichotomy.
Today is a special day. A very special day. A momentous day. A life-changing day.
On this day, September 24, 2010, I met Alice McCormick for the first time. And I became blessed with 6-feet-and-3-inches worth of unbridled Amazon love.
Tonight, a perfect 10 years later, I will celebrate the night I learned about true love. A longer version of how we met is planned for my forthcoming book well underway, “How I Became a Lesbian (and other stories).”
September 24 turned out to became so memorable that we planned a commitment ceremony to take place exactly one year later, September 24, 2011, guided by Keith David’s book, “The Complete Guide to Gay and Lesbian Weddings,” in support of same-sex couples.
Our vows to one another were witnessed by 25 close friends adjacent to Alice’s backyard pool home, accentuated by a screened-in gazebo and bubbling fish pond where brilliant-colored koi swam their approval. The ceremony was led by David DiPasquale of Pebble Hill Church and Danawa Buchanan, a self-appointed chief of the Allegheny Cherokee tribe who recited an Apache prayer uniting Alice and me.
September 24th thus marked our two-time anniversary, and Native tradition reminds me to hold dear this day in our hearts by celebrating inside Teri’s Restaurant in Longview, Washington, which became Alice’s favorite place on the West Coast to dine, dance, imbibe and hang out until closing time.
Alice may not be with me in person – at least, not in the physical sense – but her spirit is strong, and I expect a moment tonight when I feel a chill as she massages my heart. I honor her, and in doing so I honor the timeless love that Creator gifted me late in my years.
If a tear should appear in my eyes tonight, it will not be from grief; it will come from gratitude. Happy anniversary, Alice.
This is more than a perfunctory post to honor the fast-moving political climate nearby. The time has come to acknowledge a comment to my website by a dear friend:
Too bad Portland’s gone the way of Detroit, Newark, Trenton, etc. etc. Wonder why?
My answer: Perhaps there’s sincerity to the demonstrations that were taking place in downtown Portland, Oregon, eh? And why lump the progressive city of Portland with big-city ghettos? Is that a convenient way of saying people of color embrace lawlessness?
Prior to 2020, I knew nothing about a massacre that took place in Tulsa, Oklahoma targeting African Americans. As horrendous details came to light, my soul shuddered and I wondered why I never was taught about such an outrage in my high school history class.
There’s more to learn.
Last night on HBO, John Oliver took the lid off another massacre. This one was perpetuated by a Southern circle of 19th Century Democrats who subscribed to racist fear, Jim Crow behavior and white supremacy. On Nov. 10, 1898, they led a mob of 400 insurrectionists to burn down Wilmington, North Carolina’s local newspaper, murder 60 people and overthrow the local government elected only two days prior. It was the first, and only, successful coup d’état in the good ol’ USA.
In subsequent years, American history books spun a story that depicted black victims as the cause of the massacre and the perpetrators as heroic. What really happened, huh? Citizens of color were systematically butchered, brutalized, and their contributions to the American Dream sent backward. What better way to reinforce a prejudice saying people of color were intellectually inferior?
Those black lives mattered, because leadership from whatever sector it originates serves to advance this country’s progress, enriching ALL our lives. If it’s left to free thinkers like John Oliver to uncover the skeletons in our closets, we cannot tout our freedom worldwide when it’s more an illusion.
This is my way of saying I finished writing the first three chapters of my book. Tomorrow I plan to start a chapter about my life as a person of color. If you look at my images now, you might find it hard to believe.
Just as you might find it hard to believe what happened in Wilmington.
Above: On the wall behind me is an artist’s impression of a pianist tickling the ivories next to a photo of my father performing in a big band during the 1940s. I once played Mozart for Louis Armstrong.
Once upon a time, I rushed to create new posts each week on this website to increase the number of visitors it receives. The idea was to create anticipation for the book everyone is waiting for.
Well, last week some stupid shit hit the fan, and I’ve been spending a good amount of time and effort wiping it off my psyche. This spurred the realization that each consequential distraction interrupts the focused madness necessary to writing a complete book.
(You can anticipate what’s coming next, right?
Well, congratulations.) This website is going on hiatus for a little while.
Don’t be sad. If you want a further taste of who I am, peruse this website. A tribute to Danawa Buchanan can be found, a cross-country journey with a CHECK ENGINE light may humor you, and how my immigrant father emigrated here cum laude after arriving 101 years ago should comfort subsequent immigrants.
For those who are HBO subscribers, be sure to catch this week’s episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. (I once worked as a proofreader for The Miami Herald and later became a TV-radio writer for the Miami News.)
Oliver’s 25-minute complaint about bumbling coronavirus strategy is humorous enough, but wait until he moves on to the Sunshine State, entitled “Even during a pandemic, Florida just can’t help but be Florida.”
Oliver relays news accounts of Florida lawyers showing up for a virtual hearing wearing – nothing?!!! Our wacky host shows video of a manatee and alligator not practicing “social distancing,” and finally we learn about WWE – an outrageous wrestling simulation – being declared “an essential business.”
After a hilarious jab at my former home comes the “snapper to the capper,” a tribute devoted to the feline lover, called “Cat TV.” Those ubiquitous pets of ours are highlighted in a segment creatively hosted by TV and movie star Martin Sheen. Just to recognize their quirky behavior takes us away from this challenging time in American history.
So enjoy that part of the show. And this friendly TV viewing tip is meant to let you know I’m furiously working on the book. This time in personal history is an opportunity to capture memories that mean something.
The photograph above is the last image taken of Alice McCormick, and I am the lucky guy who took this picture. Alice and I were on the verge of returning home from the north side of Vancouver, Washington, where we “scored” a large package of Kirkland toilet paper during Costco’s senior shopping time. Twenty-four rolls, oh boy!
On the drive back home, Alice must have been musing about something, because she was notably silent. And once we sat down in the living room, she asked me to promise something. As I think about it now, I wonder if Alice knew she was close to leaving this gray-green planet.
“Mason, I need you to promise me something,” Alice began.
“Oh sure,” I responded. “What is it?”
“Mason, I want you to promise me that you’ll start writing again,” Alice said seriously.
“Well,” I said, “I’ve stopped [rideshare] driving. That means I have the time to do it.”
Alice looked into my eyes, and said, “Promise me.”
I mulled it over for less than five seconds, and muttered, “Yes, I’ll go back to my writing.”
Alice nodded to show her satisfaction, stood up, and went into the kitchen to put our Costco goodies away.
(Alice managed me so much that I was left few tasks in which to reciprocate. She simply wanted to witness me make a bona fide attempt before she took over.)
I look at the featured picture above and wonder what Alice was thinking about. In the almost 10 years living together, Alice was consistently good at concealing some pretty serious things.
I have no clue what Alice knew on the eve the day before I found her body wearing a faraway, wistful expression. (Alice would wake up early each morning to putz around the kitchen, cuddle the cat, open the blinds and gaze at the nearly 1,000-foot-high hill north of our development before coming back to bed.)
And now, I know I must write, I cannot screw around, I must make good to my promise, because Alice is all around, watching and guiding me. Dammit, I’ve already written one book, got it published, chronicled some major bands in concert (the Marshall Tucker Band, Heart, Norah Jones, Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen), and won the heart of Alice McCormick, a remarkable denizen of a historic Pennsylvania town known as Doylestown.
My grandmother was a librarian, my mother was an English teacher and my father was a professional musician.
I went to private school in Princeton, N.J., and do I have a tale to tell about being there! Imagine a boy from Miami thrust into an environment where Albert Einstein was known to stroll, and being schooled with fewer than 8 children per teacher.
Twenty years later, the managing editor, Gloria Brown Anderson, at the Miami News increased my workload until I had to drop out of Florida International University in the late 1970s. Anderson justified this tactic by confessing she did not want to have an unknown scholar destroy a “natural gift.”
In 2002, I wrote a book: Gulag to Rhapsody: A Survivor’s Journey, for Paul Tarko, who was imprisoned in the same Soviet workcamp later occupied by noted Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn. (After a literary agent showed interest, Tarko decided to self-publish.)
After promoting the book in Hartford, Connecticut, I discovered the Pennsylvania borough of Doylestown (30 miles south of Princeton), where I met Alice McCormick, although, in fairness, I say she met me. I have never been loved by anyone so unabashedly, so flagrantly, so wholeheartedly and so fairly. Yes, Kailey, you’re right, Alice was amazing!
So give a lot of credit to Alice for this decrepit creature I am becoming again. Every time I sit down to write something new, I’m fulfilling my promise to Alice. What comes from these slender fingers dancing over the computer keyboard is a celebration to that long-legged lady. Each phrase is a commitment, revisited over and over, checked and re-checked for readable style.
But here’s the amazing part: Alice made me a promise eight years ago. She said that when she disappears to an unnamed place, I would find a hidden message inside something I used, but a place where I seldom looked. She giggled when she told me.
Three days ago, in the top drawer of a small bureau in my writer’s office, where Alice had commandeered some of her possessions, I came across a Post-it note written by Alice, written on Dec. 22, 2011, approximately three months after our commitment ceremony:
I am honor-bound to follow up what I promised. Alice is all around me.
I have begun the book.
Members of the Aphasia Network created a GoFundMe page to support me during the time ahead. To see their message and hopefully donate, follow this link Alice was amazing
There’s no easy way to view the end of another being’s last breaths. Nevertheless, in providing hospice care, we fulfill our responsibilities.
Alice and I drove Millie, ever complaining about our Ford Escape’s motion, to
Cowlitz Animal Clinic, here in Longview, Washington. The well-regarded clinic sits on a wide
commercially zoned highway with little weekend traffic. Because it was Saturday, we appeared to have
the clinic almost entirely to ourselves.
history here: A month before we moved to Longview, Millie disappeared from our
cramped Somerset West (Portland) apartment for 17 days. Somehow, our tabby feline was found by a
respectable homeowner more than a mile away, a fortuitous happening.
uneventful months with us in Longview, where we kept her indoors (and to our
neighbors’ delight) Alice walked the cat several times a week outside on a
leash, Millie was deemed to have diabetes.
Skeptical about treating her with daily insulin shots and frequent
bloodwork; Millie was already down to skin and bones. Less than six weeks later, even after
changing her diet from Meow Mix to Iams, she was on the doorstep of wasting
away — literally.
This visit to
the clinic was made tolerable by a sensitive doctor of veterinary medicine,
Kayleen McLain, who shared a professional sense of grief with us, especially
while trying to find a vein — any vein — to administer the needed dosage to
send Millie away to a permanent dreamland.
some as we said goodbye to her spirit, but found comfort once we noticed the
serene look as she passed over. We did
not mourn long, because doing so would hinder Millie’s journey to “the
I once read
that bonding with an animal comes with a limited contract: One of you will go
before the other. After that, life goes
probably why, at the moment we returned home, Alice cleaned up Millie’s area
from visible memorabilia. Today, Alice
is gardening outside, watching for hummingbirds, working up a sweat, and
encouraging new life.
Millie was a
great companion. We dare not weep,
because we would be crying only for our loss.
We will not be selfish.