Tag Archives: musician

A Life-Changing Discovery

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.

My godfather: Horace Gerlach.
An amazing find 78 years after declaration by godfather Horace Gerlach.

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.

Looking at this old photograph, I wonder how old I was then.

The End of Musical Innocence

Forty years ago, I lived in Miami, Florida, a resort city where I grew up, although born in Manhattan. Being a Miami Dolphins fan had become part and parcel of a true Miamian, although the team was experiencing a so-so year. Nevertheless, the usual mild December weather, savvy tourism officials and our usually competitive gridiron team attracted ABC Sports to reschedule the Dolphins’ intra-divisional rivalry with the New England Patriots onto Monday Night Football.

Those were the days of local pro-football TV blackouts if games didn’t sell out 72 hours before kick-off, so fans like me who couldn’t afford to squeeze into the Orange Bowl were relegated to listening to the radio broadcast on station WIOD-AM.

On December 8, 1980, through the third quarter, the game had been lackluster, each team only managing to put up 6 points on the scoreboard. I lay restless on the bed, my imagination only stirred by the vivid play-by-play narration from Rick Weaver as Hank Goldberg added color commentary. As the quarter ended, the usual two minutes of commercials filled the warm night air.

Before the perfunctory station ID could be heard, though, a stern voice announced, “We interrupt this program for a news bulletin.” About 10 seconds of “dead air” followed, until the sound of a microphone moved across a table and an out-of-breath announcer uttered, “John Lennon has been shot in New York City in front of the building he loved, the Dakota, by Central Park.” He paused only a moment to clear the emotion from his voice to add, “We have confirmed that he was shot dead, killed by an unknown assailant. We now return you to our regularly scheduled program.”

I was stunned. Apparently, so were approximately 80,000 “Dol-fans” packed inside the Orange Bowl who, like me, were listening on transistor radios. It became impossible to tell the audio feed of the game’s broadcast had returned, because all one could hear was silence. The usual buzz of the shocked crowd disappeared, and it was heart-breaking. Simon and Garfunkel had it right; “Hello darkness, my old friend.”

“The Sounds of Silence” were deafening.

Tony Auth’s editorial cartoon

Two days later, I contacted the clerk’s office of the City of Miami Commission to get myself on the next meeting’s agenda. In my grief, because I heard a move was afoot in New York to reserve a section of Central Park called “Strawberry Fields” as a remembrance for Lennon, I hoped to do the same locally. A lot of “snowbirds” from New York migrated to our city during the winter. The park downtown had been officially named Bicentennial Park in 1976, and because of the newly established “New World” theme being sought for the area, I wanted to rename the park, “John Lennon New World Park.”

I contacted Miami’s top deejay, Rick Shaw, and asked him to join me at the commission meeting to stir the community into action. I also contacted Tony Auth, Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, because his stunning depiction of the “scales of justice” vividly showed how one bullet outweighed the litany of music Lennon created. Auth generously blew up his cartoon and mailed it to me, which a local artist supply shop then framed.

Rick Shaw and I were virtually ignored. We sat through two hours of interminable commission procedural nonsense, our pleas ignored until our cause was referred to an obscure committee, who refused to hear the petition. Miami is not known for its progressive ideology, and the idea of a memorial to a radical “leftist” was summarily buried along with his memory.

Mason Loika, limo driver.

When I left Miami in 2003, I found a new home base in the outskirts of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where I began to make a name for myself as a photojournalist for the Bucks County Herald. I was only paid a pittance for my work, some of it making the front page, so I kept the wolves from the door by working as a limousine driver.

Bucks County is regarded as a playground for bored Manhattanites, boasting residents best described as well-heeled who commute to the Big Apple, only 80 road miles away. That’s how I became a regular driver for a prominent public relations partner on Madison Avenue firm who owned an apartment at 1 W. 72nd Street, better known as the Dakota building, where Lennon was assassinated.

Although I drove the six-passenger limo shown above on “nights on the town,” I regularly negotiated the Hudson River’s crossings in a Lincoln Towncar, my heart leaping into the throat each time I pulled into the building’s secure alcove, avoiding the stare of camera-toting tourists looking to impose upon the building’s apartment owners.

One night while awaiting my passengers to arrive, a well-dressed, dark-haired woman with exotic features spoke to me:

“Hello there,” she said. “Do you know who I am?”

I looked around; my passengers had yet to arrive. “No, I don’t think so,” I stammered.

She answered her own question, saying, “I’m Lauren Bacall.”

My mouth dropped open. Lauren Bacall? Out of the blue? Humphrey Bogart’s heart-throb?

Before I had a chance to find my voice, my passengers arrived, and I was summarily engaged to load their bags for my humble position as a chauffeur in Bucks County. As I carefully backed out of the Dakota’s alcove, I looked around at the cameras clicking as tourists were drawn into the macabre circus-like sidewalk where Lennon was killed.

What a coincidence, though. I never bragged about my attempt to honor John Lennon back in Miami. I doubt my passengers would have cared; they lived in a world far different than me. But I will never forget the hallowed ground on which I walked, because John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s artistic expressions made a difference in this war-weary world in which we live. And their activism caused me to recognize my Quaker identity.

All they were saying – 40 years ago – was, “Give Peace a Chance.”

Fondly Going Back in Time

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

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

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

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

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

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.

American Boychoir School to Close

I participated in the American Boychoir School’s 75th anniversary concert at Saint Joseph’s Seminary in 2013.

In a July 2016 post, I wrote about my unwanted encounter with a pedophile in this heart of cultural civility, Princeton, New Jersey, in the mid-1950s.  Anyone who wishes to read that post can find it here: sexual-predators.

The American Boychoir School never offered an open, frank discussion about rumors about its past.  People whispered and wondered what had gone on, and the School continued to stick its head in the sand.  I was there when a children’s show on Public Radio called “From the Top,” a showcase for young classical musicians, used the school as a setting for one of its young artists’ shows.

In 2014, Dustin Hoffman starred with Debra Winger in a movie called “Boychoir” that used the American Boychoir School as a backdrop; however, it only received limited release to tepid reviews.  Hallmark Cards bought the movie, retitled it “Hear My Song” for national exposure on CBS-TV until the company learned of the New York Times archived exposé of the school’s sordid history, and the showing was quietly shelved.  TV Week revealed the reasons Hallmark backed away in an article available online.

Here’s an update.  The school is coming to an ignoble end.  The American Boychoir School is abandoning its efforts to emerge from Chapter XI bankruptcy.  It will close down.  You can read about it here: boychoir school to close.

There is no joy in seeing the American Boychoir School go bust.  But there is a high degree of poetic justice.  This chapter of my childhood has reached its ultimate end.

C’est la vie.

 

Waxing Philosophical

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.

Recruited to Be a Christian

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.

Looking Forth, Looking Back

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.)

Putting It in Perspective

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.

 

A Pedophile Encounter

On April 16, the CBS network was scheduled to telecast a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie entitled “Hear My Song,” based upon life at a school for musically gifted boys, a la the American Boychoir School in Princeton, NJ.  The feature-length film, whose 2014 theatrical distribution carried the title “Boychoir,” starred Dustin Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Debra Winger, Kevin McHale and Eddie Izzard.

With no fanfare, the TV version was shelved in lieu of a repeat broadcast of “NCIS: New Orleans.”  When asked why, Hallmark explained the cancellation on its Facebook page as follows:

“While the movie and actors were not intended to depict any particular individual, organization or institution, Hallmark was recently made aware of serious allegations of misconduct made many years ago at a school similar to the one depicted in the movie.  After careful consideration, it was decided that the movie will not air on CBS, Hallmark Channel or Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.”

The serious allegations of misconduct refer to an April 16, 2002 exposé printed on the front page of the New York Times metro section about years of sex abuse at the American Boychoir School, known then as the Columbus Boychoir School.

After the cancellation of “Hear My Song,” filmed at the American Boychoir School that now touts itself as creating a “safe” environment, the school issued a statement on its Facebook page that said, “We do not seek to silence criticism.”

If that were so, the following story that I authored in January 2013 would have appeared in the Bucks County Herald.  Instead, my editor killed it, citing the New Jersey school’s reputation for threatening legal action against stories of this sort.

I present it now, for the readers of this website. My motive for telling the story?  At the time I was sodomized, I observed there was no mention – either in newspapers or “polite” conversation – of this kind of activity, other than general allegations of “molestation.”  I was so ignorant that I thought “molesting” related to a poisonous burrowing animal: mole-sting, get it?

Now, 62 years later, I will no longer remain silent about this.  Perhaps then the American Boychoir’s strategy of waiting for its past controversy to go away will change.

Many benefactors’ hopes were dashed when anecdotal stories were heard by “Hear My Song’s” distributors, and its airing was canned.  It’s time to let some fresh air inside.

The photo above was taken of Albemarle in 2009, where boys resided until three years ago.  As hard times beset the school, the stately home of the Boychoir was sold to be turned into condominiums.  As an alumnus, I revisited the site of my youthful betrayal.

Sexual Predators Among Us

In 2013, a well-meaning, dewy-toned Quaker stood up during Buckingham Meeting’s silent worship to bemoan the sexual abuse at Penn State that has filled newspaper pages since its public discovery in 2011. She wrung her hands and cried, “If only we had known, if only we had known, we could have done something about it.”

Oh yeah? Is that right?

Something dramatic is necessary, because pedophiles are like cockroaches. You turn on the lights, and they scatter.

Once inside the main entrance of Albemarle, the red-carpeted stairway and railing led to offices and the boys' sleeping quarters. My predator had his own room alongside us.
Once inside the main entrance of Albemarle, the red-carpeted stairway and railing led to offices and the boys’ sleeping quarters. My predator had his own room alongside us.

My first sexual experience, at the age of 11, was at the hands of a charismatic predator in Albemarle, a small palace with colonnades built by the founder of Warner Lambert Pharmaceuticals. After the perpetrator sodomized me, he “voluntarily” resigned his post as guidance counselor.

(Yes, it’s true. America’s premier training ground for musically gifted boys offered unchecked opportunities for vile rampages during the sexually repressed 1950s. I was there because of my boy-soprano voice and budding child-prodigy piano work, the oldest son of a professional musician who played trombone and wrote arrangements for each of the Dorsey Brothers’ bands.)

Even as dawn broke and news spread of his impending resignation, each and every one of the choirboys in residence that 1956 morning wept openly, as the guidance counselor said his personal goodbyes while his index finger twitched its usual invitation against the inside of my young hand.

The sexual violation occurred only once, but that was enough. You never forget your first time.

ABS strategy damages its reputation

Although future classmates in later decades won undisclosed settlements, I never filed suit against the Boychoir for several reasons. First and foremost, I never wished to sign away for money my right to speak about what happened. I could bide my time until what I say would do the most good. Now that I’m 73 years old, the time is right.

More importantly, though, was the quality of the education I received in Princeton. I learned at the American Boychoir School that it was acceptable to learn as much as you can as fast as you can. Our student-to-teacher ratio was often 6 to 1. Our teachers were the best of the best, and I thrived on the atmosphere.

As a prima facie example, I was able to attend a private Princeton University outdoor science lecture where Dr. Werner von Braun demonstrated how the three-stage rocket would work, long before Sputnik went into orbit. As I walked around Princeton’s Nassau Street, I often imagined what to do if I caught sight of Albert Einstein; he loved the town. While rehearsing, we boys learned how to stir an audience and, as a result, ourselves.

Ordinary was never good enough. How could I sue a school that did that – for me, or my classmates?

I slept in a room with five other boys. I believe one of them chose to become a whistle-blower after the institution’s guidance counselor fetched me for his self-indulging moment at 3 am. In return for confidentiality, one of my roommates could have told a teacher, or perhaps Columbus Boychoir founder Herbert Huffman himself. Why else did this pedophile resign so soon after my monstrous encounter? (In a letter to parents dated February 24, 1956, a letter from Huffman said the guidance counsel “had to take an indefinite leave of absence from School because of illness.”) Some unknown comrade probably saved my butt, figuratively and literally.

In 2008 as part of my alumni experience, I spoke with then-Boychoir president Dr. Charles Bickford about what happened to me in 1956.  Bickford left the school soon thereafter. He and members of his staff never denied the plausibility of what I related to them. Leadership heading up the school continued to change, Albemarle was sold, the school changed location to St. Joseph’s Seminary in Plainsboro, NJ, and eventually left those auspicious grounds because of financial difficulty.

The American Boychoir’s position remains as it ever was: Its head is in the sand. Maybe the controversy will go away, they seemed to think.  But such a position seems really stupid. How can such an esteemed institution in the education-rich environs of Princeton refuse to use its mid-20th Century history to heal survivors from unwanted sexual attention, not just from Princeton but from schools all over the country?

Keeping the system as is may work well for lawyers, but not so well for the survivors.

In June 2012, I drove past the bronze statue of Joe Paterno outside Penn State’s monstrous 104,000-plus-seat stadium at State College where former alumni gather to reflect on some of the newest revelations spewing forth like poisonous volcanic fumes. At home as I looked into the videotaped face of Penn State’s ex-assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, the tape’s audio reminded me that the perpetual, generational cycle of cover-ups has yet to be broken. Countless lawyers profited from the generosity of the school’s historic benefactors and more young people considered themselves to be lifelong victims with little hope of regaining their tantalizing road to glory.

Legalized silences cause future slimy pedophiles to proliferate, and a new generation of brave whistleblowers find themselves poised to lift the cursed veil of politeness to once again peer into the seamy depths below.

How do we break this vicious cycle?

I think back on my behavior after that unwanted encounter, and I instinctively blamed a society that relegated conversations about sex to the darkest rooms and refused to turn the lights on. I began to rail against censorship. After all, the more you cover something up, the worse it becomes.

Predators thrive in darkness. My metaphor using cockroaches is apropos.

In 2013, I participated in an alumni concert in the Boychoir's new home: St. Joseph's Seminary in Plainsboro, NJ. Can you spot me singing?
In 2013, I participated in an alumni concert in the Boychoir’s new home: St. Joseph’s Seminary in Plainsboro, NJ. Can you spot me singing?  (Hint: I’m in the 3rd row.)

Statistics I recall about growing up in America purported that one of every three women is molested while growing up. For boys, the figure: one in four.

Do the math. That adds up to a lot of people keeping their mouths shut, whether for reasons of shame or convention. I believe keeping it all inside is far worse than letting it out, because victims of abuse face an ever-increasing toll as life goes on.

Those of us recovering from unsolicited sexual attention deserve a future where frank discussions about sex are no longer taboo. Sticking heads in the sand exasperated this whole mess in the first place.

In the Northeast’s hallowed corridors of high learning, good education is revered.  Let’s heal the wounds of the past by coming out of the shadows.

Celebrating an Impresario

So long, T.J.  You finally received an all-star send-off.

Two weeks ago, the musical legacy of T.J. Tindall was celebrated in a musical jam in the City of Brotherly Love, most notably by Duke Williams and his life partner Annie.  Perhaps now T.J.’s prolific spirit can reverberate across the universe.

While living in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, I covered the music scene for the Bucks County Herald.  Until September 2014, I witnessed and reported on triumphs – tragedies, as well – including the Marshall Tucker Band’s headline appearance at the Stockton Inn and the all-star wake for Danny DeGennaro after his senseless murder in December 2011.

Introducing a Rising Star

Jessi Teich brought the crowded room at Jon and Peter's to its feet.
Jessi Teich brought the crowded room at Jon and Peter’s to its feet.

One highlight during those years was covering T.J. Tindall’s February 2013 concert at Jon and Peter’s in New Hope.  He crammed an all-star ensemble inside the historic nightspot and featured a breakout starring role for a chanteuse named Jessi Teich.  Her sultry moves and rock-steady vocal solos highlighted the night’s blues repertoire, and raised an appreciative audience’s temperature to long-forgotten heights.

After hearing some of Teich’s cuts from a promotional CD, I learned she was far more than a great voice in a killer body; she is a master musician.  Some of her chord changes were inventive and worked so well that I was astounded.  No wonder T.J. used his long-awaited appearance to serve as a springboard for Teich’s career.  After all, musicians cannot help realizing how timeless great music is.

T.J. left this overrated plane of existence on Jan. 26 after succumbing to a self-imposed, undisclosed ordeal with cancer.  Friends and fellow musicians were stricken with grief, and their mournful plaints are understandable.  The impresario/musician who entertained countless audiences has a long list of credits detailed on various websites.

Nevertheless, what needs to be said at this dark hour is how to honor T.J.’s passing without tears or gnashing of teeth.  I emulate how blues and jazz musicians honor their compatriots in New Orleans.

My Way to Commemorate

I will celebrate T.J.’s musical ear by playing Jessi Teich’s music, because the universe is cyclical.  To see what she has been up to, check out her website at www.jessiteich.com.  I think T.J. would be pleased.  Is it any wonder that the initials of her name – J.T.  – reorganize T.J.’s?

With death comes birth, and it’s time to let him go to that parallel primordial ooze where all great musicians jam together.  I hope to see him on the other side.  Because of T.J. Tindall, a new generation of star-crossed musicians is making Planet Earth a far better place.