I hereby announce
HOW I BECAME A LESBIAN
(and other stories)
I hereby announce
HOW I BECAME A LESBIAN
(and other stories)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is more than a perfunctory post to honor the fast-moving political climate nearby. The time has come to acknowledge a comment to my website by a dear friend:
Too bad Portland’s gone the way of Detroit, Newark, Trenton, etc. etc. Wonder why?
My answer: Perhaps there’s sincerity to the demonstrations that were taking place in downtown Portland, Oregon, eh? And why lump the progressive city of Portland with big-city ghettos? Is that a convenient way of saying people of color embrace lawlessness?
Prior to 2020, I knew nothing about a massacre that took place in Tulsa, Oklahoma targeting African Americans. As horrendous details came to light, my soul shuddered and I wondered why I never was taught about such an outrage in my high school history class.
There’s more to learn.
Last night on HBO, John Oliver took the lid off another massacre. This one was perpetuated by a Southern circle of 19th Century Democrats who subscribed to racist fear, Jim Crow behavior and white supremacy. On Nov. 10, 1898, they led a mob of 400 insurrectionists to burn down Wilmington, North Carolina’s local newspaper, murder 60 people and overthrow the local government elected only two days prior. It was the first, and only, successful coup d’état in the good ol’ USA.
In subsequent years, American history books spun a story that depicted black victims as the cause of the massacre and the perpetrators as heroic. What really happened, huh? Citizens of color were systematically butchered, brutalized, and their contributions to the American Dream sent backward. What better way to reinforce a prejudice saying people of color were intellectually inferior?
Those black lives mattered, because leadership from whatever sector it originates serves to advance this country’s progress, enriching ALL our lives. If it’s left to free thinkers like John Oliver to uncover the skeletons in our closets, we cannot tout our freedom worldwide when it’s more an illusion.
This is my way of saying I finished writing the first three chapters of my book. Tomorrow I plan to start a chapter about my life as a person of color. If you look at my images now, you might find it hard to believe.
Just as you might find it hard to believe what happened in Wilmington.
This spring is graduation season, and I take pride In two cousins – sisters Rory and Lauren – who are finishing Southridge High School in Beaverton, Oregon, with flying colors and earn their diplomas in June. I also celebrate another cousin, Max, who received a bachelor of art’s degree in math and physics cum laude from Lewis & Clark College out here in Portland last weekend. But this post is dedicated to a dogged achiever bearing the Loika name: my nephew, Sean Paul Loika Englert.
Sean is 49 years old. After dropping out from Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas 30 years ago, surviving a spirited youth and eventually moving to Brooklyn, Iowa, he dedicated himself to the many sacrifices, lack of sleep, and who knows what else to complete a higher education. On Sunday, May 19th, he receives a bachelor of art’s degree in social work summa cum laude from Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, a 65-mile commute from his home.
How he managed to attend all his classes, write several scholarly papers, commute and excel in school while holding down a full-time job – and a budding romance – is a true miracle more than a measured achievement measured by Sean’s grades. Every paper he turned in, he worried whether his grades were good enough.
They were. Sean excelled in school with a 4.0, so on Sunday, May 19th, Mount Mercy will award Sean Englert his degree.
However, one day before his baccalaureate, Saturday, May 18th, Sean will marry Leslie Stanley, a woman who shares his wry sense of humor. The forevermore commitment will take place – believe it or not – in the Brooklyn Memorial Cemetery at 3 pm.
A marriage ceremony in a graveyard? Perhaps it’s indicative of how Sean worked himself to death preparing for this weekend. But he’s still ambulatory, right?
I commemorate this noble accomplishment filled with sweat, worry, planning, carrying on a romance and displaying the right household sensibilities to sweep Leslie off her feet.
Sean, I admire you. Congratulations!
As Alice and I prepare to celebrate Christmas Eve with my cousin Margaret Johnston, here’s a Christmas tale of good fortune and considerable divine providence to share:
On Monday morning, Dec. 12, after having my bladder and prostate removed, I met with surgeon urologist, Dr. Daniel Janoff. When Janoff walked into my patient room, he looked directly at me, beamed and uttered two words summarizing my pathology report: “Completely cured!”
Omigod! Am I hearing correctly? Then, like a proper surgeon, he muttered, “Well, unless something microscopic gets through.”
That’s as good as it gets, and the insurance I bought into by undergoing major surgery seems to be worth this post-procedure pain and rigmarole.
The elation I allow myself to feel adds to the joy of this 2016 holiday season and causes me to count my blessings. How many cancer sufferers endure the diagnosis of a malignant body part without years of heartache, excruciating pain and mind-numbing self-doubt? For many of them, they’re always looking over their shoulder dreading the day when it’s confirmed that cancer has made its way into other vital organs.
On the other hand, what are the ramifications to a cancer patient when he or she loses a reproductive organ?
At an art exhibit opening in Bucks County, I once became attracted to someone related to one of the most famous show-business families in America. We were so instantaneously enraptured that we began making out passionately on the second floor of the Lambertville, NJ gallery next to the Delaware River, in full view of everyone there, and I entreated her to see me again.
Upon calling her for the first time, though, she expressed inconsolable shame at having contracted ovarian cancer, saying she was no longer a real woman because her ovaries were being surgically removed. She asked that I never call her again, and hung up the phone. What horrible expectations some of us have while fighting cancer!
Other friends and relatives have faced the “Big C” diagnosis with far worse implications and over a far-longer period of time. Therefore, it makes sense for me to be stoic about sacrificing certain body parts. After 73 years of life in this state of consciousness, I rationalize that some organs can be regarded as irrelevant. Considering I was diagnosed with “high-grade” cancer – somewhere between Stage 3 and Stage 4 – this was no time to play coy with life choices.
My cancer ordeal started in March, after Providence primary care provider, Dr. Mathew Snodgrass, confirmed another in what was a series of urinary tract infections. He referred me to Dr. Janoff, a master urologist/surgeon. Janoff, one of the busiest surgeons I ever met, ordered a CT scan, and in May diagnosed my urinary problems as being caused by bladder cancer.
The wicked carcinoma, he said, was caused by the chemical additives U.S. cigarette manufacturers put into their products to enhance addiction. Throughout life, I always concerned myself with lung cancer. But bladder cancer? No way, I thought!
That’s why I recoil whenever I see anyone smoking a cigarette, and I retreat as far as I can get from the sweet seductive scent of tobacco smoke.
Looking back, I am grateful. My ordeal lasted only nine months. How many other cancer sufferers can say the same? My late uncle underwent years of deteriorating health from Lou Gehrig’s disease. How can I put my health challenges on the same plane as his?
I am one lucky guy.
Janoff recommended that before surgery, I undergo four rounds of chemotherapy, and oncologist Dr. Daniel Gruenberg at Compass Oncology kept an eagle eye on my changing blood work.
Three-and-a-half months of intense chemotherapy – consisting of Cisplatin and Gemzar – followed in July through early October at Compass’s location adjacent to Providence St. Vincent Hospital. When my white blood cell count dropped precipitously in September, an injection targeted my bone marrow to precipitate increased white cell formation. The stratagem – although quite painful days later – worked, enabling me to finish the course of treatment.
The surgery followed, and its results are now a matter of record.
Alice has been my confidante and partner throughout, although she would have preferred to see if cannabis oil alone would cause me to turn the corner. I decided otherwise, and she shares this victory without mollycoddling me through the rehabilitation process.
The future ahead, she declares, lies in writing my own book, and she asks that I focus more on such an effort. She is right, because we cannot continue our lives without seeking some semblance of adequate compensation for my creative work.
But on the eve of another Christmas Day, it’s time to spread some holiday cheer with my personal accomplishment. It’s no accident that Hanukkah begins on Christmas Eve this year so whatever Jewish blood I inherited simultaneously shares season’s greetings with Christianity everywhere.
Merry Christmas, and Happy Hanukkah, everyone!
“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”
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.