Sunday, April 07, 2019

Joe Biden is my hero


By Fred Owens

Joe Biden is my hero this week. He is being bombarded by idiots. This is not good for the Democratic party. In order to win in 2020 the candidate needs to be selected in a spirit of harmony. Joe Biden, and the millions of moderate middle of the road voters who think like Joe, is a part of this necessary harmony. This togetherness will lead us to victory. With Trump defeated, the Green New Deal can be fruitfully discussed. With Trump victorious, The Green New Deal is only a joke.

A random survey of people who live with me went like this: If you had to vote today, who would you vote for? Elizabeth Warren was the unanimous choice (sample size --2). I chose Warren because she is kind-hearted and not looking for a fight. She is an agreeable woman but not one to be pushed around. I am considering temperament as the chief deciding qualification for the next president. Our current president does not have a good temperament -- and that's putting it mildly. Warren's stand on the issues are reasonable and worth discussion. Yes -- we can work something out!

Going to Seattle and LaConner. Laurie and I are flying to Seattle this Wed., April 10. We fly Alaskan Airlines nonstop from Santa Barbara to SeaTac  -- $200 round trip. Laurie knows how to find these great deals. And flying direct from Santa Barbara is so cool. The Santa Barbara airport is like a country club -- quiet and serene  -- traveling like it used to be. We get into SeaTac and take the light rail downtown. Then we catch an Uber to Eva's house in Ballard. Eva, my daughter, and her wife Lara, have a nearly 2-year-old boy and they are expecting another bundle of joy in mid-August. What a beautiful family they are making.

Laurie and I will spend at least a day in LaConner while we are there. We might be staying in Janet Saunder's guest cabin. The tulip traffic might be awful -- but we can figure that out when we get there.

Part Five of "Sage, she did what she wanted." In this brief episode Sage tells Fred how she makes a living. Then she gives him a ride in her truck for a trip to the sands of Stinson Beach in Marin County. Will it be a picnic, or a tryst?

Excuse me, I’m getting things out of order. Nick, the astrologer, will propound on the meaning of the Sun Signs as they apply to Sage and me after we became a couple. She was Gemini,  I was Cancer.
But not this evening, in my first day in the house, when Sage and I and John and Nick gathered in the living room after dinner to smoke a bowl of hashish from Afghanistan.
The children were safely tucked away in their beds, Eric 7 and Sean 2. I had not really met them yet, but I was fascinated by their very existence.  I had just finished five years of college and never saw a baby or a toddler or a boy at play or a winsome girl humming a tune that whole time, and here I was in a hippie home in California – with children. That made it so powerful. Like real life. I was finished with school and beginning my life, in this house, with these people, in September, 1969.  That sounded so trite, and I laughed at myself.
Now the children were asleep, or  at least not making any noise. We settled in the living room and had our smoke. We smiled at each other and discussed what record to play after Cat Setevens. How about John Coltrane on the tenor saxophone, a Love Supreme? That was John’s suggestion. Sage wanted Joni Mitchell. “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
 I don’t remember. I put me feet up on the couch and time slipped away.
It seemed like the next day, but it was more likely a week later that Sage offered me a ride to the Berkeley campus. “We can ride in my truck,” she said. Sage had a truck, a 1955 gun metal grey International pickup with a utility bed and a covered wagon roof.  It was the most beautiful organic vehicle on all the highways of the world. I never had a truck before. I never dreamed of a truck before, but I had one now.  Well, it was her truck, not mine, but priority of ownership never came up. It was her truck, my truck, our truck, the truckiest truck of all trucks. I was living in a Grateful Dead day dream.
 God gave me a truck. No, no, Sage gave me a truck.  You can live in a truck, it’s a home on wheels. You can haul stuff and carry tools. Keep a foam pad and blankets. Keep a two burner Coleman stove and food supplies in the compartments.  
We dropped Sean off at his day care, and then dropped Eric off at his private free school, and we approached the Berkeley campus.
“I have work on campus today,” Sage said. “I’m a figure model in the art department. I can hold a pose and stand still in the nude for 45 minutes while they sketch me. …..”
Long pause. I nodded.
“I’m in demand as  a figure model because of my classic proportions, you know, square shoulders, firm breasts, and broad hips. Like the Venus de Milo. I look like a Greek goddess.”
I was a little astonished, a Greek goddess, with a truck.. Well, nothing wrong with that. That was the thing about Sage. She didn’t like wearing clothes very much. For a figure model , she could shuck off her garments and feel free. She was good at that. I wasn’t. But I didn’t compare myself to her anyway.
“Say I have a better idea. If you can hang out on the campus for a couple of hours while I do my modelling work, then we can head over to Stinson Beach in the afternoon. It could be fun. Have you ever been there?
I had not ever been there. It was in Marin County, across the Golden Gate Bridge, a good hour’s drive from the Berkeley campus.  So I said sure, let’s go.
I hung out on Telegraph Avenue, right off the campus, and she finished at eleven and we drove to Stinson Beach.
“I’ve never been to Stinson Beach,” I said.
“You’ll like it. I know a really private cove. No one will be there.”
The End of Part Five
Part Five ends here. The two would-be lovers approach their private sandy acre on Stinson Beach.  The gods of the Zodiac will smile down on Sage and Fred. The wise old men will choose the right Hexagram in the I Ching.  Baba Ram Dass will hum mantras. Timothy Leary will call long distance and Eldridge Cleaver will start selling girl scout cookies door-to-door.  Anything can happen as the two would-be lovers approach their private destiny on the sands of Stinson Beach, or is the whole world watching?
Frog Hospital will return in two weeks. Writing about a love affair fifty years ago can be emotionally draining. I need some time off. I do enjoy visiting the world of 1969 and seeing the younger version of myself in that world, but the going back and forth from 1969 to the present reality  ---- Whoah, I've wracked up some mental/emotional miles. My brother Thomas Joseph told me that what I did in 1969 is how I got to be where I am today. True. I also remind readers that this story is a work of fiction and not a memoir. Sure I draw on the past, but then I make stuff up. I just hope this tale is of some value to the readers. Your attention is greatly appreciated. Thank you.






--
Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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


Saturday, March 30, 2019

A Story about Sage, Part Four and Too Much News


FROG HOSPITAL -- March 30, 2019

By Fred Owens

Too much news. Asylum seekers from Central America are lodged under a bridge in El Paso. We have to do better than this. Mueller filed his report and there were no new indictments. Brexit got even more confusing. I made myself read and study an entire in-depth story about Brexit. That didn't help. Wiser people from England wrote me and said you're confused? What about us? We've gone bonkers. I do wish our English friends the best. We have our own problem and his name is Trump. I wrote to a right-wing friend and said his conservative agenda was at least arguable, but the guy in charge of  your program -- Trump -- is completely unacceptable. So I suggested what others have said  -- some how get Trump to be satisfied with one term of disruption and put former South Carolina Governor Nikki Hilton as their presidential candidate. I would like to see Nikki in charge of the conservative agenda. She is not crazy and ill-tempered. She speaks in grammatical English. She fights but does not feud. I hate to use this word, but Nikki Hilton is normal and that is what I like about her. I would still vote for the Democratic candidate, but I would at least listen to Nikki Hilton.

Roses and Poppies. We are making plans to drive out to the country side on Monday and view the riot of orange poppies. Southern California is ablaze with wildflowers this spring because of the abundant rain. We deserve this pleasure after suffering seven years of drought and vast scorching forest fires. These flowers shower us with hope. This is why we live here,

The Santa Barbara Mission Rose Garden has maybe 500 or 700 or 800 rose bushes in countless varieties. Laurie and I have volunteered to work on these roses for the past few years. The park management assigns us part of a bed with 24 rose bushes of four varieties -- Sweet Surrender, Falling in Love, Duet and a Touch of Class. We go to this beautiful garden once a week in the summer months to deadhead and prune. We usually go in the evening from 5 to 6 pm. The mission church bells sing out the hour at 6 and we all kneel and pray the Angelus -- no, that's Catholic trivia. Instead people are tossing the frisbee, walking the dog and spreading blankets for a picnic. There is often a yoga class and sometimes  a wedding. This is why we live here.

Family. Laurie's daughter Shannon has just started nursing school in Santa Cruz. She is a smart and dedicated women and she will surely succeed in the nursing profession. Laurie's other daughter Mariah finished several years of work booking and organizing bands at local music venues. She is hoping to invest, with some friends as partners, in some ranch land outside of Santa Barbara. She is a smart and dedicated woman and she will surely succeed in whatever she chooses to do.

My daughter Eva lives in Seattle with her wife Lara. They have one almost-toddler named Walter Finnegan. He is our darling grandson. Eva is also expecting another child in mid-August. What a wonderful family they will have. We are going to visit them in mid-April. My son Eugene is making a good living as a librarian at the Los Angeles public library. He enjoys his work and I see the benefit he offers his community in service to literacy. We had dinner with him on Tuesday night. I'm so proud of him.



A Story about Sage, Part Four. Sage comes home and joins the group at the dinner table. We learn a little about what she is like and how she looks. Read on ......

Sage did what she wanted. She wasn’t born doing what she wanted. I believe that self-awareness came to her some time after she turned twenty and gave birth to her son Eric. She married Eric’s father and became dependent on him. Well, she didn’t like that and somehow, over a period of time or maybe all at once she burst out of her cage and strode forth a free woman, albeit one burdened with an infant son and no visible means of support. She left Eric’s father and resolved to ignore him.
Stumbling her way along the freedom trail she managed to get pregnant again --- it can be that easy – and gave birth to another son, Sean, whose father basically never showed up at all. Two kids and no money. Move back in with her parents in San Jose? Why not just lie down in the freeway and get run over by a truck.
I never heard her describe any saving angel who came along to steer her forward. She found her own way. Got on welfare and food stamps. Enrolled in San Jose Community College. She wasn’t really a feminist, she never read the manual, or followed the program or went to the meeting. She just did what she wanted. Not reckless or careless or selfish, but with a sense of responsibility --- she did pay her bills.
But she had this joy in her that was her most telling attribute. She lived with joy and it filled the room.
The house where she lived in Piedmont, this group of hippies and her two kids, the furniture and the polished wood floor, the kitchen that could have been cleaner, it was a place of quiet joy and affection and Sage did that. Sage was a hugger. I was one of many huggees. She went round the evening table hugging and touching and then sat down across from me and filled her plate.
“That’s Fred,” someone said. “He’s staying on the couch.” Sage nodded and smiled. I felt a little awkward. We were not being presented to each other, unless we were and didn’t know it.
John, the soft-spoken man from rural Iowa, began to speak. He sounded like me when he talked, but slower. He had an easy sound on his vowels. Maybe it was the mustache hanging over his upper lip that benefited his acoustics. One of the few mustaches I ever liked. On his head brown hair like a mop, but combed and clean. My height, somewhat slighter in figure.
“I was in the Peace Corps for two years, in Afghanistan. Of course I didn’t know what to expect when I got there, except I was bursting with the best intentions to do right and save the people. Peace Corps training was minimal, they just wanted to see if you could tolerate a strange life in a faraway country and live in primitive circumstances.
“I could do that, and I could introduce progressive farming practices like we had on some farms back in Iowa, with soil conservation and crop rotation. Afghanistan was a paradise when the apricot trees bloomed. All the people were friendly. I had a little house with a kerosene lamp. I had a shaded front porch with a comfortable rattan chair. That was enough. The Peace Corps just left me there and I loved it.
“I would have loved it without the hashish, but it was better with the hashish. I had never smoked pot or anything until I got to Afghanistan and they offered me a toke on the pipe one evening. The hash brought me into a state of bliss, I guess you could say. And it was the end of all my Peace Corps intentions, the program part anyway.
Basically I got my own pipe and my own stash and there went the next two years, stoned, sitting on the porch, greeting the neighbors as they paced by, and representing the best of America --- peacefully. No war, no bombs, no troops, no invasion, no napalm, just me on the porch leaning back on the rattan chair,” John said.
“You made good use of your time, “ I said.
“I have friends who mail me hashish from Afghanistan. If you like we can clean up the kitchen and then smoke a bowl in the living room,” John said.
Sage agreed. She said, “I need to round up these children and get them started toward bedtime, so I’ll join you guys later.”
Sage stood up from her plate at the table and for the first time I got a good look at her. The evening light was soft. The dining surface was sweetly strewn with brown rice crumbles and tamari soy sauce drips over bits of chopped celery. John started clearing plates. Sage stretched her arms wide as if to hug the world, but she was looking at me.
She was looking at me and that flattered my ego, but I didn’t want to be a show off and make antics. And I didn’t want to rub my eyes with a closed fist like a small baby.
“I like your house here, “ I said.
“We like it too,” she said.
No chit-chat. The moment felt important, except important wasn’t the right word.
She had fine light brown silky hair, curly and down past her hears but not down to her shoulders. Combed easily. No makeup. Small earrings, pretty blue eyes under light-brown eye brows. She wasn’t a looker, but her face was expressive and unguarded. Smiles came easily, sorrow showed with blotchy red flushes on her cheeks, and tears jut as easy as her smile.
It’s hard to describe what she looked like, and much easier to describe how I felt when I looked at her – and I felt good.
She was my size, maybe an inch shorter, square in the shoulder, firm breasts, wide hips. Untucked flannel shirt and jeans, often barefoot.
She looked at me too and made her own description in her memory bank. No, no. She didn’t have a memory bank like me. She didn’t hold on to the image and file it away under broad categories to be sorted and treasured like a collection of coins. She was no mental hoarder like me.
But she looked at me and then turned away, saying “I’ve got to read my kids a story and sing them to sleep. I won’t be long.”
So I went to the living room and sat on the couch. John was there and Nick, the astrologer, was there too. Listening to a Cat Stevens record and waiting for her to join us.
“Did you say were a Cancer?” Nick said.
Sage came in at this and said quickly, “Gemini. I’m Gemini.”
“Gemini and quick as a flash, for you Sage,” Nick said. “But Cancer is deep water for you, Fred. Now let us pursue the dangerous course of making comparisons. Think Gemini. Feel Cancer…..Shall I continue?”


Friday, March 22, 2019

Elite schools, who needs them?


By Fred Owens

Elite schools, who needs them?  I guess that's a little harsh, but I have encountered the aura of academic prestige and did not care for the experience. Oh, she went to Stanford. People have a way of saying that. So that makes her a big deal? It does look good on a resume, and when you consider the networking opportunities there can be a great advantage to gaining admission to these schools. You might even cheat or bribe your way in. At least some Hollywood actors are accused of that -- paying bribes to get their children admitted. Isn't this pathetic?

I was at a reception at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. This was many years ago. I struck up a conversation with a promising young man who began to question me. He wanted to find out what important thing I had done. I mean, he didn't want to be seen talking with someone who wasn't important. I said I was a landscaper. He said a landscape architect? No, just a landscaper. You know, yard work. Of course I was playing my own game at the time, trying to uphold the dignity of manual labor. But the conversation ended there, he was too important to talk with me.

You find these people at elite schools. Not everyone who goes there is stuck up, to be sure. I  count several friends, who attended Columbia, or Yale or Harvard -- down to earth people and just folks, really smart folks, of course, but still retaining a sense of humility. Okay, I met some really, really smart folks when I lived in Cambridge. I was very often not the smartest person in the room  and I liked that. You just have to sort out the snobs from the real people. It doesn't take long.

But this admission scandal has been dominating the news for the past few weeks. And it brings up the larger question. Why do we have such elite schools?  Why are an enormous amount of resources devoted to a small number of students? What about me? What about my kids?  There has been so much talk of inequality. Maybe we need to start at the colleges and do a bit of levelling. Let's deflate that aura of academic prestige and bring those colleges down to earth.

Global Catastrophe. Another alarming headline, but that is not quite what I mean. Which is that we know so much more about disasters in the far reaches of our world. In the past week there was a plane crash in Ethiopia and more than one hundred people were killed. There was a mass shooting at a mosque in Christchurch in New Zealand and fifty Moslems were murdered. Mozambique suffered a terrible hurricane and flood. Thousands may have drowned. I want to know this bad news and I want the details if possible. These are human beings who suffered and died and they are so much like us with homes and families. Modern communication is a blessing.

Part Three of Sage. In Part Two I took up a romance with Susan Bird, the Go-Go Girl from the Brass Rail. The setting was after college graduation in Toronto, wasting away the summer of 1969, avoiding adult choices. In late August, Susan and I hitchhiked to Berkeley, California. We entered the hippie world of West Coast Dreams, and so Part Three begins.......

Her  name was Susan Bird, but she liked it when I called her San, San with coral pink toenail polish. We got to Berkeley, found work, rented a room right off Telegraph Ave and began the month-long process of breaking up. September, 1969.
We hung out at Cody’s Books waiting for tear gas battles with the cops. We went to the Fillmore and saw Santana and Grand Funk Railroad. Santana was the opening act if you can believe that, fronting for Grand Funk Railroad which soon disappeared from all knowledge while Santana still sings for the ages.
San worked part-time at a department store at the perfume counter. I did landscaping work sporadically. San was pretty and very nice to me. We never argued. I just wanted more. I wanted the whole world to explode. I wanted to be totally insane and suffer mental anguish. I wanted Fyodor Dostoyevsky to write my biography. I wanted Mao Tse-Tung to salute me. Comrade! Join the struggle. It was 1969, the hippie vision was breaking up into stupid little hippie clouds.  I resisted but nobody cared. I called long distance to my Mom and Dad back in suburban Chicago. They sent me money, they weren’t worried. I could hear them talking – he’ll sort it out eventually. Their confidence in me was annoying. I was 23 years old.  I wanted to throw away my shoes and live in a teepee. San just gave me a sad look about my dreams.
Why didn’t we have a discussion? Something like this – “I want to go to Mexico in search of the Treasure of the Sierra Madre, also to visit various Shamans in Durango. But I will come back in six weeks, or two months tops…..so is that okay and will you wait for me?”
“Fred, I don’t know. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Maybe we knew that the conversation wouldn’t work. We got along well but we didn’t love each other all that much. We shared this rented room, sublet from a grad student. I don’t even remember who moved out first. It just happened and we didn’t try to stop it. San was a quality babe. Why was I thinking she  could easily be replaced?  God, that’s an awful way to put it. Replaced? An awful word. I missed her, but I was glad to be in Berkeley on Telegraph Avenue looking for my future.

I had so many choices. The Hog Farm and Wavy Gravy. The Red Mountain Tribe and their radical newspaper.  The Rainbow Nation and their Native American pseudo-rituals. Love Israel, which is what they called themselves, a little too woo-woo for me. Jesus freaks, God help us. The Christ family – apocalyptic and the world would burst into flames. Hare Krishna and dance til you drop. The Roach Family, going to Texas on a blue bus to gather and eat peyote cactus. The STP Family, an evil spawn on the Avenue. They preyed on innocent suburban wanderers with rape and harsh drugs and brutality – they were scary dudes……. Baba Ram Dass, Timothy Leary and the Grateful Dead scattering blessings on us all.
I sat on the sidewalk, watching and waiting. Who comes ambling down the street? Ron Firman, in striped bellbottoms and a silver chain around his waist, smiling at everybody, humming softly as if he had lived there all his life, when in fact I knew him from Toronto.
Can I stop here for a minute and explain that when you’re hanging out on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, California, you don’t expect to run into someone you knew from Super House back in Toronto? Well, it would not matter to anyone else but me, but there was Ron ambling and there was I in a squat on the sidewalk with a home-rolled cigarette.
Did he see me first, or did I see him first? Ron was from Thunder Bay, a small town in northern Ontario. He was a sometime companion to Allanah Furlong, who was a room-mate to Cyndi Quick who had been a girl friend to Alan Archibald who was  the founder of Super House.
So I knew Ron well enough. His voice was like the sound of a treasured heirloom clarinet, a sweet sound. “I don’t have much to say, but I say it well, “ being his attitude.
He became an important figure in this story and in my life because he introduced me to Sage. Ron lived with Sage and some other hippies in a group home in the Piedmont enclave of Oakland.
“Come and join us for a meal. You can crash on the couch if you want to. We have lots of room.”
That seemed like a good idea. Piedmont was a spiffy uptown neighborhood so it was surprising to see  this hippie home with an I Ching flag in yellow and red hanging over the front door, but it was clean and well-kept. Patrick the builder lived in the garage. Neil Dodgson was formerly a research chemist in graduate school but he dropped out to study astrology. Neil had one of the upstairs bedrooms. Rosemarie Barbeau, who would have become my sister in law if she had ever married my brother, had another room upstairs. John Haroldson was from Iowa, recently returned from two years in the Peace Corps in Afghanistan. John had his room.
Sage had the fourth bedroom, mattress on the floor, batik curtains with beads, books and clothes strewn here and there. She was just too cheerful to be tidy.
I slept on the couch in the living room. I forgot the kids. Eric and Sean, 7 and 2, lived in a heap of toys and floor mattresses in a small room off the dining room down stairs. They were Sage’s kids. She had two kids.  I’m repeating that because I didn’t know anyone who had kids. Actual children that you had to feed and clothe and wash and soothe and teach. Every day you had to do that if you had kids. This was incredible. Five years of college and I never dangled a baby, never held one, never saw one, had only the most theoretical idea that I might have some of my own some day.
No one in the Piedmont house thought about children, except they were there. We took care of them well enough, just never thought about it. Kids just happened, they just showed up.
But I had not yet met Sage. I did not know her bedroom until a  few days later. First I met the gang downstairs and sat for the communal supper of fish, brown rice and steamed vegetables.   It was a pleasant meal. The kids were running around. Someone was designated to watch them, but I could not tell who the watcher was.
Sage was due anytime, coming back from her classes at Berkeley where she studied anthropology.
Then she came home and gave her smile and sat down to eat. Look, I’m not going to make this first encounter with Sage to be an earthshaking dramatic event with flashing love bolts. We met and thus it began.
Let’s just leave the gang  -- John, Patrick and Neal, Rosemarie and Sage, and those two kids, Eric and Sean – let’s just leave them to enjoy their dinner. They welcomed me, showed me the couch and I made myself comfortable, for that evening……
Part Three ends here. I don’t know whether to go on or just give up. Maybe I should look for a publisher, show him or her the first three parts and see if they want to make a deal.  Like I finish writing the manuscript and they agree to give me an advance. That would give me a lot more respect, like I am not just wasting my time. Such a deal! How could I get such a deal? I don’t know any publishers.  My networking skills are nonexistent. It is hopeless.
Except it is not hopeless. I live in Santa Barbara with Laurie, near the beach. How lucky is that!

Onward!

Fred



--
Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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


Saturday, March 16, 2019

Kamala is the pretty one


By Fred Owens

Kamala is the pretty one. Of the female candidates for president, California Senator Kamala Harris is the one who is good-looking. You can expect undeclared candidate Joe Biden to make an inappropriate remark about that. He will catch hell -- Wipe that grin off your face! How dare he refer to a distinguished colleague as pretty.

I would never do such a thing myself. Call a woman pretty or lovely or beguiling? Never. But she is strong, courageous and a force to be reckoned with. I've been sorting out my adjectives to that effect. Good-looking? Nope. Attractive? A lot of guys will try to sneak this one in and say she is attractive, but you know what they mean. Attractive is out. So Joe Biden will be put in his place because of the remarks he will soon be making about Kamala Harris.

But it gets worse.  Freshman Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is not only pretty, she's young and thin. God forbid you should say anything about that. The young men have been trained to act like they don't notice what they notice about her. And the silence has been kept. I have searched the media and found countless articles pro and con articles concerning AOC and her emerging impact on the political scene. I have not found a single reference to her appearance. How long is that going to last? Some man will break ranks and say something inappropriate and there will arise a storm of controversy about appearances.

Appearances matter to me. Appearances are even fascinating. I sit and watch people at the cafe. I invent stories about their lives based on little more than the kind of hat they're wearing. Or I see someone walking down the sidewalk, People walk differently. A certain stride gives a clue to the personality of the strider. Appearances matter because they open the door to the inner character of a man or woman.

Thank you for listening. And now it's .....

Story Time. Part Two of the Sage Epic
He hooks up with the Go Go Girl at the Brass Rail, this is prior to his meeting with Sage, who is the main character in this story
We need to back up now, to Barry Byrne’s smoke-filled apartment on Yonge Street in Toronto. It was June, 1969. I had just graduated from college – the University of Toronto, St. Michael’s College – I have already written a story about my college days, so we can skip that.
Barry was four years older than me. He was a perpetual graduate student and had no intention of actually finishing school. Barry and I had gone to the same high school back in suburban Chicago. He was in the high school class of 1960 along with my older brother. My brother was four years older than me, so that meant that Barry was also four years older  -- which might seem like an unnecessary fact, but I liked the way it defined Barry and our friendship. High school was our constant topic of conversation in his cramped apartment over-looking always busy Yonge Street – picture drab old furniture, dirty windows, bottles of beer, overflowing ashtrays and joints passing back and forth.
High school was Jesuits, all boys, tough and cold, but serious in the academic sense. That prepared us for an easy time at St. Michael’s College where the school was run by the Basilian order of priests – an easy-going and very refined group of men who enjoyed the pleasures of life, those permitted and those forbidden.
Barry and I could kick that around for a while and then head out into the evening to the Brass Rail down the street – a caberet club with go-go girls dancing on table tops. Barry was in love with one of the blonde floozies and sat in quiet adoration and left her large tips while she shaked it and showed it. I don’t remember her name, but the other dancing girl – I learned her name because I met her just the next afternoon at a backyard party at Super House.
I guess I have to tell you about Super House now. It was an old house on Robert Street right off campus, three stories, nine bedrooms, all rooms filled with students about to finish school and face reality. Naturally we stalled. We had all graduated, the dozen or so of us who either lived at Super House or just came there to hang out,  eat communal meals, listen to psychedelic rock on CHUM=FM and smoke weed.
That Saturday afternoon in late June, we were still there and still stalling  -- career, marriage, destiny, vocation, profession – O Lord spare us. Let’s just drink beers and BBQ in the back yard.
The table dancer was there. She was gorgeous, incredibly sexy, brought to the party by Tony Falcone, who always found the women I dreamed about. Tony brought her as an extra. He had his own date. He just said – didn’t actually say, but meant – be my guest, she might like you.
Her name was Susan Bird. I had already seen her dance half-naked at the Brass Rail and there she was looking pretty good with her clothes on too. Standing there and making it very easy for me to talk.
That was the thing about Susan Bird. She was so wholesome and natural. We slept  together that night. I ran my fingers down her stomach and saw the markings. Those are stretch marks, she explained. I had a baby when I was 16, but I couldn’t keep it. My Dad made me leave school and go to a home.
 I couldn’t think of anything to say about that. I had heard about unwed mothers, but I never expected to encounter one. A more mature fellow might have asked her about her emotional health from what must have been a very upsetting experience – to be pregnant, to give birth, and then to give the baby away and never see it again.
But I didn’t think of that. I thought – I’m really glad I didn’t actually say this – but I thought, gosh, you were having sex when you were 16. I wish I had sex when I was sixteen, but it was all I could do to even kiss a girl.
Well, Susan Bird had come into my life to make up for all that.  I never thought she was cheap for being a table dancer or having more experience  than me. Of course, what about me watching her dance? Me, the big man who knew what he was doing, yeah, sure.  I kept my mouth shut and accepted this gift.
July 16, 1969. I guess we were still hanging out at Super House and enjoying the end of our carefree existence. I was deluded. I thought those carefree days would last forever. I remember the date because we watched the first man to land on the moon. I couldn’t stand it. I refused to watch. I objected fiercely. My politics commanded this. We have a war in Vietnam, we have poverty throughout the country and around the world. First we should solve our problems on earth, then we shoot for the moon. That was my conviction. I could not enjoy the moon landing. But I could still enjoy Susan’s Bird’s loving touch.
She wanted a home and family. Not right away but soon enough. She never hinted about that. We made no plans. But it became clear a few months later that we were on different schedules, like she wanted to settle down in a few years and I wanted to settle down never.  She was such a good soul. I should have met her half way. We should have discussed things like this but we did not know how.
I forgot the Playboy bunny part. In 1969 our lives as men were filled with unrealistic images of statuesque nudes in the pages of Playboy magazine. There were no such actual women built like that – curvaceous, breast-arific, hip-alicious. A dream. An erotic fantasy.  Except for Susan Bird. She was built like that. She was the living doll. She couldn’t help it. The good thing is that it didn’t seem to bother her – the stares from men as she walked down the street.
It didn’t bother her, so I it didn’t bother me. It was just fun….. that summer in Toronto, where the trees are oak, elm and maple, where the summers are hot and humid, and the winters are long and bitter cold.
I was headed for California, to Berkeley, to live out the hippie dream. I had no idea what the dream was, which is why I followed it. We’re going to the West Coast, no different than pioneers on the Oregon Trail, just following the setting sun.
Susan came with me. She was a good sport. I told her, Get a backpack and a bedroll and we will hitch rides across Nebraska and Colorado. Stay on Interstate 70, across the empty  land in Nevada, stop at a casino in Winnemucca and lose a few dollars in the slot machine.
She wore sandals with two-inch shoes heels. No heels on a road trip, but I forgot to tell her that. You hitch rides with a babe like that, you get rides right away. The good thing, at least for us, is that the drivers who gave us rides were always gentlemen. No creeps. Perhaps my manly presence was protective – I wish. But they were just good guys giving a likely young couple a ride.
It’s a long, lonely drive across Nebraska, nothing but miles of corn and you can stop in Ogallala for lunch  if you think that might be interesting. The driver wants company, to keep him awake and pass the time.
America is so big. You can really see that when you’re hitching rides in Nebraska, standing on the edge of the pavement on the on-ramp going west. It’s so quiet and empty. You hear the hum of the autos and the earth-shaking rumbles of the semi-trucks. So it’s not that quiet in terms of decibels, but it just feels quiet and empty and big. You can just stand there with your thumb out and wait and be one with God. I loved it and Susan didn’t mind.
 
Thus ends PART TWO of the Sage Epic. If anybody has actually read this I would be highly pleased and I would love to hear your comments, especially the critical comments.

Onward!

Fred


--
Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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


Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Start of a Story. The Setting is the Skagit Valley in 1971.

By Fred Owens

The Start of a Story. The Setting is the Skagit Valley in 1971.

Sage
By Fred Owens

The house caught fire and burned to the ground. When I got there it was heaps of glowing embers and the only thing standing was the white metal shower stall. Sage drove back from her trip Down Below and didn’t know the house burned until she got there. I was just standing in the driveway looking at the heaps of embers. The volunteer fireman had gone home. It was just me and her looking at what was left.
Nothing was left. Not even the blanket. We both thought of the same thing – the purple –woven wool blanket we had bought in Oaxaca. We missed that more than anything.
I don’t remember where we slept that night, some neighbor must have taken us in.
The next day we drove back to the ruins and thought about trying to find something. A good cast iron kettle was in there somewhere and could be salvaged, but it was too sad and we just let it be. Sage and I looked at each other and saw what we had was slipping away.
“We could move down to Day Creek and put the kids in school there. They might let us live in one of the cabins,” I said.
Sage didn’t say anything.
“It was my fault it burned,” I said.
“Don’t say that,“ she almost shouted. “It happened. Our stuff is all gone. We can get new stuff.”
“I feel guilty.”
“Let’s go down to Day Creek,” she said. “I’ll drive.”

That's how the story starts and I know where it goes from here. I do have the time to write this. It can be absorbing, to tell a story..... but should I plan it or let the story tell itself? I already know about Sage. She'll do whatever she wants, I'll just write it down. 

Not Nearly a Bucket List, just things I would like to do in the near future
Visit brother Tom, son Eugene and sister Carolyn in Los Angeles. Visit daughter Eva and her family in Seattle.
Acquire a writing desk, lamp and book-case. Acquire books to fill book-case, about fifty or more.
Acquire a new laptop and a new iPad -- current units are old and slow
Acquire a newer car -- current car runs fine, but it's time for an automotive makeover
Travel to Toronto, to visit my old School at the University in Toronto, possibly in October when classes are in session.
Travel to London, meet Glenda Jackson at a pub and have beers with her.
Travel to Japan or China.  I cannot decided which one.
Find a third weekly exercise class. Currently going Tuesdays and Thursdays to a dynamic, muscle stretching, mildly aerobic exercise class, but I need a third weekly class to keep that buzz going.
Eliminate professional gardening as a source of income. Find some other source of income to make up for that.
Write. I already write, but I want to keep that going.
Be grateful day and night for the company of my beloved partner Laurie Moon.

The Rise of Anti-Semitism on the Progressive Left. Being Jewish used to be cool among people my age. Klezmer music, where to find a good bagel, Yiddish wise cracks and Lenny Bruce obscenities. Israel was not questioned as an important and good country. Today AOC and Ilhan Omar are cool and they are not Jewish, completely un-Jewish. I admit I am being subjective and that I am offering no evidence, but I can just  kind of feel it. AOC and Ilhan Omar are not the originators of this unhealthy un-Jewish vibration, but it passes through them. Maybe they don't even know it. Anyway I don't blame them, except they have taken positions as leaders and they ought to be aware of this --- that Israel is a good place and the Israeli people are good people. I want to hear both of them say that, because it's true. First recognition, then criticism.

We can recite the following sentence from memory. It is wrong to conflate anti-Israel sentiment with anti-Semitism. Is that right? It seems you have to make a careful distinction there, because the one looks a lot like the other. I'm old school, I like Jews. Not every Jew, but most of them are good people. Okay, they are complicated people. My attitude is not to try and figure them out, but just go with the flow. And they are famously stubborn people, stiff-necked as the old book says. So you gotta love them they way they are. And that goes for Israel. Israel exists. You know, people don't ask for permission to exist. They just exist, and endure, and thrive at times. So I think being anti-Israel is a waste of energy, because Israel is not going away. Israel is a small but intense irritation in the midst of an Arab sea. And a prosperous country too. That doesn't seem fair, does it? They must be cheating.

Omar should make a tour of Israel some day. She could wear her hijab in Israel if she wanted to, or not, just like here in America.

Onward!

Fred




--
Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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


Saturday, March 02, 2019

Going to Santa Cruz

By Fred Owens

Going to Santa Cruz. Laurie and I are driving up the 101 to Santa Cruz on Sunday. It's an easy 5-hour drive. We are going to visit her daughter Shannon who has just started nursing school at Cabrillo College. She recently moved to Santa Cruz from the Big Island in Hawaii, where she got used to warm weather every day. Her boyfriend Casey worked as a helicopter pilot giving sightseeing tours around the island's volcanic surprises.
Casey got tired of flying tourists over the volcano and repeating the same jokes over and over. He is seeking a chopper pilot job with more variety.
Shannon, although she has her doubts, will make a very good nurse in my opinion. She is intelligent, she is tough and she is caring. It can be a very satisfying occupation and I expect her to thrive. She did spend three hours watching a surgery all the while shivering in the cold because the surgeons like it cold in there, and she did not know if she could wear a sweater under her scrubs.

And the Band Played On. I decided to up my gay game. My daughter Eva was bored when I called her two weeks ago. I said why don't you hang out with Russell. Russell officiated at her wedding to Lara, which is how I know him. Eva explained that Russell had his own gay friends and gay men and lesbians don't really hang out that much together. I said I did not know that, but maybe I should up my gay game. So Eva suggested reading And the Band Played On, politics, people and the AIDS epidemic, by Randy Shilts. This is a well-known and very well written book. It is a gripping drama of the 1980s. We didn't know. There was so much we didn't know and it was frightening. I remember that part. This is a very good book. I am on page 143 of over 600 pages.

The Treme. We are watching Season One of this HBO special about the Treme, a neighborhood in New Orleans where many jazz musicians live alongside other lower income folks, mostly African-American. The series takes place in the months following the Katrina disaster when all of New Orleans almost surrendered to hopelessness, because the city was so damaged and so many people had left for Houston and Atlanta. But New Orleans and its unique culture, founded in good music and good food, was too precious to abandon. This colorful series is about that struggle to come back to life.

Illabot Creek. In 1971 we camped on Illabot Creek, a tributary of the Skagit River. Illabot Creek tumbles down from the mountains rushing and splashing over jagged rocks, but when it reaches the valley floor the creek spreads over smooth gravel shaded by alders and overhanging maples.
The humpies come there to spawn on those gravel beds in the late summer and early fall. The humpies come to spawn in odd-numbered years, as they did in 1971, and as they will spawn again in 2019. Spawn and die, eaten by eagles. But in 1971, the humpie salmon were eaten by hippies who camped on the shore of the creek and built hootches for living and cooked over fires and drank the sweet, pure water of the creek.

I lived with my girl friend on the creek that summer. We had been together two years by then and had many wonderful times together, but there were issues and we split up and I was very unhappy. It's a story that might be worth telling. The girlfriend is a very strong character and such an interesting person to write about. But am I the one to tell that story?

I wrote to Young Dave in Oregon about this. He would be in the story if I told it. Should I use her real name? Young Dave consulted with his wife and suggested no. Why stir up someone else's life? Just call her your girl friend. But that is too vague. Maybe I should create a name for her..... Sage. Her name is Sage ...... but then is it still a true story?..... Yes, the story about Sage is true if it is truly told.... and I can do that..... Young Dave described Sage as being a fully self-realized woman..... True that..... She did what she wanted to do......

Rain. Saturday morning in Santa Barbara. We are getting lots of rain. We leave for Santa Cruz tomorrow morning.

Onward!

Fred





--
Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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


Sunday, February 24, 2019

Illabot Creek -- but first a little of politics

By Fred Owens

Illabot Creek -- but first a little of politics

These are the major Democratic contenders for the White House in 2020, sorted by age

Bernie Sanders, 77
Joe Biden, 76
Elizabeth Warren, 69
Amy Klobuchar, 58
Kamala Harris, 54
Kirsten Gillibrand, 52

I would vote for any one of them over Trump. If I had to choose today I would pick Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota, the land of sky blue waters and ten thousand lakes. Minnesota has given us two fine leaders as vice-presidents -- Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale. Klobuchar follows in their path. She is reasonable, calm and fierce when necessary. But honestly Klobuchar is such a clunky name. I want to call her Amy K. I would love to have a president named Amy. So cheerful, so simple. And we could use a few laughs. All she has to do, to beat Trump, is smile and not say anything stupid. She doesn't need a radical program. Just be human. Her intelligence and dedication are too obvious to mention. Amy K has a special needs child -- she has weathered that storm and she can run the country.

One more thing before we get to the story. I want, no I insist, that the major candidates compete for the nomination in a friendly but competitive spirit. Vigorous debate in a cooperative setting will give us the best candidate to go against Trump. Courtesy is more important than ever. Okay, I've said enough.


I wrote this story about Illabot Creek and incidents that took place in 1971 when I went there to camp, and in 1978 when I returned to that same place. That was more than forty years ago -- Why dwell on the past? Then I realized -- the story isn't about me or Young Dave or any of the others. We're just dust in the wind. The real story is the creek.
Illabot Creek is alive this moment, and has been and will be, flowing from a glacier mountain into the upper reaches of the Skagit River. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. And the water! The water is so fresh and pure, so cold and clear, you can just scoop your hand in it and drink like a deer, and the creek never stops flowing. Right now, this very moment, water is tumbling down the mountain over boulders and coming to the gravel flats where the salmon spawn.
That's where we camped. You have heard me tell stories about Fishtown, where the Skagit River flows in to the Salish Sea. But up river, up that same river, a drop of water melts from a glacier in summer heat and begins to flow downhill and down stream, all the way to the ocean, and it goes on forever.
This story is about Illabot Creek.

I was in Marblemount, Washington, in 70 and 71. By 1972 I was living in Manhattan and selling balloons in Central Park. Then I worked at a mental hospital for teenage children outside of New York -- I did that for nine months, then I hitched down to Texas and partied in Austin for the spring of 1973, then I got in with a gang of hippies wandering around Mexico in an old school bus.
I came back to Marblemount in 1978 with a pregnant wife and two kids. I did not have any fun at that time in my life, but I am glad that I had the children.
By 1979, I realized I could never make a living up river so we moved to LaConner. .... I should write a book ---- oh, I have written a book.
That was the email I sent to Young Dave. He lives somewhere in Oregon and I get a nice greeting from him every New Years with news of his family.
We called him Young Dave because he was only 16 or so during the Commune Days…. when we all lived in a heap up in Marblemount, way up in the Cascades, pitching tents in the forest, cooking over a fire, not bothering to clean up. What I remember about cooperative living is nobody wanted to clean up. The garbage piled up in plastic bags, but there was no take-it-to-the-dump committee. And old cars that barely made it up from Seattle came to die on the very end of Clark Road where the commune settled.
The commune started with the best of intentions in late 1969 when a van load of hippies, following a star, came upon a fairly nice log cabin at the end of Clark Road in Marblemount. Someone --- I know who, but there is no reason to tell here – someone had money from a family fortune and the cabin was bought and occupied.
First thing they did was tear out the plumbing and electricity – they were gonna live off the grid, and that first winter it was fine. People stayed warm and well-fed and played guitars and danced with tambourines. Glenn and Sheri had their baby born naturally by candle light, and fifteen people shared the upstairs sleeping places.
By spring time word got out and people flooded in. Everybody from Los Angeles to Seattle who wanted to live in a commune got on a vehicle of some kind and rode up to Clark Road and by the dawn of July 12, there were easily a hundred hippies camped there – July 12 being a memorable day, the day of Henry David Thoreau’s birthday.
Thoreau, if he had been alive to see one hundred hippies crammed into ten acres of second-growth cedar and alder forest, playing with nature, and pretending to live for free – if he had seen it, he would have fled all the way back to Walden Pond.
But as it was, that day was the high-water mark for the Marblemount Commune. Randy Oliver – more or less the leader – filled a large pipe with an ounce of marijuana and passed it around the one-hundred strong circle. It all went up in smoke.
It was just too crowded. The outhouse overflowed and nobody washed the dishes. Once the food stamps ran out, the lightweights hitched a ride back to Seattle and left their debris and sodden sleeping bags piled in heaps.
But a few of us were more serious and that included Young Dave and myself and Larry D’Arienzo, Steve Philbrick and one or two dozen steady hands who actually wanted to make a life of it, and not just a game.
The woods caught on fire that summer and we all got hired for fire crews. Kindy Creek was ablaze and Jordan Creek was ablaze, and both fires were close to the commune. Back then you didn’t get trained for fire crew. If you showed up at the fire camp, sober and wearing a decent pair of boots, then they gave you a shovel or a pick and sent you down the trail, earning good wages, fighting fire 12-14 hours a day. With those fires and several others, we made enough money to get through the winter.
My girlfriend and I did not pitch a tent at the commune like so many others did. We rented a house because we were high-class hippies, with hot running water and a roof that did not leak. We lived in the house that first winter, until January of 1971 when it caught fire and burned to the ground due to the idiotic unskilled attendance of – actually it was my fault – for letting damp kindling dry out too close to the wood stove and then leaving the house to visit some friends.
I remember hearing Mike Stafflin chant a Buddhist prayer as we all held our bowls of rice over at the commune – while he chanted I heard the fire sirens calling the volunteers. Someone’s house was on fire I thought and I wondered who could that be, and I found out soon enough it was my rented house. I never did meet the owner. I paid the $50 month rent to Ernie Green who owned the Log Cabin Restaurant.
After the house burned, not Ernie nor anyone else gave me a hard time or asked how it happened. It did happen and that was that.
So we pitched a tent somewhere, but we pitched it in a wrong place and a heavy rain sent a gravel stream into our teepee living room. Then we moved down the valley to the Old Day Creek Road Commune which was more solidly structured in that they didn’t let just anybody live there,
We lasted two months at Old Day Creek Road, but my girlfriend didn’t like it there, so we got another teepee and pitched it by Diobsud Creek on property owned by a dentist from Bellingham. We should have asked his permission, but we thought he wouldn’t mind. He did mind and he asked us to leave.
Now we were stuck. We never thought to ask Gordy Campbell  for help. Gordy was a friendly Upper Skagit Indian and he was always drunk. He would take a quart of whiskey and just drain it until he keeled over and passed out. You might find him passed out asleep somewhere with a sweet smile on his face.
We liked him. Everybody did. But we didn’t know that his family owned twenty acres of land on Illabot Creek.
“You can live on our property if you want to,“ Gordy said, like a miracle. 
So my girl friend and I cut a path through the bush to the property on the creek, followed by at least fifty other hippies who wanted to camp there too -- leaving all the junked cars that piled up on the end of Clark Road, leaving all the soggy sleeping bags and heaps of garbage and going to Illabot Creek which may have never been occupied by any person on earth – known all the time to the Upper Skagit Indians, but they had other places to live.
That’s a speculation anyway. We pitched our camp there and hoped more fires would start in the woods somewhere so that we could work and make money.
But there were only one or two small fires in the summer of 1971 and we made little money and I broke up with my girlfriend. I was so unhappy about that that I left Illabot Creek and rode all the way down to Taos, New Mexico. I didn’t stay there long. I kept going.
Seven years later I was married to a woman from Oklahoma. She was pregnant, we had a one-year-old boy and we had her son, my stepson, who was 8 years old -- the full catastrophe.
We had been living in a school bus parked in the back yard of my sister’s house in Venice Beach, California. I had a full-time job as a shipping clerk, and when I earned enough money to rent an apartment, we went looking and ran into “no pets and no children.” To this day, because my sister still lives on California Street in Venice Beach, I can walk by the modest bungalow that we might have rented except the landlord said too many children, sorry, no deal. I walk by that bungalow and think how my life would have been different if that landlord had taken my money and let us live there.
But I got mad at this and we headed back to Marblemount – which was an over-reaction to that problem. We went up to Marblemount in June of 1978 and decided to go back to live on Illabot Creek. At least until we could find a place to rent. The other hippies living there didn’t want any newcomers pitching tents. “I can understand that,” I said to them. “But I have never left a junk car at the end of the road. I have never left a pile of beer cans and garbage or soggy wet sleeping bags. I have never stolen from other camps. In short, I have never been the kind of trouble you don’t want. In fact, I don’t want those kind of people either. “
They weren’t quite ready to take my word for it, or my pledge of good conduct, and they said they would think about it and maybe I could live there and maybe not.
“It’s not your property,” I said, “and it’s not for you to say if we can live here. Seven years ago Gordy Campbell said I could come and live on Illabot Creek any time I chose to and until he comes by and says no, I’m planning to camp here.” Which is what we did.

Afterward.  Young Dave said I ran this story two years ago. He might be right. Well, read it again! I have published nearly 700 issues of Frog Hospital since 1998.  My archives need some ordering. Like if I got them all lined up in a row, from the beginning to the end.  Also Young Dave says he was 17, not 16, at the time of the incident at the Marblemount Commune.

Onward!

Fred
--
Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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