Sunday, March 22, 2015

It Could Be Worse -- part 2



I do not understand Yemen. Some war is going on. I cannot tell what side we are on, but we send drones and have military advisers. What a screwed up country!  They had a suicide attack at two mosques and killed 137 people – just for belonging to the wrong religion.

This is the kind of madness that makes Benjamin Netanyahu look less bad in Israel. “Less bad” is a category that should be used more often, like “well, it could be worse, it could be Yemen.”

Words cannot express – “words cannot express” being a cliché that negates the craft of writing – but words cannot express the horror of the suicide bomber.

We can illustrate this by comparing Stalin to Hitler. We correctly and morally allied with Stalin during World War II, a terrible murderous man, but he didn’t want to die. You can make a deal with someone who wants to live. You have something in common with someone who wants to live.

Hitler – I don’t care to mention him at any length – but he was the arch suicide bomber and he did not want to live and we could not make a deal with him. We fought Hitler until he destroyed himself. But Stalin died in his sleep.

Among Middle Eastern countries, where cultures seem to welcome suicide, Israel manifests the strongest will to live. That is an excellent quality and we rightly ally with them.

Jacob said to his sons in Genesis, “I have heard there is corn in Egypt: get you down thither, and buy for us from thence; that we may live, and not die.”

That was a tough choice -- famine and starvation in Israel, or exile and slavery in Egypt. But Jacob said it was better to live and not die. So it worked and his people are still with us.

And the best way to live is to not die, so don’t be a suicide. Kill them if it cannot be helped, but don’t throw yourself on the flames.

Although Jews have chosen martyrdom over conversion at times, mainly they have chosen life, which might explain while they are still with us 3,000 years later.

Live! And the way to do that is Don’t Die!

Whereas Yemen….. boy …. What a screwed up place …. or Syria … and you want to weep for Tunisia.

………………..

But I live here in California.

Grounded in Santa Barbara.  I have the luxury of not explaining or defending myself, but I will enlighten you. I work on an organic farm ten miles outside of Santa Barbara, some ten acres of pretty vegetables, going to the farmers market and sold directly off the farm to fresh food lovers.

The men toil in the fields, undocumented and underpaid. I would bet good money that most of them are – first, grateful to be working here for ten times what they could earn in Guatemala or Mexico, and second, hoping and dreaming that they could get some better kind of work than sweating in the dust on the farm. My kids are gonna do better than this, they say in Spanish.

Ninety percent of people who do farm work ardently wish they had some better work. It is the lowest status and lowest paid of all occupations. Imagine being a young farmworker up from Jalisco and trying to impress the girl you want to marry. Do you think she wants to marry a farmworker? No, she wants the guy on the construction gang building houses and strip malls and he’s got a new truck and some plans to start a new business and some money in his pocket.

The guy hoeing weeds on the organic farm takes second place in that drama.  But he’s not a criminal, and he’s not a fool. He works pretty hard. You know, it could be worse.

Farm work is like some kind of Kevin Costner movie -- the life story of Wendell Berry and Thomas Jefferson and Tom Joad.

Frog Hospital Is Recruiting New Readers

You are not a new reader -- you may have been with us for years and years, and it has been fun, and there’s a lot more to come.

But now we want to gain some more readers, 100 more readers being the goal.

That will bring us to 500 in total, and when we reach 500, we will instantly set a new goal of 1,000.

I was reading George Will at the Washington Post  --  it doesn’t make sense that so many people read his column. Frog Hospital is so much better.

You need to nominate friends, relatives and colleagues for presentation to this distinguished company. You, a proud Frog Hospital reader, can let a few good recruits join us in our weekly endeavors.

Send me a name, an email address, and a few words of description – occupation, place of residence and demeanor. Such persons will be added to our list, and we will grow.

We will grow because we are alive. To live is to grow. That is our choice.

And don’t forget paying for a subscription – always voluntary, of course.

Frog Hospital Subscriptions.

Go to the Frog Hospital blog and hit the PayPal button for $25, or
Send a check for $25 to

Fred Owens
1105 Veronica Springs RD
Santa Barbara, CA 93105

Thank you very much,

Fred Owens









Sunday, March 15, 2015

Snark Attacks


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You might think this is crazy, but I often wake up in the morning and wonder why John Kerry is Secretary of State and not me. I could do that job. True, he's taller and he has better hair, and he married well, but as for actual skill, I'm about even with him. I know a lot about tomatoes, for instance, far more than he does, but he speaks French and I don't.

This is just one of those old stupid hippie ideas, so I never tell anyone, but I always thought we would have a better world if we took turns. Like John Kerry could take over my position at the greenhouse and get his hands on the soil. It would do him a world of good and he would learn so much. Likewise, I would be going on international jaunts to foreign countries and, as a diplomat, I would practice being nice to people I despise.

All I'm saying is the people in charge get too used to being the people in charge, and I would like to see a turnover at the top. You hear critical abuse against the concentration of wealth and how those who have money just keep getting more money. I agree this is a problem.... But of equal concern is the concentration of power at the top, and I've been seeing some of same old tired faces making airport arrivals and waving to the crowd and answering a few questions from the media.

Meanwhile, at the Greenhouse

I am learning how to work in the heat....just move a little slower... Pause, stretch, drink a little water and keep going.....it was pretty hot at work today but I did all right, also I am part-time, from 8 until noon.

I do a lot of shoveling and sifting of compost and peat moss, and the expert use of the wheelbarrow, and the skillful deployment of the rake...

When I stand and transplant the tomatoes from the little pots to the big pots, I stand under an umbrella and listen to sports talk on my portable radio.

Advice

Advice to the people of Ferguson......fire everybody and change the name of your town to something innocuous like Glendale, then slip into peaceful anonymity.

Advice to Obama, get over the GOP disrespect for you and their abuse of protocol. Ask them what they want, then tell them what you want.

Advice to Israel. Don't vote for Bibi.

Advice to everyone. When in doubt, do what Jackie Robinson would do......steal home plate.


Read this essay by Amos Oz. He argues for a two-state solution in Israel. It’s an uncomplicated argument and easy to understand. Oz is not especially idealistic or too firmly wedded to any special agenda. His only bias is that he loves Israel and wishes to enjoy his life in that country.

Watching the News

A young friend said why do I watch the evening news. I said because I want to know all the bad things that are happening. She didn't understand that.

When I was a kid at Catholic grade school, if the ambulance or the fire truck went by the school with the siren blasting, the sister would stop class and lead us in a prayer for whoever was having the crisis. The sister would say it didn't matter who it was, it didn't matter that we didn't know them, we would say a prayer for them anyway.

So this is why I watch the news -- to hear about all the bad things that happen all over the world -- to have at least a moment of concern for people I will never meet, Maybe to be a little grateful that I do not have such trouble myself and that I made it through another day without war or natural calamity.


No homework for grade school students! That’s what this writer advocates. I agree completely. I never had homework when I went to grade school, and I turned out all right. My kids had a little homework in grade school, but I never made them do it. Instead, I let them watch TV or told them to go outside and play. My children grew up all right and they are a credit to society, so that’s my proof.

TED talks are for idiots with time on their hands.

TED talks? I have spent more useful times in a doctor's waiting room, rifling through old magazines. This is one of those things I know instinctively. I have never been to a TED talk. I would sooner go to a convention of Baptists.

What they will put on my gravestone -- "He never went to a TED talk or a Baptist convention. He lived as long as he lived and never wasted time on foolish errands."

MOTH..... I would go to a MOTH talk if you paid me a $100, but I would bring my portable radio and some earphones and listen to a taped re-broadcast of Vin Scully and the Dodgers....... People actually pay money to hear MOTH talks, but if I had an extra $20 and a need for company I would go to a nice tavern and buy a stranger a good shot of bourbon -- you can hear some real sad stories that way.

Loading the Truck

Yesterday I helped Oscar load the truck with racks of tomato plants. He paid me $30.  It was kind of boring, but it didn’t take too long. It was a hot day, but we worked in the shade. We got all the racks on board and then he closed the door and got in the cab of the truck and started the engine. I stood in back to guide him out of the narrow space and onto the street. He said, “tell me if I’m getting too close to the tree.”  I wasn’t sure what he meant about that, “what tree?” I said, but he couldn’t hear me over the engine. So he backs up, turning slowly, I am making graceful hand gestures of approval, yes, yes, come, come, slooow, yes, come, and then the cab roof brushes the tree branches and he looks up startled, then he looks at me quickly, like “you were supposed to watch the tree,”  but these were little branches, and flexible, and the cab roof brushed them aside easily, so no damage was done, and he got fully into the street in reverse, and then he said “can you lock the gate?” and he took off. I locked the gate.

Frog Hospital Subscription Drive.   Your contribution of $25 is greatly appreciated. The Frog Hospital newsletter has been cruising down the Internet for 16 years now. I have tried to kill this newsletter several times – tried to stomp it out like the ember from an old campfire, or dig it up like a pestiferous weed, but it won’t die – Frog Hospital just keeps on going.

So please send me a check. Your contribution keeps me from getting cranky. It helps me to maintain a detached attitude. Let’s keep it going….

Go to the Frog Hospital blog and hit the PayPal button for $25, or

Send a check for $25 to

Fred Owens
1105 Veronica Springs RD
Santa Barbara, CA 93105

Thank you very much,
Fred Owens

 --
Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital

Sunday, March 08, 2015

It Could Be Worse


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A rant about the dreariness of labor – but first the news

The Deal with Iran


Roger Cohen at the New York Times argues persuasively and intelligently in favor of Obama’s deal with the Iranians. Charles Krauthammer at the National Review argues with equal intelligence in favor of Netanyahu’s rejection of that same plan.

This point and counterpoint is very satisfying to me. I agree with Roger Cohen and support the deal, but the vigorous opposition is not right-wing raving, but a sensible alternative.  Both choices can be well-received.

Deborah Lipstadt in the Jewish Daily Forward 

Liptstadt details an intelligent response to Islamic rampages in Europe. ….. Again, it is satisfying, even comforting, when someone can explains things clearly and name things truly.

My pal Harvey Blume talks about the dreary possibility of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. He discusses various alternatives….. We so desperately long for these alternatives – well, I do, and Harvey seems to feel that way too….. Can we at least consider Bernie Sanders?

Elephants in the Circus and Elephants on the Table in Zimbabwe

We hear that the Ringling Brothers circus will retire their performing elephants and send them back to the farm in Florida. This is a good thing. We know and love elephants because of the circus – so many of us, our parents and grandparents too, saw the prancing pachyderms and gazed in wonder. That was the beginning of our education – in knowing the ways of these enormous beasts -- that they like peanuts, and that they have long memories.

Having been educated at the circus and at the zoo, we can move up to a higher level of care and retire the elephants to a savannah-park.

Eating Elephants in Zimbabwe.  However, there is a degree of cultural assertion in our objection to the consumption of elephant meat in Zimbabwe.  We need to make a distinction. Robert Mugabe, the lifelong tyrant and cruel ruler of Zimbabwe is guilty of many crimes against humanity and nature. We despise his despotism, but the consumption of elephant meat at his birthday feast is a matter of no concern – not to the people of Zimbabwe, who have been killing and eating elephants for thousands of years.

Dwell on that thought for a moment – African people live among large mammals, and have lived among large mammals since the beginning of time.  They sometimes hunt and kill these animals, and consume them -- the giraffe, the hippo, the crocodile, the kudu, the impala -- such a rich variety of game, including the elephant
The poaching and slaughter of elephants for their ivory is an international crime. That’s the problem. That is our legitimate concern……. But it kind of bothers me that Mugabe slaughters thousands of his people and oppresses millions of his people and nobody pays attention. Then he eats a baby elephant and we are outraged.
The consumption of nyamandlovu is the least of his crimes. “Nyama” means meat in the Ndebele language of Zimbabwe. “Ndlovu” means elephant. So put them together and you have “nyamandlovu” which is elephant meat. What do you think they do with a slaughtered elephant – let the huge creature to rot in the sun? No, it is consumed.
Ndlovu is a common surname in Zimbabwe, so we will meet a Mr. Ndlovu – or Mr. Elephant as we translate his name. We will meet Mr. Mkomo, or Mr. Cow. We will meet Mrs. Ncube, which is Mrs. Monkey….. This is quite charming, and noble.
So let us retire the circus elephants to the farm in Florida. Let us support a boycott of all ivory products. Let us travel to Africa and go on safari and view these magnificent creatures in their home territory. And let us pray for the end of Mugabe’s reign – may he rot in hell!
It Could Be Worse
I am not ranting about my crummy job in particular – it is no worse than yours. I am crying out on behalf of all of us – these are the lives of quiet desperation that Thoreau warned us about. The common drudgery. The bleakness of labor….. This is for my daughter who commutes an hour each way every day, slogging through traffic in Seattle. This is for my son who endured more than a year of part-time hell as a clerk at Barnes & Noble. This is for all of you who know what I am talking about.
Looking back on --- I can't call it a career, but looking back on some forty years in the workforce, starting with my first after-school job at Del Dotto's grocery store, leading up to my current position at Oscar's greenhouse, I must say it's been basically one crummy job after another. A lot of boring jobs that never paid well. I did not succeed, or earn top dollar or get any satisfaction -- with a few exceptions. I mean, there were a few bright spots -- but for the most part it was, and still is, routine drudgery for a few dollars.

One Facebook friend talks about his good union job and how other guys were fools to work under the table all those years because they have no pension now.... I reply to his boast --- that good union jobs were not simply available for the asking. They were few and far between and some of us worked under the table because that was all we could get...... The only union job I ever had was at Cascade Cannery, and it paid well, but that union was busted and that cannery was closed.

It doesn't matter. I can say what I want. I worked for a living and I earned every dollar.

I started several businesses, for the dubious pleasure of being my own boss. Each time I lost money. Turns out I had no talent for such occupation.

Actually I did well at work. It just wasn't any fun. Maybe that's why they call it work..... that reminds me of that old hippie saying "Do what you love and the money will follow." Not true. Nobody ever paid me to do what I love. They paid me to do something they wanted me to do, and they didn't really care if I loved doing it or not, as long as I did it........ And nobody ever "gave me a job." There was no gift involved, it was always and simply a deal, a mutual agreement to exchange labor for money -- and if both parties are satisfied, then it is a kindness, but not an obligation, to thank the other party.

I enjoyed working as a reporter for the Wilson County News in 2005-2007, and I enjoyed working at Hedlin's produce market in 2010..... Those two jobs come to mind as quite satisfying in that I looked forward to coming to work every day. But that’s two jobs over forty years in the work force…..a dismal record.

It cheers me up quite a bit to report this bad news. The embrace of reality can be quite satisfying.

What is the point of me telling this story about my work experience – to gain sympathy? No, I am sharing this story because it is so common. Many of you will report the same thing. Many of you will report a regime of drudgery and boredom. So I am speaking for you, not for myself.

You do hear of work satisfaction – I have heard this most often from teachers, who seem to be astonished by how much they love their work. But I have heard much less of this from other people. You hear from architects who occasionally get a creative assignment, but who spend of most of their days sucking up to unfeeling clients with no taste. You hear from lawyers whose clients do not seek justice – they seek revenge and they are willing to pay for that revenge.

You hear from farmers who worked themselves to exhaustion and lost the farm anyway. You hear from women who were abused on the job….. That is something that mercifully passed me by. I was always treated fair enough. I was never mocked or insulted, or forced to perform a dangerous function. I can think of no employer who cheated me out of promised wages.

And I am grateful to be part of this great American dream in that at least I made enough money to put a roof over my head and feed my family and have some access to health care and good schools for my children. Yes, it was drudgery, but we still had the weekend. We still had fun and ate well enough.

It wasn’t so bad after all. But there was no zinger either, no prize, no parade, no bonus, no round of applause….. it was just a matter of showing up, show up on time and sober, and if you don’t show up, someone else will.  The understanding is that you can easily be replaced.

One job comes to mind, in the late summer of 1983, at LeFeber Bulb Co. in Mount Vernon, a farm that grew daffodils bulbs for harvest and sale. In August they dug up the bulbs and brought them to a processing shed….. That’s where we worked, in the shed….. They fed the bulbs into a machine that shook and rattled and sorted the bulbs according to size….. My job was to stand at the end of the chute and gather the bulbs into a burlap sack. When the sack was full, tie it up and place it on the pallet. Same job, all day long, Next day, same job, all day long.

But there is one saving grace to farm labor, because after a few weeks, the bulb harvest was done and that particular boring, dusty job was finished until next year, and the farm crew moved onto some other equally brain-dead task…. Side benefits – we enjoyed working in the fresh air, and Jim LeFeber was a pretty nice guy to work for. So it was not any kind of hell, just working day drudgery.

It could be worse.

Frog Hospital Subscription Drive.   Your contribution of $25 is greatly appreciated. The Frog Hospital newsletter has been cruising down the Internet for 16 years now. I have tried to kill this newsletter several times – tried to stomp it out like the ember from an old campfire, or dig it up like a pestiferous weed, but it won’t die – Frog Hospital just keeps on going.

So please send me a check. Your contribution keeps me from getting cranky. It helps me to maintain a detached attitude. Let’s keep it going….

Go to the Frog Hospital blog and hit the PayPal button for $25, or
Send a check for $25 to

Fred Owens
1105 Veronica Springs RD
Santa Barbara, CA 93105

Thank you very much,
Fred Owen








--
Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital


Tuesday, March 03, 2015

It's Personal


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It's Personal

The sheer volume of unpublished writing in my archives is astounding --- some of it is pretty good, although, having written it myself, I could not possibly judge which part is crap and which part is good.

When LaConner artist Janet Laurel was not on her meds, September, 2005

Janet Laurel and Dan Stow are tearing up LaConner. What a wild couple. They are disrupting everything and everybody. Their late night shenanigans are followed by early morning poetry blasts. This is nuts, and I’m getting tired of it. Janet and Dan came over to Jim’s house at three in the morning last night. Janet stayed in the car, but Dan walked in to the cabin to get something, not knowing or caring that Zelmar was sleeping in there – had been sleeping there for the past ten days. Zelmar was on a visit from New York City. She’s in her seventies. Zelmar is a Manhattanite and a woman of the world – she did not panic at the silent intruder, but she most certainly didn’t like it.

The day before, Janet had come into the Rexville Store at 7:30 a.m. all wired for sound and raring to go. I couldn’t stand the smell of her perfume. She sat next to me. I had been talking with Alan Messman, a dairy farmer. His farm is at the corner of Chilburg and Dodge Valley Roads. I always look at his cows when I drive by. She interrupted us in a big way and wouldn’t let us finish. She doesn’t usually come to Rexville in the morning, it’s mostly men anyway. But Janet is a guilt-free shit disturber, and she wanted to read me a poem. I said yes, not knowing how long it would be. The poem went on and on. She had a great big book and wrote large words, only a few words to a page, but it went on and on. I couldn’t take it. I got up and walked outside. Alan Messman just sat there in silent amazement. He’s quite a genial fellow, easy going and soft-spoken. I bet he is really good with his cows.
Paul Hansen, the Bellowing Buddhist, back from China, was holding forth at Café Culture last night. He looks well fed and his shoes were shined. Hansen had the chair by the door, the one the regulars always avoid.
Kelly Matlock walked in. She used to own Chez La Zoom, the famous clothing store. Then she married Martin Hahn, the famous chef. Now what does she do?

Old Fred. I’m Young Fred. Old Fred is Fred Martin who has been running the LaConner Drugstore since the mid-fifties. He comes in to Café Culture and buys lattes for his drugstore staff on Saturday mornings.

Wayne Everton, former mayor of LaConner, at the Barber Shop

“So you’re a dickhead,” Gretchen said with a laugh, meaning I had been to the barber shop and Dick Holt cut my hair. “Not so,” I replied, “Tony cut my hair, that way you don’t get so much of a Rotary Club look.” Tony Holt is Dick Holt’s son. They work together.

I am really particular about who cuts my hair. I often have Marianne cut my hair at her Mane Event hair salon, but for two problems – one is that she just retired and the other problem is that it’s not good for a woman to cut your hair – not all the time – it can become emasculating. You remember what Delilah did to Samson? And then he lost all his strength. Women, love ’em, but total trust is not advised.

I was forgetting the Waynemaster, himself, hizzoner, in the flesh, in the chair at the barbershop giving his candid views. I monitor the Waynester’s psychic aura, rather than engage in a conversation with any content. I figure if he’s not acting nervous, or depressed, or pissed off or anything like that – if he’s just relaxed and laughing easily, then our municipal government is in good hands. Reviewing his aura while Tony cut my hair, I gave him a big thumb’s up.

Awful Girl Friend Stories

My kids think the worst girl friend I ever had was either Rosana or Miriam -- they have a point. Rosana was quite fat -- that wasn't the problem. She actually had a very nice figure with excellent proportions, she was just a great deal wider than some other ladies. I liked her figure, she was all extra. That wasn't the problem. The problem was her obsessive, neurotic need to talk about her weight, and her diet, and how she didn't look right. I was made to suffer for all the men who had abused her previously, and all I wanted to do was have fun. I used to beg her, "Rosana, can we have fun now? Do we have to talk about this?"

Then I moved from the Seattle area to Boston, and Rosana and I wrote each other (before the age of email) these wonderful, scathing, insulting letters -- such lovers we were, the letters were actually the best part. All this happened years ago. I spoke with her six months ago -- she is still quite a pumpkin.

So there was Rosana, and I'm the first guy who ever loved her for being fat, and she wouldn't let me. After that I had an affair with a married woman who was also an alcoholic -- really smart. Of course I had a good reason -- me and Nora were both lapsed Catholics and we had to get our revenge on the Pope for inhibiting our adolescent sex lives. And that worked. I'm getting along fine with the Pope now.

To Love and Lose. I don't understand these people who are "wounded and wary." I mean these singletons who have had bad experiences in love and so must be very cautious and must make great effort to be emotionally self-sufficient. God forbid we should ever need one another -- that is the modern mantra. But I reject it entirely.

I follow the commandment of love and know that we are here on earth to belong to one another. Love is wounding and sometimes fatal, yes?

I believe in loneliness and suffering.

I am not “my own best friend.” I don’t believe in self-nurturing, self-fulfillment, or self-actualization – those are just fancy words for being selfish. I’m selfish, I don’t have to try to be selfish. It’s not something I have to aim for. I already am selfish. I don’t get what these people are talking about when they say “self-nurturing.” It’s just being selfish, that’s all.

Go ahead and be selfish, if that’s what you want – just don’t fancy it up like you’re doing the world a favor.

I believe in loneliness. Sometimes I feel lonely – don’t you? Sometimes, when I’m by myself, I’m unhappy and I don’t like it, and I want to be with other people. That’s loneliness. It won’t kill me. …. Hold it, loneliness can kill you. Loneliness can hurt very badly and then kill you – when it gets really bad. I believe that can happen. One time I was very lonely and that went on for several years – I suffered a great deal…. I did not choose to be lonely any more than I would choose to be sick. It just happened, and it was awful.

The point is that loneliness is authentic. It’s real. That’s why I believe in it. And the suffering, and the healing quality of time.

All that was written in 2005

LaConner hasn’t changed very much since then. I moved down to California, Fred Martin retired, and Wayne Everton died……..That’s all.

But there is more, digging deeper into the archives, from 1991...

A Little Story about Ruth and Clyde

"Clyde, I love the way you stroke the water with your oar. I hear each one plop into the water. One hand, one oar, then the other. We're hardly moving. We're going upstream. You pull and you pull. I hear the oarlocks squeak," Ruth said, all air in her voice, wearing extra fuzzy wools leggings against the chill on the river.

"Don't worry, baby," Clyde crooned in his baritone voice. "Just grab a hold of some extra space. Breathe deeply." He spoke very slowly.

The boat was a skiff, 14-foot long. A skiff has a flat bottom. This one had a bit of rocker fore and aft, better for rowing. Painted green with orange and red trim.

"Are we headed straight for the shack, or do we stop at Black Dog's first?" Ruth asked, because Clyde seemed to know what he was doing.

"That doesn't matter,” he replied. ”Why do you always wear white clothes? Your husband has been dead for three years now. Are you still mourning?"

"I don't know," she said. "Isn't it wonderful?" She pulled a little paper painting from her bag, an abstract design, of pastel water colors and gold foil. "It shows the light, don't you see it? My daughter came to see me at the studio. She was in town for a recital. We drank tea and laughed for hours. It was late at night when she left. That's when I made these three little paintings, because they reflect the light.”

The tide was coming in. This slowed the current in the river. Clyde had pulled the boat around Bald Island where the current is strongest. Now he was easing into the slack water by Shit Creek.

"Clyde, it's so hard to tell what you think. Have you heard from your mother lately? Did she send you any money?” Ruth said.

Ruth had silver hair, worn short and rugged. Her cheeks were like roses glowing and her eyes were shining black. She sat in the stern of the skiff facing Clyde as he rowed.

Clyde only grunted, a deep, melodious, poetic grunt. He reached for his jug of wine, the half-gallon size, in his blue knapsack.

She laughed, “I don’t think you’ve been sober for a day in ten years.”

“That’s not true,” Clyde said. “Remember how I lived with Linda. We moved out of the cabin on the sand spit. We got the house at Big Lake. I took auto mechanic courses at the college. I got a part-time job processing claims at the unemployment office. I didn’t have a drop for three months. I was inexpressibly irritable. My friends all hated me. I don’t want to think about it.”

Clyde enjoyed re-counting his personal history to Ruth – how he had been in the Navy for four years. That’s when he started drinking.

“And who are you to talk, Miss Space Case, my Lucy in the Sky, with no place to live, or breathe or cry?” Clyde smiled. “How are you going to pay the rent? It’s due next week. You could just move in with me. I’ll chop plenty of firewood and we won’t be cold.”

Dreaming of Ivy. There was a long, thin strand of ivy inside me. I pulled it out of my fingernail. I kept pulling. It was many feet long. It was pale green and the leaves were tiny, from being inside me and out of the sun. But the root and stalk were very healthy. The ivy could just not live any longer inside me, it must come out. It came out the tip of my finger. I pulled and pulled. It was amazing. I shuddered and groaned. I got goose bumps many times afterwards thinking about it.

This is the end of the newsletter, and if you made it this far, I thank you.

Frog Hospital Subscription Drive.   Your contribution of $25 is greatly appreciated. The Frog Hospital newsletter has been cruising down the Internet for 16 years now. I have tried to kill this newsletter several times – tried to stomp it out like the ember from an old campfire, or dig it up like a pestiferous weed, but it won’t die – Frog Hospital just keeps on going.
So please send me a check. Your contribution keeps me from getting cranky. It helps me to maintain a detached attitude. Let’s keep it going….
Go to the Frog Hospital blog and hit the PayPal button for $25, or
Send a check for $25 to
Fred Owens
1105 Veronica Springs RD
Santa Barbara, CA 93105
Thank you very much,
Fred Owens


--
Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Guatemala

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By Fred Owens

Guatemala

Laurie and I were in Guatemala for ten days. We visited Tikal, Antigua, and Lake Atitlan.

It is a small country, with small people living in small houses. All that was good, in my view. 
And the electric lights at night were softer and lower and that was good too. We saw many young people and lots of toddlers and infants. You could see the laundry drying everywhere -- children's clothing mostly. Laundry drying in the sun is a good thing too.

Bad Things. Two bad things are evident in Guatemala and it takes no professional training to find this out. The litter is disgusting. Trash is trash in any language or culture. Litter is bad for morale. It is dispiriting. When you see it everywhere, you want to just give up.
But some villages, it was observed -- I noticed --  were very clean of litter. That's local pride at work. I would want to know those people.
The other problem is traffic madness. The fatality rate must be incredible. And what is the excuse for driving like a drunken maniac? You can't blame the United Fruit Company for that. Or blame Communist infiltration. Or accuse the rapidly expanding evangelical church. 
We cannot say to the people of Guatemala, Be Like Us. But we can say, Drive Like Us for we do not kill ourselves so very often.
Otherwise, it would be good if we were like Guatemalans in some ways -- were smaller in stature, and lived in smaller houses, and had softer lights in the night-time and dried our laundry in the sun.

As for the rest -- corruption and crime and poverty -- there it is and they say the people of Guatemala are happy just the same. Some of the people I met were very happy. Others would sell their mothers if they could get to America. I have no special insight here.
Personal Accomplishment. I last traveled in Mexico in 1973, living hand-to-mouth, living close to the earth, living off the fat of the land, although, in Mexico, there was no fat. It was too hard, too rough, too dangerous. I vowed never to return unless it was to stay in first-class hotels, which is what we did on this trip in 2015, 42 years later.

We stayed in beautiful hotels and ate well, and every one was so gracious. We were very happy to be there and see the great natural beauty of Guatemala.

Except it was upsetting at one restaurant, on the road from Antigua to the Highlands, to see the entourage arrive in a shaded SUV,  carrying six men in black suits and tie-less dark blue shirts and concealed weapons, They parked and took positions and waited for the ivory-gleaming Range Rover with impenetrable-dark windows, concealing members of one of the ruling families, come for a night out at a good restaurant. That was disturbing.
Mario Soto, our tour guide, was a wonderful man. He was raised and educated on a United Fruit Company farm. His father was in management. He said it was a good place to grow up. It was good for his family anyway. And why should he share his doubts with us, if he had any? Why should he be candid? He gave us the best possible picture of life in Guatemala, as good as it sometimes can be.
I have been on humanitarian missions to the Third World, of some value too. It is possible to help other people and worth doing.  But just being a tourist,  to just go there and spend money -- that's really good or even better.
In Panagabel by Lake Atitlan, we paid a market woman ten quetzals for a trinket. That was money in her pocket, which is good. Then the cop came along and took his bite, leaving eight quetzals, then her husband threatened to  hit her and took the rest of the money to get drunk on. Maybe that's what happened. But maybe she used five quetzals for provisions and managed to save the other five quetzals for school fees. We don't know which fate awaited this market woman, but we did pay her the ten quetzals and the NGOs don't do any better. 
Who is to Blame in the Middle East. If we can't blame Islam, can we blame the Buddhists? Buddhist terrorists, Hindu terrorists, pagan terrorists, Jewish terrorists, Christian terrorists, left handed terrorists, Rotarian terrorists, stamp collecting terrorists, horticultural terrorists..... None of those names sound right. How about Bad Guys? That's generic but apt. Almost everybody agrees they are Bad Guys.

If a lot of these Bad Guys came from Santa Barbara, might we call them Santa Barbara terrorists?

If we cannot blame Islam, can we blame Pope Francis?
As long as nobody blames me.
Israel. When Netanyahu says to the Jews to come home to Israel he does not mean that literally. What he means is that, wherever you live, fight back. Do not expect to "be protected." Israel is a state of mind as well as a place. Israel is an "in your face" attitude. Don't wait for the knock on the door. Actually I have re-interpreted Netanyahu's message to make it better.
I am not Jewish myself, but I am always willing to advise people, whether asked or unasked.

Worries. I do worries and regrets every morning for 90 minutes, sort of like calisthenics. Then I get happy and go to work......Work is a blessing. Work is what you can actually do about all this great big mess.


My Retirement Plan. I intend to work as long as I am able, then I will become a burden on society. When I become too old to drive, I will hitchhike.
Too Many Mornings. Too Many Mornings is the title of my memoir. I am shopping it around to various publishers, great and small. No luck so far.  You can't get discouraged by this kind of thing, you just flog it and flog it -- keeping in mind that our great national tragedy is titled Death of a Salesman -- meaning that we are a nation that lives on the sale of its dreams.
My memoir, the tale itself, is no dream. But the sale of it, the publishing of it, that is a dream and may it come true and may that be soon.
Frog Hospital Subscription Drive. The annual subscription drive is under way. I have been writing and publishing this newsletter for 16 years -- good grief!  I have tried to kill it several times, but it won't die, so I may as well keep writing it. 
It is work. I work very hard on making it look like it's not work. Kind of like those Olympic ice skaters. "Oh, they look so effortless!" -- sure they look effortless, after a thousand hours of practice.
And your contribution keeps me from being cranky. The writer who does not get paid is tempted to preachiness and self-righteousness. But I serve no cause, I just try to write something worthwhile, something that might seem interesting or amusing. So if you can lend a hand here, I will be most grateful.

Go to the Frog Hospital blog and hit the PayPal button for $25, or

Send a check for $25 to
Fred Owens
1105 Veronica Springs RD
Santa Barbara, CA 93105
Thank you very much,
Fred Owens