It’s Not About The $11.52
By Sandy Olson
We met for breakfast at Maquina 245 to start the interview. Mel Goldberg said,“I’ve never been interviewed before so I don’t know how this goes.” I promised to be gentle. I forgot for the moment to be intimidated about Mel’s years of teaching English and creative writing.
He was raised in Chicago in a tough neighborhood. Sometimes on the way to school he walked through bullet fragments. In spite of this gritty—figurative and literal—start he was always a reader. His main interest was poetry, even when he was in high school, but he didn’t tell anybody then. “It wasn’t a macho thing at the time.” He also wrote a play in high school that the drama department produced and “this is what got me hooked.”
After high school Mel went off to Northern Illinois University where he majored in English. “Why English?” I asked. “It was a nice language,” he said, “and the only one I knew.” Also, at the time he knew that companies would hire people with any kind of college degrees. (Remember those good old days?)
Despite his interest in the literary arts Mel says his most interesting job was when he worked summers on the docks as a longshoreman in LA and he got to meet people from all over the world.
One of these was a guy named Elias Arubajudikas, who jumped ship to remain illegally in the U. S. After several months he signed on to another ship and returned to Greece who wanted to emigrate but jumped ship and went back to Greece. Elias came to life later in one of Mel’s novels. (He enjoys using real names in his novels and so far hasn’t been sued).
The adventures on the LA docks were a sideline to Mel’s career as a high school teacher of English and creative writing. He’s written consistently through his life. In college he wrote for a literary magazine and published poetry and stories.
By now Mel had a wife and three children. They left LA for a teaching job in Waukegan, Illinois. (Trivia: This was Jack Benny’s birthplace. His kids went to Jack Benny Junior High School. The sports team was the 39ers).
Years later Mel would drive to visit his son in California and passed through Sedona, Arizona several times on the way. He fell in love with the area—the beauty, red rocks and hiking trails, and a kind of good energy. He bought land years before retirement in anticipation of an eventual move.
By now Mel was a bachelor and planned to live alone. But he had met real estate broker Bev Kephart some years before. He called her before his move to sell the land he owned and to buy him a condo sight unseen.
That decision worked out well and he moved there in 1993. He taught writing at Yavapai Community College part time. Mel says, “There was one stop light there when I lived there. The City Council had a ‘dark sky’ policy, no street lights to avoid light pollution and people could see the starry sky.”
As a bonus he got together with Bev and they became a couple and have been together ever since. They lived in Sedona until it became “Californiafied.” Newcomers wanted amenities such as paved roads, sidewalks and the installation of five stop lights.
All this gentrification got to be too much and in 2003 they bought a motor home and traveled and worked in private campgrounds for seven years, Mel as a maintenance man and Bev doing accounting work.
This well-matched couple eventually drove to Mexico for a couple of months. Mel doesn’t remember the exact year but it was a time when you could get only Nescafe if you wanted a cup of coffee.
He says, “And so here I am.”
Aside from the poetry he’s written three books (all available on Amazon). Choices involves catching a murderer. Catch a Killer and Save the World comes from Jewish and Islamic theology.Counterfeit Killing is about the murder of a miserly tycoon by his young wife and his son with whom she is having an affair.The working title for his fourth book is A Page Turner, another murder mystery. All of Mel’s books involve murder. Maybe it’s the influence of that early Chicago experience of crunching through bullet fragments on his way to school.
What comes across—to the embarrassment of those of us less self-managed—is his consistency and discipline. Mel writes every morning, gets up at 4 or 5 am and works for two or three hours while his dogs are sleeping, seven days a week. Once I asked him about this: “You don’t expect to get rich or famous from all this hard work. Why do you do it?” His answer: “It’s what I do.” He mentioned that he had just received a payment of $11.52 from Amazon.
Most recently he won a grand prize in the 7th Setouchi Matsuyama International Photo-Haiku Contest, and they’ve sent Mel two yakutas (kimonos), and some very nice towels.