About John Oliver Mason

I am a freelance writer, having worked for newspapers, magazines and blogs for over twenty-five years, covering neighborhood and working people making their communities and their lives better. I believe in the power of the written word to bring about change, and I put that into practice. I believe that when we become aware of the effect our small actions in the community have in improving lives, we can truly make a difference. I am also one of the leading poets in the Philadelphia area, and I also write fiction. I also act, performing on the public access channel PhillyCAM.

Little Brown Church In The Vale, an original short story

The little church sat next to a two-lane road among the curves of farmland in Darcy Township, Pennsylvania. It had a small steeple, two yards high, which timidly drew attention to the church. The building had two floors; the top floor was the sanctuary, and the bottom floor had the dining room and kitchen.

For decades, the church went through everything within its stucco walls: weddings and funerals, Christmas pageants, vigils of the cross on Good Friday and Easter Sunrise service, collection plates gathering pocket change, and clusters of people talking and kids playing after the service. The church was a second home for its people.

On a Sunday in May 1995, the morning service ended, and the pastor, the Reverend Robert Helmer, shook everybody’s hand. People eased around the pans of water — the roof leaked, and the roofer was expensive. (The men of the church, when younger, got up on ladders to patch the roof, but they couldn’t do that now.) They were glad they didn’t have to take their coats with them into the sanctuary – the furnace didn’t work all winter, and everybody had to wear coats inside and they had kerosene heaters. They got used to the window being boarded up (there wasn’t a stained-glass artist in the area) and the big holes in the carpet.

The Reverend Helmer shook the hand of Harry Newland, one of the oldest members of the church, who was a boy when the cornerstone was laid. “Rob,” sighed Newland, “What’s the church gonna do about this?” as he waived his skinny arm over the sights of wear and tear. “Don’t nobody care about this place?”

“I have a meeting with the district superintendent tomorrow,” said Helmer, “maybe he’ll have some good news for us.”

At that, one of the boys from the Sunday School came up and warned, “Reverend, the water’s coming out dirty again.”

“Thank you, Jimmy,” said Helmer.

After graduating from the seminary, Rob Helmer asked the bishop to post him in this, his home church, to minister to the people he grew up with. Helmer walked around Darcy, meeting other young people who attended Sunday School with him as kids. He asked them to drop by the church sometime, and they would say, “Yeah, maybe someday.”

They never did.

As Helmer emerged from the church, a red Jeep Cherokee showed to a brief stop, and a heavy man in his late twenties stared at the church and its people, then drove off. Some saw the man’s face through the bluish tint of the windshield and said, “Isn’t that Danny Hoffman’s boy? I thought he moved to Philly.”

Helmer also saw the man’s face – John Daniel Hoffman, who, after getting out of high school, did move to Philadelphia; the same kid whose father never held a job for long or drew a sober breath, and who was teased and bullied by all the other kids and many of the adults, even in church. Helmer heard Hoffman got rich in the adult entertainment business, and came back to the area on business. All other town people muttered, “What’s he doin’ here? Showing off how rich he is!”

The next day, Helmer met with the Reverend Philip Dodson, district superintendent for that part of the state.

“Rob,” Dodson said, “We’ve received word from the county that your church may be declared unfit for human habitation. If that goes through, we would have to be forced to close it down.”

The church closed? “Can they do that, close a church?” he asked.

“The building’s been sorely neglected,” Dodson continued. “Since the deed of the building was transferred to the district, the district has paid for the maintenance and utilities as best it could. But times and hard in the region, employment’s bad, and contributions’ve fallen off. So we’ve had to cut expenses.”

Helmer trudged to his seven-year-old Plymouth, and thought – The church will be closed. He got in the car, then prayed, “Please help me, Lord, what should I do?” He would have to tell everybody in the congregation, they would take it hard.

When he came to Darcy Borough, Helmer saw the same red Jeep Cherokee parked by the Sweetheart Inn restaurant. He went inside and saw, sitting at the counter, John Hoffman. Once a timid, heavy kid who wore worn-out clothes from the five-and-dime, Hoffman wore a double-breasted suit and a diamond in his left earlobe.

Hoffman saw Helmer come in and cheered, “Hey Rob!”

“Hello, John,” smiled Helmer as they shook hands and pressed against each other.

“Siddown,” urged Hoffman, “Y’ want anything, I’ll treat!”

“Naw, thanks,” said Helmer. “So, y’ been t’ see y’ mom?”

“Yeah,” sighed Hoffman, “They’re takin’ good care a’ her.” (Hoffman’s mother was in the finest mental hospital in the state.) “I’m kind’a making up for when I couldn’t take care of her.”

“An’ y’ dad?”

“Ain’t heard from him in a year. So, your mom okay?”

“Oh, not so good,” Helmer shrugged, “but the nursing home’s taking good care a’ her. So, John, what brings you back?”

“I’m purchasing little bits of land in the county,” Hoffman declared. “Real estate’s a great investment, something for the future. Y’ look great, still playing basketball?”

“Yeah, at the Y on Franklin Street downtown.  Say, I saw y’ pass by the church yesterday. Y’ know the district’s talking’ about closing’ the church, the county wants to condemn it.”

“Yeah, I know,” grunted Hoffman, “I have some connections in the courthouse.”

Connections-real estate-the church-Helmer asked, “What do y’ know about it?”

Hoffman leaned towards Helmer and confided, “I’m out t’ buy the church’s property from the district. I already bought the mortgage on it.”

Helmer couldn’t believe it – buy a church? He asked, “What d’ y’ plan t’ do with it?”

“I’ll add it to the Redmond farm, I bought that a couple months ago,” Hoffman replied. “Tear down the building, clear the brush and trees near it. Don’t know whether t’ make it onto an industrial park, or homes. A lot a’ people coming’ into the area from New York, thanks t’ the new expressway.”

Helmer inhaled, then said, “John, this is a house of worship, a house of God! Don’t that mean anything t’ you?”

Hoffman muttered, “Some a’ the worse teasing’ and bullying’ I got as a kid was in that house of worship!  I tried t’ be a good Christian, follow the Ten Commandments an’ all that! But the other kids – y’ know the Jensen kids, they had this tree fort, an’ their parents were super-Christian? Well, inside the tree fort they had all kinds a’ dirty books an’ magazines, an’ condoms that a’ been used! The other kids had that stuff too, an’ they cussed an’ stole liquor from their parents’ cabinets!”

Hoffman slumped back in his stool and added, “I tried t’ be good, I needed help from someone, anyone, an’ my parents were no good about it! Y’ know my dad was too drunk or too stupid t’ do anything. The other adults didn’t want anything t’ do with me, they all looked like they wanted to smack me.”

Helmer bowed his head – Hoffman was right, the people of the church were mean to him, and ignored his needs. “I guess that’s what made you go into pornography, huh, John?”

“Well, those good Christian people didn’t care about me or my family,” hissed Hoffman, “so I don’t care about them.”

After Helmer left the restaurant, he wondered-was there any hope for the church? Did people care about it? He drove past the church; the signboard’s paint and lettering was fades by the weather, the grass was high, and the stucco face was falling apart.

He drove to the house where he rented a room on Brookfield Road near the creek. He called on as many of the members of the church as he could, with the message, “The district’s planning to close the church! Come to the meeting at the church tomorrow at seven PM.”

Some of them said, “I dunno, we’ll see.”

Later that evening, Helmer prayed for success, but a thought crept up: “Is God using John Hoffman to test the church?”

At the meeting, Helmer told twenty people what went on with Dodson and Hoffman, then concluded, “If we want to save our spiritual home, then I say we take our stand here and now! I say we go to court to stop the order coming from the county, and let’s get together to save this church, which we’ve allowed to fall into neglect, and our souls, which we’ve also neglected! Have we let both rot, complaining but not doing anything?”

Arnie Munson, a plumbing contractor, jumped up and raged, “What’re y’ tryin’ t’ get us involved in? Y’ jus’ tryin’ t’ cause trouble! Let me out ‘a here!” and he stomped down the aisle.

That, right there!” Helmer called out. “What’ve you ever done for the church, Arnie, except complain about everything? Like the plumbing, why don’t y’ do something about the plumbing, donate some time t’ fix it?”

“I don’t give nobody a free ride!” grunted Munson, “I work for a livin’!”, and he continued out the door.

“Look, like I said,” continued Helmer, “if we don’t pull together, the church will be closed!”

“Aw, don’t be so dramatic,” snapped Mrs. Yeager, a widow who had no faith in anything or anybody. “Politicians’ll do what they want.”

“Rob, what happened t’ you at college?” asked Joe Carney, a gas station owner. “Did y’ pick up some crazy radial ideas? Protestin’, demonstratin’ like some activist preacher!”

“If we don’t do something, now,” warned Helmer, “the church will be closed and torn down, do you understand that?”

Carney stood for a moment, then said, “Naw, they ain’t gonna tear down a church,” waving his hand as he sat down.

“Damnit, let’s wake up here!” snapped Harry Newland as he rose. “We treated Johnnie Hoffman mean, (cough) an’ we’re getting’ punished for it! (cough) We let the church go t’ hell, an’ we let (cough) ourselves go to hell! (cough) Don’t we care about this church? Rob is right” –  and he collapsed into spasms of coughing, clutching his chest. People wondered if they should get an ambulance, but there was no phone in the building.

The following Sunday, Helmer brought the same message to the congregation, but all anyone said was, “Harry Newland died cursing in church.

One month later, Helmer drove to the church as a bulldozer rammed through the stucco wall of the building, while John Hoffman leaned on his red Jeep Cherokee. Hoffman turned to see Helmer pull up and get out of the Plymouth. They looked at each other and Helmer and said, “Hey, John.”

“Hey, Rob,” Hoffman replied, his voice down. “Too bad about Harry Newland, he was a great guy.”

“Yeah,” Helmer, sighed, his head bobbing.

I understand the people didn’t do much to-about this,” said Hoffman.

Nah,” nodded Helmer. “The people-I can’t be mad at them. All they went through in life, they lost any fight in them. They just take it, and don’t fight back. What else can I say?”

“Yeah, I know,” said Hoffman, from the back of his throat, “I can’t be one of them, why I got out. They knew their place, and they’re afraid of what might happen if they got out of it.”

A section of the wall crashed, and Hoffman and Helmer moved back. “Rob,” said Hoffman, “please don’t be angry at me. I was so bitter, I had to do this.”

“Naw, I’m not angry,” shrugged Helmer. “I’m starting to think the church-once it as a living thing, and it was about to die.”

“Sounds about right,” agreed Hoffman, “so, what now?”

“We’ll find another place to meet, maybe someone’s living room,” Helmer said, and then they hugged.

 

Hemperiffic Card

Happy Juneteenth

On Saturday, June 19, we will celebrate Juneteenth, when we commemorate the day of June 19, 1865, when Union General Gordon Granger informed former slaves in Galveston, Texas, of their emancipation from slavery, over two months after Lee surrendered in Appomattox, and over two years after Lincoln issued the emancipation Proclamation. (News of the end of the war traveled slowly through Texas; and several confederate divisions did not surrender until June 1865.) (https://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/what-is-juneteenth/)

There has been a movement to commemorate this event as the final end to chattel slavery in America, and to honestly discuss the history of slavery as a terrible historic fact. This week, President Joe Biden signed the act, passed by both houses of Congress, declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday. (https://www.cnn.com/politics/live-news/biden-signs-juneteenth-bill/index.html)

This comes amid the new Republican-conservative hysteria over Critical Race Theory (CRT), a concept, developed in the 1970s and 1980s, that looks into how race and racism affect every aspect of American society, be it education, municipal government, medical care, law and law enforcement, employment, etc., to how thoroughly racism has permeated our society and public discourse. (https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/subject_specific_writing/writing_in_literature/literary_theory_and_schools_of_criticism/critical_race_theory.html) Republican legislators and media talkers have told their followers that CRT is too divisive for our society, it makes people feel bad, and it causes white people to hate themselves. Several state legislatures dominated by Republicans have introduced bills banning or limiting the teaching of CRT in public schools, even though it’s a discussion mainly in university circles. (https://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/551977-gop-legislatures-target-critical-race-theory) There are people who would not face the reality of racism in this country, and would not learn about or confront slavery in America and how it affected our economy and society.

This meshes with another new Republican-conservative bogie, the 1619 Project of the New York Times, named after the date in August 1619 when the first people from Africa came to Virginia as slaves. (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html) Just like with CRT, Republican-dominated legislatures have introduced laws attempting to prohibit the use of the 1619 Project in classrooms as part of discussions about racism in this country. trump, in an attempt to please his base, had organized a “1776 Commission,” to call for “patriotic education” in schools and to minimize the effect and reality of slavery. (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jan/22/1776-commission-report-trump-administration-historians)

Of course the Republicans whine about kids being “brainwashed” and “indoctrinated” in schools by “leftist professors;” they’re projecting their own effort to turn schools and education into propaganda tools onto people who want an honest discussion about racism in this country. They don’t want any serious intellectual discussions, which would destroy their political power and their worldview. Let’s not take their “arguments” too seriously; all they want to do is hang on to their waning power. Let us continue to learn on our own, in and outside the classroom, and discuss our learning with others. Our brains, and our votes, are our mightiest weapons.

 

 

London, United Kingdom, August 3rd 2019:- Anti fascist demonstrators march in opposition to a rally by supporters of the former EDL leader Tommy Robinson

Hemperiffic Card

The Internet IS Infrastructure

In May, Colonial Pipeline, the supplier of fuel for the East Coast, was hit by a cyberattack of ransomware by a gang in Russia, demanding a payment to reopen the pipeline. (Was the Russian government behind this? I wouldn’t put it past Putin.) Cybersecurity was so weak that a gang of criminals had Colonial shut down its operations for six days. (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/08/us/politics/cyberattack-colonial-pipeline.html)

Early in June, JBS, one of the nation’s largest meat-packing companies, was also hit with ransomware by a criminal gang from Russia. (https://www.reuters.com/world/us/some-us-meat-plants-stop-operating-after-jbs-cyber-attack-2021-06-01/) (https://www.npr.org/2021/06/03/1002849920/meat-packer-jbs-expects-to-operate-at-near-full-capacity-after-ransomware-attack) In both instances, companies producing a vital product were forced to pay off the gang, production was slowed down, and our national security compromised.

President Joe Biden, in his plan to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, would include upgrading our internet capacities, which I believe should include cyber-security, the ability to resist such attacks, and repair any damage they might cause. The Republicans, anxious to stamp out any plans that benefit the people and provide jobs, is bickering about what to include under “infrastructure.”

The internet is as vital to our lives as are railroads, roads, bridges, dams, levies, and electric power stations; without them, we wouldn’t function as a society, and it would be a disaster during a national emergency, say, a war, a pandemic, or a natural  catastrophe like the outage of the Texas power grid during the snowstorm (https://www.npr.org/2021/06/03/1002849920/meat-packer-jbs-expects-to-operate-at-near-full-capacity-after-ransomware-attack).

Thus I say the internet counts definitely as infrastructure, and we must definitely include it in the Biden infrastructure plan, and upgrade it, including security, so some entity could no longer hold it hostage.

The Mason Missile, May 29, 2021

Greetings, Americans!

I hope you all voted; I took part in my division’s election board, setting up the voting machines, showing people how to work them, and taking them down, along with helping people sign in the book to vote. I encourage all of you to try to take part in the election system in your jurisdiction; it’s supposed to be OUR electoral system and OUR government.

The Republican Party, in an effort to appease the trumpist base (in every sense of the word), continue the count of the votes in Maricopa Country, Arizona (where Phoenix is located), in the hunt for anything wrong with the vote count during the 2020 elections; (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-57089359) to the Republicans, the problem was the election of Biden, not trump, and they continue their state of denial about the election results.

How can we deal with the Republicans if they’re descended into such madness? The ideal of American politics was to have both parties come together over a bill or an issue, negotiating in the smoke-filled rooms of legend, and finally, for the good of the country, come to a deal that benefits both sides.  But we can’t do that anymore, when you see the willful stubbornness of Senate MINORITY Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who blocks Democratic proposals because he can; and the new grassroots of the Republican Party which carries the noxious weeds of racism, anti-Semitism, conspiracy theorizing, religious charlatanism, plutocracy/oligarchy, and authoritarianism-all of which was known in an earlier time, and it applies today as FASCISM.

This slide to nowhere is even more evident in how the Senate failed to attain the two-thirds majority to allow on the floor the vote on the bill the House passed to create a bi-partisan commission to investigate the ransacking by rabid trump loyalists of the Capitol-which could have killed some of the members, and did kill a Capitol Police officer, Brian Sicknick. This psychotic mob could have killed them, but they didn’t have the guts to stand up to trump and all the racism and bullying he stands for. (https://apnews.com/article/michael-pence-donald-trump-capitol-siege-government-and-politics-4798a8617bacf27bbb576a4b805b85d9?utm_medium=AP&utm_source=Twitter&utm_campaign=SocialFlow&fbclid=IwAR35AQdrvjaIPQZ0nt8TEGbxdIwf80TAsE_3RVtiB3tkreb6-INT7JKw7ds)

There has been talk about more mainstream conservative Republicans trying to retake the party to save it from the trumpist elements; the Lincoln Project, which their terrific videos hitting at trump and his brood of vipers, comes to mind, and they’ve done great work at it. But   Charlie Sykes, a longtime conservative columnist, argues that the party is beyond redemption, and must come to an end (https://www.msnbc.com/opinion/republican-former-officials-anti-trump-manifesto-may-be-tilting-windmills-n1267523).

Part of the descent into madness is the Republicans’ denial of any problems with the pandemic, as if it doesn’t exist, and they’re trying to punish Democrats for doing something about the pandemic. In Pennsylvania, the Republican-dominated state legislature pushed for two amendments to the state constitution that would take away from the governor the power to declare emergencies-which is what Governor Tom Wolf did at the start of the pandemic, shutting down businesses and mandating mask-wearing throughout the state, in an effort to word off the COVID; the two amendments passed, since people don’t usually pay attention to them (which was what the Republicans counted on). (https://www.penncapital-star.com/government-politics/those-constitutional-amendments-were-aimed-at-the-pa-supreme-court-as-much-as-they-were-at-wolf-bruce-ledewitz/)

Another sign of this was when in April, at a Congressional hearing, Jim Jordan of Ohio, kept raving at Dr. Anthony Fauci about restriction on assemblies due to COVID, constantly demanding like, “When are we going to get our freedom and liberty?” (I’m paraphrasing) Fauci, a man of science who follows CDC guidelines and pays attention to scientific data as it is updated at the moment, kept telling Jordan that the rate of infections have to go down so we can live our lives, but Jordan acted like we were under a dictatorship where we can’t assemble to worship. It was all hysteria and hyperbole to play to the party base, i.e., trump, and it was not at all reasoned debate over ideas and facts.  (https://www.cnn.com/2021/04/15/politics/jim-jordan-anthony-fauci-hearing/index.html)

And we certainly can’t forget Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Jewish-space-laser lady from Georgia, who compared mask mandates for combating COVID to Jews in nazi Germany being forced to wear the yellow star. (https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2021/05/marjorie-taylor-greene-masks-holocaust) All through the pandemic, the Republican Party failed to call out the trump regime for failing to take action about the spread of the virus that killed over 560,000 Americans, and has enabled him in his denial of its reality.

You can’t take seriously these calls for “freedom” from a party whose legislatures pass laws restricting the availability of voting facilities, aimed at prohibiting communities of color and college students from exercising the right to vote for which people have suffered and died; and certainly not after these legislatures pass laws that criminalize peaceful protests, including allowing drivers to run their vehicles over them.

Another threat to our freedoms is the weakening of our news organizations due to media companies cutting back on reporting staffs for their outlets, so they can’t do their job of informing the public about what’s going on in their communities. The latest example is Alden Global Capital, which has recently purchased the Tribune Publishing group, which owns the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, New York Daily News, Orlando Sentinel, Hartford Courant, and several other newspapers. Alden’s motus operandi is to purchase a newspaper and cut back on its staff and sell its real estate assets to maximize profit, at the cost of keeping the public informed about their communities. (https://www.npr.org/2021/05/21/998730863/vulture-fund-alden-global-known-for-slashing-newsrooms-buys-tribune-papers?utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20210521&utm_term=5405403&utm_campaign=breaking-news&utm_id=53850579&orgid=433&utm_att1=)

But phrases like “serving the public” and “benefitting the community” are obscenities to republicans, who compare them to Stalinism and the Gulag; the “writings” of Ayn Rand are a peak into that mindset.

Do they think we’re going to sit back and take it? It seems like it, and so, alas, does the corporate media-but we’ll prove them wrong. We’re continuing to organize, to educate ourselves on the issues, and preparing for the next time we vote, along with continuing to be public about our opinions. Our ancestors fought fascism abroad and beat it; we can and will beat fascism here at home. And as we enjoy this three-day weekend, please remember those of our armed forces who gave their lives in the service of our country.

Stay safe, stay strong, and stay together! America will be free! Bye!

 

Hemperiffic Card