RELEASED!

“They say ev’rything can be replaced
Yet ev’ry distance is not near
So I remember ev’ry face
Of ev’ry man who put me here

“I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released”

Bob Dylan

This photo was taken two days ago after I walked into Alice’s and my apartment on Portland, Oregon’s west side.

I am a post-operative rejuvenated human surviver after Dr. Daniel Janoff, an eminently qualified urologist, removed my diseased bladder, prostate and a nearby lymph node in an operating room at Providence St. Vincent’s Hospital on Tuesday, Nov. 29.

I am left to wonder what life will be like without ordinary manly attributes.  Will my creativity be compromised?  Will I be a shell of the man I once was?  Will I be fun to be around?

Well, the true relevance is being able to contemplate essential questions.  That’s a gift.  No matter my mood, at least today I ponder such questions in my Mason Loika way.

I am alive.  And a team of doctors and nurses in one of this nation’s great hospitals is responsible for that mean feat.

So let’s bless today and every breath I take.  I have been RELEASED.

Waxing Philosophical

My hair is coming back!  And my surgery takes place tomorrow morning, Tuesday, Nov. 29.

So what’s a one-time author and former lifestyle journalist to do?  Wax philosophical?

Yes, indeed, so here goes.

Recruited to Be a Christian

After I opted for surgery a few weeks ago a few weeks ago, my brother Chris phoned and asked, “Have you accepted our Lord, Jesus Christ, as your personal savior?”

I did not take the question well.  I responded by saying I went through the Christian born-again process at the age of 5.  My conversion to matters about the Cross took place in 1948 in a Hialeah, Fla. assembly hall on a Sunday evening.  My mother from English and Scottish descent, maiden name Johnston, had taken me to a Billy Graham crusade in a town infamous during the ’40s for notorious KKK-leaning denizens.

Graham’s ministry partner/music director was Cliff Barrows, who routinely set a tear-provoking introduction.  Well-rehearsed words and background music inspired me to walk down an aisle along with others to dedicate our lives to Christ.  With my penchant for singing in the shower, I eventually became a featured boy soprano on some of Miami’s more-notable, South Florida-produced religious TV programs.

At the age of 11, I attended the Columbus Boychoir School (now American Boychoir School) in Princeton, New Jersey, and played the piano for the First Presbyterian Church of Hialeah’s early-morning Sunday worship service.  Without question, I was regarded then as a Christian.

But eventually, my spiritual practice metamorphosed during my hippie years in Los Angeles at the same time I became a deejay for K-POT, where “you’re always one hit away from another hit away.”  I had my share of experiences in Southern California environs, some of which I’m planning to relate in my book, including becoming pals with three witches, one of whom worked in the district attorney’s office during Charles Manson’s reign of horror.

Looking Forth, Looking Back

Tonight, though, I come face to face with mortality, and I ask nobody in particular, “Was the promise of future everlasting life predicated on one Christian moment of testimony when I was a child?  That’s what Billy Graham promised the assemblage – and me – back then.

But looking back at what I became, a few childhood experiences where I witnessed men and women being denied basic human rights because of their skin color, or religious practices, affected me greatly.  It offended me even more than the pedophile encounter in Princeton.  And as I grew up, I shuddered when my peers uttered crude remarks to people unknown to them.  Unlike my brothers, I turned as brown as a berry on weekends on South Beach in the 1950s.  That physical characteristic taught me plenty before my tan faded.

My family still related to me back then as a fellow Caucasian.  Yet my musician father, Virgil, instructed the family to never make eye contact with an inhabitant of Miami’s Central Negro District when he drove us downtown.  This was at a time when he wrote arrangements and played trombone for Louis Armstrong!

After Virgil’s suicide, in 1960 a Native American Mohawk, Ed Walters, tried to court my mother and catered to my brothers and me.  Nevertheless that proud Mohawk was mercilessly humiliated in front of me and my brother, Jon, by two Village of Medley cops as we set off on an Everglades camping trip.  Granted, Ed was full of “fire water” at 9 in the morning, but yes indeed, I saw enough cruelty to turn my blood red.

Over 40 years later, I enthusiastically auditioned as an extra for the 2013 movie “The North Star.”  I wanted to portray a Quaker, but was cast instead as a cruel slave hunter, circa mid-1850s.  The historical movie was shot in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the northern end of the Underground Railroad.

(I hate to admit what a bad actor I was, because saying the N-word with bigoted passion turned out to be contrary to my Quakerism, even with a mostly black production crew urging me on.  The movie was released on schedule and, although you cannot identify me in the film, my name does appear in the credits.  I know, because I bought my own copy of “The North Star” through Comcast.)

Putting It in Perspective

But that’s all history.  As an openly professed devotee to meditation, I tell prospective joiners whereas prayer is talking to God, meditation is listening and opening oneself to a higher power.  I find contemplation without any set agenda to be a pure spiritual practice, capable of raising one’s self-awareness.  Albert Einstein’s spiritual leanings, I believe, are superior to much of the blather served up to spiritual wannabes.

That’s all the time I have left for musing, though.  In a few hours, urologist Daniel Janoff and his surgical team will perform a six-to-seven-hour operation – beginning at 7:30 am – to remove my bladder and prostate at St. Vincent Hospital in Portland.  I believe Creator will guide those hands to cut out the offending body parts and put the rest back together.

And if I’m approached by any more fervently proselytizing evangelicals as I face after-life issues, I will be tempted to tell them, “Please don’t bother me.  I’m Jewish.”

My father’s origins are wrapped in mystery, so it could be true.

Meanwhile, I live in the present.  Alice will keep my family and friends up to date with post-operative progress, and eventually I will write more – at least, I hope I do.  I continue to tell friends that I deserve to survive longer so I can irritate people for a substantial period of time.

With age, I evolved, and I trust my closest allies will entrust St. Peter to welcome me through the pearly gates when my time is up.  Personally, I will not deny Christ, but I intend to walk with arms outstretched welcoming the primordial ooze from whence I came.

Bodies might decay, but our spirits reign supreme forever.  The only request I have about my demise is that, when it’s time, the end shall be simple, straightforward and as painless as possible.

Like Danawa, Grandfather Many Crows, and others before me, the spirit in this body identified as Mason Loika will never die.  It shall pass over.

 

Surgery Looms Ahead

Chemo is done.  Finis.

I survived four rounds of chemotherapy without one bout of nausea.  My oncologist, Dr. Daniel R. Gruenberg, observed that I endured chemo better than 95 per cent of other patients who undergo the same cancer-killing infusions.  Score one for the Loika and Johnston genes!

What lies ahead, though, is a surgical date with urologist Dr. Daniel Janoff, ostensibly in mid-November, to remove my bladder and prostate.  A second opinion with a different surgeon seems to be all that lies between consciousness and a scalpel as I cross my T’s and dot my I’s.  What will life be like without the essential tools of procreation?  What will the effect be on my creative spirit?

Cannabis oil is quickly becoming a competitive industry in Oregon, as growers race to develop a product totally free of THC.
Cannabis oil is quickly becoming a competitive industry in Oregon, as growers race to develop a product totally free of THC.

Bladder Surgery, Cannabis Oil or Both?

Alice is opposed to the surgery.  She monitors my daily intake of cannabis oil, reputed to keep cancer cells at bay, in hopes I will change my mind and follow that approach instead.

I disagree, even though I have more questions than answers.  Sufficient evidence is being gathered that documents what Alice has learned: Cannabis oil helps fight cancer, but marijuana remains nationally labeled by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule 1 substance.  Because it’s been so vilified by law enforcement, in vitro observations in the laboratory remain the only medically factual evidence.  Sufficient data must be gleaned through future human trials to learn precisely how much cannabis oil is needed to keep a high-grade cancer at bay.

The future suggests more-informed treatment options will be available for the next generation.  In the meantime, though, I suspect my bladder’s integrity is compromised beyond repair, and enough successful bladder-removal surgeries have been performed that the prognosis is good for me to aggravate the world for years to come.

But isn’t it a bitch to know my cancer was caused by chemicals added to American tobacco products to make cigarettes addictive, but such deadly tobacco products are still legal to purchase over the counter?  Whenever I see a sizable segment of the population huff and puff cigarettes here in Portland, I shudder at the future human cost.

Marijuana as Cancer Therapy

In the meantime, how many lives have been trashed through the enforcement of archaic marijuana possession laws that incorporate “Reefer Madness” propaganda into a ban on love, peace and happiness?  DEA’s diehards dispute current scientific studies with the same fervor as climate-change deniers.

My Medical Marijuana Card enables to purchase all kinds of marijuana products without being taxed.
My Medical Marijuana Card enables me to purchase all kinds of marijuana products without being taxed.

One great thing about living in Oregon: Medical and recreational cannabis is legal here.  Also, I now possess a valid Medical Marijuana Card.  That means my consumption can be discussed openly.

You might notice from recent photos that my hair has thinned considerably, although Dr. Gruenberg promises it will return.  Because I prepared for bouts of nausea, without any occurring, my weight is up 15 pounds!  Where’s the irony in that?

Local farmers are perfecting the process to completely remove THC from cannabis, because it’s been found to be a legitimate pain reliever.  But more data is needed to let cancer sufferers make informed alternate decisions that avoid surgery.  And I refuse to consider radiation.

In the meantime, what about Alice?

Alice’s Speech Continues to Progress

The woman who accosted me romantically six years ago is doing fine, but tremendously bored.  Some aspects of her stroke, though, have become a godsend.  Because of those invested in her therapy, as well as fellow couples comprised of a stroke survivor and caregiver, we occasionally encounter people who deal with the same issues.  Most of them are well educated and a joy to be around.

In late August, Alice and I attended another aphasia camp on Oregon picturesque coast.  As new hair grows in, I might not have to hide the top of my head.
In late August, Alice and I attended another Aphasia Network camp on Oregon’s picturesque coast. Self-consciousness caused me to wear a Cape May cap to hide my balding head..

We met a few of those at Alice’s aphasia camp that we attended on the Oregon coast the last weekend of August.  In addition, while Alice took a nap, I sat in a rowboat while two nubile physical therapists took over the vessel using muscle power and shoulder grease galore.  Should I feel ashamed to accede how idealistic, determined women can flaunt how much they are in better shape?  Before we left the dock, I bragged how well I could row, but I proved useless.

Alice had an encounter with a two-foot-high yellow pole while swerving to avoid being struck by a tractor-trailer.
Alice had an unexpected encounter with a two-foot-high yellow pole while swerving to avoid being struck by a tractor-trailer.

Alice Steers ‘Betsy’ Into a Pole

One last piece of news: Alice tore up our Ford Escape’s right-hand front panel against a two-foot-high yellow pole to avoid a tractor-trailer swinging its load wide.  For six days, our Ford Escape has been sitting in a repair shop waiting for The Hartford’s adjuster to approve its own surgery.  It will take a couple weeks before I can Uber again, so Alice and I are pinching pennies accordingly.

In the meantime, I can use this time to sit in front of my computer and write.  This post on my blog is long overdue, and I thank everyone for being patient while I find my writer’s cap again.

Pragmatically, I feel guilty about not making money to pay all the medical bills that are piling up, but I feel emotionally satisfied that I can renew my former identity as an author.  Who can say what the future will bring?

Only Creator knows.

A Pedophile Encounter

On April 16, the CBS network was scheduled to telecast a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie entitled “Hear My Song,” based upon life at a school for musically gifted boys, a la the American Boychoir School in Princeton, NJ.  The feature-length film, whose 2014 theatrical distribution carried the title “Boychoir,” starred Dustin Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Debra Winger, Kevin McHale and Eddie Izzard.

With no fanfare, the TV version was shelved in lieu of a repeat broadcast of “NCIS: New Orleans.”  When asked why, Hallmark explained the cancellation on its Facebook page as follows:

“While the movie and actors were not intended to depict any particular individual, organization or institution, Hallmark was recently made aware of serious allegations of misconduct made many years ago at a school similar to the one depicted in the movie.  After careful consideration, it was decided that the movie will not air on CBS, Hallmark Channel or Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.”

The serious allegations of misconduct refer to an April 16, 2002 exposé printed on the front page of the New York Times metro section about years of sex abuse at the American Boychoir School, known then as the Columbus Boychoir School.

After the cancellation of “Hear My Song,” filmed at the American Boychoir School that now touts itself as creating a “safe” environment, the school issued a statement on its Facebook page that said, “We do not seek to silence criticism.”

If that were so, the following story that I authored in January 2013 would have appeared in the Bucks County Herald.  Instead, my editor killed it, citing the New Jersey school’s reputation for threatening legal action against stories of this sort.

I present it now, for the readers of this website. My motive for telling the story?  At the time I was sodomized, I observed there was no mention – either in newspapers or “polite” conversation – of this kind of activity, other than general allegations of “molestation.”  I was so ignorant that I thought “molesting” related to a poisonous burrowing animal: mole-sting, get it?

Now, 62 years later, I will no longer remain silent about this.  Perhaps then the American Boychoir’s strategy of waiting for its past controversy to go away will change.

Many benefactors’ hopes were dashed when anecdotal stories were heard by “Hear My Song’s” distributors, and its airing was canned.  It’s time to let some fresh air inside.

The photo above was taken of Albemarle in 2009, where boys resided until three years ago.  As hard times beset the school, the stately home of the Boychoir was sold to be turned into condominiums.  As an alumnus, I revisited the site of my youthful betrayal.

Sexual Predators Among Us

In 2013, a well-meaning, dewy-toned Quaker stood up during Buckingham Meeting’s silent worship to bemoan the sexual abuse at Penn State that has filled newspaper pages since its public discovery in 2011. She wrung her hands and cried, “If only we had known, if only we had known, we could have done something about it.”

Oh yeah? Is that right?

Something dramatic is necessary, because pedophiles are like cockroaches. You turn on the lights, and they scatter.

Once inside the main entrance of Albemarle, the red-carpeted stairway and railing led to offices and the boys' sleeping quarters. My predator had his own room alongside us.
Once inside the main entrance of Albemarle, the red-carpeted stairway and railing led to offices and the boys’ sleeping quarters. My predator had his own room alongside us.

My first sexual experience, at the age of 11, was at the hands of a charismatic predator in Albemarle, a small palace with colonnades built by the founder of Warner Lambert Pharmaceuticals. After the perpetrator sodomized me, he “voluntarily” resigned his post as guidance counselor.

(Yes, it’s true. America’s premier training ground for musically gifted boys offered unchecked opportunities for vile rampages during the sexually repressed 1950s. I was there because of my boy-soprano voice and budding child-prodigy piano work, the oldest son of a professional musician who played trombone and wrote arrangements for each of the Dorsey Brothers’ bands.)

Even as dawn broke and news spread of his impending resignation, each and every one of the choirboys in residence that 1956 morning wept openly, as the guidance counselor said his personal goodbyes while his index finger twitched its usual invitation against the inside of my young hand.

The sexual violation occurred only once, but that was enough. You never forget your first time.

ABS strategy damages its reputation

Although future classmates in later decades won undisclosed settlements, I never filed suit against the Boychoir for several reasons. First and foremost, I never wished to sign away for money my right to speak about what happened. I could bide my time until what I say would do the most good. Now that I’m 73 years old, the time is right.

More importantly, though, was the quality of the education I received in Princeton. I learned at the American Boychoir School that it was acceptable to learn as much as you can as fast as you can. Our student-to-teacher ratio was often 6 to 1. Our teachers were the best of the best, and I thrived on the atmosphere.

As a prima facie example, I was able to attend a private Princeton University outdoor science lecture where Dr. Werner von Braun demonstrated how the three-stage rocket would work, long before Sputnik went into orbit. As I walked around Princeton’s Nassau Street, I often imagined what to do if I caught sight of Albert Einstein; he loved the town. While rehearsing, we boys learned how to stir an audience and, as a result, ourselves.

Ordinary was never good enough. How could I sue a school that did that – for me, or my classmates?

I slept in a room with five other boys. I believe one of them chose to become a whistle-blower after the institution’s guidance counselor fetched me for his self-indulging moment at 3 am. In return for confidentiality, one of my roommates could have told a teacher, or perhaps Columbus Boychoir founder Herbert Huffman himself. Why else did this pedophile resign so soon after my monstrous encounter? (In a letter to parents dated February 24, 1956, a letter from Huffman said the guidance counsel “had to take an indefinite leave of absence from School because of illness.”) Some unknown comrade probably saved my butt, figuratively and literally.

In 2008 as part of my alumni experience, I spoke with then-Boychoir president Dr. Charles Bickford about what happened to me in 1956.  Bickford left the school soon thereafter. He and members of his staff never denied the plausibility of what I related to them. Leadership heading up the school continued to change, Albemarle was sold, the school changed location to St. Joseph’s Seminary in Plainsboro, NJ, and eventually left those auspicious grounds because of financial difficulty.

The American Boychoir’s position remains as it ever was: Its head is in the sand. Maybe the controversy will go away, they seemed to think.  But such a position seems really stupid. How can such an esteemed institution in the education-rich environs of Princeton refuse to use its mid-20th Century history to heal survivors from unwanted sexual attention, not just from Princeton but from schools all over the country?

Keeping the system as is may work well for lawyers, but not so well for the survivors.

In June 2012, I drove past the bronze statue of Joe Paterno outside Penn State’s monstrous 104,000-plus-seat stadium at State College where former alumni gather to reflect on some of the newest revelations spewing forth like poisonous volcanic fumes. At home as I looked into the videotaped face of Penn State’s ex-assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, the tape’s audio reminded me that the perpetual, generational cycle of cover-ups has yet to be broken. Countless lawyers profited from the generosity of the school’s historic benefactors and more young people considered themselves to be lifelong victims with little hope of regaining their tantalizing road to glory.

Legalized silences cause future slimy pedophiles to proliferate, and a new generation of brave whistleblowers find themselves poised to lift the cursed veil of politeness to once again peer into the seamy depths below.

How do we break this vicious cycle?

I think back on my behavior after that unwanted encounter, and I instinctively blamed a society that relegated conversations about sex to the darkest rooms and refused to turn the lights on. I began to rail against censorship. After all, the more you cover something up, the worse it becomes.

Predators thrive in darkness. My metaphor using cockroaches is apropos.

In 2013, I participated in an alumni concert in the Boychoir's new home: St. Joseph's Seminary in Plainsboro, NJ. Can you spot me singing?
In 2013, I participated in an alumni concert in the Boychoir’s new home: St. Joseph’s Seminary in Plainsboro, NJ. Can you spot me singing?  (Hint: I’m in the 3rd row.)

Statistics I recall about growing up in America purported that one of every three women is molested while growing up. For boys, the figure: one in four.

Do the math. That adds up to a lot of people keeping their mouths shut, whether for reasons of shame or convention. I believe keeping it all inside is far worse than letting it out, because victims of abuse face an ever-increasing toll as life goes on.

Those of us recovering from unsolicited sexual attention deserve a future where frank discussions about sex are no longer taboo. Sticking heads in the sand exasperated this whole mess in the first place.

In the Northeast’s hallowed corridors of high learning, good education is revered.  Let’s heal the wounds of the past by coming out of the shadows.

The beast within

If Uncle Richard could see me now.

Frankly, it’s good he cannot; otherwise, he would be crestfallen.

I have bladder cancer.  And, according to urologist/surgeon Dr. Daniel Janoff, who specializes in this aspect of cellular malignancy at Providence St. Vincent Hospital in Portland, my 40 years of cigarette smoking – which ended on Nov. 14, 2000 because of an inspiration while visiting my now-late uncle – is to blame.

How could that be?  People who smoke are at risk for lung cancer – not this – right?

Wrong.  In my case, almost dead wrong.

But I’m lucky.  My cancer was caught early, due to a urinary tract infection (UTI) that required over two months of antibiotics.  Since I had a history of UTIs over 10 years in Pennsylvania – relegated by a urologist there as prostate-related – I underwent a standard surgical procedure here, known as a TURP.  While under the non-invasive laser, a tumor was detected and sent to pathology.

Janoff was quickly direct.  “You have cancer,” he announced, as a matter of fact.  I appreciate the news wasn’t sugarcoated.  And I am planning on following doctors’ orders and the road ahead.

Bladder cancer exposed

This particular grade of cancer is aggressive and vicious.  I write this post as a warning to anyone who smokes corporately manufactured cigarettes.

It’s not the nicotine that causes bladder cancer, Janoff says.  The chemical additives purposely put in cigarettes to enhance their addiction are to blame.

I credit the use of cannabis in 2000 for enabling me to quit tobacco products.  I even wrote a poem about it in 2006 dedicated to my uncle (the poem needs further editing to develop a more consistent meter, but it’s time for these preliminary lyrics to see the light of day):

“Muir Woods”©2006
by Mason Loika

I hugged a redwood tree and smoke came down,
His brother, the Devil, issued warning sounds,
So I gotta experience my epiphany
And declare myself tobacco-smoke free.

Redwoods been ’round since time began,
Way before the first human,
Poisons can kill both trees and men,
The question’s not if but rather when,

I hugged a redwood tree and smoke came down,
His brother, the Devil, issued warning sounds,
So I gotta experience my epiphany
And declare myself tobacco-smoke free.

Light up a monster and breathe deep the scent
How deep shall it go till the intrusion is spent
Enough is enough, how sick must you get?
Blocked windpipes and cancer are a good bet.

I hugged a redwood tree and smoke came down,
His brother, the Devil, issued warning sounds,
So I gotta experience my epiphany
And declare myself tobacco-smoke free.

Next time you light up, better think again,
You won’t feel better, cigarettes ain’t your friend,
Wheezing and coughing, hear my point of view,
Smoking’s no good if it takes something from you!

I hugged a redwood tree and smoke came down,
His brother, the Devil, issued warning sounds,
So I gotta experience my epiphany
And declare myself tobacco-smoke free.

The road ahead

I began the first of four rounds of chemotherapy on June 29; it continues Wednesday, July 6.  Each round consists of three weekly injections through my blood stream.  After the final injection, I am given a week off, preparing for the next round to begin.  That means each round takes four weeks.

Needless to say, chemo can get old in a short time.  But I will persevere, and eventually undergo a major operation in Portland.  How appropriate, eh?  Was I a real pisser growing up?  Irony serves as my dearest companion.

I sense that Creator became impatient with my lack of written copy for a book I had set my sights on producing.  This way, I am being given a divine deadline to meet.  Deadlines are a writer’s curse – as well as a blessing – because they force a writer with a work in progress to eventually say, “It’s done.”

Well, the work needs to be done, before I am done, right?  And so on Independence Day 2016, I announce that I will charge ahead – into the wonderful world of oblivion – because that’s how we were meant to live life.

As someone once wrote, “Growing old is not for wimps.”

Photo above by Spitzi.

Celebrating an Impresario

So long, T.J.  You finally received an all-star send-off.

Two weeks ago, the musical legacy of T.J. Tindall was celebrated in a musical jam in the City of Brotherly Love, most notably by Duke Williams and his life partner Annie.  Perhaps now T.J.’s prolific spirit can reverberate across the universe.

While living in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, I covered the music scene for the Bucks County Herald.  Until September 2014, I witnessed and reported on triumphs – tragedies, as well – including the Marshall Tucker Band’s headline appearance at the Stockton Inn and the all-star wake for Danny DeGennaro after his senseless murder in December 2011.

Introducing a Rising Star

Jessi Teich brought the crowded room at Jon and Peter's to its feet.
Jessi Teich brought the crowded room at Jon and Peter’s to its feet.

One highlight during those years was covering T.J. Tindall’s February 2013 concert at Jon and Peter’s in New Hope.  He crammed an all-star ensemble inside the historic nightspot and featured a breakout starring role for a chanteuse named Jessi Teich.  Her sultry moves and rock-steady vocal solos highlighted the night’s blues repertoire, and raised an appreciative audience’s temperature to long-forgotten heights.

After hearing some of Teich’s cuts from a promotional CD, I learned she was far more than a great voice in a killer body; she is a master musician.  Some of her chord changes were inventive and worked so well that I was astounded.  No wonder T.J. used his long-awaited appearance to serve as a springboard for Teich’s career.  After all, musicians cannot help realizing how timeless great music is.

T.J. left this overrated plane of existence on Jan. 26 after succumbing to a self-imposed, undisclosed ordeal with cancer.  Friends and fellow musicians were stricken with grief, and their mournful plaints are understandable.  The impresario/musician who entertained countless audiences has a long list of credits detailed on various websites.

Nevertheless, what needs to be said at this dark hour is how to honor T.J.’s passing without tears or gnashing of teeth.  I emulate how blues and jazz musicians honor their compatriots in New Orleans.

My Way to Commemorate

I will celebrate T.J.’s musical ear by playing Jessi Teich’s music, because the universe is cyclical.  To see what she has been up to, check out her website at www.jessiteich.com.  I think T.J. would be pleased.  Is it any wonder that the initials of her name – J.T.  – reorganize T.J.’s?

With death comes birth, and it’s time to let him go to that parallel primordial ooze where all great musicians jam together.  I hope to see him on the other side.  Because of T.J. Tindall, a new generation of star-crossed musicians is making Planet Earth a far better place.

Alice’s 72nd birthday: Sweet Serendipity

All photographs on this post, except for ones in which Alice appears, were taken by Alice McCormick.  She’s a real talent, if I say so myself.

I once experienced serendipity in 2000 while driving from San Francisco to Ashland, Oregon. What a treat!  Every town where I stopped was hosting its own music festival.  That’s serendipitous.

My second encounter? Alice and I were chosen to participate in The Aphasia Network’s Couples Retreat weekend with 11 other couples on the Oregon Coast from March 4th through the 6th.  But wait, when did I realize Alice’s 72nd birthday would coincide with the glorious finish of this pilot program?

At the Haven, one sign points the way to a beachgoer's delight.
At the Haven, a signpost leads the way to a beachgoer’s delight.

In a bona-fide camp environment, the roaring ocean only a few hundred yards away provided a healing sound experience.

What a concept.

On Sunday morning, Alice received a slice of birthday cake – only one candle atop representing a life brightly burning – and over 50 staff members and students, plus survivors of aphasia and their respective caregivers, sang out Alice’s praises in the time-honored “Happy Birthday to You” refrain.

The meaning of that emotion-packed morning brought tears to many students’ eyes, and I vowed then to salute The Aphasia Network with this website post for giving my dear one the greatest birthday gift of all: unqualified love.

A little history should add perspective to Alice’s birthday weekend. Immediately after Alice McCormick endured her stroke a year ago (March 11, 2015), one of her children wanted to fly out here and size up the situation.  Alice feared such a visit could threaten her independence.  And as Alice’s caregiver, I am duty-bound to defend her.  She manages me very well, so her wishes become my commands.

Alice and Mason make a recognizable couple.
Alice and Mason make a recognizable couple.

Many people consider the loss of instant coherent speech to be a sign of incompetency. That’s not true.  Yes, aphasia affects the brain, but only the interior pathways.  Mature, informed thoughts must blaze new trails to communicate themselves in speech or writing.  That’s why Alice’s nonverbal command structure today uses gesture more than ever.  Survivors of brain injury must skirt ill-informed behaviors of well-intentioned family members who can turn an agile mind into a vegetable garden.

It’s up to me to keep a protective shield around her. That’s my role as caregiver.  (And if there should be any doubt as to how together Alice is, take a careful look at the photos gracing these words of mine.  Her talent as a photographer is well on display, with the caveat that students at the Retreat took photos of the two of us together.)

Off to the Coast

After a frenzied bit of packing Friday afternoon, March 4th, I drove the Ford Escape affectionately known as Betsy toward Tillamuck and the rugged Coast beyond. After we turned onto the main Coast throughway, the pavement swept us through an Oregon fishing town perched next to a placid bay.  Looking beyond the bay, we could make out ever-building waves of the ocean beyond.

We drove past an inviting lake and my GPS turned us onto an inlet-hugging quiet road toward Edwards Lodge, the assigned gateway where a team of dedicated Aphasia Network professionals welcomed us into a slice of heaven that I now call the Haven.

Tiffany Tu, Alice and Rachael Furtney.
Tiffany Tu, Alice and Rachael Furtney  (from l-r).

As soon as we walked inside, two charming students – Tiffany Tu (occupational) and Rachael Furtney (speech) – enthusiastically introduced themselves. These two bright motivated souls were to be our constant companions and seemingly cater to our every whim.  Alice may have required a full-blown stroke to have such dedicated overseers, but never mind.  These two women were shining beacons reigning over our newly opened lighthouse of life.

Our first evening was filled with introductions, and we oriented ourselves to the lay of the land. Tiffany and Rachael easily located our assigned sleeping bunks in the Herron House; then we gathered back into a nearby dining hall and met key staff officials.

Savel Sobol kept the audience in laughter with his self-effacing humor.
Savel Sobol kept the audience in laughter with his self-effacing humor.

An entertainment program was led off by Savel Sobol, a student who doubles as a nightclub comedian, whose humor captured the audience’s breathless attention. We caroused some with Professor John White, Ph.D., who led the entire group into a rousing sing-along.  As the evening wore on, we acknowledged our gratitude to Aphasia Network team leaders Suzanne Gardner and Lisa Bodry who share camp administrative responsibilities, while continuing to be feted by a potpourri of support personnel who kept the good vibes flowing.  We were treated like VIPs.

Our trip to the Coast was accompanied by mostly cloudy skies, and an onimous weather forecast called for stormy conditions. To Alice and me, though, the sound of a confused sea with breakers rolling across the adjacent beach was a seething, soothing series of rolling sound.  On my side of the bunk beds, I dropped off quickly.

Mason poses along the shoreline highlighting the true hue of azure.
Mason poses along the shoreline highlighting the true hue of azure.

A New Day Breaks

However, Alice did not fall asleep until late into the night, due to a barely-there mattress, and as daybreak unveiled itself, she was unable to rouse herself into consciousness. I meandered off to the Carrier Dining Hall for a sausage-and-pancake breakfast, confided in Tiffany and Rachael, who instantly, merrily concocted a wake-up invitation of steel-cut oatmeal and black coffee to gently prod Alice back to the land of the living.

To keep at ease, other staff members reassured me that Alice was happily regaining her steadfast form, and soon Tiffany and Rachael escorted a beamingly happy McCormick partner into my Saturday morning. Lo and behold, the sun was shining, and we sneaked off to the beach to view the glorious Coast in its active ebb and flow.  We were elated to discover partly sunny skies.  Could it be possible a beach bonfire was still on the afternoon menu?

Back at Edwards, Professor White led a frank, no-holds-barred discussion unveiling a myriad of tools and toys to reinvigorate sexual communion between couples. Hoo boy, the couple across from us appeared shocked, and subconsciously the power of erotica was building in my libido.  I looked at Alice lasciviously.

Here's what a hootenanny looks like.
Here’s what a hootenanny looks like.

After a back-to-the-basics macaroni-and-cheese lunch, guitars, percussive instruments and voices gave the beach a hootenanny effect, romantically accompanied by a modest bonfire on the beach with only a few nuisance sprinkles of rain to ignore. Yes, it’s true, more than a few random urges of forbidden pleasure were awakened by the female in my life.

Alice was busy making appetizers while other people with aphasia filled other bowls with delight.
Alice was busy making appetizers while other people with aphasia filled bowls with delight.

Everything that passed from then on seemed like a blur. I joined other caregivers in the Smith House to compare lifestyles while Alice was spirited off to join other aphasia sufferers whose task was to prepare appetizers for all to share.  Wary of any needless weight gain, I sampled a few, but didn’t fill up.

Does images of the Greek god Hermes come to mind here?
Do images of the Greek god Hermes come to mind here?

That was wise, because we savored a sumptuous teriyaki chicken dinner at the Sherlock Lodge, while our companion music-makers kept the entire company enthralled.

A night of entertainment had professional quality written over it.
A night of entertainment had professional quality written over it.

As I said earlier, romance was already in the air, and when we reached our bunk beds, it overflowed. Some mischievous, but sentimental, elves had strewn rose petals (a la the movie “American Beauty”) in and around our sleeping quarters along with a small bottle of champagne.  Oh man, was love in the air.

Flower petals and champagne mean "ooo-la-la."
Flower petals and champagne mean “ooo-la-la.”

But a practical look around the confined spaces of our bunk beds sobered up this surfeit of romanticism. If we could twist ourselves around in one particular position, I reasoned, we might be able to enjoy naked pleasures.  But at what cost?  How would we drive back home if my ardor put us in traction?

camp sleep quarters-lr

Cooler heads prevailed, thank goodness. But on Sunday morning, before we left this Haven, I confessed to all within earshot how susceptible I was to “elves” who inflicted the inspiration of unpracticed acrobatic moves in a noisy enough closed space that certainly would have disturbed other couples in Herron House.

Alice’s Birthday

Sunday morning breakfast did not disappoint. A full serving of bacon, scrambled eggs, hash browns preceded Alice’s birthday cake celebration with enough get-well wishes to fill the entire Pacific Ocean.  Tears seemed to be participants’ only defense against their earnest hearts.

A verdant forest leads to the beach.
A verdant forest leads to the beach.

We walked to the beach once again, and admired driftwood brought onshore during high tide. We took one good look before turning our backs on Oregon’s greatest charm to revel more on Alice’s big day.

The high tide after a stormy night litters the beach with driftwood.
The high tide after a stormy night litters the beach with driftwood.

Alice’s 72nd birthday proved to be something special we never could have created by ourselves. Our hearts were lifted – and so were our spirits – by a glorious weekend on the Coast, all made possible by the guiding geniuses at The Aphasia Network.

We love what they do, and how they support us. Our weekend was serendipity personified.

 

Halfway done!

Alice has finished 50 per cent of intensive speech counseling.  My partner in life began speech therapy on Jan. 4 at Portland State University (PSU), and my hard-headed woman has less than four weeks left.

We were anticipating professional guidance once we learned Alice qualified for the highly regarded research program, and, like a prized racehorse, she was chomping at the bit to get started.  Communication has become Alice’s nemesis, especially when a critical word gets lost in the translation from thought to speech.  Consequently, her frustration shows and builds.

Communicating is vital to intelligent beings, so Alice’s word-block syndrome takes a toll on both of us.  While waiting for her two hours of therapy downtown to end, I sat on a wooden bench waiting for Alice to appear.  Three weeks ago, though, a kindly professor took pity on my aching posterior and showed the way where a nearby cozy waiting area with cushioned chairs invited this weary interloper to ease those sore buttocks.  Ah, relief!

The wait affords me this opportunity to chronicle her progress, because whenever we’re at PSU, I cannot Uber.  However, on alternate days, Alice’s speech therapy is handled at our apartment.  Wesley Allen, therapist extraordinaire (shown above), gives intense one-on-one sessions at aphasia sufferers’ homes and at PSU.  The home sessions are extremely helpful to Alice and free me to drive for Uber and keep the financial ogres away, although writing takes a back seat to chauffeuring skills.

Researchers at Portland State University’s Aging and Adult Language Disorders Laboratory joined forces with the University of Washington’s Aphasia Lab to offer hope to sufferers of speech aphasia.  Researchers want to understand more about aphasia and its related communication disorders.  Alice’s participation not only helps her own recovery; it provides signposts for speech therapists who treat subsequent stroke victims.

Reflections of Christmas 2015

Because I haven’t written in two months, it’s important to report that Alice, Millie and I spent a pleasant holiday season.  Close friends and family received our traditional annual photo with Millie around our grown-in-Oregon Christmas tree.

Millie posed on our carpet prior to my attempts to have her join us next to our Christmas tree.
Millie posed on our carpet prior to adventurous attempts to hold her by the Christmas tree.

On Christmas Day, we once again celebrated as if we were Jews.  We went to a movie and intended to eat at a Chinese restaurant.  However, the Living Room Theaters in downtown Portland served so much fine cuisine and wine at plush seats where we watched “The Big Short” (which we wholeheartedly recommend) that our appetites were summarily squelched.  Therefore, Chinese food was postponed until a week later.

I worked almost all day/night New Year’s Eve, prior to an unexpected invitation from friends to party hearty at their house less than a mile away from our apartment.  We arrived half an hour before the clock struck midnight, and were treated like guests of honor.  After some moderate drinking and smoking, kisses of congratulations were shared all around after the TV channel of our hosts’ choice showed the Times Square ball drop (on a three-hour tape delay).

Alice and I stuck around until 2 am.  By the time we made it home, we didn’t fall into bed until 3:15.  That equates to 6:15 am on the East Coast, so Alice and I became born-again party animals.  What’s more, my cousin Margaret invited us to partake of a New Year’s Day sumptuous ham dinner joined by her offspring Brantley, Rori and Lauren.

Snow in Portland

Apartment residents bring their children outside to revel in less than an inch of snow on the ground.
Apartment residents bring their children outside to revel in one inch of snow on the ground.

It’s a good thing I worked New Year’s Eve, because the night of Jan. 2nd and the next morning this part of the Great Northwest was hit by 1-3 inches of snow and ice.  Portland doesn’t salt its roads, claiming the product — used liberally in the rest of the country — is bad for the environment.  Consequently, an outbreak of wintry precipitation shuts down sensible highway travel.

Travel aftet a little slow can be extremely hazardous.  This roll-over accident occurred on the freeway outside our apartment complex.
Travel aftet a little snow can be extremely hazardous. This roll-over accident occurred on the freeway outside our apartment complex.

East Coast transportation is similarly affected, but only after the two-feet-plus snow event that buried the Northeast, including our friends in Doylestown, Pa.  And oh, does Alice gloat!  I suppose enduring a $400-plus monthly electric/gas bill for numerous years can do that.

Yes, Alice and I have reasons to embrace our newfound Portland life, but we are extremely wary of the explosive rental market and what a new lease on our modest apartment might entail.  Nevertheless, we are optimistic about our prospects (at least most of the time), and Alice might surprise us all by going back to work.  More to come!

 

Alice Qualifies for Aphasia Research Study

Great news!  It’s now official.

Alice McCormick has been chosen to participate in a joint research project with the Aphasia Laboratory at the University of Washington and Portland State University.

Once her selection was announced, Alice consented enthusiastically.  Participation begins Jan. 5, 2016 with a week of comprehensive testing.

Aphasia followed Alice’s stroke

The Aphasia Laboratory at the University of Washington conducts research to better understand the complex processing of language and how it affects individuals with aphasia.  The project studies the theoretical nature of word-retrieval deficits in aphasia-stricken individuals with emphasis upon rehabilitation.

Word retrieval is related to one’s attention and cognitive processing, and the disorder known as aphasia is a common aftereffect of a stroke.  Except for the speech aphasia and an inability to put words to paper and/or keyboard, Alice appears to have fully recovered from her mishap.

Difficulty finding words is a core feature of aphasia, which affects approximately 80,000 people each year in the U.S.  Director of the University of Washington’s Aphasia Laboratory is Diane Kendall, whose focus is on rehabilitation and understanding the theoretical relationship between phonology (sounds) and aphasia.  Her overall career objectives are to conduct systematic treatment research that creates better patient outcomes.

Through various awards and grants, Dr. Kendall continues to systematically test and refine protocols in phonomotor treatment for word-retrieval impairments in aphasia.  In 2013, the quality of her Standardized Assessment of Phonology in Aphasia won Dr. Kendall a Fulbright Scholar Award to teach and conduct research at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.

Treatment at Home and at Portland State U

The Aphasia Research Laboratory is affiliated with the University of Washington Integrated Brain Imaging Center.  After Alice’s pre-testing week, she will receive six full weeks of treatment on a one-on-one basis with Wesley Allen, research speech-language pathologist, who works directly with Dr. Kendall.  For Alice, this is big time.

Once the six weeks of hands-on treatment is finished, four more days of testing will follow, culminating three months later with a final round of testing.

I hope to report in depth on Alice’s progress and the rigorous treatment road ahead.  We are both enthusiastic about this turn of events and hope this development signifies giant opportunities for the two of us.

Alice has been supportive of my partnering with Uber as a driver, but deep down inside, she prefers that I be at home writing my memoirs while she is working.  Driving in Portland has turned out to be a dependable source of revenue for us, but it distracts from the goal we set back in September 2014 for our trek West to the Beaver State.

My life story hangs in the balance, and so does our survival.  Onward and upward!

Read more about Alice’s stroke and recovery in the archives of this blog beginning with March 2015.

 

Alice Is Laid Off

Alice and I received some disconcerting news two weeks ago.  KinderCare is cutting back on her work hours even more.

Alice already was down to two hours a day, although she made herself available to work extra hours when asked to do so.  Alice’s new schedule, according to the Hillsboro office manager, shows Alice “on call.”  The only good part of this: Alice’s commuting expense is reduced.

To see how “on call” was going to work, I waited to report this development until two weeks had gone by.  Now I can relate the result: No work at all.

This unofficial layoff is exacting a toll on my writing work.  Whenever I have free time, I drive for Uber.  That’s because the peak season for tourists has ended, and Uber’s continuing recruitment of drivers has saturated the market.

Some Good News for a Change

Alice appears to be chosen as a participant for a joint research aphasia project created by the University of Washington and Portland State University.  We are awaiting an evaluation of Alice’s brain scans following her stroke, before the good news becomes official.

If she participates, Alice will undergo intensive therapy for six weeks that will target her speech aphasia five days a week.  We are both excited and on edge about her prospects, but I am nervous about mounting financial obligations.  I have become fearful, and it plays havoc on our relationship.

We will see what the future brings, and are grateful for the support by friends and family reflected on this website.  We especially acknowledge the private contributions that lift our spirits beyond measure.

Thank you.

Alice enjoys bacon and eggs for breakfast.
Alice’s  breakfast of  bacon and eggs puts on a happy face.

a personal view