Tag Archives: Mason Loika

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!

Black Lives Matter

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 photograph of myself at age 26 was taken in Los Angeles in 1969,

Back in the Saddle again

I needed some time off to reflect on fast-moving events. And I thank everyone for honoring my period of reflection – and accomplishment.

An event occurred in June that reflects political correctness run amuck, something endemic to the West Coast. If the behavior of some well-meaning proponents of social change cannot recognize we share a common priority – a change in leadership – we could be doomed to four more years of madness.

The spirit inherent in writing a book of merit brings out my Quaker experience of reflection. In the long run, my support of the Aphasia Network shall be constant. Any complaint I have pales in importance to what appears in a book. These are the same sort of compromises our new activist generation needs to learn, or else the winds of change will fail to recognize ideals still thought dear.

I want to recognize Professor John White of Pacific University and speech therapist Jordan Horner for their kind assist in helping me determine the importance of my book’s contents. Also, former University of Oregon professor Melissa Hart oversaw my first three chapters and overall organization. I’m writing the book – finally!

How long can I keep my pedal to the metal? We’ll see.

One more thing: I miss Alice more now than ever.

The photo above reveals my left eye is half-closed, due to a burst blood vessel. Awww!

Going on Hiatus

Above: On the wall behind me is an artist’s impression of a pianist tickling the ivories next to a photo of my father performing in a big band during the 1940s. I once played Mozart for Louis Armstrong.

Once upon a time, I rushed to create new posts each week on this website to increase the number of visitors it receives.  The idea was to create anticipation for the book everyone is waiting for.

Well, last week some stupid shit hit the fan, and I’ve been spending a good amount of time and effort wiping it off my psyche. This spurred the realization that each consequential distraction interrupts the focused madness necessary to writing a complete book.

(You can anticipate what’s coming next, right?

Well, congratulations.) This website is going on hiatus for a little while.

Don’t be sad. If you want a further taste of who I am, peruse this website. A tribute to Danawa Buchanan can be found, a cross-country journey with a CHECK ENGINE light may humor you, and how my immigrant father emigrated here cum laude after arriving 101 years ago should comfort subsequent immigrants.

I’ll see you on the flip side!

The Boss is Back (again)

AT&T has managed to incorporate an amazing library into its HBOMax service, but the technological metamorphosis in how we watch television currently is overshadowing the life-changing creative accomplishment of one particular singer: Bruce Springsteen (Alice’s other heartthrob).

With little fanfare, HBO (Home Box Office) acquired Springsteen’s life achievement film, “Western Stars” from Warner Bros. Then to obscure (unintentionally, I assume) a prospective masterpiece, AT&T incorporated a vast amount of copyright-protected works to its on-demand subscription library a few weeks thereafter.

Once you locate the movie that Springsteen co-directed with Thom Zinny, “Western Stars” must be seen and heard to be believed. He invited 30 orchestra members to perform his insightful songs inside a spacious New Jersey hay-barn that holds up to 100 people. The acoustics in the barn are top of the line, and my Bose system delivers perfectly. You will notice the “Boss” doesn’t perspire at any time; he is completely attuned to the blend of sound inside the barn.

Bruce Springsteen appears intent in expressing the lyrics of his musical creation.

In the film, Springsteen himself explains, “‘Western Stars’ is a 13-song meditation on the struggle between individual freedom and communal life.

“There are two sides of the American character: One is transient, restless, solitary, but the other is collective and communal in search of family, deep roots and a home for the heart to reside. These two sides rub up against one another –  always and forever – in everyday American life.”

Springsteen gleans insight from his own past behavior, and expresses it in deeply personal songs. None of his words appear inflated; if anything, his inner emotional state appears muted. Although one critic panned it, “Sleepy Joe’s Café” is nothing like the place the Coasters sang about.

If you are over-saturated with the defugalties this country is putting up with, you could do a lot worse than watch “Western Stars,” co-directed by Springsteen and Thom Zimny. You may not jump up and down, but you might shed a tear for an America that is rapidly being lost.

“Western Stars” is available through subscription to HBO/Max or Hulu. It can also be viewed through Vudu, YouTube, Google Play, Microsoft, iTunes, Fandango and Amazon, or purchased at Bruce Springsteen’s website.

COMMEMORATING ALICE

The photo above shows Alice checking her camera before hitting the beach during our first time at Couples Weekend on the Coast under the auspices of the Aphasia Network.

A few weeks ago, I published a Post-It that Alice wrote before she and I engaged in a commitment ceremony. The outdoor setting with a running-water, rock-garden fishpond occupied by spectacular baby koi, a six-foot deep swimming pool and a 12-person-size, screened-in gazebo was made complete by 30 invited guests. Alice planned to feature me as the last man she was ever going to love.

Alice had a rough life, far greater than anything I ever experienced. Each of her children and grandchildren had it tough, too. Comparatively speaking, I was just a babe in the woods.

Perhaps I sensed my innocence in the commitment letter Alice asked I write before our commitment ceremony, deliberately scheduled to occur Sept. 24, 2011, one year beyond the day we met.

On the beach, Alice became a child again, engaging in ridiculous chit-chat with two students.

Currently, the Aphasia Network is holding its annual Couples Weekend, but, because stroke survivors and care partners are especially at risk during this pandemic, we began meeting this week in a virtual setting using the Internet program Zoom.

Alice on the beach with student Meredith.

Everyone loved Alice, almost as much as she loved them, and the next 10 weeks will emulate the weekend event, the first camp since Alice’s passing. Students, educators, stroke survivors, care partners and staff members are clamoring for details about our love.

I watched an extraordinary video prepared by computer-savvy Mollie Wang, in which she sang and engineered pitch-perfect duets with Professor John White of Pacific University. The second and last song performed, “You’ve Got a Friend,” was written by James Taylor, Alice’s heart throb. At a meaningful moment in the song, an image of Alice appeared, and my heart flowed deeper than expected. Tears filled my eyes.

I took Alice to see James Taylor’s spectacular show at the Moda Center.

Today, I ran across the commitment letter I wrote to Alice on August 28, 2011. Shortly after Alice’s passing, I shared Alice’s commitment note here.

Since the Aphasia Network formally started its extended Couples Weekend celebration on Tuesday, the time is perfect to publish the commitment letter I wrote her. After all, it’s only fair, right?

Dearest Alice,

As we witness the last hurrahs from Hurricane Irene’s visit to the Northeast, I recall the time George and I went streaking during South Florida’s version of the hurricane’s namesake in 1999.  So much has changed since you became part of my life.

All my worldly possessions are now stored inside your house, a place you insist I call “ours.”  My environs are surreal, far beyond any expectations.  I feel out of kilter.

So far in life, my expectations as a writer have not borne fruit.  In order to cope, I declare myself a musician first, a writer second.  Somewhere in the scheme of things is my fallback identity as a limousine driver, bringing in the meager income I contribute.

Why do I try to defend myself from you, as if you are an intruder and not a friend?  Have I grown terrified of life, reverting back to the frightened boy depicted in my nightmares?

I decided to write this letter, even without a pat ending.  Perhaps I should write more this way using my subconscious, rather than wait until ideas ferment and scream to come out.  Anything worth investing into a sit-down exercise at this computer should attempt to glean insights without a glossy finish.

I love you in ways I know little about; I break new ground with every step we take.  I can predict nothing beyond tomorrow; is that what scares me?

I don’t know what you see in me; maybe that’s why you love me.  Little of it makes sense.  Just know I am trying to be true to myself and to our relationship.  Everything else seems up for grabs.

All my love,

Mason

This photo of Alice with student Megan Bravo says it all.