Touched By an Angel

While perusing Facebook to check on Native friends, a name from Bucks County popped up frequently. I saw she was friends to many people that I knew from that lovely section of the world. And before I knew it, I became in awe.

This person evolved partially through Pebble Hill, a multidenominational church south of Doylestown, Pennsylvania. She is a spiritual leader, honoring sacred places where Native Americans suffered mind-numbing massacres. She has an active website documenting her self-guided mission: soulofcynthia.com.

Her name: Cynthia Greb. Not one word can describe her journey other than “holy.” And her journey took her into the heart of Weed, California where a raging forest fire decimated the Lincoln Heights section. Also affected was the Shastina Lake community where a close friend lived.

Cynthia survived. So did her friend who was able to evacuate with her pets, despite roads being closed. “Divine providence,” Ms. Greb reports.

On her way from Northern California to the Seattle area, Cynthia shared my apartment for rest and recovery. While spending quality time here, Ms. Greb perused part of my book’s manuscript and revealed some helpful changes I should make. She’s a natural-born editor who is able to hone into the purpose of a book.

Ten years with Alice is crucial to revealing whom I’ve become; therefore, I should no longer use the title, Confessions of a Boy Soprano. Instead, my pending tome should wear the mantle: How I Became a Lesbian (and other stories). Talk about sprinkling fairy dust. Wow!

Advocating for Women

1978 was a turning point in my life, and today’s official statement from the U.S. Supreme Court causes me to remember that particular year.

Early nurturing from my mother, Thelma Englert Loika, led to opportunities to experience women. I discovered they were a source of security, inspired by loyalty and devotion. Women can be incredibly alluring, will cater to curiosity, nod constantly up-and-down during polite conversation and taste incredibly interesting.

All those tactile sensations were in play when a certain woman, Sarah, flashed herself in front of me. I wholeheartedly gave in, even while Sarah was introducing her parents into our life of mutually satisfying physical pleasures. Sarah was 38; I was 35.

Sarah’s parents suspected our emissions would create an offspring, and those Egyptian Jews were right.

I volunteered for us to get married, becoming betrothed during January 1978 in a tourist-trendy ceremony in the justice of the peace’s wedding chapel/office in the celebrity-rich town of Golden Beach, Florida. The only music I remember came from a background FM radio station, with the whole event taking half an hour.

After saying goodbyes to our respective families, Sarah and I couldn’t wait to undress and fuck like rabbits.

Again and again.

Once early March rolled around, after I refused mother-in-law Edith’s demand to end my own mother’s influence, the happiness of welcoming my own child into the world no longer excited my in-laws.

While I sat on the front stoop of our Miami Shores garden-adorned apartment building, trying to keep a frosty bottle of champagne cool, Edith took Sarah to the ghetto side of town for an illegal abortion. As I walked resignedly back to our apartment and sat upon the bargain-basement couch, my phone rang 10 minutes later.

“It’s Edith,” she said. With just a few words, Edith explained all in just a few words. “Sarah has undergone an abortion. You need to look after her. We’ll be home in about 10 minutes.” Then she hung up.

What? What the fuck? How did this happen? Sarah couldn’t talk it over with me?

After the two of them appeared, I walked around in a fog. Sarah told me nothing but went to bed. Two days later, I filed for divorce.

I suppose people would wonder why I support women’s rights then. Well, I always have. And why would I want to use my personal experience to impose more impediments to the lives of women?

No way. I received too much pleasure from women, especially considering the inconveniences they experience, to control their reproductive rights. I love women!

While I was awaiting the October court date, a front-page story in the Miami Herald’s Aug. 11, 1978 living-today section carried my photo, touting my Miami Jaycee civic reputation as a “dissident” and “suffragist”.

The wonderment brought about by surprise mass publicity caused me to pen a paean:

MEN WHO LOVE WOMEN SUPPORT WOMEN’S RIGHTS.

Now it’s June 24, 2022, and the U.S. Supreme Court just declared a mockery of the New World Order. Once again, women’s voices are being heard about freedom and America.

Being a man, and thereby logically inferior, I offer my contribution to this crucial time. American women need to “remind” men that Men who love women support women’s rights.

Juneteenth 2022 Book Progress Report

When I started writing my tell-all book, I had an agenda to chronicle my childhood, teen, 20s and 30s years, landing in Hollywood, California. (That’s where I became a disc jockey in West Los Angeles’ first and only pirate radio station, K-POT where you were “always one hit away … from another hit away … to another hit away …”)

Yeah, I excelled in that experience best explained by magician Jimi Hendrix. But why, oh why, am I befuddled by the 1970s?

That’s when I returned to Miami, regained my skin color, got married and divorced twice. Concurrently, I wrote for the iconic Miami News’ entertainment section while The Miami Herald engineered the News’ demise. Next, I became part-founder for a successful weekly business newspaper named Miami Today. But eventually, I left Miami, realizing Wife #2 was more married to Miami than to me.

Southeast Pennsylvania, specifically Bucks County, becomes the ultimate cherry in my life, where I hobnobbed with the rich and famous. That should be fun to recall.

It’s taken more than a year to restore a semblance of normalcy after the fire here. But everything is back in place, and it’s past time to pick up where my story left off. What happened before Doylestown and Alice? True-life moments happened in the blink of an eye, so how should I chronicle them?

Just start writing; that’s what. A vivid recall of life-changing scenes during those tumultuous years 1972-2003 is proceeding and has a deadline in mind: the 4th of July.

Wish me luck.

How to Kill a Woman

While rummaging through the corners of my life, I came across the second book I helped create. I was introduced to real-life “carnie” Rick West, a hawker of circus freaks and a barker for Old West-style carnivals that separate a man from his money.I always heard whispers about such people; and that they will rarely expose the inner workings of such early 20th century legendary institutions. So when I heard he wanted me to edit his book with the ideal title, Pickled Punks & Girlie Shows: A Life Spent on the Midways of America, I jumped at the chance. Could I take this person from concept to publisher?

During the Bucks County (Pa.) February 2011 blizzard, Pennsylvania-proud publisher Peter Schiffer personally called me to say he accepted our submission and would use his Atglen facility to produce a coffee-table fomatted, soft-cover gem with photo-quality pages.

I felt proud; I knew we created something special.

The book, although printed in China, contains an image that haunts me still. And here’s why.

It reveals the ultimate way to legally kill a woman.

When the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the war on women goes into overdrive. An increasing number of states have trigger provisions to outlaw abortion, including – and this is no lie – the health of a mother.

Take a close look at the book’s front cover above, particularly the lower left-hand image. It’s a photo of an actual fetus with two heads. Imagine a woman being forced to give birth to such a baby. I doubt she would survive being cut open.

That’s how to kill a woman.

Vladimir Putin: A Despot in Drag

As the first-born child of a Hungarian émigré, I had two reasons to avoid my father, Virgil. The primary escape was to avoid him, because he would spank me for no reason at all. Lately, though, I remembered a second reason. I had so much respect for his talent arranging music for big-band jazz bands that I gave him privacy.

I learned about politics when I was admonished to play “duck and cover” at Hialeah Elementary School in 1952 Florida. Russia presented itself as an alternative to the “evils of capitalism,” threatening a holy nuclear war, while chiding the U.S. around the world for the sanitized “I Like Ike” way we treat black folks.

That resonated with freedom-loving people I knew. Unfortunately, anyone who licked at the mud puddle of freedom expressing sympathy for the unprivileged could wind up accused of being a communist, a cruel twist of logic. This version of America hid its own dark history. Since then, I’ve grown up, resisted various forms of deception, and I’m not ashamed to say I became a liberal.

You, Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, have shown yourself willing to use the dark forces of deception to hide a shameful childhood.

Your grandfather was the personal chef to Joseph Stalin. Joseph Stalin! And what did he teach you? A message directly related to bigotry.

You regard Ukrainians to be an inferior race compared to pure Russian royalty. Inferior! You’re doing the same thing you philosophically attacked America’s conscience for practicing in the 1950s. In 2022, you advocate a new dark policy for your people, resulting in an invasion. An invasion!

So I see through you. For a long time, I’ve been around people who carry racial hatred and speak with a politically correct tongue. Don’t try to fool me.

You’re a despot in drag. And you just woke up the world.

Writing Gulag to Rhapsody: A Survivor’s Journey

I once wrote for the Miami Herald, but an editor’s displeasure drove me away. Then a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity came my way 20 years ago.

Paul Tarko, former Siberian Gulag inhabitant and “freedom fighter” who taught kids to resist the Russian attack in 1956 Budapest and wanted to preserve his memories in written form, telephoned me. I agreed to meet with him, observed the disorganized notes he put together, and realized I could write his true history in narrative form. Paul was the perfect protagonist.

I am descended from a Hungarian refugee big-band musician named Virgil, who took his own life when I was 16. My father never shared his history with me; therefore, Paul became a soul-mate. And my actual Hungarian history seemed irrelevant.

Using the phone to get inside his head before he went to bed, I asked him everything he could remember about vital moments in his life so I could imagine being Paul, visualizing his surroundings vividly.

At our first book signing in 2002, a Hungarian woman in her mid-50s walked up to me and said, “Your book is the best one I ever read.”

The “best?” My English-teacher mother would be proud.

That’s when dreams of being a respected author took hold. And that’s why I’m working on my own book.

Meanwhile, with a Russian bully threatening a third world war with its occupation of Ukraine, I feel Paul close to me. A book about Paul would bear comparison with the evil Russia represents.

Copies of the book I wrote for the late Paul Tarko are still available. Send me a request at mason@masonloika.com, and you will receive pricing and shipping information.

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

Fearful of the Internet

Ten minutes before sunset on Christmas Day, I was treated officially to a White Christmas, and the photo taken the next morning depicts a bird’s large footprints outside my townhouse. Lovely, right?

Well, reiterating a conversation at our Christmas gathering two weeks ago, all is no longer peachy. I was warned not to give any of this condominium association’s officers any publicity, even if it’s favorable.

Two of them cite fear of the Internet for choosing to shun attention, but it causes this experienced journalist to wonder why. Or could it be because I am now an East Coast widower in their closed circle?

So much for hometown hospitality.

Since the portrayed happy mood of the pre-Christmas gathering is inaccurate, I am removing that post. But thank you for reacting positively.

I better finish my book. And soon.

A Life-Changing Discovery

My previous post showed I am writing again. It didn’t disclose what memories I uncovered during the fire.

I was knee-deep in creating the book Alice wanted me to write, currently titled, “Confessions of a Boy Soprano.” That’s when a neighbor fulfilling a relatively pedestrian task – killing weeds – interrupted my progress for more than six months.

The inappropriate tool for the task – a mini-blowtorch – set fire to the townhouse that Alice and I created, and the pleasant ambience she lent was obliterated in one careless act. There is no scent left behind; she is gone. To say I felt vindictive doesn’t tell the whole story. During the summer, my feeling of devastation was complete, and interactions with family or relatives reflected anger.

One week short of being declared a Quality Inn resident (five fucking months!), ServPro informed me I could move back home. The repainting and re-carpeting of the entire second floor was complete, and I would be able to use my office and bedroom again. Because the people who cleaned my bedding and anything else cleanable were scheduled to return all contents on Tuesday, Sept. 21st, I made preparations. “I was in high cotton,” as my late mother would say.

Even though I never spent the night in the smoke-affected townhouse, I used my unit’s washer and dryer every two-three weeks, allowing me to survive on a limited clothes’ supply. Therefore, I came back on Monday, a day before all my clothes would be returned, with plans to wash and dry my dirty ones. Once the fire damage restoration service, FRSTeam, would bring everything back clean, I could be set to write again!

No such luck.

When I put my cold-water wash inside the washer, added a Tide pod, turned on the water and listened gleefully to the sound, I breathed a deep sigh of relief.

For only thirty seconds. Thanks to the carpet installer downstairs, my feelings of joy were interrupted.

“There’s water coming down the light fixture,” he yelled. Feeling panicky, I shut off the washer.

I called ServPro, and Luna immediately showed up to determine the painter had removed the hose from the washer and, after painting the walls and ceiling behind them, had not bothered to replace the hose. No warning, no sign and no person to shield me from doing my wash.

Therefore, another claim had to be filed with Allstate, an employee washed and dried my clothes at ServPro’s facility, returned them to the motel, and I was not allowed to return to my condo for another two weeks. This felt like premature ejaculation.

With my tale of woe, and Ned Rauth’s demise, that poor man’s soul became a visible target to be shunned for my six months of banishment from home. No other significant creative energies, other than micro-managing ServPro, were spent positively.

Today I am left to wonder what effect the act of shunning might have contributed to his demise. If I dare to call myself a Quaker, what should I have done otherwise? Although shunning is regarded as non-violent, could it be considered otherwise? Should I summon my late wife’s spirit at Halloween, so I am not to blame?

Of all the comments to my last post, one particular comment affects me most: paraphrasing it says I should be grateful I was not injured and remain in one piece. But something else needs to be reported.

Because of the fire and having all my memories uprooted, I opened a box marked, “Computer & audio-video cables” followed by “Bridge Books.” I was ready to throw it out, but to confirm its contents, I opened it.

On top was a cloth-bound Baby Book shown above, which my mother, Thelma Johnston, created on the day of my birth, March 23, 1943. Apparently, it was a tradition no longer the rage during this millennium. My Baby Book contains the movements, measurements and doctor’s findings of my first two years of life, accompanied by 1943’s Halloween-day declarations by my godmother and godfather.

Underneath is correspondence my father and mother sent one another in the 1940s while he was playing club dates around the country, especially Grossinger’s Resort in the Catskills.

My godfather: Horace Gerlach.
An amazing find 78 years after declaration by godfather Horace Gerlach.

Here are the revelations I discovered in my Baby Book. My godmother was Queen Brantley, a dearly beloved ancestor. But I am stunned to discover my godfather was Horace Gerlach, known to be Louis Armstrong’s trusted creative advisor. No wonder I performed Mozart’s most famous sonata for Louis himself! My Baby Book is family history preserved.

So yes, I am grateful. How else should I feel knowing the fire could have destroyed such a precious memento? How else should I feel, other than gratitude? I have been blessed.

Looking at this old photograph, I wonder how old I was then.

How Should I Feel?

Two posts ago, I wrote about an adjacent neighbor who set fire to my condo while utilizing a mini-blowtorch to kill weeds, then went back into his unit to watch TV while mine smoldered. The front of his apartment is pictured above. To this day, I remain astonished why the town of Longview didn’t cite him for criminal negligence.

To put my discovery of the fire in perspective, in late April I was appropriately convalescing from a four-hour hernia operation at Kaiser Permanente’s Sunnyside Hospital, courtesy of cousin Margaret Johnston within her natural-beauty surroundings in Tigard. Before walking into my condo, I strolled around Lake Sacajawea with distinguished Professor John White, recently retired from Pacific University.

I unlocked the condo door and stepped into a dwelling filled with smoke. My fortuitous discovery prevented a smoldering carpet from blossoming into flame, thus saving all my memories, my condominium, and five other units.

After five months and 10 days being confined inside Quality Inn Room #101, my townhouse – at long last – was ready for re-occupancy. The work was performed by ServPro, a national organization that works hand-in-hand with three national insurance companies – Allstate, State Farm and Farmer’s. Most of the delay is taken up by insurers’ paperwork for their bean counters. By the way, I have Allstate, and adjuster Michael Broszczak treated me right.

Hector Luna coordinates fire-restoration work in Longview for ServPro. Hector knows much, and is a loyal employee.

A couple weeks later, most relevant items are unpacked, and I’m trying to figure out the appropriate wall hangings, while the good Professor promises to visit and celebrate Alice’s epicurean tastes so this place doesn’t turn into a museum.

But enough with all that.

For the first time, this post contains the name of my next-door firebug: Ned Rauth.

And here is why his identity can now be known.

On the night of October 26, Rauth was transferred by ambulance with a blood oxygen count of 40, and designated another victim of Covid.

At the hospital, he didn’t make it. Ned died.

How did it happen?

The spirit of my all-powerful late wife, Alice McCormick, could have caused him harm, because the day Rauth had to be transported from his townhouse – exactly adjacent to ours – was October 26, precisely six months from the day he set OUR apartment to blaze.

Creator continues to bless me.

Keeping in mind I am a Quaker, I ask, “How should I feel?”

Happy Halloween.

Printed image from an old tee-shirt worn annually.

Reconstruction: Longview Style

Why do I look so happy? How have I survived misfortune?

In my last missive on this website, I reported that a fire impacted my Longview condo four months and five days ago. As aggravated as I steadily became, I kept my impatience quiet, because waiting for insurance to take effect magnifies the tedium. While adjusters battled to save every last penny, it would have been premature to describe my fly-by-night, day-to-day existence at a local Quality Inn as the future.

Second-floor view of inside stairs

During my four months of unplanned isolation, only one person made the trek to my apartment to supply companionship and some semblance of normality: former occupational therapist for Pacific University, Professor John White. He prepared some vegetables for side dishes, plenty of tomatoes, peppers and squash to inspire healthy eating and satisfy my palate. Pear jam, too! We also strolled around Lake Sacajawea. John is not a relative; he is a friend. Thanks, John.

More relief was supplied by my cousin, Margaret Johnston, who picked me up at the Quality Inn for day trips to Mt. St. Helens and Astoria. Her thoughtfulness is appreciated. Thanks, Margaret.

But the big news: On Sept. 1st – finally, finally, finally – I received word that the check required by the contractor – ServPro – was deposited in the condominium association’s account and is now accessible for the required cash deposit. Later this week, reconstruction will begin, which will include a complete repainting of the entire interior and re-carpeting of both floors of the townhouse and inside stairs. Smoke damage is pernicious and is not easily removed.

Carpeting on stairs was removed after an area was smoldering.

I acknowledge help from Allstate Insurance’s local Joe Cleveland Agency – specifically Kyla Rose McCoy – and Philadelphia Insurance Companies of Bala Cynwyd, where tourists struggle to correctly pronounce its Pennsylvania location. I had to fight to have proper restoration work promised, and I empathize with anyone who has to undergo property repair from Hurricane Ida and now must wait for losses to be specified, validated and confirmed.

Only a tarp separates the empty space beyond the utility room’s water heater.

While trying to remain sane, I finished two more chapters of my book concerning the five years (1968-72) in Hollywood, Calif., where I was told how blues icon Janis Joplin was murdered and my stint as a deejay for L.A.’s only pirate radio station. That part of my story is now written, and now I must describe my return to Miami where I began my journalistic career 30 years ago as a full-fledged writer for two metropolitan daily newspapers.

I must relive those years in my head and clippings, then describe the remarkable events of that time, including meeting Mary Jo Vecchio, the woman famous for standing over a fatally shot student at Kent State University. It’s a sad observance how an ordinary young woman was affected while in the media spotlight.

I will be leaving Longview as soon as I can, prepping for the release of my re-titled full-length tale, “Confessions of a Boy Soprano.” Alice McCormick made me promise to write this tale, and I look forward to announce the book’s release. Once upon a time, I lived a life unforeseen. I promise you will laugh at some events, shed some tears for lost innocence and remember times that were greener than today.

Onward and upward!