Tuesday, March 03, 2015

It's Personal


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The sheer volume of unpublished writing in my archives is astounding --- some of it is pretty good, although, having written it myself, I could not possibly judge which part is crap and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


By Fred Owens


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

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Too Many Mornings


Too Many Mornings
by Fred Owens
I wrote a memoir covering 28 years of constant moves and changes of occupation. I chose this 28-year span because it is about a journey in search of a home. I make occasional comments questioning the wisdom and judgment of my decisions along the lines of “why did I possibly think that was a good idea?”

Here it begins--

Too many mornings I woke up in different places because I kept moving.
I lived in Kansas, Chicago, Mississippi, Texas, Los Angeles, the Skagit Valley in Washington State, and Boston. Then I moved back to the Skagit Valley one more time.

It doesn’t make much sense to move around like that. It was poor thinking on my part, but at least I got out of Oklahoma.

We had done a lot of traveling, hitchhiking around the country and riding freight trains,but in February of 1976, Susan Simple and I got married. We decided to settle down and live like normal people in a house and have children and get jobs.

That was our plan, but it didn’t work out that way. We tried to stay in one place, but we kept moving anyway. I can’t explain it, but I can tell you what happened.

The theme is the writer's failed attempt to settle down, and so the title is  Too Many Mornings.  He kept moving. Wife, then two kids, didn't matter, kept moving anyways. No home. Got to be a dreary habit. The dull and sad existence of one more trip down the road. That's why I liked writing this memoir -- because it's a sad story, and those are the best stories after all.

And why read it? Because you will like this man, and you will be on his side and want good things for him and share his sorrow. This man does not give up, and when you read his story, you will not give up on him.

It's a short manuscript at 60,000 words. My girl friend read it and she liked it but she said it was too short -- that some passages should be written out a little more. She might be right. It seems that for the most part I wrote the short version of events.

I avoided confession and defended my privacy -- which is a tricky thing when you are writing a memoir. What that means is that I just left some stuff out of the memoir. You can read between the lines........ I was not going to trash my ex-wife. Blame her? Too easy. She was impossible, she ruined everything......... No, not going there.

Or formal courtesies? "While I respected and admired my ex-wife in many ways, yet the silence grew between us and we wondered if our lives were headed for separate destinies"  ---- that is so fake, the truth is we fought like wild animals for 12 years, fought to exhaustion.

I failed at networking last week.  I want to get this memoir published, so I need to find the people who can do it. The trouble is that I don't know anybody.

It makes a huge difference if you know anybody. Publishers ceaselessly search for new talent, but they are not willing to take meetings with writers they don't know. That is the zen koan of publishing.
So here is what happened. I'm sitting at the coffee shop on Abbot Kinney Blvd in Venice. Lots of people come in here. Players and posers. People who are working, people who act like they are working. I sit with Eric the godfather. He is 76 and all the players come to him -- he never lies, he doesn't need to lie.
In comes  Adam, a scriptwriter -- not a famous writer but he makes a living in a very tough business. Adam takes a seat on the bench next to me, says hello, and then talks to Eric about this project and that project and why he is so busy doing various projects.
Adam is bragging, but slowly, and softly, not like he's the only guy in the room. He even looks over at me now and then and pauses.
This is my fucking chance, for Pete's sake. Adam is giving me a chance. He looks at me again and pauses. This is my chance to brag about what I am doing, and my projects and how busy I am and what difficulties I have over come.
Flog the manuscript, you dummy! This is your chance! But no, I feel shy. I feel embarrassed. Why would Adam want to hear about another dumb memoir? Why would he care about what I wrote?
So I said nothing. Networking fail.  Adam continues to talk with Eric.Then he gets up to leave. I'm kicking myself.
This was just a small thing, and I will have other opportunities -- but it was a chance to know somebody who knows somebody who can get things done and that's how things get done around here.
It's not over. I will flog this manuscript. The words I wrote compel me to make it known. I just think it's a pretty good story.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

send mail to:

Fred Owens
35 West Main St Suite B #391
Ventura CA 93001

Friday, January 09, 2015



By Fred Owens

Manhunt ... I love that word ... so archaic ... current headlines screaming MANHUNT!

Mockery. Mockery is essential to freedom. We need to give Islam the razzmatazz.....because that's how we say I like you.....We need to appoint Bill Murray to direct us in this approach.......the victims in Paris were archly adolescent.....and we support them best by a juvenile smart-ass response......Fans of the New York Mets need to step up and lead the cheers.......any dignified carefully calibrated call to tolerance is a waste of time...heck, we already know that....We know that mockery is not hatred. We know that insult is not prejudice....This is not a moment for MLK. This is a moment for Rodney Dangerfield!....... Seriously, if you are responding seriously, then you are part of the problem.

The Media. Expecting others to show courage is no way to show courage. Calls for the media to "show courage" while the rest of us hide behind a tree? That is nothing.

The Word and the Image. The word was given and the image was banned. This battle was fought to the death a long time ago, and the war ended with the peace that comes from exhaustion. Now, easily, the Catholic Church is bursting with art, the Protestant church has bare walls, and there is no statue of Moses at the synagogue. Thus the issue was settled in what used to be called Christendom.
France. Everybody in France is Catholic, even Sartre. Nobody goes to church, but that doesn't matter. France is a Catholic country. Declare yourself an atheist, it doesn't matter because Chartres and Notre Dame are still there. In France, even the Jews are Catholic...at least they know that they live in a Catholic country. There is nothing wrong with that. The people of France are not nicer than anyone else, but they are good people after all...
France will always be France.
Baby Bok Choy Stir Fry
...one pound firm tofu
...one-half pound mushrooms
...cut tofu into cubes, slice mushrooms in half
...marinate tofu-mushroom mix one hour in a bowl with olive oil, toasted sesame oil, paprika, garlic powder and lemon-pepper salt
...stir fry the tofu-mushroom mix until the tofu gets a little crispy and brown

...set aside and keep warm
Part Two
...cut four baby bok choys into pieces
...slice one carrot thin
...slice or chop one-half red bell pepper
...slice or chop onion as much as you like
...stir fry the veggies
...fix a plate or bowl with the tofu-mushroom mix and add the veggies on top
...you might make rice or noodles to go with this but we were skipping the carbs that evening

It Depends on What You Mean

You can't make a word mean what you want it to mean. Unless you're talking to yourself, in which case you can invent your own language. But if you are talking to other people, then the words you use mean what other people think they mean.

Words need to have a meaning that is held in common with a language community. The word "stop" for instance. The meaning is embedded in the law of the land. You might want it to mean "slow down to ten mph"  -- that would be your personal interpretation, but tell it to the judge, as they say.

You might hear the word "stop" during an intimate encounter. Stop what? It has been harder to establish precise meaning in these situations. We might declare loudly that stop means stop  --- that would make an interesting entry in the dictionary. Also, apple means apple, and white rabbit means white rabbit. And and means and. Not or.

The new Alice in Wonderland Dictionary is simply hilarious, when the Red Queen declares that every word means precisely that. A peach is a peach, now and forever.

But meaning changes. Words evolve. We used to say bachelor in reference to an un-married male, and spinster for an un-married female. Now we say single for both sexes. And we dispute that there or both, none or many sexes  -- or was that gender? It gets confusing.

We have been discussing the meaning and usefulness of the word passion. I declared that passion has become a creature of corporate culture and cited a quotation from Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. Bezos uses the word frequently in his pronouncements, and it has become a common question in job interviews, "What is your passion?"  Hint: you are supposed to have one.....In this usage it is a substitute for ambition or goal.

I do not favor this change in meaning. I liked passion the way it used to be -- it was once highly personal, to say the least. But then the personal became political, and the boundary between the bedroom and the boardroom disappeared -- almost disappeared, depending on who ask.

But my voice is one among millions in our language community. Meaning is a collective enterprise. It has to be collective. Collective meaning is the very definition of culture. We are who we say we are, but only if we agree.

And if we do not agree, and if each one of us has a distinct and separate meaning, then we are insane. Insanity is a language understood and spoken by only one person -- meaningless.

But there are personal examples. I disputed the notion of a passionate gardener. I declared that gardening is tranquil and not inclined to intensity of expression, that it is a relief rather than a stimulus.

Perhaps. But this is only my effort to nudge the word gardening in my direction. My good friend David King would not agree. He gardens passionately. I do not.

So we arrive at a variety of meaning. I garden for a few hours and then I get bored. My interest in horticulture is limited. I do it for exercise and stress relief. I do it for love and community. I do it for money, having been employed many years as a landscaper and farmworker. But I do not love it half as much as some other people do  -- people I know and admire -- people who are focused intensely on this occupation, who scheme and dream it, who promote and preach it.

We hope for a harmony of meaning, but harmony and variety are not current usages. Instead we have that ugly word, diversity. Diversity rhymes with divorce and division. I am aghast at its dominance. I am entirely opposed to diversity. I dispute it, I deny it, and when that fails, I flee.

I am in favor of variety, harmony, and integration. I ask you to consider this and join me.

I regret the decline of bachelor and spinster, words that were at least colorful.  Instead we have single, which is mathematical and bland. Single is safe, but it is no fun. My hope is that bachelor and spinster, given a well-deserved rest for a few decades, might return to usage in a better light. If we can agree on that.

And passion is tainted. Jeff Bezos is uncontrollable. He's probably droning over my house right now. This is his day.

But his day will pass, and passion will again be ours.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

You Almost Made It, Frankie


I got this story from a friend who works as a nursing aide at the hospital here in Santa Barbara..... slightly edited, but his words.

By Philip Deutsch

You Almost Made It, Frankie

I’m telling this story to get it off my mind. Patients don’t usually stay with me. I put my heart into the work when I’m on the unit, but I forget the whole thing by the time I get to the parking lot when I’m going home at 11 p.m.

It’s a good rhythm. You go home, read a book, have a glass of wine, and sleep without troubles. The next day you do it again

But Frankie stayed with me. He was 78, in assisted living. His wife had just died and he was in pain from hip surgery. He overdosed on his pain medication and the medics found him on the floor with seven Fentanyl patches pressed to his skin.

Fentanyl is a powerful narcotic and widely used in the form of dermal patches to relieve pain. The patch releases the medication in a careful slow way and -- sometimes with unpleasant side effects -- it works.

But seven patches all at once will send you through the door, down the river and on your way to the next life. Such a patient will not be left alone in the hospital, lest they try to harm themselves again. Standard procedure. Suicide watch.

Frankie was deeply asleep when I got there at 4:30 in the afternoon. Comatose? I don’t know the medical term. But past danger, I think.
Kelly was the nurse. She’s one of the angels. They make you feel good just walking in the room. I don’t know about the patients, but I know I feel good when Kelly is around.

Frankie had a heart monitor, just in case. These are four wire leads pressed to the chest, connected to a monitor room where someone could watch his pulse and breathing rate. The monitor, besides being watched by a live person, is set with ding-ding-dings if the patient’s heart rate exceeds the parameters. They have ding-ding-dings all over the hospital. You can’t relax for a minute.

So there’s Frankie, on his back, sleeping peacefully, with thick white hair closely cropped, a trim spade beard, round face, and good skin color. He looked healthy, if you asked me, and he was resting well. I was sitting beside the bed and I turned on the TV to watch the baseball game -- kept the volume low. It makes good background noise -- the sound of a murmuring crowd. No ding-ding-dings at the baseball game.

Maybe that’s what’s bothering me. How can anybody get any rest at this hospital? It’s a process of continuous interruption.

Kelly floats in and out of the room. She gives Frankie a bladder catheter. He barely wakes during the procedure. The urine bag fills up promptly. He needed a good pee, but he was too out of it to use the urinal, and the narcotic relaxed his muscles over much, so he wouldn’t just go without help.
If there’s one thing that matters around here, it’s urination. They get really worried if you’re not peeing, and they get happy if you do. It’s all about moving the fluids -- things you’ve been managing by yourself since you were two-years-old, but when you’re sick you need help.

Kelly leaves. Frankie sleeps, I watch the game -- Dodgers and Phillies. That’s it. Six hours and I go home. Only this time, when I get to the parking lot, I keep seeing Frankie’s peaceful face. I keep thinking -- Frankie, you almost made it.

Depression and Suicide. (making no claim to any expertise on this subject) Everybody gets the blues now and then. But real depression is much worse than having a bad day -- real depression is staying in bed all day, being unable to leave the house, no appetite, insomnia, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts. One of the things I do at the hospital is suicide watch. Obviously, I don’t see those who have made a successful effort to end their lives. But I see the attempts and the failures. These are some mighty unhappy people -- everything’s going so wrong and they can’t even kill themselves.

Usually it’s an overdose -- a cocktail of legal and illegal drugs. The doctors would sure like to know just what it is you took when you get to ER -- perhaps if you pinned a note to your shirt before you passed out.

Either way, when you get to the ER, they give you the charcoal syrup which soaks up the poison. The charcoal looks awful, but it has no taste.

Don’t try suicide with Tylenol. A sufficient amount of Tylenol will kill you, but a less than sufficient amount will merely damage your liver, resulting in prolonged hospitalization and enormous medical expense. The opiates are actually better, because recovery can be fairly quick after a less than fatal dose. Wrist slashing requires determination, and a failed attempt will leave scars that might embarrass you later in life.

As I said, I deal with the failures, and my medical knowledge is strictly anecdotal -- I only see the patients after they have been medically cleared -- when they just need to be watched.

The patients are almost always quite young, 20 to 35, and two thirds female. They are very withdrawn. They seem to be terribly embarrassed. They just lie in bed and I make no attempt at conversation.

I don’t think they want to die.

I don’t have much faith in therapy and social work, but that’s what happens after the attempt. You have to talk to somebody. This somebody comes into the patient’s room and an earnest conversation ensues -- as in, let’s find out what’s going on, and let’s see what we can do about it. This is just my bias, but I don’t see the point of “doing anything” about it. I’m quite glad to be alive myself, and I would recommend that status to anyone who asked.

But it’s your life, not mine. The social compact requires us to live until we die, so I would not help you if you wanted to kill yourself. Having said that, I think the highest respect and kindness for someone is to let them be the way they are. Are you depressed? Yes, that happens. Do you want my help? Ask for it. Do you want my attention? Then do or say something that interests me.

I just don’t want to treat a patient as if they were pathetic. I stay in the room with them and we’re going to get through the day together. I can promise that -- we’ll get through the day. And we’ll see about tomorrow.

Now Frankie was different than the others, in my own limited experience. He was much older, for one. And he made a fairly serious attempt to die, taking seven Fentanyl patches. As I said, he almost made it. If they hadn’t checked his room for another hour, he would have been gone for good.

So what happened to him after I left him at the hospital? I don’t know. I suspect they won’t let him have his own supply of Fentanyl anymore, but will give it to him one dose at a time. He’ll get counseling, but I hope it comes with respect.

There’s a time when you might tell a younger person that she’s a fool and that she’s throwing her life away. That can be a good thing to say.
But the old folks -- you really shouldn’t tell them anything. They are way past the rest of us. A doctor or a nurse, no matter how experienced or how well trained, will have no idea what it takes to be 78 until they get there themselves.

FACTS ABOUT FENTANYL (Wikipedia is the source) The opioid Fentanyl was first synthesized in 1960 by Dr. Paul Janssen. Its chemical formula is C22H28N2O. It is approximately 100 times more potent than morphine. It is used as an intravenous anesthetic.
In the mid 1990s, the Duragesic dermal patch was introduced, and the patch is now used for long-term pain management.
Fentanyl can be abused as a substitute for heroin. For that reason it is a Schedule II drug according to the Controlled Substances Act.
A Schedule I drug has no approved medical use. Schedule II drugs have approved medical uses, but are also illegally manufactured and abused.
Fentanyl, Duragesic, and their generic equivalents are often the first choice to control pain in cancer patients.
Fentanyl has side effects in 10 percent of patients -- diarrhea, nausea, constipation, dry mouth, sweating, and confusion.
Fentanyl and Duragesic are trademarks of Johnson + Johnson, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical corporations. Sales of Fentanyl and Duragesic exceed $1.3 billion worldwide.

Editor's Note. I drew this diagram of Fentanyl over morning coffee.

WHAT WOULD WE DO WITHOUT THE LAWYERS? An Internet search, in pursuit of information regarding a drug or medical procedure, will easily produce the website of a law firm which makes a living suing those same purveyors of drugs and medical procedures.

I found this website, YouHaveALawyer.com (a real website, I’m not making this up) which hypes the diligent adversarial talents of Saiontz and Kirk, a law firm in Baltimore, because, if you have a problem, it must be someone’s fault and they should be sued.

Take our fictional patient Frankie. It wasn’t his fault. He was depressed because his wife died. Surely the doctor knew that. Did Frankie have a history of suicidal thoughts and attempts? Did the doctor ask him?

And what about the pain management? Was Frankie carefully instructed in the use of his Fentanyl patches? Was he warned of the danger of an overdose and that it could kill him? Or maybe he was told about the danger of an overdose, and that’s what gave Frankie the idea of putting on seven patches all at once.

Has the law firm of Saiontz and Kirk sent one of their attorneys to lurk about the lobby of the hospital where I work, to press his or her business card upon weeping relatives? “Aye, I will take up your battle, I will smite the physician and pursue the drug company, I will obtain damages. We will fight and fight until justice comes.”

Saiontz and Kirk is eager to help, dear citizen, if you have had any problems with your Duragesic patch. Call them today. You can find their number plastered on the side of the nearest Metro Bus.

But what has money got to do with it? The lawyers can get you money all right, but what is Frankie's life worth at age 78. In cold blooded dollars his life is not worth a penny -- a good man, a man who is loved, but not productive in any economic sense, an expense actually.

ADOPTION. Now, I’ve finished writing about Frankie. I will send it to the Frog Hospital audience and then I get closure. But I’m afraid not. I’ve done patient care for five years -- at a hospital, a psychiatric hospital, and a nursing home -- five years..

In those five years, I have adopted about 12 patients. It just happens. These are the ones that get into my psyche, make themselves at home and just stay. That’s why I call it adoption. I see their faces, and I mean going back  years and I still see their faces. It looks like Frankie has joined the roster, along with Rachel, James, Eddie, and the others.

Twelve patients are enough. You don’t want to encourage this adoption. You want to shake them off by the time you get to the parking lot, but it happens anyway.

Editor. So that's Philip's account and I hope you found it worthwhile. Happy New Year to all ! ! !

Monday, December 22, 2014

Naming Names

Naming Names

By Fred Owens
I got a message from Gewertz. He said that's my name don't wear it out.... You see, there is a real Gewertz and I borrowed his name to make a story last week Gewertz is such a good sturdy name and it sounds a little like Herzog, and if my character sounds like Herzog, maybe I can sound a little like Saul Bellow.
I walk in the shadow of Saul Bellow. O Divine Muse, if you might pour a little of that honey on my words too.

Imitation. I was imitating Bellow last week. I am a strong believer in imitation. That's how the Jesuits taught me to write in high school. We learned composition by imitating the style and structure of masterpieces, words from Steinbeck, Hemingway and others. Those were easy. Then we had Stephen Crane and the Red Badge of Courage which made no sense to me at all. And Walt Whitman and Mark Twain, but it was the Steinbeck and Hemingway I remember because they were easy.

Imitation is a good exercise in learning how to write. It is no different than how little babies learn how to speak -- by imitation,.

Do not be sidetracked by this silly talk of discovering originality and developing your own authentic voice. You already are who you are and nothing can change that. You can be better at who you are if you struggle a bit, but you can never be anybody else. Teenagers struggle with identity, grown men do not.
You Must Be Fred. This such an odd greeting. People say it upon meeting me for the first time. I take this literally. Yes, I must be Fred. I will always be Fred. Thanks for reminding me...... That's my identity and that's my name, Fred. Don't wear it out.
Fact and Fiction. The distinction between fact and fiction has become quite faint. This is a concern. People might worry. But I can assure you this is not a big problem. When you write factually, you must tell the truth. When you write fiction you must tell the truth. That's all you need to know. Just tell the truth. If you write less than the truth, you have written badly.
But I miss facts. We don't have as many as we used to have. We have data. We're drowning in data, but not so many facts. Facts take work. You need to make phone calls. You need to get confirmation. You need to double check. You need to clear your mind of conceit and prejudice. You need to rise above your circumstances. Facts are the homage we pay to truth. Facts are a dim approximation of truth. If you have not seen a fact lately, a good place to start is the obituary section of the newspaper.

You don't read newspapers and you're too young to look at obituaries, but take a look at the names. Scan the names quickly. Every name is spelled correctly. Just so. Because these are facts. An obituary is someone's life story, and because they are short and because they are so highly treasured by a small group of people, mistakes are uncommon.
The phone book is facts too. Burt you don't even have a phonebook. Neither do I.
So we don't have as many facts as we used to have, but we have more data than we can use. We'll survive. I like my laptop and my cell phone. I just don't trust these devices.
Absent facts, people are beginning to trust the camera on their smart phone. They take selfies to prove their existence. But the camera lies. It's easy to lie with a camera. I've done it. You've done it too. Let's be honest -- cameras lie. I mean they can lie, or they can tell the truth.
But truth and lies are not the same as fact and fiction, not at all. Here's an example -- Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien -- a more honest book was never written by a man walking this earth. Tolkien told the truth, to the best of his ability and that's why it's such a good story. He had talent and  energy and discipline and he told the truth. You cannot do any better.

Naming Names. I don't have much imagination, so when I write a story I need to start with a name, and I might borrow one. You take the name of a real person and de-factualize it, then turn it loose in the arena. See what happens. Often the new character dies a quick and pathetic death. Or should have. But sometimes they make it to the bell-ringing and shout for life, and more life, and more life, and then the character is beyond your control and gone round the world.
Here are some names of real people. Let's see what we can do with them. I mean, the names, not the people.

Ted Pietras. Ted is a strong name. One syllable. Three letters. You cannot move this name. You cannot spin it. You cannot color it. It is a mountain. And his last name is Pietras. What kind of name is that, Spanish, Italian, Greek? Something like a an olive tree. An olive tree that grows on the stony slope of a mountain, amid the rosemary and the ambling goats. You can run with a name like Ted Pietras if you're writing a story.

Harvey Blume.   Harvey Blume. Three syllables. Accent on the third syllable. Rolls off the tongue. Easy to say. Easy to remember. You meet Harvey Blume and it's like you already know him and you like him. The trouble will come later. The trouble always comes later -- and you're the writer.
Harvey had a small part in the Third Man, the Orson Wells movie. He just had a few lines. It was after they came out of the cafe, walking down the deserted street. He was an agent, but working for who? and with no possibility of moral clarity. You can't tell if Harvey is a good guy or a bad guy,
Bobby Vilinsky. You have to learn this name. You might need to practice saying it. Bobby doesn't go with Vilinsky. Lots of people, their first name clashes with their last name.  Bobby, what's your story? Tell us what happened, you know, that time when you .........It gets complicated, opaque......A dark cloud gathers and the music stops .... Bobby, what's wrong?  Images begin spinning in your mind -- a coffee shop in Somerville, an abandoned drive-in movie screen in Waltham, a pale horse in the Berkshire hills, the lower basement of a large office building, streetlights gleaming in the snow,  the beach in Revere strewn with empty  beer cans...... Thus the tale of Bobby Vilinsky begins.....Rhona looking more beautiful than ever..... Rhona screaming at Bobby, "Never....speak...to.... me again...." and pulling at her hair and sobbing, out of breath.....
Bobby's story just takes off from here, all I have to do is type it.

Power in a Name. Adam and Eve named all the creatures of the earth and so gained dominion. Mothers and fathers name their children, searing their souls like a hot iron brand. Oppressed people take back their own names and change their lives. Names are powerful, and terrible in the wrong hands.
That's Enough for Now.
Merry Christmas,
Fred. That's my name. Don't wear it out.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

send mail to:

Fred Owens
35 West Main St Suite B #391
Ventura CA 93001

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

It's Just a Tree


By Fred Owens
You don't need to know about old neighborhoods in the Bronx, and you are unlikely to ever go there. Why would anyone go the the Bronx, when they could fly to Hawaii or Morocco? Even people who are from there don't go there.

The Bronx. The first European settler was a Swedish man named Bronck. He built a cabin and had a family. If you went to see them, you said you were going to the Broncks, or now the Bronx.......I always wondered about that, but I only found out today.
People from the Bronx. Why do I know a half dozen people from the Bronx and they are all Jews? They live in Los Angeles. I see them at the coffee shop in Venice. I sit and talk with them. One time they got tribal on me talking about where to get a good Reuben, otherwise it's give and take. They call me Farmer Fred because of my horticultural habits. Eric is one of the Bronx Jews at the coffee shop. He goes there every day. Big Mike also lives in Venice and he is also an old Jew from the Bronx. Big Mike doesn't go to Eric's coffee shop, or if he does go he won't visit or talk with Eric, for reasons which neither man will share with me. Basically one is not encouraged to bear tells from Eric to Big Mike, or from Big Mike to Eric.

I once tried to settle differences like this, but now I accept it. They are too stubborn.

I could tell you a lot about Eric -- what he looks like, how he dresses, what he likes to eat, his love life, his business, his family, but he would not like that. I know his health and his medical problems. I know his politics and which sports he follows. I know who his friends are. I know a lot about Eric, but he's a private man. I will not write about him because he would not like that. No, not so private, but determined to control his own message. Eric says what he wants to say to people he wants to talk to.

I can only say that Eric is in real estate, he is allergic to eggs, and he is my very good and worthy friend.
The story of Big Mike is shorter. He has fruit trees. He lives on the other side of Lincoln Blvd. where the streets are wider and the back yards are bigger. Big Mike has peach trees and plum trees. He has bragging rights to his orchard and garden. He will tell you all about it and with pleasure.
Jews and Christmas
Jews fall into three groups at Christmas. The smallest group enjoys it. They love the music, the decorations and the spirit of it. It's not complicated to them. Bobby V. always came to my house on Christmas Eve to enjoy egg nog with rum. Irving Berlin loved the holidays. He wrote White Christmas and made a fortune. What good cheer!
The second group, larger, experiences anguish at Christmas. They wince at the first sound of carols at the mall. They avoid certain places and times. And there's nothing you can do about it. It won't kill them and it ends after a few weeks. I forget his first name, but Gewertz was unwittingly roped into playing one of the Three Kings at his grade school Christmas  pageant -- and marked for life because of that embarrassment. What can you do?

The majority of Jews are indifferent to the holidays. They are aware of it but they tune it out. Not their party.
Some Jews make a big deal of Hannukah. Why? It's a small feast, and may it remain so. Jews have it all over Christians when it comes to Pesach. It's a better feast than Easter, in my opinion. All you get at Easter is chocolate bunnies and jelly beans. No comparison.
And the High Holidays can be truly awesome.
Light a Candle

May every one have their holiday.
May we all enjoy peace and prosperity.
May the light cause our understanding to grow.
And what we don't understand, can we let it go?
More On Gewertz.  What I wrote about the Bronx is all true except the part about Gewertz. Here's is what really happened. This was twenty years ago in Boston when I knew him and we had coffee at Harvard Square. Gewertz was a handsome man of 30, tall, lean, with black curly hair and clear black eyes under thick glasses. He dressed well and he smelled like winter smells in Boston, when winter smells good, which happens in December when the first snow falls. Picture him in early December coming in from the cold to the Au Bon Pain for coffee and Danish, to sit at one of those rickety small tables with the Boston Globe tucked under his arm, which he wrote for, but on a freelance basis.
Gewertz was a film critic. He was the Number Two film critic in Boston and Boston can only support one film critic, so his position was precarious despite his abundant talent, his deep knowledge and his solid work ethic.
Gewertz was a little anxious, about what? Just anxious. With his good looks he should have gotten laid like a banjo, but he just seemed to have trouble with women who came into his life briefly and left a long, cold trail. He spent more time talking with me about these women than he actually spent dating them. Why was it so complicated? But I enjoyed listening because it helped him. Everyone wanted to help Gewertz.
In early December he had anxiety about Christmas. It bothered me, because it made me feel like a bruising Catholic oaf, representing a billion people who were all intent on making him suffer.. I felt guilty. Later I turned the table on him, although not in so many words. I wanted to say, Your people invented guilt and now I feel bad because you feel bad when it's Christmas? No way. Feel as bad as you want. And blame me. I don't care.
Only I never said that because I'm a sweet guy, and Gewertz was never imposing. It was me who sought out his company, who called him and said Hey....
What happened was that his parents were Jewish  but did not go to temple or do anything Jewish and at Christmas they bought a tree and put up decorations and had presents. Gewertz, little anxious Gewertz, got all the toys he wished for.
"But it was confusing," he said. "Dad, we're Jewish, aren't we? That's what I told him. Why did they do that to me? I loved the toys and I loved Santa Claus to sit on his knee, but I was seven years old and I knew it wasn't right. It wasn't wrong either. That's what my Dad said. Don't worry about it, he said. We're just having fun. It's just a tree........ I grew up, I didn't even know I was a Jew. I mean, I knew I was a Jew, but weren't we supposed to do something about it?"
To my credit, I offered no advice and made no comment. There was a pause, a rustling of cups and spoons, looking around the cafe. I ventured -- this was the Au Bon Pain Cafe in Harvard Square in 1994 -- a change of topic. "Have you noticed that all the counter help are African immigrants?"
Gewertzian Solutions
I began to think about Gewertz's identity dilemma.I came up with several solutions and I made a list.
1. He could become a Unitarian.
2. He could become a Buddhist.
3. He could become devoutly secular and dedicate his life to a cause such as climate change or the preservation of wolves.
These options were plausible.
4. He could migrate to Israel.
5. He could become Hasidic.
These choices were not remotely possible, but still, when you make a list, you need something to cross off.

6. He might -- this is intriguing -- borrow money from his parents in New Jersey and make a long overdue trip home for that purpose. This would make them very happy. "He's going to start making a living after all," they said to each other, and to him said, "We knew you had it in you, and look, don't even think of paying us back.....it's a gift."
Gewertz would use the money to go to graduate school and get his MBA and work at an investment bank or management consulting firm. He could make himself do that and forsake his creative duty as a film critic.
At age 30 the path was clear for him. With the MBA he makes a bundle, he buys a good car and a black leather jacket --- remember that Gewertz is tall and good-looking in an athletic way and with a snazzy car and a leather jacket he would simply be looking the part and not be posing, not at all.
Thus attired, he would get the girl. She would ignore his anxiety, which never went away, and smother him with kisses. With his substantial income, and hers, they could buy a house on Monument Street in Concord, with leafy lawns, stone walls and horse-riding neighbors reeking of old money.
The Gewerztes would endow the Reform temple in Concord with a six-figure gift. They would have two children and stage magnificent bar mitzvahs.
Gewertz would no longer doubt, except privately. "I get along with the old money in Concord because I know they will never accept me. So once a year Tom and Charity have us over for drinks. We go, we talk, we laugh, but we don't invite them to our house -- it's better to leave it that way."
Would Gewertz Really Move to the Suburbs ?
The last choice is my favorite.

7. Boston's Number One film critic dies or moves on. Gewertz rises to the top of his profession. He wields power judiciously. He is vindicated.

I never showed him this list. I mean, what do you think I am? I don't meddle. Gewertz likely made is own list anyway. It's his life, and it's just a tree.
Thank you, have a good holiday,

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

send mail to:

Fred Owens
35 West Main St Suite B #391
Ventura CA 93001