Category Archives: Longview

Life in Longview

Life is good.  And opportunity is at hand.

Five and a half years ago, I, Mason Loika (climate-change refugee from Miami), and life partner Alice McCormick (a true Philly girl) moved “Westward Ho.” We left a historic Pennsylvania town — Doylestown – to wind up in Longview, Washington, 50 interstate miles north of Portland, Oregon.  Longview has quite a history, but currently the sleepy town remains below the radar.

Most snow has melted atop Mt. St. Helehs.
Mt. St. Helens is 90 minutes away from Longview.
Alice meditates at Cape Disappointment.
Alice goes crazy over lighthouses. This one on Washington’s Long Beach peninsula known as Cape Disappointment provides a view for thought.

Positioned midway between Mt. St. Helens and Washington’s spectacular Pacific Coast, the self-contained industrial-residential town runs alongside the Columbia River, and was founded by timber-baron R.A. Long. Next to downtown is a magnificent, Japanese-styled,127-acre Lake Sacajawea, where residents wear their casual best to stroll – or show off their dogs’ pedigree – around a 3½ mile maintained gravel trail. (Lake Sacajawea is named after a Shoshone woman who guided Lewis and Clark west.) Longview’s population and that of sister town, Kelso, totaled 50,000 in 2017.

Serene lakeside concert
Longview provides free summer concerts with room to stretch out by Lake Sacajawea.
What does that darned cat want?
Two clever sculptures greet patrons at the Longview Public Library.

In September of that year, Alice and I bought a roomy two-bedroom condominium in Longview next to a manicured golf course, leaving three years of price-predatory apartment developments and unforgiving traffic in Portland, Oregon.

The Portland metro area incorporates Vancouver, Washington (not Canada), and has obscenely grown – over 2.4 million residents.  Once, pedestrians felt safe crossing city streets, but today population centers all over the West are bursting at the seams. Everywhere, people are increasingly crowded together.  Much of what ruined Miami when I grew up is happening today in Portland, and an unexplained number of Florida license plates can be observed.

For almost five years, I kept the financial wolves at bay by driving for Uber and Lyft in Portland.  Nowadays, Alice and I live a better life in Longview, although I continue “ride-share” work in Oregon. We have good neighbors in our newfound socially interactive community, and, after closing my garage at night, a neighbor offers me a solid toke from a well-stacked pipe containing some of the finest locally grown agricultural products.

Is this what they mean by "fresh air?"
Alice poses next to the mascot of the Freedom Market in downtown Longview.

It’s legal here, y’all!  So we don’t have to lead double lives to protect our right to partake.  Surrounded by the greenery on a nearly 1,000-foot-high, properly populated hill north of our development, this could be our forever neighborhood, limited to whatever Creator decides to gift us.

You never know quite what is in a hot dog.
This concession stand at a Longview outdoor concert piques curiosity.

And mercy of all mercies, musicians get work here.  I’ve already touted Teri’s Restaurant, which keeps getting better.  Teri now reserves Friday nights for local bands to perform in her two-story saloon-style roadhouse, just perfect vibes for performing musicians to jam together. And on the coast recently — Long Beach, Washington – a recent weekend event celebrated “Oysters and Jazz.”  Mmmmm. Sustenance for the body and soul.

Pacific Coasters endure unpleasant weather with style.
Friends at the Aphasia Network pose shamelessly when the Coast is rainy and chilly.
Gazing at the beach is relaxing to one and all.
When it’s sunny and warm on the Coast, a bonfire on the beach feels perfect.

Alice continues to manage me, occasionally making progress with her stroke-affected speech. Each year our closest buds in The Aphasia Network host two weekends at a Methodist church camp on the tip of a scenic peninsula on Oregon’s pristine coast. We attend regularly, and – especially – treat each other like family. (During breakout sessions, caregivers discuss relationship concerns with their group apart from their respective stroke survivors who simultaneously participate in activities designed to simulate everyday chores and challenges.)

Prof. John White is unique in more ways than one.
Professor John White of Pacific University stands tall on the beach.
"Let there be light."
Prof. White shows perseverance by holding sheet music in the light.

Looking around at the Aphasia Network staff – nurses, professors, occupational therapists, speech therapists, students, and executives (who don’t act that way), – we delight at how one musically astute professor appears to be attached by the hip to a guitar, with which he schedules bonding hootenannies with invited amateur musicians. This is, simply put, glorious territory for an elder inhabitant of Planet Earth to traipse about.

There is still much to share with readers. While Alice and I cocoon to avoid the coronavirus, Creator has decreed this time of fear and worry as a prospective blessing. Or as Jim Morrison once sang in “Light My Fire,” there’s “no time to wallow in the mire.”

Onward!

Alice Leaves the ‘Y’

It didn’t take long.

After beginning childcare duties on May 15th with the YMCA of Southwest Washington in Longview, Alice McCormick received the following email from the facility’s executive director on June 7th:

The Y’s Rainbow Corner “has some concerns about your communication skills with kids and parents [emphasis added]. Because you are still in the 90-day probationary period, she [the Rainbow Corner’s director] is letting you go because she does not feel like this is a good fit for our members.”

Alice never returned an invitation to speak further to the Y about its decision, so I pressed Alice to forward me the terse communiqué.  Once she did so (after two months), I wrote directly to the Y’s executive director who in turn refused comment to me, her life partner, or to anyone other than Alice.

My wife, Alice, can hold a conversation, but lacks the verbal pathways to do so eloquently, which self-explains her recalcitrance to hold a formal conversation with Longview’s YMCA about such an important matter without my participation.  Therefore, no further communication is anticipated between us and, accordingly, I spoke with Alice to relate her impressions, and here are some of them.

The Southwest Washington YMCA in Longview

Inside Longview’s Y

The childcare room in Longview’s YMCA was touted as a “Rainbow Corner,” but painted only with a stark white color.  No accompanying artwork, such as that appearing in Doylestown, PA.’s YMCA (where Alice once worked), is part of the color scheme.  Half of the children’s toys were, in some way, in a state of disrepair.

The Rainbow Corner’s director expected Alice to continually consort with a mentally challenged co-worker, whom the Y was proactive enough to hire.  However, the assignment convinced Alice that her speech aphasia was considered by her superiors as another form of mental incompetence.  Not one person volunteered to be Alice’s trainer or a confidante.

I could go on, but Alice and I have no plans to be mean-spirited.  But something happened here, and we won’t be silent about it.

Alice excelled in the field of special education and served as a substitute teacher for four years in the Philadelphia School District, no mean feat.  She is an elder, an experienced parent who nurtured five children and one grandchild through childhood, teenage angst and later development.  These skills remain intact.

Alice’s speech suffered significantly after her stroke in March 2015, and she found out what anyone here who does not speak American English fluently innately knows: She has become a second-class citizen.  As I once quoted Hungarian film star Paul Javor in my book, Gulag to Rhapsody: A Survivor’s Story, “The less English you know, the more likely it is that people will spit on you.”

Alice deserved better than what the Y’s mission here exudes.  Working with infants and toddlers provided Alice an opportunity to offer attentive caring, a safe atmosphere and love.  This mission doesn’t require her to speak much.  When wide-eyed children look up at her (because Alice is considerably taller than her peers), they feel love.

Lynn Fox, founder of the Aphasia Network, greets Alice.  The woods in the background accentuate a majestic lake.

The Aphasia Network is our advocate

People with aphasia are not mentally deranged or incompetent.  This is plain wrong.  The pathways through her brain were interrupted by a stroke and must be rebuilt through years of therapy and practice so she can feel confident to communicate as well as the rest of us.  Alice manages me, and I’m not easy.

Pacific University professor John White, musician extraordinaire, leads a hootenanny on the Oregon Coast.

Two weeks ago, I broke this sad news to over 100 stroke survivors, care partners, occupational and speech therapy students and instructors at our Aphasia Adventure Weekend on the Coast.  Now I share it with the readers of this blog.

Today, Alice freelances by occasionally cleaning people’s apartments.  She only works for those who treat her (and me) the same way.  Unfortunately, Longview’s YMCA does not meet Alice’s standards.  The neighbors in our condo association do.

We remain hopeful that an aphasia awareness campaign will open new doors for people who suffer the debilitating effects of a stroke.  For survivors and their care partners, more education and interaction with the outside world needs to be done.

As much as I expressed love for Alice when entering our civil ceremony seven years ago, I love her in a deeper way now.  All her struggles inspire me to match her courage.  Every little thing she does for me behind the scenes gives me an air of organization.  Alice’s dedication to my wellbeing is akin to the Portland (Oregon)-based Aphasia Network’s ever-expanding programs.

When student therapist Megan Bravo hugs you, it’s impossible to keep your eyes open.

Yes, we are exceedingly grateful, and our gratitude is only matched by the unmitigated embrace of support offered by our delightful extended family.

Feeling Thankful

Thanksgiving is a time when one is supposed to feel grateful.  This year, though, I believe my gratitude is far more abundant than at any other time in my life.

One particular cause of such supreme gratitude is our condominium unit and the community we now live in.  Alice and I thank my cousins, Margaret Johnston and Carolyn & Jeff Levin, for investing in our vision, transforming us into stewards of a beautiful property overlooking the mountains of Washington.  If it were not for them, our place would not be as spectacular as the view.

24-unit condo community with a view

We love Washington!
The hills of Washington underneath a sullen sky.

Take a peek outside my second-floor writer’s office window.  That’s one of several mountain ridges in the distance where a few developments punctuate the landscape.  Frequent rain events during the fall/winter obscure their top-of-the-mountain view more than ours, which encourages a certain personal, snobbish feeling of superiority.  And during an occasional burst of heat during the summer, a smaller ridge to the southwest shades our valley community an hour before dusk.

Inside the Loika/McCormick home

What an ideal surround room.
After DishTV installed our TV on a wall mount, the workmen insisted their sound system is better than Bose. I turned them down, and I’m glad I did. Check out the stonework for the fireplace.

Our living room has become an audiophile’s wet dream.  The television is mounted on the wall and the audio connected to my Bose surround-sound system.  Before we moved in, Reid Rasmusson, a local Longview painter and stalwart resident who has knowledge of our building’s architectural history, applied several coats of paint to the entire apartment.  What stands out is how Alice directed Reid to reinvent a cranberry-red wall into a more-aesthetically pleasing olive-brown accentuation to an artistically constructed fireplace.  An added attraction, thanks to Bose: the acoustics are outstanding.

Great colors, eh?
Instead of watching MSNBC, Alice now loves quiet time early in the morning before I awaken.

Therefore, one wouldn’t blame Alice for reclining on our six-month-old sofa toward the entertainment center.  But that’s not her usual position.  Alice lies in the opposite direction, sharing my outside view, but the downstairs window position aligns her 6-foot frame next to a riot of greenery.  Already, Alice is adding her creative touch to the outside backyard.

(Our cat, Millie, complains loudly every day of wanting to go outside and explore.  But we hear that bobcats, cougars and coyotes prowl about, so we admonish Millie for expressing reckless desires and keep her inside.)

After Reid finished painting, the carpet people showed up to execute our carpet and flooring plan.  Every old piece of carpet was discarded in favor of a tan-colored replacement, with a luxurious feel and look we enjoy today.  The carpet installers were finishing up barely moments before our movers were scheduled to arrive.  The movers?  That’s a different story, and a future post will detail the story of that near-disaster.

Light streaming from above.
Never before saw a light shaft like this.

One particular view of the upstairs railing reveals light shining through the upstairs bathroom.  (We have 1½ bathrooms, by the way.)  That’s sunglare coming through the bathroom skylight.  That’s cool, isn’t it?  A skylight for the bathroom?  Oh yeah, try to get that in a condo in Portland!

A feeling of community

Never know about the legitimacy of people you meet.
If you get accosted in a Mexican restaurant, can ICE deport you?

Our digs are so splendoriferous that I hesitate to include the generosity of spirit from our neighbors.  Nevertheless, I’m dutybound to report our next-door neighbors meet two criteria: quality and congeniality.  Terry and Carole Sumrall introduced us to a restaurant they favor: Fiesta Bonita Mexican Grill and Cantina.  Of course, our journey turned out to be a late afternoon on Halloween, so the tradition in town conjured up a wannabe for the Village People instead of a waitperson.

Other neighbors are equally generous with their time and talents.  Already, Longview is full of revelations, and the history of this town is worthy of more national attention than it gets.  This is a true community, and my future writing here may reveal what I call “living in a Gentile kibbutz.”  I only wish I didn’t have to drive to Portland to buy whitefish salad, a proper bagel and latkes.  Or cheese blintzes!  A full story about Longview, Washington will appear in a future post, or perhaps be contained in the book I committed to when moving West.

Teri’s Restaurant is what’s happening

Music on Friday nights.
Teri’s restaurant, 3225 Ocean Beach Highway, Longview.

The photo at the top of this post was taken by one of the employees at Teri’s Restaurant in our newly adopted hometown.  Besides a continuous dedication to provide restaurant fare a cut above the standard, Teri’s is a hubbub for local musicians and their groupies.  (No age requirement to become a groupie.)  We met a dean from Lower Columbia College (in Longview, naturally) who got on one knee in front of us to encourage Alice to return to work for child care.  How is that for a welcome?

A quick apology

Please excuse the delay in getting this post written.  There were plenty of chores for me to take care of, not to mention the time I wasted while being hooked on DishTV during this college football season.  Yes, I am still functioning, sometimes badly, on the aftermath and life after a bladder removal surgery.

But I am far more than just alive, and I’m married to an Amazon woman who sets a pretty high standard for how she looks after me.  That’s why every time she allows herself a genuine smile, my heart continues to go pitter-patter.

Dr. Seuss said, “You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep, because reality is finally better than your dreams.”

I agree.  Life is grand, ain’t it?

Longview Condo Is a Done Deal

On her birthday in March of this year, Alice told me, “This year, don’t buy me anything.  Instead, please, please get me a house.”

Alice realized the bloom had fallen off the Portland Rose City.  We started looking around and found a two-story townhouse for sale in Longview, Washington, next to a public golf course.  The photo above shows the crown jewel of Longview: Lake Sacajawea, a former channel of the Cowlitz River turned into a picturesque manmade lake, surrounded by 67 manicured parkland acres.  Live music fills the air on six consecutive Thursday night concerts.

Alice and I were in a difficult spot, because we didn’t have money for a down payment.  We were caught up in Portland’s rent crisis, and each year an increasing amount of money was being squeezed from us to rent a tiny 900-square-foot apartment next to a major freeway.

Eddie McCormick was recently honored as a Navy Seal.

Mason Was a Navy Reservist

Thinking about my Uncle Eddie McCormick, though, led to an overdue realization.  During the early 1960s, Eddie convinced me into joining the Naval Air Reserve.  As far as the Armed Services were concerned, I was not a “man’s man.”  This was especially true after I took the Navy’s aptitude test and set a new record for LOWEST score in mechanical ability.  Eddie suggested I join the Naval Air Reserve’s six-month active duty group known as “Weekend Warriors.”

During that era, I was subject to the draft.  So I enlisted as a preventive move and served six months of active duty – from October 6, 1960 until April 5, 1961, followed by 5½ years of active reserve duty spending one weekend a month at Jacksonville (Fla.) Naval Air Station and serving two weeks active duty during the summer.  Most of those two-week tours took me to Guantanamo Bay, but my experience did not include combat, thank God.

After my discharge, I discovered legislation that disqualified 1960s reservists who served 180 or fewer days active duty from receiving VA benefits.  This was a strike against six-month reservists, and I harbored resentment about the limitation of opportunity and expressed it to Uncle Eddie a few times.

Embracing a Revelation

Eventually, I found my niche as a broadcaster turned journalist, and regarded my military service as irrelevant history.  My military history soon became relevant as I wracked my brain figuring out how to finance a condo purchase.  I don’t remember how a flash of brilliance overcame me, but somehow I started counting my days of active duty from October 6 through April 5.  That added up to more than 180 days, it was 182.

Oh my God, the commander at Jacksonville Naval Air Station must have mustered me out two days late.  I was qualified!

Alice is greeted by the condo association president. We would share this backyard common area with one other resident.

Realtor Tami Cheatley was super-skeptical about VA financing, though, shunning it with a passion, but the Veterans Administration proved it was there for us.  It recognized Alice and me as a married couple, and acknowledged my service.  Oh yes, the VA did exact their pound of flesh, requiring me to document numerous explanations of every black mark our credit suffered over the last seven years.

We needed to get files from years past, copies of court judgments, visit the IRS, give every possible explanation for any bump in the road we experienced in life.   But we did it, and today, on Eclipse Monday, we closed on the sale.

Mason and Alice celebrate with a cold bottle of sparkling wine, just itching to have its cork popped..

As we celebrate our hard-won victory today, I acknowledge what Uncle Eddie did for by getting me into the Naval Air Reserve.  And I dote on his memory.  So congratulate us, for today Alice and I became homeowners in a quiet, desirable neighborhood.

Happy Eclipse Monday.