“....or a woman?” ~ Leslie D. Soule
When I set out to write my stepfather’s biography in the spring of 2011, I found myself standing at a metaphorical crossroad. Truthfully, I felt inadequate to the task of becoming his biographer. However, sometimes in life we are called upon to undertake tasks that we never thought would fall to us. When my stepfather died in November of 2002, ultimately due to complications from diabetes, I was a month from turning nineteen years old. I felt like Frodo from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series, accepting a ring of power and a dire quest at such a young and fragile age.
When my stepfather died, I began searching for ways to create a legacy for him, and to give him the kind of memorial that he deserved. Broken by sorrow, I started walking down what promised to be a long and arduous path, searching for his ghost in the shadows of existence. Even then, I saw that the lingering items chronicling my stepfather’s life were disappearing, but I was too young back then to think clearly, let alone to pick them up and compile a biography. Back then, I asked for certain items of particular sentimental and not literary value – his guitar, his artwork, his old leather hat and coat. It was only by chance that I came across his manuscript, and the fact that I stole it from my mother’s house plagued me for many years. Nearly ten years later, as I began writing his biography, I knew that my moment of thievery had been the best choice I’d made. All of my guilt washed away as I attempted to track down my stepfather’s memory and, time after time, found nothing.
I was shocked, angered, hurt by the overwhelming nothingness I found. Could it be true, that a man’s life could so disappear from the collective consciousness of the world, that after ten years, nothing remained?
I resolved to find out, and not to give up until I had traveled down every road, searched under every rock for any trace of my stepfather’s life. To this end, I made note of those few items I had in my possession that told the tale of his life’s journey: his novel, his artwork, my memories, an old driver’s license, and a print-out of the online guest book from his obituary. It seemed like so little to go on. How could I possibly hope to piece together the story of a man’s whole life, from these meager scraps? As I resolved to begin this project, several thoughts occurred to me, the first of which was, “What could I possibly write about a man who was like a comet to me, a bright, shining beacon of light that faded far too soon?” I realized that I would have to write it, though. In fact, having seen so much of Richard’s life, I was the only one who could write it. If I didn’t, it would never be written. The emptiness of its non-creation seemed too much – even a half-hearted attempt, or one based on the most basic reminiscences, would be better than nothing at all.
What follows is as much a biography of a remarkable man’s life as it is a story of the journey that led me to the biography’s creation. In a song titled “Blowin’ In The Wind”, Bob Dylan poses the question, “How many roads must a man walk down…?” This question itself is so philosophical in nature that Douglas Adams wrote it into his Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy books as the question to Life, The Universe, and Everything. As I began writing my stepfather’s biography, I considered it a mountain of a task, and wondered how many roads I’d need to physically and metaphorically walk down in order to find anything. It is interesting to me that a commonly accepted answer to Bob Dylan’s famous question is “As many as it takes.” So I began following the roads that I hoped would lead to enlightenment, unsure if I was suited to the task at hand. Yet throughout this journey, I came to realize that although I’d considered myself inadequate to the task at hand, I was in fact uniquely qualified to handle this challenge. So what follows is a chronicling on the roads I walked down in my search for answers. In life, you must walk down as many roads as it takes.
Of his childhood, I knew very little, but enough to know that he was a playful, benign trickster. In this way, he was very much like the character Greymalkin from my novel Fallenwood. He had a brother named Russ and two sisters, Lynn and Gayle. Of the four children, my stepfather was the youngest. Gayle married a man named Ted. It was Ted who told me that when my stepfather was little, he wrote his abbreviated name “Rick” as “Wryk” into a patch of wet concrete. From this, I realized that my stepfather’s love of the fantasy genre had existed very early in his life. Another clue to my stepfather’s childhood came from a story told at his funeral ceremony by a woman who was a friend of his. She recounted the tale of how she and Richard would ride their bikes down to a grove of trees. Once there, they would climb up, and from a well-hidden vantage point, they would talk to the strangers below, pretending to be the voice of God. I copied this trick as something Greymalkin does in the Wryk Tree, in Fallenwood.
Also, I knew that my stepfather was ridiculed in his youth.I distinctly remembered coming home from school one day, absolutely distraught because I felt like the other students were judging me based on my looks, and in particular, on the red birthmark above my lip. So Richard drew me aside and said that he knew how I felt and could relate, because he was the “fat kid” back when he went to school. He told me that if someone was going to judge me by my looks alone, they were not worth knowing. I believe he used the words, “F- ‘em.” But he also told me how to enter into a conversation with someone to get to know and befriend them. I was on a softball team at the time, and he advised that I tell one of my teammates, “I wish I could play like you do,” or something to that effect. It seemed like good advice, and still does.
I had no other information about his childhood, and thus had to skip to age fourteen, where the next bit of knowledge I’d gotten about him came from my mother. She mentioned that at this tender young age, Richard started smoking – a habit which lasted until a few years before his death. He managed to quit entirely though, and saved up the money he would have spent on cigarettes to buy himself a gorgeous red motorcycle. I feel that this was as much a testament to my stepfather’s character as anything else – the fact that he could break a habit that had been so ingrained over so many years, and that he did it for the sake of my sisters and I, so that he wouldn’t have to expose us to the second-hand smoke his cigarettes produced.
As far as his education goes, I only had one clue to go on, and a fairly unreliable one, at that. When I was young, I was intensely curious about my stepfather’s past. I remembered at one time having seen the holder for my stepfather’s high school diploma. I remembered it being bright red with gold lettering that read C.K. McClatchy. So I started off with the idea that maybe my memory was right. I looked up the C.K. McClatchy website online, where I found that the school was very old and kept an updated list of alumni contacts. Only having his birthday to go on, I figured he graduated in the sixties or seventies, and I sent out a mass email to all contacts of that time period. One of the people I contacted said that I might go to C.K. McClatchy in person, because they had a collection of yearbooks in their Library/Media Center. I wondered if a daunting search lay before me, but I decided to go to the high school after I got off work, figuring that there might still be someone there who could help me out after the school’s normal hours.
Never having been to C.K. McClatchy before, I was awed by its appearance, which was certainly different from the high school I had gone to. Stone lions and columns graced the school’s exterior and the entire place had a majestic look to it. There were stairways and lockers – the marks of an older age. I found a map, but was lost as I searched for the Media Center. Soon, a nice young man came up to me, asking if I needed help. He showed me to the Media Center and I couldn’t help but feel like this was a very different high school than I was used to, and that perhaps its inhabitants were generally of a different sort than the norm as well. I peered into the closed Media Center, dark except for the light that filtered through the stained glass lion window in the back of it. Then I left and decided to wait. A week passed by until I got an e-mail from an alumni of McClatchy, who stated that there was a Richard A. Anderson who graduated in 1968. I knew that in order to obtain any further information about his high school days, I would have to return to the campus during school hours, but I was thankful to have a place to start my search from.
I visited C.K. McClatchy high school on a Friday that I took off from work. It was 10am, and I’d finished writing the guest blog posts needed for the week-long blog tour that was scheduled for me by the very talented Marianne, “Goddess Fish”. I walked into campus and approached the information desk to ask for a visitor pass. Imagine, I thought, a high school with an information desk as you enter the walkway! I hadn’t seen it the first time I visited. I found myself flabbergasted – it was my Wizard of Oz moment and I had become Dorothy, saying to myself, “Clearly, we are not in Kansas anymore.” With my Visitor Pass sticker on my shirt, over my heart, I walked the hallowed halls toward the Media Center. Once inside, I asked the librarian about the archive of high school yearbooks that were rumored to exist there. She showed me to a locked little room. Within, bookcases stood filled with yearbooks dating back to the forties and fifties, copies of The Prospector – the school newspaper, old photos and people’s memory books. In short, it was a historian’s dream. However, as a scholar, I knew that a large quantity of source material is no guarantee of finding treasure.
Having heard the year 1968 from the alumni, I started with this yearbook, pulling from the shelves a volume with a red-and-white striped cover. I was surprised to learn, upon examining it, that these yearbooks from the sixties featured only the graduating class and none of the Freshmen, Sophomores or Juniors. Tears came to my eyes as I flipped the pages and came to my stepfather’s senior photo. The image was unmistakably his. I took a photo with my Blackberry Torch, and then continued my search. The yearbooks from his Freshmen, Sophomore and Senior years predictably held nothing. However, my search wasn’t over yet. I still had another memory to test. I remembered Richard having told me when I was very young, that he had written for his school newspaper, and that it was one of the most gratifying things he had done.
The only article of his I found from the school newspaper, called The Prospector, is an article he did for a column called “Heap of the Week”. I am not familiar with older slang, and can only guess that “heap” means “junker” or something of the sort. The “Heap of the Week” back in the 1968 article, was a 1949 DeSoto owned by a student named Daniel Emick. Richard wrote of this vehicle, “Even though large and bulky it is surprisingly easy to drive. Parking downtown, however, is sometimes a problem.” Richard’s article appeared in the May 24th, 1968 issue, Volume 31, Number 13. The article is as follows:
This week’s heap of the week is a powder blue barge cleverly disguised as a 1949 DeSoto. Daniel Emick is the owner of this car. Whether or not he is proud is questionable, however. This heap is propelled by a not-so-huge straight six (236.6 cubic inches), with an A.M.A. horsepower rating of 28.36, which is understandably frightening. The most outstanding feature of the DeSoto is its unique “tip toe shift,” which makes an automatic out of an otherwise fairly nice transmission. It also has a “gyrol fluid drive.” Its one-barrel carburetor serves its purpose. Its continental doors add class (one of the new features that can be utilized without pushing the car). Another outstanding feature of the DeSoto is its superhuge back seat. The “deteriorating-interior rating” is fair and its dust, all four pounds of it, is imported. These features, in addition to its casual look, make it a “classic”.
It is my belief that a kind, compassionate nature does not just come from nowhere. Compassion and kindness are things that must be taught. I admired the person my stepfather was for many reasons, but chief among them was his compassionate nature. Richard was brilliant, and I admire this too, but I agree with the ancient Roman teacher Quintilian when he said that he’d rather have students who were not so bright, but good-natured, than those who would be intellectually sharp, but cruel. Taken altogether, these beliefs led me to inquire about Richard’s parentage and family history. Besides the reasons I’ve already stated, though, I wanted to give them a kind of memorial as well, since a mention in my stepfather’s biography might well be the only biography they’re granted at all. This is not to say that they don’t deserve one. On the contrary – they do. But if there is one thing I’ve learned in the process of doing research for this project, it is that time erases so much.
Richard’s father was Earl Albert Anderson, the son of a Swedish painter and a housewife from Iowa. Richard’s mother, Marjorie Weatherly, was Canadian. Earl and Marjorie were lovebirds who met and fell in love in San Francisco, staying married for sixty years and parenting four children together. They were the epitome of true love realized on earth. Their 60th anniversary celebration was held in a fancy restaurant called the Palomino Room in Sacramento, California.
Earl Albert Anderson was a pilot with the Air Force in World War II. Strangely enough, I was unable to track down his military records, but I’d been given photos of him that had been taken between 1942 and 1944.
My sister had also given me a really cool photo of Earl, sitting in the cockpit of a plane. I don’t know the name of the other guy in the photo, but he looks happy to be there, too.
With his experience in aeronautics, once he left the Air Force after the war, he went to work for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as an Air Traffic Controller. He retired from this position in 1973.
The Anderson Family reunion was held in the Spring of 1997, in a posh little restaurant that used to exist, in the heart of Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco. As a pre-teen, I walked up the steps to the main plateau of Ghirardelli Square and saw the sign lit up with glass bulbs that reminded me of the lighting in a theatrical dressing room. I looked upon that sign as though it was magic. My stepfather was dressed to the nines, in a suit that made him look particularly dignified. My sisters and I were introduced to the other family members and I sat at the table with Grandma and Grandpa Anderson. “Ask him about being a lumberjack,” urged Richard.
Personally, I am a document hound. I believe this comes partially from my love of literature and partially from a desire for permanence. In a way, a record represents something lasting – maybe not something that will last forever, but at least for a while. Richard’s father, Earl, was a kind, loving man who wore his old lumberjack clothes – red plaid hat and matching shirt plus jeans and suspenders – nearly every day and who would always greet me by saying, “Hey there, ol’ Les.” I knew that my stepfather’s middle name was Albert because I’d asked him once when I was little and intensely curious about everything. He’d told me his middle name was Albert. “Like Albertson’s?” I asked, referring to the local grocery store. He seemed amused and said yes. I’d known, also, that Earl’s middle initial was A., and I’d suspected that his middle name was Albert, too, though I didn’t suspect any significance beyond this. Things became illuminated when I received a copy of Earl Anderson’s birth certificate from the San Francisco County Clerk, which revealed that Earl’s father’s name was Albert Anderson. It is finding these connections, these significances, that makes such documents fascinating to me. Although to some, they may seem like a boring record of facts, to me they are a source of illumination. Earl Anderson was born and raised in San Francisco. His birth certificate shows that he was the son of Albert Anderson and Elma Elvera Lareon. Albert was 32 when Earl was born, putting his birth year at 1887.
My stepfather was very literary, and so was his father, my grandpa Earl Anderson. When I was about sixteen, Richard and I were going to see an Aerosmith concert. Earl overheard us talking about the band, but thought we were referring to the book Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis. Thus, my stepfather’s love of literature seemed to have been planted early-on by his father, Earl.
Grandpa Earl Anderson eventually died of cancer – a cancer that supposedly had flared up from a time before. Sue, Richard’s sister-in-law, explained what had happened with this. He’d had prostate cancer and his doctor had talked him out of having it removed. So the story goes. This means that the cancer remained, unchecked and growing for years and years, until it had metastasized into his whole body and become too large of a problem to deal with.
My stepfather and I never spoke about The Temple of the Heart, and so I never know it even existed until after his death. I had taken it upon myself to look through a box of his old random papers and it was there that I found the old untitled, typewritten manuscript. I took it, but didn’t know what to do with it until many years later.
The Temple of the Heart is an interesting novel – it was originally written in a free-flowing form known as “stream of consciousness”. It is also extremely personal, if at times, a little dark. The story itself follows the travails of a character named Joseph Banquo. Joseph leaves the monastery when he sees a woman in a blue sari. The outside world awaits, but he is on a spiritual quest, and begins searching everywhere for answers.
After having read the manuscript myself, I recognized the brilliance of the work itself and determined that it ought to be published in one form or another.
However, there were a few issues with the original manuscript I found. First, it didn’t have a title. I’m not sure whether this was on account of it not being finished, perhaps, or whether my stepfather simply could not come up with a title. Maybe he just didn’t want to name it, or didn’t think it would be published. Whatever the case was, it needed one. So I was faced with the dilemma of naming something that wasn’t my own creation. I settled on The Temple of The Heart after recalling a line from the novel wherein the narrator explains of Joseph Banquo, “This was his religion, one that didn‘t need a church to be practiced in, nor a priest to intercede or absolve, one that had no book of law but was alive in the heart.” This seemed to me to be the line that echoed the theme of the novel, and that theme is very similar to the one given by J.M. Coetzee in his Nobel Prize-winning novel Waiting For the Barbarians. During my master’s courses, I had to write a large number of papers, and each paper had to contain one topic sentence that encompassed the idea that the paper was based on – known as a thesis sentence. Joseph Banquo’s line about his religion being in his heart is the thesis sentence to the novel that is The Temple of the Heart. The novel itself speaks of being a good person despite what the world throws at you and despite the darkness that exists there, if only for the sake of being that lone, good voice of dissent. It was this that so reminded me of J. M. Coetzee’s novel, wherein Coetzee writes, “Let it at the very least be said, if it ever comes to be said, if there is ever anyone in some remote future interested to know the way we lived, that in this farthest outpost of the Empire of light there existed one man who in his heart was not a barbarian.” Though he comes off in some places as kind of a jerk in the novel, I believe that in his heart, Joseph was not a barbarian.
A problem existed because Richard used a typewriter to create the manuscript, and thus no digital file existed. This meant that it couldn’t be edited on a computer or uploaded to a review site, or any number of things involving a computer. What this meant was that over the course of a week, I would steadily transcribe the original manuscript into a Microsoft Word document, typing away and every once in a while, stopping to massage my hands and give my fingers a break from typing. Eventually though, I finished the transcription process, and a digital file existed. From there, it could be published as an ebook. Then I had another challenge to tackle. How does one go about getting a manuscript published posthumously that was written by someone else? Well, by that time, I’d been an editor for an ebook publishing company – Decadent Publishing. They were looking for stories and manuscripts to publish, so I asked if I could submit Richard’s manuscript.
I understand why my stepfather said it was okay to never be published. Writing is a personal thing, and in the process of creation, you have no one to please but yourself. I wondered why he’d never mentioned the novel or tried to get it published, but the time may not have been right for the publication of his novel at the time he wrote it. The creation of The Internet perhaps changed no industry as greatly as the publishing industry. Its induction led to the flourishing of indie book publishers and ebook publishers, who could experiment and take on new genres due to the relatively inexpensive cost of creating an ebook, as opposed to creating a traditional print book.
I was interested in using the manuscript as a kind of guide book for writing my stepfather’s biography – to show me the places he’d been to. I was also interested in sorting out the facts of the novel from the fiction of it.
My stepfather wasn’t outwardly religious, but he was very spiritual. I remember him telling me what an incredible spiritual experience it was when he fasted for a month on nothing but orange juice. In terms of spirituality, he was a follower of the Self-Realization Fellowship, a religion founded by Paramahansa Yogananda. The great Yogi was himself a writer, having created the novel Autobiography of a Yogi, a book that I borrowed from my stepfather to read, back when I was in high school. In The Temple of the Heart, Joseph Banquo is a monk who leaves the monastery, and I was left wondering why he was so eager to leave, and what prompted it beyond the events of the novel. Richard himself was a life-long follower of the Self-Realization Fellowship, and he mentioned that he’d been a monk. So I contacted the SRF and asked if they had any records of a Richard Anderson among the members of their Monastic Order. Upon my inquiry (e-mail makes things so convenient), I was informed that Richard had been an employee of the SRF in 1977, but not a member of the Monastic Order. This made sense to me, because his conviction was that of a monk, while Joseph Banquo’s disposition was that of a disgruntled employee, fed up with work and authority.
Nevertheless, my stepfather prized his photos of the spiritual leader Paramahansa Yogananda.
I conducted internet searches to try and figure out if some of the more intriguing locations mentioned in my stepfather’s novel – places like The Italian Cellar, the Aero Bar, and The Moonstone were still around. However, these searches came up empty and so these places must have shut their doors years ago.
I didn’t know if Richard had gone to college, but I suspected he’d gotten an A.A. in Accounting, like Joseph Banquo in his novel. Also, if he had in fact gone, I didn’t know where he would have gone. However, Richard gave me clues in The Temple of the Heart – namely, mentioning Hughes Stadium, and the fact that the college he mentioned was the home of the Sacramento Solons. Having solved this riddle, or at least having found another clue that would take me on yet another journey, I traveled to Sacramento City College. I said to myself, “I will find that butt-ugly fountain, by gosh!” I’d e-mailed the director of SCC’s alumni foundation, asking how to find out what year Richard graduated in. However, I’ve never been much of one for waiting around. Instead, the road called my name once more.
I wanted part of my journey of discovery to involve walking the paths he’d once walked. So one day, after work, I put in an hour of overtime to let traffic clear off of the freeway, and then headed off for Sacramento City College. Upon arrival, I was unable to locate a daily parking permit machine. I was familiar with the big yellow machines at American River College that would take a dollar and spit out a small pass you’d set on your dashboard. Finding none of these, I didn’t want to park on campus and risk getting an expensive ticket from the campus police. So I drove a little ways and parked at Crepe Escape. Never having been there before, I decided to sample the local fare, ordering an Athena Crepe made with spinach, tomatoes, olives, cheese, mushrooms and artichokes. I ate heartily, telling myself that I’d need energy and sustenance for the long walk and search ahead of me.
I wondered if Richard ever ate crepes and I remembered the time we went to a Ren Faire together. He’d said to me, “You know, it’s not like they’ll have smoothies there.” I took great delight in pointing out the smoothie vendor in the food area.
Now, I found myself walking alone down a cold, dark street toward Sac City College and I tried to imagine that I was Joseph Banquo, having returned from the Navy and the monastery, attending college on the G.I. Bill. It was the middle of November, but not yet cold enough that you’d freeze to death while walking the streets at night. Nevertheless, I stopped in at the artsy café’ Espresso Metropolitan, and ordered a mocha as I took in the charcoal figure drawings taped to the wall and the paper mache’ whales hanging from the ceiling. The jazz tune “I’m Beginning To See The Light” played and as I exited and walked to the college, I sang the rest of the song.
Upon arrival, I found that the college was much as Richard had described it – lots of brick buildings. I thought to myself, “I really would have liked to have attended classes here. What a nice campus!” Its appearance was a mix of old and modern, a sprawling campus in the heart of downtown that still managed to have a small-town feel to it. Hughes Stadium was, of course, closed and locked. Nevertheless, I’d come this far, so I walked up to one of the gates and peered in at the ladders and other construction materials, and saw the concrete stairways leading up. I wandered around the campus, but saw no sign of the butt-ugly fountain that Richard had mentioned. I did, however, find a gaping hole surrounded by brick, with a grate at the bottom where a fountain may once have been. Other people must have thought that old fountain was ugly too, and removed it.
Still, I was glad I’d come, and gotten a glimpse of the artsy yet earthy, eclectic atmosphere that my stepfather had once been a part of.
Later I received an e-mail, informing me that the Sacramento City College’s records show a “Richard Anderson” in the 1978 Commencement Program, and that he would have graduated in the summer of 1977 with an A.A. degree. The records did not specify what field it was in.
Another bit of information given by the manuscript was that Joseph Banquo, like my stepfather, had been in the military, and in the Navy in particular. I figured out what was needed for a military records search during my lunch break at work one day. I had stamps and worked in the mail room, which meant that I could easily send out the form then and there if I could fill out the form with its required information. However, I would need to send proof of death. I had a copy of his death certificate, but it was back at home. What was I to do? Well, where there’s a will, there’s a way. The military’s archives site stated that an obituary would be sufficient proof. So I went to the website of the local newspaper, The Sacramento Bee, where his obituary had been published. It was archived, so I had to pay three dollars to access it, but it was worth it to me, to make a Military Records Search possible. So I printed the obituary, sent it off with the form, which contained all I knew about Richard’s military history – which consisted of just what branch he was in, really, and I waited for a reply.
Soon, a reply did come. In the mail, I received a printout of “Information Releasable Under The Freedom of Information Act”, which contained his name, branch, dates of service, rank/grade, assignments and locations, military education, decorations and awards, place of entry, and place of separation. I would like to explain that my knowledge regarding military-related information is fairly limited. Never having served, I have no first-hand experience in this regard and what little I do know about the military comes from back in high school, when I took JROTC in order to get out of Chemistry. Fortunately, the internet is usually sufficient in satisfying my insatiable curiosity and curing my lack of information.
From the military record, I learned that Richard served on a ship called the USS Seattle – a Fast Combat Support Ship. I wondered whether the ship was still around, and whether you could visit it like the USS Hornet, down in Alameda. An internet search answered my question, revealing that the ship was decommissioned on March 15th of 2005 and sold for scrapping, which was completed in 2007.
According to an old postcard featuring the USS Seattle (AOE-3), this Fast Combat Support Ship was built by the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Washington. It was commissioned on April 5th, 1969, and its home port was in Norfolk, Virginia.
The search also revealed that Richard had been awarded the National Defense Service Medal. According to Wikipedia, “Created in 1953, the National Defense Service Medal was intended to be a ‘blanket campaign medal’ awarded to any member of the United States military who served honorably during a designated time period of which a ‘national emergency’ had been declared.” According to the years in which he served, this national emergency was the Vietnam War. His unit received the Meritorious Unit Commendation Ribbon, though there is no mention of what this ribbon was awarded for. The page I received stated that there were no transcripts of court-martial trials, no photographs in the file, or anything that would be worth the time to request. It did provide me with the knowledge that Richard served for less than a year, from April 19th, 1970, to April 29th, 1971. He was a Seaman Apprentice and left Navy service at the U.S. Naval Station in San Francisco. Also, he must have apparently eaten gravy on toast a lot during his time in the Navy, because he was so sick of it that he would absolutely refuse it when I offered to make him some.
Before I’d sent my request, I’d questioned myself numerous times regarding whether it would be worth doing or not. My sister and I agreed that he seemed to have hated his time in the military, and obtaining his military record seemed, thus, a bit pointless. However, I finally decided when I began writing this biography that no time period in my stepfather’s life ought to be written off, if records could be obtained, simply because the experience wasn’t the most pleasant at the time. Also, military service is something to be proud of, no matter how short the duration or how small the person’s contribution is perceived to be.
Although I didn’t have any items relating to Richard’s military service, I managed to find items on Ebay and put together a shadow box commemorating his military service.
During the first week of April 2012, I took a week to myself to get away from everything and just unwind. The week prior had been “crunch time” at work for me, so I was exhausted. Also, things just hadn’t been working out for me. I’d finished writing a sequel to my Fallenwood novel, but wasn’t having any luck with getting it picked up by a publisher. I’d also received rejections from scholarly journals that weren’t interested in my paper about the Roman philosopher Quintilian. After having put in four house offers and having none of them work out, I felt stuck in a whirlwind of rejection. So I needed a change of pace and atmosphere, yet I wanted to stay in town, in case my buyer’s agent called me to look at more houses. I’d already requested the week off, and didn’t want to spend the whole week at my roommate’s house, moping. Well, I’d heard that Sacramento had a hostel downtown. In fact, I’d driven by it, to drop off a chain-smoking German girl I’d given a ride to once. So I made a reservation for the hostel in downtown Sacramento, to be nearby and in a different place, all at once. I had set aside the biography project for a while and found myself working on the rewrite of a science fiction story I’d written about hybrids, but it felt like the right time to do some exploring for the biography again.
Downtown Sacramento is known for its grand old Victorian homes, rumored to be some of the most expensive real estate in the area. The hostel I was staying at was a preserved Victorian mansion – incredibly elegant, with a winding stairway, four spacious sitting rooms, chandeliers, an immense amount of woodworking and attention to detail in its décor. I had discussed with the other hostel guests how much it would be to buy such a place nowadays, and we all seemed in awe of its elegance and size. Such a place would surely be out of an affordable price range for me or any of us, unless we were to win the lottery.
I started to make a list of the locations my stepfather mentioned in his novel and quickly came to realize that the one place I hadn’t yet gone to was the old Victorian house that had been converted into an apartment complex – in the novel, the home of Joseph Banquo’s good friend, Byron Sage. Well, my stepfather was thankfully pretty specific as to the location of the apartment complex. He wrote that it lay at 21st street and N. The hostel I stayed at was located at 10th and H. So I’d have quite a walk ahead of me – but it was only 4 o’ clock, so I had the rest of the evening with which to get there and back. So I walked down I street until I got to 21st, wanting to avoid the seedy atmosphere of K street as much as possible. I found I street to stand in stark contrast to K street. It was quiet, pristine and picturesque. Eventually, I did reach 21st and N street, thankful that I’d managed to get in some much-needed exercise. As I reached the intersection, I looked around and to my amazement, spotted an old blue two-story Victorian that appeared to be a duplex. However, a number of gold letters and a multi-sectioned mail box suggested that this had once been an apartment complex, and may very well have been the one that my stepfather and the real Byron Sage (if he existed) rocked out in. Well, I’d walked a long way. Tired and somewhat dehydrated, I stopped in at the N Street Café, a little café whose ceiling was decorated with old burlap coffee sacks. I ordered an iced tea with a slice of lemon and a bottle of water (which I later ended up giving to a homeless man). Having achieved a kind of victory, in my own mind at least, I trekked back toward the hostel, to record my findings and consider the next phase of my journey.
I had a hard time figuring out what year The Temple of the Heart takes place in, but using the clues in the novel, I’ve narrowed it down to November of 1978. It was a particular line of the novel that led me to this conclusion – Richard writes that it was a month before the closing of Winterland. Winterland is one of the many places in the novel that no longer exists. Built in 1928, Winterland, also known as the Winterland Arena and Winterland Ballroom, was an ice skating rink that could be converted into an entertainment venue that seated 5,400 people. It was located in San Francisco, on the corner of Post and Steiner streets, and featured a host of famous bands throughout the years of its operation.
Besides his graphic design work, Richard loved to paint and sketch. He was very artistic. One of his pieces of artwork that shows his attention to craftsmanship is his metal-embossed elephant design.
One of his paintings featured pair of diver’s swim fins on a beach with a glowing sun setting. The painting evokes a sense of mystery, and I used to gaze at it for the longest time, wondering what had happened to the swimmer who’d left his fins behind.
Being a member of the first generation to grow up with the Internet, I can remember when it was new, and I spent countless hours in front of the computer screen, mesmerized by the wealth of information now at my fingertips. I would see my stepfather peek out from his art workshop (the garage) every once in a while and look around. It seemed like he was looking at me. Still, I was surprised on Christmas when he revealed the portrait he’d painted of me – a green-skinned caricature of myself, basking in the glow of the screen light, bespectacled and underlined by my screen name – Falcondraco.
Richard chose an interesting screen name for himself – Odd Intruder. This was the inspiration for his biography’s title, and shows how he held something in common with the character of Joseph Banquo – seeing himself as a person who didn’t quite fit in.
My stepfather lived in Manhattan for a while and had been an art teacher at one point in his life. He understood the principles of aesthetics very well. This helped when it came to teaching me how to draw, paint, etc. For example, he knew that artists typically have trouble when it came to drawing hands. To this purpose, he brought home for me a big pad of newsprint paper and we worked on contour drawings. He had me practice contour drawings of hands until I became a pro at it.
He’d given me a lithograph done by a man named Joseph Corso, and it was called Mono Lake Mudflats.
I supposed that my stepfather and Joseph Corso might have been friends, and so I searched for clues. However, despite the hours I scoured the internet for information relating to Joseph Corso as an artist, I found nothing except for the image of another lithograph done by him, called Mono Lake V.
My stepfather, Richard A. Anderson, was my mentor in art. One of the things he taught me was how to gain an artist’s eye for color perception. He showed me how perception and visualization are linked, teaching me an exercise used for seeing all of the color in a room, or rather, all of the repetitions of a particular color.
What he did was he had me look around the room. “Point out all of the red objects you see,” he instructed me. I did so, pointing out a case and an apple. Then I paused and had to struggle to find more. “That’s enough,” he said.
Then he instructed me to close my eyes, take a deep breath, and picture only the color red. For a full minute, I attempted to visualize only the color red in my mind. When I opened my eyes, he told me to take another look around. This time, red objects popped out at me, boldly distancing themselves from their surroundings to declare their triumphant existence. This time, I saw the vase, an apple, a figurine, the red on a magnet, and a variety of other red objects. Through this exercise, my eyes had been trained to match my mind and the powers of its visualizing ability.
My stepfather also taught me about the importance of visual balance in an artistic work and the idea of trapping a viewer’s eye so that it can’t “escape”, in the way that a mandala causes its viewers’ eyes to stay focused on its imagery. I showed my stepfather a painting that I’d done and he noticed that I’d left the upper right corner empty. He pointed to this part of the image and said, “Right here is where a viewer’s eyes can escape.” He pointed across the painting and off diagonally into the air.
In this way, he showed me that the act of creating a piece of art does not merely involve adding paint to a canvas or charcoal to a piece of paper. Instead, art requires its creator to make a series of deliberate decisions regarding composition.
He never acted as though I’d made a mistake, done something on accident, or simply wasn’t aware of what I was doing artistically. Instead, he would point out concepts to consider, such as artistic balance. To this effect, he once said that a frame of two trees would provide a perfect balance to anything created between them.
Also, he realized the importance of letting a concept exist within its own space – its own self-contained little world. Whenever I drew a sketch, he’d ask me to draw a box around it when I finished and then I’d move on to a new drawing. In this way, I began to look at the sketch in terms of its relation to its space and the world it inhabited, instead of only thinking about the drawing’s creation.
My stepfather showed me that art is not merely a dry act of recreating the visual world, but is instead the thoughtful, all-encompassing act of expressing one’s humanity. This is why when I went in for an interview one day, and my interviewer said, “Art is something I think of as a hobby for older people to do in their basements when they retire,” I could not believe it. I vehemently opposed this idea, saying, “Not to me. To me, art is an exciting, dynamic thing,” and I have my stepfather to thank for sharing his artistic wisdom with me.
He taught me that art can be more than its physical act of creation. It can be a deeply personal, spiritual journey that involves seeing the world in new ways.
Richard always said that the hardest part about art is knowing when you’re finished. There was this big wall in the living room and the couch was up against it, facing the television. Richard wanted to paint something on that wall, and what he came up with was a massive painting of an audience in a movie theater. In this way, we would feel like the living room was our theater. He was a conceptual thinker like that. This is the only one of his paintings that was never finished.
Richard absolutely loved The Grateful Dead, having been a “deadhead” since his high school/college days. He also influenced my own musical tastes, in his own gentle, nurturing way. Every once in a while, when I came home from school, a new CD would be just sitting there on my dresser. It was always something I’d never heard before (of course, I was very young and there was a lot I’d never heard before). One day it would be Aerosmith and another, Cat Stevens. His method worked. My insatiable curiosity made me play each CD all the way through, and each band or performer became a new favorite of mine.
When I first set out on this journey, I knew very little about the Grateful Dead, their shows, or the hype they inspired. What I did know is that they carried with them the spirit of a generation. I knew this because I remembered the day that Jerry Garcia died – August 9th, 1995. I remembered this day because I heard the news on the television at my father’s house. I knew that when I got to my mom and stepfather’s house, that my stepfather Richard would be devastated. He’d followed the band since high school.
And I was right. When I walked up the driveway, my stepfather was sitting in his black Chevy pickup truck, leaning out the window a bit and bawling like he’d lost a close friend. His sorrow was so deep that I couldn’t help but believe that he mourned not only the death of Jerry Garcia, but the death of something more conceptual as well. Perhaps he mourned the passing of the traditions and ideals of a generation. Growing up in my own generation, I’d never have the chance to see a live Grateful Dead show and might only have the faintest idea of what it might have been like to see them play at Winterland.
Or so I’d thought.
Searching the internet for places to promote my stepfather's novel at, led me to the official website for the Grateful Dead. It was April 18th, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there would be a nationwide showing of the Grateful Dead movie. Even my closest local theater would be playing it, though the event wasn't advertised on Moviefone or Fandango. I bought and printed a ticket, not sure what to expect, my only experience with the Grateful Dead having been snatches of songs and the recorded concert experiences of my stepfather. But I remembered how he told me, “There’s nothing like a Grateful Dead show.” So I prepared to take this journey and familiarize myself at last with the music of the Grateful Dead and the culture of Deadheads. I was born in 1983. I wished myself luck.
So I went to the Grateful Dead movie event last night, in honor of my stepfather. It became part of my quest to understand the world he came from and what it meant to him. I was surprised that there was no advertisement for the showing on the theater's outdoor billboard. No line greeted me at the door like at the Harry Potter movie showing. Instead, I entered the sparsely-seated theater and easily found an empty chair in the center of a row, halfway up. There was a slideshow rolling, and the cascading sound of guitar chords threatened to dispel the malingering weight of troubles my work day had left me with. The spirit of the music began to reveal itself to me.
Interview footage of Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir was shown, dated October 1974. The footage was labeled with the title "Start of the Grateful Dead's two-year hiatus". In their interviews, the band members talked about the purpose of creating music and its challenges and difficulties. It became clear to me that the Grateful Dead had the power to bring people together in the name of something good and transcendent, the way music ought to.
It was remarkable how much Jerry Garcia reminded me of my stepfather, both in appearance and mannerisms. They both taught themselves to play guitar, smiled a lot, wore glasses, smoked, talked philosophically and were introverted individuals who believed in working on themselves.
After the interviews, the movie/concert experience began. The screen went black, and the sound of howling winds filled the theater. Broken, altered letters announced The Grateful Dead Movie and then a skeleton appeared, wearing sunglasses and playing the violin. Then the screen changed to Monty Python-style comic images of a hotel in the cosmos and an intergalactic game of pinball. A dancing, singing skeleton in a patriotic top hat and jacket appeared, followed by flashing geometric images and abstract shapes. Then it switched to concert footage. This movie style was reminiscent of Led Zeppelin's "The Song Remains The Same". The concert part of the movie, which made up the majority of it, was incredible.
The Grateful Dead's sound system offered audiences a unique concert experience, able to project individual guitar strings in various locations. This sound system made it seem like the band was sending echoes rippling into the cosmos. The band played like the music ran through their veins. They played to a packed concert hall where audience members danced and shook like they were trying to dispel demons. Roses littered the stage and the mystical sound of the music reflected the green, pulsing light playing off of Jerry Garcia's guitar strings.
When I left, a lyric followed me and I searched the parking lot for my car, singing, "I don't know, it must have been the roses..."
After seeing the Grateful Dead movie, I knew why my stepfather had cried the day Jerry Garcia died. He mourned not only the passing of an extraordinary man, but the end of an incredible era of human existence, when the names of Peace and Love were invoked like the deities that would redeem all of mankind.
When Richard died, his nephew Rick spread some of his ashes in the sand trap of a golf course. He said, “That’s where we spent most of our time.”
I’d asked my stepfather once what Lord of the Rings character he thought he was most like. His answer was Tom Bombadil, the good-hearted, wandering forest dweller. That’s why it is hard for me to picture my stepfather in a cloudy heaven, surrounded by angels playing lutes. Instead, it is so much easier for me to envision him in a forest setting, chatting with Tom Bombadil over coffee.
But there is a practical lesson to be learned from my stepfather’s death, and the death of Earl Anderson as well – that the skeletons in the medical closet won’t go away just because you close your eyes.
Special Thanks To:
C.K. McClatchy High School & Alumni
Office of the San Francisco County Clerk
Decadent Publishing, LLC
The Self-Realization Fellowship
The Military’s National Personnel Records Center
Sacramento City College Admissions & Records Department