All posts by Mason

Grew up as a child prodigy on the piano. At age 12 participated in a Carnegie Hall Annex recital, followed by an encore performance for an audience of one: Louis Armstrong. Former writer and editor for the Miami News, technology columnist for The Miami Herald, freelance journalist for the Bucks County Herald in Lahaska, Pennsylvania.

A Socially Distant Family Thanksgiving

Last week my niece, Kessa, reminded me what family means by saying 13 simple words, “I love my dad – he’s the best I could have ever hoped for.”

Her unconditional love toward Chris revealed the same bond I felt toward my mother, Thelma. Mom wrote a remembrance about how she married a talented New York City big-band musician and started a family in South Florida on my website, called “Virgil’s Story.” How she single-handedly kept the family in one piece testifies to her ingenuity, persistence, warrior spirit and maternal love.

In 1969, brother Chris Loika Englert married a girl who lived two houses away – not quite the girl next door, but pretty damn close. I found his hand-written marriage invitation earlier this November, which was sent to my Los Angeles address as a birthday card. “I’m getting married April 4 (Friday). If you can, come on down and see another person led to his doom. If you have any doubts as to who – it’s MaryLou.”

Nine years later, I enthusiastically followed my brother’s lead. Instead of a neighbor, I married “a nice Jewish girl,” who carried the seed from at least 30 nights’ passionate lovemaking in a North Bay Harbor Island condominium above Biscayne Bay. When presented with the moral responsibility I faced, my expectant wife-to-be’s family proposed an instant marriage before a Justice of the Peace in Golden Beach, a quaint town north of North Miami Beach.

I didn’t reject the idea of responsibility; after our matter-of-fact ceremony, I soon awaited a doctor’s confirmation of her pregnancy and planned a celebration immediately thereafter. That’s when I encountered the ultimate betrayal. My wife underwent an on-demand abortion in the city’s ghetto side of town accompanied only by her mother.

While I sat at the foot of the stairs for two-and-a-half hours outside our Miami Shores apartment building, trying my best to keep a bottle of celebratory champagne chilled, I waited, and waited, and waited some more. Then in confusion, I went upstairs where a phone call from my bride’s mother an hour later revealed the awful truth.

That was the terrible price I paid when my newly discovered three-member family, who descended from Egypt, expected me to completely reject my mother’s influence. After I couldn’t awake from an expectant parent’s ultimate nightmare, I filed for divorce in two weeks, and the court approved our annulment nine months later.

Last week in the Covid-19 world of 2020, I spent the day after Thanksgiving with my cousin, Margaret, surrounded by socially distant well-wishers from our Johnston clan, and I was served ceremonial turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, rolls and two heaping portions of love.

While reflecting on my mother’s Southern roots, I wondered why it wasn’t acceptable to become attached to both families. Was it our two religions? I later married for a second time – a marriage that lasted 22 years – whereupon Wife #1 phoned one night seeking to have an affair while I was relatively happy. Was she serious? Did she expect a repeat performance?

What nerve! How awful! How painful!

This year, Thanksgiving 2020 was filled with lots of needless curiosity about my preschool years, which came to an abrupt end, thanks to my niece’s unabashed expression of a daughter’s love for her father. Somehow, I began reflecting on the innocence lost from my first passionate marriage and the child I never knew. Perhaps the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, but I miss having a son’s and/or daughter’s affection.

Who knew tragedy could co-exist with a horn of plenty adorning a holiday table? What a dichotomy.

I Cry for My Country

I am supposed to be knee-deep in my memoir, but the last two weeks were too much. Through the miracle of television, the same medium my grandmother and I watched the 1956 Democratic and Republican conventions together, I fell prey to the frenzy of America’s 2020 election.

If I would have been old enough to vote 64 years ago, “I liked Ike.” He would have protected us.

As I grew older, my mother told me about David Rhys. He was a distant Welsh ancestor to our Johnston family, who after immigrating to America, changed the spelling of his surname to Reese. That was noteworthy because in 1775, David Reese signed the Declaration of Independence in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, one year before the USA declared its version. No wonder I was able to validate for myself that I was a Quaker – and a patriot.

I cry for my country.

The last time I felt so much hope for America – 1963 –  JFK was assassinated. I was on my way to a history class at the University of Florida when a fellow student asked me if I knew what just happened. I gave him a querulous look, so he replied, “Jack Kennedy just was shot.”

“That can’t happen,” I reasoned, but my disbelief was shattered when I saw a fellow classmate break down in tears. I cried too when Walter Cronkite’s voice broke while reading the hurriedly scripted report that Kennedy succumbed to his injuries.

I cry for my country.

What I thought was a worthwhile way to live became a nightmare again – and again – and again. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave birth to a dream, but his physical being was terminated in 1968. Next was Robert Kennedy, and I was shell-shocked.

Football was no escape for me. While listening to a radio broadcast of the Miami Dolphins-New England Patriots game in 1980, a breathless announcer told America that John Lennon had been summarily executed. Why? For preaching peace?

I cry for my country.

Political Celebration
An interesting photo showing Biden with an aura about his head.

Joe Biden was elected president in a bitterly contested election and is due to govern on January 20. I’ve seen this celebration before. Already, the current occupant calls the contest “corrupt” and is asking Republicans to destroy the outcome. As a first offensive he filed numerous lawsuits, particularly in Pennsylvania.

I want to believe again, I want to stand up and praise the U-S-of-A, and rail against terrorism because of 9/11, but what does America stand for? Is it our territory or a transitory idea? To watch a so-called president attack the nation’s most fundamental function – a fair election in the birthplace of our country – makes my Quaker blood boil.

#45 sets the stage for a fundamental evil that pervades this “land of the free.” He is guilty of treason, an enabler for future terrorist attacks on everything I hold near and dear. How can he continue to spout his poison? Is this free speech?

I cry for my country.

A Perfect 10

Today is a special day. A very special day. A momentous day. A life-changing day.

On this day, September 24, 2010, I met Alice McCormick for the first time. And I became blessed with 6-feet-and-3-inches worth of unbridled Amazon love.

Tonight, a perfect 10 years later, I will celebrate the night I learned about true love. A longer version of how we met is planned for my forthcoming book well underway, “How I Became a Lesbian (and other stories).”

September 24 turned out to became so memorable that we planned a commitment ceremony to take place exactly one year later, September 24, 2011, guided by Keith David’s book, “The Complete Guide to Gay and Lesbian Weddings,” in support of same-sex couples.

Our vows to one another were witnessed by 25 close friends adjacent to Alice’s backyard pool home, accentuated by a screened-in gazebo and bubbling fish pond where brilliant-colored koi swam their approval. The ceremony was led by David DiPasquale of Pebble Hill Church and Danawa Buchanan, a self-appointed chief of the Allegheny Cherokee tribe who recited an Apache prayer uniting Alice and me.

September 24th thus marked our two-time anniversary, and Native tradition reminds me to hold dear this day in our hearts by celebrating inside Teri’s Restaurant in Longview, Washington, which became Alice’s favorite place on the West Coast to dine, dance, imbibe and hang out until closing time.

Alice may not be with me in person – at least, not in the physical sense – but her spirit is strong, and I expect a moment tonight when I feel a chill as she massages my heart. I honor her, and in doing so I honor the timeless love that Creator gifted me late in my years.

If a tear should appear in my eyes tonight, it will not be from grief; it will come from gratitude. Happy anniversary, Alice.

Awakening my honey on a Samhuinn morning, the “time of no time” according to Scottish Gaelic tradition. Also celebrated by Christians as Halloween.

The NFL: Where Billions are at Stake

The forests of California, Oregon and Washington are being decimated. But pro football is back, so who cares?

The West Coast is suffering a growing crisis. The death toll has yet to be totaled, because health effects from breathing this particular toxic air are yet to be estimated. While people in the rest of the country have been paying attention to Covid-19, the West Coast is showing the world a climate-change fact of life. Fires are decimating Western forests and air quality far out West has turned beyond unhealthy.

That’s why I have been running my air conditioner constantly, even when the temperature outside never makes it above 70. Longview, Washington is on the northern periphery of the Western air-quality crisis, and my A/C recycles high-quality air inside the apartment, keeping bad air out.

The adjectives used to determine air quality are as follows: 0-50 is good, 51-100 moderate, 101-150 unhealthy for sensitive groups, 151-200 unhealthy, 201-300 very unhealthy, and 301 and above hazardous. Longview today registered 384; Tualatin, near where my cousin lives, 411.

Turn your attention, please, to San Francisco, where the NFL dictated the 49ers play football against the Arizona Cardinals today. Hmmm, the City by the Bay’s air-quality number was 193, qualifying as “unhealthy.”

But deep down why should we care? These players are being paid handsomely, right? So why not send weekend warriors into the smoke-filled confines of Levi’s Stadium, amid “lucky” ticket holders who can see the made-for-TV spectacle in person (minus the commercials, of course) and simultaneously fill their lungs with carcinogens? What better way to convince a bored, quarantined America that it’s good to play outdoors under “unhealthy” conditions.

Yes, as long as football graces American TV screens in the fall, everything’s okay. Just like we can depend upon the CDC for the most accurate guidance going forward. Perhaps some of football’s millionaires can give us more guidance after smashing their noggins against one another for three hours.

Today is no longer Sunday, but please pray for America.

Gratitude in a Pandemic

Welcome to my office.

Here I engage in written discourse with those considered to be friends and supporters. Atop the left side of my computer hutch is the same Christmas photo Alice and I mailed out in Doylestown. The red ribbon next to it graces an accurate caricature of Grandfather Many Crows (aka Ed Fell).

Ever since Alice passed over in March, I have lived alone without the benefits of what a partner offers. If it’s the wrong kind of partner, being by oneself can be a relief. But with dear Alice, it was being part of an entity that told me when I was being an asshole, and when I was living up to our aspirations.

I miss those moments.

Two and a half weeks ago, I was sitting where you see me above. I shifted my weight from the middle to the left side of my hip, encountering a sharp jab of pain, so severe I drove myself to the emergency room two nights later with worries related to past cancer surgery. Fortunately, X-rays and a CT scan showed nothing serious or suspicious, and today my Kaiser Permanente medical team is keeping on top of my problem and its expected pending cure.

Nevertheless, I am hurting until this malady is permanently treated. And I’m doing so alone.

A few words about Kaiser Permanente: If you judge quality of care by the ratio of patients to primary care doctors, you will be misled. From my experience in the Pacific Northwest, front-line doctors serve as intake experts to a damned good healthcare system. Doctors regularly interact online with a range of specialists, overseen by a cadre of behind-the-scenes physicians who check and double-check. No one slouches or goofs off at medical facilities here. This is 5-star healthcare.

I’ve experienced healthcare in South Florida; much of it is corrupt, and its healthcare workers have become sadly cynical. And up North, specifically Bucks County, Pennsylvania, while recovering from a punctured bowel in the highly regarded Doylestown Hospital, I would not have survived without a visit from a well-respected sculptor named Harry Georgeson. He singlehandedly alerted a matter-of-fact weekend nursing staff of my critical sepsis, who then came running and moved me into the ICU in minutes.

(I remind Harry on occasion that he’s responsible for keeping me around to annoy others.)

When medical people visit the Pacific Northwest, experience the majesty of its landscape and meet prospective peers, they fall in love with the place and the quality of healthcare that mirrors the glorious outdoors. My brief three-hour experience during the midnight hours in Longview, Washington’s PeaceHealth Hospital met the same high standards as Alice’s three times there, including one stay of eight days. Not one healthcare worker whom I came across showed indifference or boredom in the midst of a demanding overnight shift. Everyone was on high alert.

Despite my travails, I am still working on the book with two esteemed volunteers from Alice’s aphasia support group. But I’m also making sure my cuisine options remain plentiful, 95 percent of which I prepare myself. And having a dishwasher, washer and dryer, as well as a splendid view, keeps life personably manageable.

But getting back to this hip thing? It’s painful enough that I’m welcoming – and fearing – the thought of the long needle I would have to stare down soon. The way I feel, it can’t come soon enough.

We love Washington!
Once I open the blinds, I see that a mile away Longview Heights sits on a “hill” 886 feet high..

Graham’s Granddaughter Speaks Out

When I was 5 years old, my mother, Thelma, took me to a Billy Graham “rally” in a Hialeah, Fla. auditorium that turned into a commitment to faith. Attendees were urged to respond to the words of Jesus Christ and be “born again.”

I stood up as tall as I could, and in that packed auditorium where Billy Graham and Cliff Barrows held sway, I pledged to live my life as a Christian.

Today, I read the words that Graham’s granddaughter, Jerushah Duford, set forth earlier this week in USA Today, and they resonate in my soul. Considering I’m 50 miles north of the epicenter of last night’s killing of a so-called “Patriot’s Prayer” counter-protester, it’s appropriate that I reaffirm what she wrote.

“Our president continues to perpetuate an us-versus-them narrative, yet almost all of our church leaders say nothing,” Duford writes.

“Trump has gone so far as to brag about his plans, accomplishments and unholy actions toward the marginalized communities I saw my grandfather love and serve.

“He held a Bible, something so sacred to all of us, yet he treated that Bible with a callousness that would offend anyone intimately familiar with the words inside it. … The entire world has watched the term ‘evangelical’ become synonymous with hypocrisy and disingenuousness.”

Signaling a prospective religious war, this is a shot across the bow. Pray for America.

Fighting for Women’s Rights

Nancy Pelosi’s appearance on Steven Colbert’s show Wednesday night reminded its audience to commemorate the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote. The 19th Amendment was added to the Constitution exactly one century ago, and Pelosi’s message reminded me what I once accomplished for women.

Perhaps the unfairness of how men publicly denigrated women was why I got involved. Forty-two years ago in South Florida, I ran for president of the Greater Miami Junior Chamber of Commerce, otherwise known as the Jaycees. I had turned 35 years old, become a senior member of the organization, served as the chapter vice president, and was in line to rule over its civic contributions for a year before becoming a “greybeard”; i.e. ineligible for full membership.

Something was blowing in the political winds, however. Before the election of new officers could take place, members of the National Organization for Women presented a compelling argument to have women participate fully. I was moved by their pleas, and I ran on the platform of giving women the right to vote.

I didn’t overcome the opposition nor win the election, but future peers at The Miami Herald paid me the ultimate honor on August 11, 1978. Calling me a “suffragist,” using the above photo that a Herald photographer took mere days prior, the morning metropolitan newspaper recognized my effort to admit women to the organization so they could be fully recognized as voting members. The story ran on the front page of its Living Today section. And NOW recognized me with a Certificate of Appreciation that I hold dear.

Then the “snapper to the capper.” Six years later, on Independence Day, 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its ruling that Jaycees nationwide must accept women as full voting members. Just imagine my elation to an event George Orwell never proclaimed regarding a future world.

I saved a copy of that article (of course), scanned the deteriorating newsprint and would be happy to share it via email. Because the Herald’s stories are subject to copyright protection and I do not seek permission yet to print that article, I abide by legal requirements accorded to the copyright holder. If you want to see and/or read it, send me a comment, or write to mason@masonloika.com.

This August, we celebrate a milestone. By telling my story of recognition, I acknowledge what one person of conviction can accomplish.

You don’t have to be a woman to support women’s rights. But consider the flip side when men take up the fight. By definition, championing women’s rights is the most chauvinistic thing a member of the male gender can do. But I don’t hear any women complaining about chivalry. Perhaps it’s a necessary evil?

Four Nights of Grace and Inspiration

As hard as I try, it’s impossible to say goodbye to a remarkable Democratic National Convention without adding my observations.

Because of DVR technology, I watched the event at my convenience, extending four nights into five at my abode. Each night, I started my recording one hour before the program guide’s posted schedule, which came in handy Thursday night when the convention started 15 minutes early. I didn’t end each night’s recording until half an hour beyond its scheduled end. After all, how many political conventions end on time when broadcast outlets have an open-ended desire to keep going?

Sure enough, that modus operandi enabled me to see and hear everything. And the most immediate conclusion: the 2020 Democratic National Convention became a four-part infomercial to civility and decency. Michelle Obama reminded us of the nightmare we’ve been through, Barack Obama’s eloquent oratory punctuated his warnings, and Joe Biden made it clear, in his finest speech ever, we must create a new world for our children to face the future.

When my late grandmother, Grace Brantley Johnston, and I watched past Democratic conventions at her home in Portsmouth, Va., our aspirations for the country bonded us together. I remembered times we watched political chicanery and cheered for candidates who stood for righteousness. Those memories spilled over into some of this year’s convention segments and brought tears to my eyes, grieving over how my sensibilities were assaulted over the last four years.

How can anyone forget what #45 has said or done?

At my advanced age, I realize I will not be around to see all the fruits emerge from a spiritual harvest that Joe Biden wants to plant. But I am encouraged that generations to come are being offered a chance to create a just and scientifically sustainable world that offers hope to mankind.

Perhaps then we can wake up from this ever-worsening nightmare.

What Are Your 8 Greatest Songs?

To keep the ball rolling with this website, I ask the musical question.

Your responses will remain as comments on my website for awhile. Therefore, consider carefully, because your musical acumen is subject to other viewer’s comments.

To get you started, here are, according to UK’s “Far Out” magazine, Pink Floyd musician and rabble-rouser Roger Waters’ eight choices, in order of importance:

  1. “Helpless,” Neil Young
  2. “Endless Flight,” Ryuichi Sakamoto, Jaques Morelenbaum & Everton Norton
  3. “Bird on the Wire,” Leonard Cohen
  4. “My Funny Valentine,” Chet Baker
  5. “Georgia on My Mind,” Ray Charles
  6. “E Lucevan Le Stelle” (from “Tosca”), Giacomo Puccini
  7. “God Bless the Child,” Billie Holiday
  8. 4th Movement of “Symphony No. 5 in C Sharp Minor,” Gustav Mahler

Think he’s eclectic? I do.

His list inspired me to mention one of my signature influences from a songwriter you may not know. In 1966, my late brother, Jon, gifted me the record album, “John D. Loudermilk Sings a Bizarre Collection of the Most Unusual Songs.” In our bedroom, he then hung up a poster of a magnified Indian-head nickel and a large headline exclaiming, “The only Indian that America ever gave a damn about.” (The story of how our blood ran red soon will be told in my forthcoming book.)

The 33-1/3 record featured “Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian,” later popularized in 1971 by the British pop group, Paul Revere & The Raiders. A reputed prankster, Loudermilk proclaimed his Cherokee heritage, but that claim turned out to be false. Later, he wrote the song, “Tobacco Road.” Check out Loudermilk’s interesting bio on Wikipedia.

In the meantime, scratch your head and ponder the challenge. Maybe you can do better than me. Maybe you can out-do Roger Waters.

Just click on “add a comment,” and wave your freak flag to visitors to this website and me. Meanwhile, I’ve got to get back to writing my book!

Fondly Going Back in Time

Last night, my draft of Chapter 3 turned into Chapters 3 and 4.

That’s because details about my father’s life, including his suicide, fit into the narrative of Chapter 3.

Virgil’s Story was written by my mother, Thelma Johnston Loika, before she passed away and gifted it to all three of her sons. I am inserting it into the book as part of my legacy.

Virgil’s Story has been on my website for many years, but few visitors have any idea it’s available online. The link to that part of my website will introduce you to his incredible history.

Sometime before the book’s publication, this extensive look at his past will disappear here and migrate onto the printed page.