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#WashingtonDC

  • Free Previews of THE FIRE ESCAPE SERIES

    Summer's gone. Fall's looming. Time to find some moving, thought-provoking books for the months ahead. Allow me to humbly suggest that you do this for FREE:

    TAKE A WALK ON A BROOKLYN FIRE ESCAPE...SEE WHERE IT LEADS!

    With more than 100 5-star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads combined, the three books in THE FIRE ESCAPE SERIES will make you laugh, cry, and remember. You can purchase just one book or two or all three: For a limited time, the entire package costs less than $10, including the Indie Award for Excellence Finalist, The Fire Escape Belongs in Brooklyn. To help you decide, here are links to FREE previews of all three books in the series:

    >The Fire Escape Stories, Volume Ihttp://a.co/84dhMFd

    >The Fire Escape Stories, Volume IIhttp://a.co/53BnS1G

    >The Fire Escape Belongs in Brooklyn ( A novel based on The Fire Escape Stories)http://a.co/5hV5Z0G

    Two cousins. One fire escape. Can it save them both? 

     

  • JFK Assassinated: A Friday Never Forgotten

    Episode #21

    "THAT FRIDAY"

    AN EXCERPT FROM THE FIRE ESCAPE STORIES, VOLUME II,

    AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK OR E-BOOK AT 

    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01M8K27KF

         On that Friday in November 1963, the final high school football game of the season was canceled.

         On that Friday, Ginny wept out loud as she sat next to me on the bus ride home from school; except for her cries and a few other kids sniffling or whispering, the bus was silent.

         On that Friday, my mother and I watched the nonstop news from Dallas in disbelief, in quiet, in fear, wondering what it meant for our country, our president shot, reaching for his throat, gasping for life, his wife standing in the accelerating convertible groping for something—her husband? her safety? her future?

         On that Friday, my father called from work to say that he did not know when he would be home again, that we should be careful but strong, that we should pray, that we should know that he was thinking about us, loving us, even as he did whatever his job demanded to help deal with the situation, to help settle the country, to help provide some degree of sanity to a world suddenly gone mad.

         On that Friday night, our phone rang again. My mother and I looked at one another, wondering who it could be. Edgidio and Marianna had already called, and my mother had already shared her horror and grief with her other friends in Virginia and New York, so she said, “See who it is, honey.”  I picked up the phone, said, “Hello,” and heard a voice I did not know, nor did I immediately recognize the name that was uttered until he said it for at least the third time: “It’s Harry, Mike, remember me? Are you and your Mom and Dad okay? This is just awful stuff. Awful.”

         I finally collected myself and said, “Oh yeah, yeah, we’re okay, Harry.” My mother looked at me and mouthed, “Harry?” and I nodded. She blew a kiss in my direction. 

         “I just wanted to check, Mike,” Harry said. “I’ve been so busy working on a big project in DC that I have neglected to call you and your folks. I am sorry. Sometimes it takes a tragedy like this to make people remember what is important in their lives. We are family. I have to do a better job of keeping in touch.”

         I didn’t know what to say, so I mumbled, “Well, yeah, we’re all okay. Dad’s not here. Would you like to speak to my Mom?”

         “Sure, Mike,” Harry said. “Sure. And when things settle down, I would like to visit with you to catch up, see what you’re up to. Okay?”

         “Yeah,” I said. “Here’s Mom.”

         While they talked, I looked out at the back yard blanketed in darkness. A small light shone on Ginny’s porch, so I went outside to see what it was. Someone moved in the narrow stream of light. “Ginny?” I called softly across the yard.

         “Yes, Mike, it’s me,” she said, shining a flashlight toward me. “Meet me.”

         We met where our yards touched.

         “You okay?” I asked. 

         She had been holding the flashlight toward the ground, but now she turned it to her face, revealing a bruised, swollen eye. “He did it,” she said. “Randy. He said I was a ‘queer’ for cryin over a dead president, one who ‘loved niggers.’ When I didn’t stop cryin, he punched me. I got one good scratch on his face ’fore Paw grabbed him and threw him out the house. Maw, she started cryin and put ice on my eye. She tol’ Paw he’s gonna have to do somethin ’bout Randy, else she’s gonna take me and move out.” Ginny looked at me, the flashlight’s beam illuminating the colors of her bruise like a flashing pinwheel. “I don’t want to move, but I jest can’t keep gettin punched. I don’t want to fight like a scared animal ’most every day. And I don’t want the president to be dead, Mike. It’s jest not right that he’s dead.”

         I brought Ginny into my house, where my mother put more ice on her eye and talked softly with her, promising that everything would be okay. After a while, my mother walked Ginny back to her house.  I stayed at home, thought about Randy, wondered why he would think it was okay to punch his sister, wondered what Sally-Boy would do with someone like Randy, wondered what I should do.

         The Thursday following that Friday in November was Thanksgiving. My father still had not been home, so my mother and I rode a quiet train from DC to New York and then took the subway to Brooklyn. In the small tenement apartment with Uncle Sal, Capricia, and Sally-Boy, we ate turkey and sweet potatoes, none of the Italian fare we normally consumed. Nor was there the usual noise and loud talk that went along with our dinners together. The world was still somber, contemplating what it had witnessed, the assassination, the swearing in, the arrest, the murder of the president’s assassin on live television while in police custody, the new president, the unanswered questions. 

         Still, during the Thanksgiving dinner, an occasional laugh slipped in, a warm gesture, a kiss.  My father called in the middle of dinner to say that he would be home when we returned to Virginia that weekend. He had my mother give the phone to each person individually, and he told everyone, including Sally-Boy, that he loved them and gave assurances that things would be okay.

         On the fire escape after dinner, Sally-Boy and I each nibbled a piece of Thanksgiving pumpkin pie.

         “I like Italian food a lot better than this shit, don’t you?” he said.

         “Sure,” I said. “I mean, this is good, but it’s not tiramisu.”

         Sally threw his piece of pie into the night. It splatted like one of our water balloons when it hit the street.

         “Sally, it’s not thatbad,” I said, a laugh slipping out. “You really need to stop throwing things off this fire escape.”

         “Yeah, it is that bad,” he said. Then he held up his hands as though he were holding a rifle. He squinted down his arm, focusing on the street, moving his hands slowly as if he were following something.

         “What are you doing?” I asked

         “I don’t get it,” he said. “He’s up in a building. He sticks a rifle outta the window. He spots the president’s car comin. He makes three shots. Boom! Boom! Boom! President’s head blows apart. That guy was a hulluva shot. I don’t get it. Wish I could shoot like that.”

         “Why? What are you going to shoot?”

         “I don’t know. Not the president. Some bad guys. There’s always some bad guys to fight.”

         “Did you like the president, Sally?”

         “Yeah, sure, I guess. I mean, I don’t really give a shit ’cause the stuff the president does, it don’t really matter to me. Tomorrow it’ll be a week since he got blown away. It’s too bad, sure, but, hey, I’m still here, and I got stuff to do.”

         “We all do,” I said, wondering if that Friday in November actually changed the world at all, the Friday that I thought affected everyone, the Friday that brought daily life to a halt, the Friday that channeled horror directly into our homes, the Friday that would eventually merge into a lifetime of other Fridays.

         That Friday.

    End of Episode #21

     

  • Lessons in Racism: A Tribute to Donal Leace

    LESSONS IN RACISM--
    A Tribute to Singer, Songwriter, Teacher Donal Leace
    by
    Chuck Cascio

     

    It has been present all of our lives. We can look around and still see it. But it hits us hardest when something spurs our awareness and reminds us: Racism is real...it has been real...we have seen it ourselves, personally.   

    Donal Leace (no "d" at the end of his first name) was a Washington, DC-based Black singer, songwriter, entertainer, scholar, and teacher whom I met many years ago when I was 16 years old and working one memorable summer at my cousin's folk music club, the Shadows, in Virginia Beach. (Note: That club is not related to any club or restaurant that may have the same or similar name in Virginia Beach today.) I learned recently that Donal died of Covid in December 2020, and though I had not seen Donal in many years, hearing of his death brought back many memories...memories made all the more significant to me as the country engages in heated discussions about race. 

    One of my many jobs at the Shadows was to book hotel reservations for performers and then to greet them at the designated hotel when they arrived. Donal was scheduled to sing at the Shadows for a couple of weeks as the opening act. He drove down from DC (he lived in an apartment above the famous Cellar Door club in Georgetown), and I met him at the hotel where I had reserved his room. As we walked into the hotel together, a noticeable silence overtook the lobby. 

    When I reminded the man behind the desk, whom I had interacted with before, that I worked at the Shadows and that I had made a reservation for Donal, the man looked confused. He browsed a ledger intensely, flipped some pages, then finally looked up and said, "Sorry, got no reservation for him and no rooms are available. Fully booked." He scribbled something on a piece of paper and shoved it at me, saying, "But here is the address of a place where he can stay."

     

    Donal_Leace.jpeg

    Donal Leace: Singer, songwriter, teacher...

    I started to argue since I knew I had made the reservation and even had a confirmation number. But Donal tapped my shoulder and said, "I know what's going on here. Let's go." 

    We went outside into the beach sunlight and I started to blurt, "Donal, I'm sorry, I..."

    "It's not you, Chuck. This is what it is. You see what it is, right?"

    Of course I did--everywhere in Virginia overt racism was evident daily: The "Colored" restrooms and water fountains separate from "Whites Only" ones. The swimming pools with signage stating boldly, "No Coloreds." The segregated schools and neighborhoods. But in that moment with Donal, it all hit me hard, personally.

    We rode about 20 miles inland to the address the hotel clerk had given us, finally coming upon a dilapidated, sad building with a sign in front that read "Colored Motel." 

    "Guess I'll be making the trip from here to the club and back every night," Donal said matter-of-factly.

    Something swelled from inside me, and I said, "We have room at our house, Donal. Come stay with us!"

    Donal hesitated, then asked, "Are you sure? Will your roommates be okay with me?"

    "Yes," I said without hesitation, and we climbed into his car and rode back to the house I shared with three guys all in their early twenties. When we arrived, I explained to my roommates what had happened, and there was no hesitancy. Donal was given a room and throughout his stay, we all laughs and music together…but we shared other things, too, such as:

    After Donal's first night performing at the club, we all finished our closing chores, and I asked Donal if he wanted to join us at a local diner where we always went for our late-night/early-morning food and laughs. He came with us, and as we all entered the familiar diner on the main beach drag, I immediately recognized the evil quiet that blanketed us. We were quickly seated in a far corner booth by a waiter who knew us all, except for Donal, by name. 

    We introduced the White waiter to Donal, but the waiter simply turned away, refusing to shake Donal's extended hand. A minute or two later, the waiter returned and handed menus to each of us. Hungry, filled with the nightly relief of pulling off another successful club experience, we all started enthusiastically blurting out what we were going to order...except for Donal. He quietly perused his menu and, once the rest of us had quieted down, said, "Um, this place seems a little pricey, doesn't it?"

    In those days, you could get a club sandwich or scrambled eggs or fried chicken pieces for a dollar or two, so we were all surprised at Donal's comment. He smiled sadly, knowingly, and flipped over his menu so we could all see. Every item on his menu was at least 10 times the price shown on the rest of ours'! 

    One of my roommates angrily waved Donal's menu at the waiter.

    "What the hell is this?" the roommate said.

    "What do you mean?" the waiter said with a shrug.

    "You know damn well what I mean! You gave him a different menu than ours! Everything on his is much more expensive! Give him the right menu!"

    "That is the right menu...for him," the waiter said matter-of-factly. "So what can I get you guys?"

    With that, we all climbed out of the booth, and one of the guys got in the waiter's face and said, "We won't be back here. Ever."

    "Suit yourself," the waiter said, "but don't you go around saying we wouldn't serve him...and his kind. If he wants to pay, we'll serve him. If not, that's his choice."

    Yes, some things have changed since those days on Virginia Beach. But not enough. Racism still exists. It is, and has been, all around us. Think about what you have seen personally. Think about how it hit you. Think about how it hits others, daily.

    Racism is real. It is systemic. It must be addressed. 

    Thank you, Donal—for your music, laughter, friendship..and for the difficult lessons I learned from you during that brief stretch of summer.

    Copyright: Chuck Cascio, all rights reserved.

    (Readers: Tell me your story, if you like. Nothing will be reprinted without your permission, and you will retain all rights of anything that is printed: chuckwrites@yahoo.com.)

     

     
  • Life In the Time of Corona (Second in an unlimited series)

    Life In the Time of Corona (Second in an unlimited series)

    My friend and former colleague John Scott, an outstanding teacher and baseball coach, wrote the following, expressing his own affection for our National Pastime. I am proud to publish it with his permission.

     

    Diamond Days
    by
    John Scott

    Diamond Days....

    Sights and sounds of days on the field…

    The aroma of the fresh cut field. The soft breeze kicks up the dust. 

    The smell of leather. The crack of the bat. 

    Cheers. Chatter. All of that. 

    You take the mound. He digs in at home. The catcher crouches, goes through his signs.

    You tip your hat, re-grip the ball, begin your wind-up and then let loose the mighty pitch.

    A curve spins along the way.

    wyatt_pitching.jpeg

     

    The batter peers, picks up the seams as the ball draws near.

    He sets his eyes, adjusts his stance, begins his swing...

    He’s got a chance!

    The swing is mighty. The crowd goes quiet as the ball meets the bat in a tremendous crack! 

    They all look up, race toward the ball. The left fielder sprints, lays out but can’t quite reach the ball. 

    The ump cries out, “FOUL BALL!” 

    It’s just one pitch, and there are many more.

    But to the boys it is so much more. 

    Each pitch, each swing, each throw and catch is set in their memory from the field that day. 

    There is something magical and therapeutic about playing—and watching—our  National Pastime! 

     

    About John Scott: John played baseball from Little League, Babe Ruth League, American Legion, and high school through college and then coached baseball for 19 years at three different high schools in Fairfax County, VA.

    Story copyright: John Scott, all rights reserved.

    Photo copyright: Chuck Cascio, all rights reserved.

     

     

     

  • SEPTEMBER FOOTBALL SALE!

    September = Football!!!

    This month save 50% off the $2.99 price of OVER THE HILL TO THE SUPER BOWL, Washington Redskins Hall of Famer Brig Owens' diary of the historic 1972 season...when the "over the hill gang" shocked all of football and went to the Super Bowl!!!

    Go to http://my.bookbaby.com/book/over-the-hill-to-the-super-bowl and use Coupon Code GoSkins at checkout.

     

  • The Murder of RFK--An excerpt from THE FIRE ESCAPE BELONGS IN BROOKLYN

    REACTION TO THE MURDER OF BOBBY KENNEDY—
    An excerpt from the novel, THE FIRE ESCAPE BELONGS IN BROOKLYN
          A small group of weeping campaign workers sat around Professor Staunton in a corner of the campaign office. As Erica and I approached, I could see he cradled something in his hands. His face was flushed and his words slurred; he had been drinking. When he saw us, he held up a Kennedy poster. Red paint had been dripped across Kennedy’s head. At the bottom of the poster, someone had painted the words,  “Compliments of the friends of Jimmy Hoffa.” 
         “There is no end to it,” Professor Staunton said. “There will never be an end to it. We suffer once and then again and again and again. Hatred is in the air we breathe; it is what keeps us alive; it is what kills us all; it is what we worship; it is what we pray to; it is what destroys our soul.” 
         Wakonda, who had been kneeling next to him, stood and held his head in her arms. She said to us, “This is another day of evil, but we must continue to find hope in our souls.” 
         “But please, Wakonda, please help me; tell me what to hope for,” Erica said. 
         Wakonda’s kind, dark eyes focused directly on Erica’s, and then Wakonda reached out, held Erica’s shoulders, and said with soft but fierce commitment, “You can hope for the vision to live even as others die, Erica. You can hope for courage…You can hope for the unborn and the newborn. You can hope for those you love and for those who you will love. And you can hope for yourself; we must all hope for ourselves….” 
         Erica looked at me, full of youth, beauty, and pain, her words measured as if she were trying to keep from unraveling as she said, “Then I will continue to hope...that whatever is happening will all mean something. I can—and will—continue to hope!” She was almost shouting. She used no strange dialect to cover her pain, and she shook hard; I tried to steady her, holding her close as we walked to the car. 
         For the entire drive to her house Erica held her hands over her beautiful face, crying in sporadic, heaving sobs, blurting out in whispers a mantra, a repeated prayer, a confused contrition of sorts: “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry for everything I have done…I must hope…I must do better…I must be better…I am sorry for it all…” And she huddled against the car door, her knees against the backs of the hands that covered the face I could no longer see. 
         I pulled up in front of her house. Erica’s face re¬mained buried in her hands. She continued to strug¬gle for self-control, but then she shook and made one final, high-pitched burst—a sound so deep and for¬eign that I can still hear it clearly, painfully, a sound like exploding glass that sent a shudder through me.
    Copyright: Chuck Cascio; all rights reserved.
     
  • World Series Champs with a Lesson Beyond Baseball

    WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS WITH A LESSON BEYOND BASEBALL

    By

    Chuck Cascio

    chuckwrites@yahoo.com

          We were doing Baby Shark!

         We were slapping high fives with strangers!

         We were cheering like children while surrounded by thousands of people our age and, yes, small packs of gleeful kids!

          My wife and I and two dear friends were part of the massive crowd at Nats Park in Washington, DC, watching on a giant TV screen that rainy night of October 30 as the Washington Nationals baseball team—who persisted throughout a difficult regular season with the motto “Stay In the Fight!”—brought the first World Series championship to Washington since 1924. And amid the cheering and hugging, I was taken by the realization that something more significant than a World Series victory was happening. 

         

    IMG_0139.jpg

    Nats Park wasted no time saluting the champions!

          I have always been enthralled with the uniqueness of baseball. And while all sports at virtually all levels from youth through pros have the potential to deliver responses from fans that border on pandemonium, the seventh game of the World Series is special. It marks the culmination of the longest season in all of sports, a sport that has countless nuances to analyze and interactions that require instant response from players, such as:

         >>>judging in a split second where that 95 miles per hour pitch is headed from just 60 feet, six inches away;    

         >>>calculating at the literal crack of a bat where a ball that is launched high into the sky, sunlight, or stadium lights will land; 

         >>>determining while running full speed if you should turn the corner and risk going to the next base or play it safe and stay where you are. 

         Baseball players' athleticism may stay dormant for innings and hours at a time and then, in one chaotic moment, they may find themselves in a spontaneous burst of reaction, speed, strength, and skill that determines the outcome of a game.

         As the Nats expressed their unlimited youthful glee (we watched on the giant screen as they danced, embraced, jumped joyfully, and laughed at their own Baby Shark impersonations) and the crowd reacted in kind, it was apparent that this was a period of pure joy in a city dominated by politics, a city whose events are too often wedded to talking points, a city whose beauty and history sometimes need an innocent event to reveal its charms, charms reflected in the core of its populace.

         I have no idea—nor do I care—about the political preferences of the strangers whose hands I was slapping, whose embraces I shared. We were all of the same mind in those moments. And something in the row in front of ours made a particularly strong impact on me that night:

         In that row, a group of 10 or so men and women who appeared to be in their late teens reacted with uninhibited, spontaneous, genuine exuberance. Hardcore baseball fans? Maybe; I don’t know, but I saw them experiencing feelings they will remember forever, something that I want more of for them...for my own family...for my friends...for everyone whether it comes from an athletic achievement, a personal accomplishment, or a simple moment in time that we recognize as unique. 

         Appreciation and happiness can surprise us at any time and, of course, baseball is not the only thing that can stimulate those responses. But a professional baseball team did it in Washington, DC, on that night, and my guess is that even those World Champion Washington Nationals players do not fully realize the lasting impact they made on the people of a city. 

         Thanks, Nats. 

         Thanks, baseball. 

         Thanks, fans. 

         Thanks, Baby Shark!

    Copyright Chuck Cascio; all rights reserved.