Ghosts in the Radio

Three years ago today, I buried my father.  I flew south through a lightning storm only my father could conjure on the day he’d passed, and for once had not a shred of fear for flying. I bought a shitty black dress I’d never touch again, picked a casket, his final outfit and my final thoughts. Except those thoughts were far from final, but I knew nothing about that then. Wandering through the childhood home we would dismantle and sell a few years later, I stopped at his office; it smelled of medical decline and cologne. I went through the CDs he kept beside his desk, just under the candle that lit the night with fragrance while he worked. Vanilla, always vanilla. Elvis, The Four Tops, Louie Armstrong, a smattering of 1990s divas (he loved his Whitney Houston), The Supremes, and, last but not least, Nat King Cole all entered my eardrums well into the early hours of the morning as I wrote his obituary and soundtracked the funeral and wake. As always, I communicate best through music.

On October 23rd, 2010, we said goodbye from the chapel in which he’d married my mother some 30-odd years before, to the day. As always, Daddy drew a crowd. Faces from all stages of his life had come to tell  tales of the man whose largess we all assumed could never be felled. In between these stories the music played: first “Stardust” by Nat King Cole, for his nickname was Stardust Mel; then “(There’ll Be Peace) In The Valley (For Me)” to note an end to the man’s suffering alongside his love of Elvis; and, finally, “Smile” again by Nat King Cole because that song spoke best to his persistence. Then I took the stage. Ever the introvert afraid of public speaking, my words came with incredible ease even if they were strained by the circumstances. I told a simple story of his role as father.

Once a week, my Dad would take little me with him to a mom-and-pop newsstand in Temple City where he picked up the latest edition of the Racing Form. He’d leave me in the car, parked just out front, and come back with the paper and a treasure trove of sweets–always careful to note that I was not to tell my mother. We’d sit in the car for a few minutes to devour the contraband, and he would teach me how to snap my fingers, roll my tongue and whistle. Never did get the hang of that whistle. While approaching signals on the ride to and from our destination, he would gauge the change in lights and, just as it was about to shift, he would blow a mighty gust of wind towards it–changing the light from red to green. Being little, I literally believed my father could control traffic lights. As I paused to hold back tears, a thought came to me and I shared it with the group: my Dad spent the rest of his life ensuring I had nothing but green lights; in fact, he did that for us all.

Somehow we all made it through that month and year, and we live on because we have each other even if we we’re missing him. Although some days, the bad days, it’s easy to slip into confusion. Death is nonsensical to a woman who never bought into the fairytale of an Everafter with its pearly gates gleaming through a watercolor sunrise and a fatherly figure welcoming you home. Though all condolences were much appreciated, I began to resent those who cooed, “Don’t worry, sweetheart: he’s in a better place.” A better place. A better place? A better place for my father would have been on our couch, in perfect health, watching the Dodger game with my mother and me. While these people may have believed in Heaven they did not know it to be true, nor did/do I, nor do any of us and the last thing grief seeks in its surge is a blatant lie. So while those thoughts were well intentioned and I do not begrudge them their beliefs, they sent me on a fools errand to find a text that would tell me where, precisely, my father had gone. Where in the ether was he now?

I wanted science; an A + B = C of death and the afterlife. The problem there is that most texts on the subject are either religious, spiritual non-religious, or philosophical and decidedly anti-quantitative. After a few false starts I found the opposite of what I sought, which, turned out to be exactly what I needed at the time. At Green Apple Books on Clement Street, I stumbled upon a staff recommended book titled Mourning Diary. Hailed as a “unique study of grief–intimate, deeply moving and universal,” Mourning Diary is a posthumously published compilation of notes written daily by Roland Barthes following the death of his beloved mother in October 1977. In it he documents all the stages of grief in concise sentences owing to the small scraps of paper on which he wrote them, and in the process made phonetic all the ungraspable emotions I was attempting to define: the first realization of an imminent mortality; the sick impulse to charge into the future with more purpose, what he called “futuromania;” the infuriating inconsistency of grief–sometimes happy, sometimes sad, oftentimes an emotional paralytic–and the guilt associated with not knowing which one you prefer; and the “domestication of death” where the notion becomes a fiber in the fabric of daily life. In total, he owns up to the paradoxical nature of death for those who have died and for those who continue to live. Sometimes we just need smarter people to explain how we feel.

With Barthes in my back pocket, I found the perfect companion piece in Mary Roach’s Spook over a year later. In Spook, Roach attempts to find the mathematical equation for the after life I so desperately sought for so long. She addresses various angles with which people approach the great beyond from reincarnation to seances and telecommunication, near death experiences and ghost hunters–all through the lens of science, the law and a healthy dose of dry wit. A decided skeptic, she talks of and to believers, such as Mary Todd Lincoln or members of the International Ghost Hunters Society, and men of science who wanted proof to appease the nagging of an unanswered question, such as Duncan Macdougall’s quest to prove the existence of the soul (by weighing it at the precise moment of death, as it left flesh for the heavens), or Professor Bruce Greyson’s computer-reliant examination of near death experiences in operating rooms. In almost every instance, people on the hunt for proof of an afterlife–whether spiritual or scientific in nature–are motivated by loss, which only makes sense as questions never formulate without precipitators. In the end, Roach could not prove the existence of the soul or the sphere to which it traveled after death. However, she also could not disprove it and that very fact changed her decidedly skeptic stance to one of cautious acceptance of the unknown.

Through all my searching, this is also where I have landed: the realm of unknowable knowing. Belief is incredibly intimate and informed by each micro and macro nuance of our existence to date. It is subjective and as such we hold “this” but not “that” as true and fold it into our worldview–how we believe the world (and our place in it) to be. While I can’t bring myself to fully believe my Dad is looking over me from on high, I’m able to understand where my Dad “is” thanks to Gerry Nahum, a professor at the Duke University School of Medicine who was interviewed by Mary Roach. As a quantum physicist, Nahum believes that the soul is merely a group of information which must have an energy equivalent. Since energy cannot be destroyed, it can only be displaced, then the soul, the entity that makes us who we are, merely exists somewhere else after we die although most likely not in the same exact form. Incredibly enough, this is the same explanation my Fella gave me in October of 2010 and, as such, it’s what I now believe. Fella + Physicist = A Believer.

Perhaps this search would have been moot if I knew my father’s thoughts on the matter. Unfortunately, we never had that talk since he refused to speak of his own demise, save for one moment of disabled terror where he looked my mother in the eye and asked, “Am I going to die?” All she could muster was an “I don’t know” and he grew silent, thinking of what I can only imagine. Not that I blame him for this, it’s just another regret; there are so many in times like these. But regrets never change the past, and the living must decide to decay under the weight of loss, live a deadened life, or live better, stronger and more intentionally to honor those that left us. Most importantly, the living must speak of the dead so that they live on in a different but equally as substantive a way.

May it be good or bad, I am the one and only progeny of Robert Meldahl–I work with hands like his, I speak with inflections like his, I live with afflictions like his. In this there is comfort, and nothing makes me happier than speaking about my father, who was a great man, a flawed man, a man of stories, professional accomplishment and stubborn pride. This stubbornness is why, despite myself, I think he speaks to me through the radio. For this I have my reasons which revolve around my belief that there are no coincidences in life; feel free to comment or message me if you’re keen on hearing the stories. This nonsensical notion makes sense to me because a) beliefs emerge from sensory experiences more often than they do from words or logic, and b) if we revert to unbundled energy after we die and are returned to the universal electromagnetic field then radio waves would be the easiest way to communicate with a daughter obsessed with music.

So if you’re out with me and Nat King Cole or Elvis comes across the air waves, give me a little nod and I’ll know you believe what I believe, and we’ll believe together.

An Apology to Carolyn Cassady, 1923-2013

Carolyn Cassady

When I was 15, my English teacher told me to read On The Road and it changed my life. I became obsessed with all things Beat, reading voraciously and writing terrible poetry. Terrible, terrible poetry. At a time when my peers were swooning over your Josh Hartnetts or Paul Walkers, I was mooning over Jack Kerouac (with Chipper Jones as a close runner-up). To be sure, I wasn’t immune from the Hartnett-Walker whirlwind, but I prayed at a different altar.

Two years later it was time to go to college, and I was San Francisco bound. I arrived in our fair City with the naiveté to expect an entrenched Beatitude that was gone, beaten out by the first Tech Boom. I eagerly visited North Beach only to find a few bars that looked the part but were off-limits to an underager, and a mess of tourist traps. In the middle of this was and still is City Lights–the Ferlinghetti shop that time forgot–and this became the epicenter for my growing pains. I took to the City in spite of our initial misunderstanding, and even gave an obnoxious interview to the Golden Gate Express in which I pompously trash my childhood home in praise of the North in 2007. What can I say: there is no remedy for the arrogance of youth except to age, and the internet remembers it all.

I give you this background to note my attachment to the men of the Beat Generation: first Kerouac, in my teenage lust, then Ginsberg as I grew, and now–over a quarter century at my heels–a fan of Ferlinghetti. Beat women, however, never garnered much of my attention as they also did not from the media at large. This is because Beat literature marginalizes them as play-things and homemakers–or both in the case of Carolyn Cassady. They were plot points to be plotted, not characters at the wheel. Without my feminist footing, I unconsciously viewed them as the same. I only paid lip service to Diane DiPrima and never read works by Carolyn because, from my high horse, I assumed her books were the profiteering of a mediocre writer who benefited from liaisons with famous men. But I didn’t know anything about Carolyn save for the sound bytes I’d been fed from the fictionalized spoon of Kerouacian “history.” I knew she was beautiful and admired by mythical men, and in my youth that was enough to pantomime–but that is a very shallow well.

Carolyn Cassady died on September 20th at a hospital near her home in England, and obituaries which have run in reputable publications such as The Washington Post and The New York Times note the passing of this woman but barely mention her work. Instead, they marginalize her yet again as a Beat punctuation and devote more time to describing the men in her life than they do to her own accomplishments. The kinder ones tag her as a writer first, and the former wife of Neal Cassady second. If truth were told Carolyn Robinson, her maiden name, was an artist–an educated painter who excelled at set design. Carolyn Cassady became a writer of necessity to inject a dose of reality into the mythologized narrative of her own life; she wrote to add her own voice to her own biography. Her version, however, was not the one people wanted to hear. So, instead she’s remembered as the woman shared by Kerouac and Cassady (or not remembered at all), not as the conservatively raised artist who fell in love with a man marked by madness and did all she could to keep her marriage intact. After all, it was the 1950s and she was not as bohemian as the world had painted her.

Carolyn Robinson Cassady was a remarkable woman with impenetrable strength, and I am a remarkable ass for not realizing that sooner. In light of this, Ms. Robinson, I offer an apology. I am sorry that your story was told but not heard. I am sorry that those men failed you, repeatedly. I am sorry. Now, rest in peace.

 

 

Roberta Ilene (Carter) Clarke, Obituary Of

 

Roberta Ilene Clarke
Roberta Ilene Clarke

Roberta Ilene (Carter) Clarke, 86, passed away at her Temecula, California home in the early morning hours of April 3, 2013; she was surrounded by her family.

Bobbie was born to Edward Stacey and Carolyn (Valch) Carter in Fordson, Michigan on December 26, 1926. She was raised and attended schools in Detroit, and finished her academic career at Thomas M. Cooley High School. There she caught the eye of a burgeoning artist named Richard Allen Clarke, who penned her love letters until she paid him mind. The two were married in 1948, and began their family in 1952 with the birth of their one and only daughter, Janis. Three boys followed—Richard, William, and Robert—and the family found themselves in the west where the Clarkes settled into La Canada, a Southern California suburb.

The years to follow epitomized mid-century America. Family trips to national treasures, summers spent poolside with a menagerie of pets and friends, and cocktail parties for her husband’s advertising agency peers. A devoted mother, she was there for her daughter’s late-night high school sewing projects, and every one of her sons’ track-and-field matches, baseball and football games. Then this quintessentially stylish homemaker deftly transitioned into the role of working single mother in 1971. As a Travel Agent she saw the world after her offspring flew the coop. Traveling through Eastern and Western Europe, the Mediterranean and beyond, her sense of adventure came alive as she experienced the full spectrum of international offerings—no opportunity left untaken.

Her strength and patience were awe-inspiring, and she shied away from no task no matter the size. After moving to her happy home in Temecula in 1995, she forged herself a desert paradise where she landscaped her backyard with rocks carted in from blocks away in an apple red radio flyer. She taught herself to ski in her forties, and conquered the computer age in her sixties and seventies—tracing family history through genealogy websites, and forwarding her thoughts to family and friends through emails filled with helpful hints and bits of laughter culled from the Youtube universe. Ever the optimist and a romantic at heart, her retirement was spent tending her garden, which seemed always to be in full bloom; shepherding her expanding family, which grew to include seven grandchildren; and watching Hallmark movies, which spoke to her belief in happy endings.

Through all its peaks and valleys she crafted an impeccable life of simple refinement—one lived with intention, vivacity, grace and humor. The consummate perfectionist, never was there a hair out of place nor an ensemble askew; she oozed class and cultivated exceptional taste. She reveled in her role as mother and grandmother, and cherished every second spent surrounded by her progeny, the great loves of her life. Her attention to detail, her razor-sharp wit, that mischievous wink and the warmth of her smile made her a woman with no equal. The mold was truly broken when Bobbie Clarke was made, and this world’s song will never sing the same since she’s departed.

Bobbie Clarke
Bobbie Clarke

With heavy hearts she is survived by her sister, Donna Tiderington of Westland, Michigan, and all her children and grandchildren: Janis Meldahl, and her daughter, Nicole; Richard, his daughters, Jennifer and Ashley, and his wife, Diana; William, his wife, Mary, and their children, Margaux and Carter; Robert, his wife Alicja, and their children, Natalia and Allen. All of the above would like to thank the staff at Inland Valley Medical Center in Wildomar, Rancho Springs Medical Center in Murrieta, and Delta Hospice for treating Bobbie like family in her time of need.

To honor this amazing woman, a viewing will be held on April 8th from 4-8 pm at England Family Mortuary at 27135 Madison Avenue, Temecula, California, 92592. Graveside services will take place in the springtime sun at Temecula Public Cemetery—located at 41911 C Street, Temecula, California, 92592—the following day, April 9th, at 12:00 pm. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the COPD Foundation (www.copdfoundation.org).

Robert Allen Meldahl, Obituary of

On October 19th, 2010, Robert Allen Meldahl—noted Southern California Jockey Agent—passed away peacefully in his sleep; he was 61 years young.

Born in Long Beach, California on March 22nd, 1949, Robert Allen Meldahl was a southern California baby-boomer who, after brief residency in Washington D.C. and Washington state, settled in as California’s true native son. A gifted athlete, Bob attended Arcadia High School where he excelled in basketball and baseball, and helped execute such notorious pranks as cementing a Bob’s Big Boy statue into the quad of his alma mater. Upon graduation in 1967, he briefly attended Pasadena City College before moving onto pursuits more aligned with his temperament: salesmanship and softball.

He took a position at Senco Tools in sales and joined the United States Slow Pitch Softball Association (USSSA), with which he traveled the US. In 1976, he was reintroduced to his future wife, Janis, and began a love affair that would last 34 years. After their marriage on October 23rd, 1976, they traveled the country with fellow USSSA cohorts, sharing R-rated high-jinks and cementing deep-seated friendships that would last his whole life.

In 1980, he began his career at the very place he snuck into as a raucous teen—Santa Anita Race Track. From humble beginnings he honed his skills as a shrewd negotiator to become one of the best in the business—representing such gifted riders as Frank Oliveras, Rafael Meza, Corey Black, Patrick Valenzuela, Corey Nakatani, Mike Smith and the legendary Laffit Pincay, Jr. An uncanny judge of character and a passionate devotee to his chosen field, Bob knew people, horses and the track better than any other man in the industry.  He was a mountainous, if not sometimes infamous, figure on the track circuit and his shoes have yet to be filled since his retirement in 2009.

Unfailingly generous, Bob would empty his pockets of his last dime for a friend in need and did so on frequent occasions. He was, above all else, a devoted husband and father who spent many an afternoon relegated to the sidelines of his daughter’s softball games after ejections for arguing with umpires because nobody messed with his daughter.  He could sweet talk a pool shark, shoot hoops with the best of the white-boys, and Lord knows he always knew a guy for whatever needs arose.

His absence will be felt every day, in every way and this world is poorer for its loss. He leaves behind his wife, Janis; his daughter, Nicole; his mother, Betty, and her husband, Manny; his brother, Tony, and two sisters—Kim and Kelly.