Tag Archives: Mason Loika

Reconstruction: Longview Style

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

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

Second-floor view of inside stairs

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

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

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

Carpeting on stairs was removed after an area was smoldering.

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

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

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

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

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

Onward and upward!

Displaced by a Fire

It could have been worse. Much worse.

Instead, my remarkable recovery from abdominal surgery – repair of a distended hernia – and an occupational therapy professor’s oversight probably saved my life.

Let’s review the past 15 days. On April 21, I underwent the uncertainty of surgery, the expectation of an invasive operation, with surgeon John M. Roberts in charge. The threat of complications was on the table, requiring overnight medical observation in Kaiser Permanente’s Sunnyside Medical Center.

The preparation was easy, though – full of promise. No awful goop to drink in advance. The only requirement: nothing to eat or drink for eight hours preceding my date with a scalpel at 5:30 am. Once I was cleared to go upstairs and an IV administered in a surgical pre-op room, I felt reassured, especially after my surgeon arrived bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, full of vim and vigor.

I looked around at my surroundings. I counted at least 30 pre-op rooms like mine, all in use simultaneously, turning this section of Sunnyside into a virtual factory. Welcome to Advanced Medical Care in a Time of Covid-19.

Anesthesia was applied so precipitously that I never got a chance to count down from 100. And four hours later, I was awakened by the anesthesia team with great news. The mesh that now held my hernia’s unsightly distension was inserted laparoscopically during a marathon procedure. Because surgery was mostly non-invasive, recovery promised to be a snap.

And it was. I received a modest supply of oxycodone from the hospital’s pharmacy (after responding to four separate text notices the prescribed pain pills were ready for pickup). I took two of the tablets at six-hour intervals in the hospital, and one pill a day later. Otherwise, I avoided them completely, having been pre-warned about its constipating side effect. Furthermore, I don’t like the blurry aftereffect when the pills kick in.

Once Kaiser released me, I was on the mend. Two days later, I walked briskly for a half-mile under the care of my cousin Margaret and her cairn (a breed of dog) around a tony Tigard, Oregon neighborhood. I was recovering rapidly. No sweat!

Three days later, John White, former occupational therapy professor at Pacific University, transported me 50 miles to my Longview, Wash. townhouse. The good professor brought a sleeping bag on which to stay overnight, along with his trademark guitar, and we enjoyed a smashing good time watching the 2012 Oscar-nominated movie, “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” The next morning, after White fried up two eggs, a sizable portion of hash browns (and spicy pork sausage for me), we journeyed to Lake Sacajawea to traipse along the park’s tree-lined gravel paths.

Professor John White at Lake Sacajawea..

Three hours later and two miles under my belt, with my body feeling fit as a Southern fiddle, White pronounced me in perfect condition and we drove back from the park. Upon entering my townhouse, I walked into a smoke-filled maze, looking around to find the cause of the smoke, and discovered the outside southeast corner of my apartment was smoldering.

My next-door neighbor, Ned Rauth, immediately appeared, admitting culpability by using a hand-held blowtorch to kill weeds adjacent to my apartment. Hmmm, stupid is as stupid does, but why did he ensconce himself inside his apartment to watch TV and fail to extinguish the fire?

He tried using a garden hose, but why was it still smoldering, emitting toxic smoke throughout my apartment? Why did he leave the scene of the fire? Had he called the fire department? Or was he just avoiding the aftermath of what he had done?

No matter; I called the fire department. Within 10 minutes, an engine company showed up to put out the smoldering mess, stabilizing my living quarters and the contents therein.

The fire is extinguished, but the carpet inside shows how close disaster struck.

What if Professor White had not accompanied me? What would have happened if my rehabilitation proved to be troublesome, and I went to sleep inside my apartment instead of walking around the park?

The fire department determined my hard-wired smoke detector wasn’t working. Knowing that smoke inhalation is the No. 1 killer from a house fire, I readily admit I am lucky!

But let’s imagine I waited a day to return home. Yes, I would have survived, but all my personal records, data, pictures and memorabilia would have gone up in smoke. So much for the book!

As far as recovery is concerned, ServPro is on hand to clean my clothes, possessions – as well as everything my late wife, Alice, used to appoint and decorate our dwelling. Most everything of sentimental value looks to be recoverable.

Industrial-strength fans have been in force since April 27, constantly scrubbing the air inside, but at night it’s cold inside (upper 40s to low 50s) since all the windows must remain open. I’ve learned to close off one room – my office – and put on the heat to temporarily avoid the outside chill. Looking ahead, only some of my three-year-old plush carpet may require replacement, especially the living room, but I suspect (hopefully) my furniture and electronics will remain undisturbed.

Until the recovery is complete, I spend nights inside a Quality Inn room, and may stay there as long as four more weeks.

So am I complaining? Nah!

A wheelbarrow holds the damaged pieces of my townhouse.

That’s all the belly-aching I can withstand. I could feel sorry for myself, but what would that accomplish? No sir. It’s back to work on Chapter 10, “Square Grouper,” because that’s the next integral part of my true-life love story, She Danced on Bandstand.

Up and at ’em!

Happy Valentine’s Day

Maybe you heard about the snowstorm we experienced two days ago. Down in Portland, precipitation fell as ice, up to a full inch! Fortunately for southwest Washington, we received more than six inches of snow and no ice as temperatures remained below freezing.

That much snow is rare in the Pacific Northwest valleys tucked in between the Cascades and the Coast Range. When any frozen precipitation occurs, the whole area virtually shuts down. That’s because Oregon and Washington have few snowplows and a fraction of the salt elsewhere in the country. Portland would rather use de-icer, accounting for stranded vehicles attempting to traverse hilly areas and increasingly vocal complaints from East Coasters.

So our snow was the most reported in over nine years. Tonight, the weather forecast suggests as temperatures begin to fall, we may get some ice, but nowhere what Portland received. In the week ahead, temperatures should rise and stay in the mid-40s with rain, allowing streets to fully recover in short order. Nevertheless, I felt obliged to shovel a path from my townhouse’s garage to access a navigable street a few feet away.

As I was midway in clearing a paved area where I could freely back out, a little girl, whom I will identify as Penelope, with resplendent red hair and an ear-to-ear smile asked if she could help. I noted she did not ask if I NEEDED help, she asked if she COULD.

Big difference.

I directed Penelope’s efforts, and 20 minutes later told her we were finished, she prepared to run off, yelling “Happy Valentine’s Day!”

No snow melted then, but my heart did. I gave her a five-spot, and told Penelope to share it with her brother.

Although taller than me, Alice happily rested her head on my bony shoulder.

This was my first Valentine’s Day without Alice supervising me, but I know she would be proud.

I think you will, too. From the Rose City (Portland) where my wife and I first moved, then discovering a modest Washington town 60 miles away where residents happily grow up with small-town values, Happy Valentine’s Day!

A Change in Plans to Celebrate Alice’s Life

I apologize, but plans to celebrate at the Coast one year after Alice’s passing have changed.

It’s true I will be at the Adrift Hotel in Long Beach, WA on March 27 to scatter some of Alice’s ashes, as tradition dictates, but I will be more mournful on that day. After 10 months of isolation, my heart says that to hold the kind of celebration Alice deserves, it should occur after the pandemic is under control. It should occur when physical touch is no longer frowned upon. And it should occur in Garibaldi where the sound of the ocean will take Alice on her spirit journey.

I know my eyes will fill with tears when I revisit the myriads of people whom Alice inspired, and that’s the way I want to remember her. Alice will look down and witness the warmth of every hug offered on such an occasion. It’s true what Kailey Cox said, “Alice was amazing.”

Kailey’s intuitive words will stay with me until the end of time. It’s also a comfort to remember how momentous Alice’s love was to me – an itinerant writer and Quaker – who couldn’t help but love her back. Alice showed me something Quakers have yet to figure out. You don’t wage peace; you wage love, and peace will result.

After a panic attack yesterday, I learned I was reacting to the time delineator called March 27 that traditionally means more to our planet than it does to Alice. I shall honor this insight, and plan accordingly.

Thank you for honoring my vision.

Alice McCormick 3/6/44 – 3/27/20

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.

Postscript: On January 6, 2021, my worst fears came true, as the news media chronicled a failed attack on our Democracy and its Capitol.

How it was planned, who was involved, need to be uncovered, examined and dealt with in such a way as to hasten our late emergence into the 2000 Millennium. Few of us will survive in a new Civil War where mass destruction is possible.

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.