It’s hard for me not to have “Suicide is Painless” (the theme to MASH) going on in the background as I write this. Yesterday I found some information on my uncle, my mother’s brother Dick Lee, who has always been, at least for all of my 60 years and more, an MIA from the Korea War. It was always like an open wound for her, I believe. She died several years ago, having long been the last survivor of her nuclear family.
Yesterday was Memorial Day. I found The Korean War Project online, which has a database of casualties from that war, and a lot more information — such as what battle these soldiers were fighting when they were killed or taken prisoner or MIA-ed. So now I know where he died, and found this place on a Google Map.
It’s a place called Chorwon, North Korea. It’s close to the border, it’s close to Pyongyang (the capital of that country). The google camera car doesn’t go to North Korea, so you can’t really spy on the street scenes there.
But we know it was a place named only by a number. It was Operation Polecharge and it was Hill 346. He died on his 22nd birthday, October 16, 1951. He was 22 years old. He left behind a wife and a soon-to-be born daughter, my cousin Marie-Ann. I wonder what he was like — was he serious and reserved, like my mother, or was he a happy-go-lucky kind of guy? She was always called effervescent; I imagine he was a combination of both poles. Operation Polecharge. I wonder what he thought about that day on Hill 346.
This is where it is:
I know my mother gave the government a DNA sample years ago as negotiations continue for North Korea to return the remains of all U.S. soldiers lost there. Hard to believe, but this continues all these years later. There’s not been a match for Dick Lee yet.
The quiet after the woman has gone
Fifty years or more, still the light comes through like it always did
What secrets what joys did the battered ceiling keep in
Playground laughter seeping undenied
Lovers, and lovely places, a man’s voice, a small wave crashes on the shore
Light flickered for a brief instant
So many clues
every book, a unique story
and yet, abandoned
life goes on
Photo snaps put through Instagram process. The apartment (of a deceased relative) is in New York. I recently realized I still had these on my phone and thought they were haunting. Photos originally taken August, 2013.
It’s free, you need to get a timed reservation which cost $2 for processing online; however, the morning I went (Sunday at about 11 a.m.) they were letting people without reservations in and I don’t think there was any wait for it.
As you can see in the pictures, the memorial pools are stunning. It’s impossible to see the bottom of the drain, so to speak, from the viewing areas around the perimeters of the fallen towers’ footprints. So for all you know, they go down to the center of the earth.
Even though there are signs everywhere reminding folks that this is a place where a mass murder happened, there were the usual groups of tourists posing for photos with the dramatic backdrop. Can’t say I blame them, really, as the very act of showing up serves to remember that day.
I took pictures of a couple of names: David Angell, who was a writer/producer on TV shows such as “Cheers” and “Wings,” I had met and in fact interviewed when we both worked on the Paramount lot. He and his wife were passengers in one of the planes that day.
Mark Bingham was a gay man from San Francisco who is thought to be one of the people on Flight 93 who fought the terrorists back. He was well-known in the community, and was involved with the gay rugby team. The night of September 11, a community shrine went up for him (as well as for the other 9/11 victims) at the corner of 18th and Castro in San Francisco.
There’s the new WTC, now topped off and looming over Manhattan, an enormous structure. Then finally, I took a photo of Zuccotti Park, just blocks away. Now cleared of Occupy Wall Street, you’d never even know they were there. I can’t help but feel this is a sleeping giant we’ll be hearing a lot more from in the next few years – and that’s a very good thing.
Tomorrow — Friday, August 16 2013, we will memorialize and bury my aunt Joan Arnold, who died last week (August 8, 2013) in a New York hospice at the age of 92.
The day before she died she told us that she wanted to get strong enough to return to work: “You know, I’m a workaholic,” she said. A pretty amazing force of nature, Joan had one job – and still had it the day she died – for at least 70 years, all of which were spent at Barnes & Noble Booksellers. Which means she started working for that company – which was only a local bookstore back then – during World War II. She once joked to me that they had to keep her on, at least to shelve the books, because she was the only one there who knew the alphabet, a not so subtle dig at how educational standards have fallen.
A single straight woman who never married and had no children, Joan was always a role model for me as she was so totally comfortable in pursuing her single life in the big city, always fiercely independent, even last year refusing to be walked up to her apartment door by a middle-aged relative. “I do this by myself every day,” she said, adamantly.
She led an enormously busy life as well. A season ticket holder to the Metropolitan Opera, I think she also saved every single Playbill for every play she ever attended – and she went to the theater constantly. Not odd, as she was a former actress and stage manager, having appeared in many Off and Off Off Broadway plays in the 1940s and 50s.
One of the things I always admired about Joan was her volunteerism – within the last couple of years, she was still helping out at her church, where she made sandwiches for the homeless, as well as at the Natural History Museum (close by in her Upper West Side neighborhood) where she was working on a project cataloguing local island birds.
In the past, she was honored by former mayor Ed Koch for her work with the blind.
Next week we’ll leave her apartment forever to the NYC rental wars. This is bittersweet. This is the first place I ever stayed in NYC, as an impressionable child attending the 1964 New York World’s Fair, as well as the launching pad for my first solo European trip in 1974. When I visit New York in the future, I won’t have a living relative here, which seems very odd.
Yet Joan leaves an enormous legacy of spirit. I’m always searching for appropriate models to guide me on that future path. She’s always been near the top of that list, and will continue to be. Farewell, Joan. I’m honored to have walked you home.
A little bit more on Joan’s life, from my dad:
Joan was born in Akron, Ohio. The family moved to the New York city area in the 1920s and eventually settled In the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn. Joan graduated from Our Lady of Angels grade school and Bay Ridge high school, and completed her education at Alfred University in upstate New York.
She graduated magna cum laude, majored in English and drama and won her class literary prize. Joan liked to travel. Besides seeing most of the USA, she also made trips to Russia, China and Egypt as well as western Europe.
(Services were Friday, August 16 2013 at the Crestwood Funeral Home in New York; burial was at St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale, NY.)
I couldn’t leave New Orleans and Louisiana without finally going on a swamp tour! It’s not that I’m that interested in the gators – although it was pretty interesting actually seeing these wild creatures in their habitat (although I’ll leave the wisdom of the guides feeding them marshmallows and hot dogs up to you).
We picked the Honey Island Swamp Tour as it’s only a half hour or so from New Orleans, in Slidell, very close to the border with Mississippi. In addition to the gators you’ll see pictures of here, we saw a lot of birds, including the majestic Great Blue Heron, as well as a bunch of slider turtles, dragonflies, and frogs. No Bigfoot, as I noticed they tout that on their site.
As with all of these things, the people inside the tour boat were probably as interesting as the sights. Well, maybe not quite. As you can see, the swamp and river are beautiful and I’m happy to get the chance to experience it, if only for a little while and at a safe distance. Now, where did I put that marshmallow bag?
More from the NOLA trip – on May 9, we went to the Rock ‘n’ Bowl, which is “a live music venue located on S. Carrollton Avenue in New Orleans. It is a unique venue that combines a bowling alley and a music club together in one place,” and, there is also food, a bar, and of course (as you will see) dancing.
The night Kate Maleckar (my sister) and I were there, the (nouveau) Zydeco band was Geno Delafose and the French Rockin Boogie. From his online bio: Geno Delafose (born February 6, 1972 in Eunice, Louisiana) is a zydeco accordionist and singer. He is one of the younger generations of the genre who has created the sound known as the nouveau zydeco. His sound is deeply rooted in traditional Creole music with strong influences from Cajun music and also country and western.
Friday, May 4 was a wet spring day in New Orleans, so there’s a lot of mud in these pictures and in the video. Despite the weather, the music was fantastic and Kate (Kate Maleckar, my sister) and I had a great time sloshing around.
Here’s a phone video of some of Beausoleil and Irma Thomas in the Gospel Tent.
since Alma died.
A relative said to me the other day that only now, after the passage of one year, is he really coming to grips with what a tragedy this was, and only now beginning to get his head around it.
I suppose that’s how I feel as well, still not really believing I’ll never see her smiling face or hear that deep throaty laugh at a family event or a welcome trip to New Orleans.
In my posts last year, I didn’t talk about cause of death, out of consideration for Alma’s husband and parents. Of course, if you’re reading this, you’re likely someone who knew my niece Alma and already knew then and knows now that she killed herself.
I was going to post something on the order of defining suicide as a selfish act, but then I found this.
I was mainly thinking of the effects of that act on our family, on David, and all Alma’s friends and colleagues down in NOLA, in Milwaukee, everywhere. How devastating it was and continues to be. How there is an almost indescribable sadness and sense of loss, an unending frustration about not being able to fix something, something permanently just out of grasp.
But then I do realize, who am I to judge someone, anyone who does this, whether it’s a stranger or a member of my own family?
In the end, I’m not able to. All I can say is
we miss you.
Video, as well. Scroll down.
My final visit on this month-long trip with the train was to see my sister Kate and brother-in-law Dave Maleckar in New Orleans. It was a pretty quiet week – didn’t do too much, as I’ve been in NOLA a number of times and have pretty much maxed out the usual tourist sites – with the exception of seeing a plantation, which we did do.
The Laura Plantation is out on the River Road and a very interesting example of a Creole business plantation. An excellent tour, heavy on the history of Louisiana including the part before the USA got the Louisiana purchase, finally explaining to me what Creole really means. Highly recommended if you go down there and want to see one of the old places.
Other than that, just hung out and did a lot of walking around my sister’s neighborhood of Uptown (see photos, video) and visited with them. It’s been a very hard year for all, hard to believe it’s already 8 months since their daughter’s death (Alma Maleckar Bear). It was great to see them, as well as Alma’s husband David Bear. I took the Sunset Limited home to L.A.
And now, for the pros and cons of the train pass and Amtrak travel:
- economical way to go: my 30-day pass cost $649.
- Very relaxed way to travel – there’s no TSA. You don’t have to disrobe at the train station and there’s no groping. They actually do have food on the train (though you buy it, and it’s not cheap). There’s no traffic jams getting to an Amtrak station.
- On time departures: every train I took left on time.
- Clean and well-stocked restrooms: No train restroom I was in ever ran out of TP, soap, or towels, so unlike, for instance, the horrid and bitter end of a cross country flight where the restrooms resemble the final night of a decadent county fair.
- Diversity: Face to face with your fellow man, any race, any age, any size and disposition. For a writer this is like filling up a dry well.
- Helpful phone reservations: I had great experiences talking to actual booking agents on Amtrak, and it was speedy.
- You see fascinating parts of cities and the countryside you would never see if you were driving (and, if you were driving, you should have your eyes on the road anyway!)