Sunday, October 30, 2005


Falling and loving are two different things.

Falling down is good. With practice you get better.

What does a woman mean when she says no?

Gabriel Garcia Marquez has inflamed my imagination.

We are making love. I crush your bones until there is nothing left but tulip petals in a pool of urine. Then your belly begins to swell like a fat tomato. A child is born that you can call your own. You can give it a name. I have my own pet names, Lunetta, for a girl, or Bradshaw Gumption for a boy, but I no longer need the power of naming.

Two years pass. Lunetta is a toddler. We are in France. I am very successful. We begin to quarrel. You say I love my work too much. I am distant, but I still think I can control you.

Ten more years pass. You are coming into your power now. You have become a true stallion of a woman, thicker, but still graceful in movement. And then we become equals and then we finally become friends.

Or, we live on a farm in southern Ohio with horses and cows.

Or, I become gravely ill, but even so you tire of me and leave me for Leonard, an artist in stained glass.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

donald judd's abstract sculpture in Marfa, Texas

I am clumsy when I write vabout art. The sculptures in Marfa, Texas, make a lot of sense. They make the whole town look good. They make the gas stations look beautiful. It's a just-right balance between art and everything else -- school children, the Dairy Queen, and the ranchers coming into town for breakfast. The thing about Texas -- you see this sculpture is pretty far out for local tastes, and yet the work is so completely true, and so fully courageous, that the local people have embraced it. I love Texas -- I just wish they would stop the executions.

Friday, October 28, 2005

I can't find a picture of my grandfather -- but here is a map

I can't find my grandfather's photo. But yesterday, if you scroll down, you will see his house in Bulawayo. And today you see the map where Bulawayo is located. Mataka, my grandfather was always smiling, but he is an old-fashioned man, so if you take his picture, he will stand erect and have a dignified, serious expression on his face. You will not get a photo of him laughing, but he is a very kind man. Many grandchildren lived in his house, more than ten. I slept on the kitchen floor with my sisters. My brothers slept in the living room. It's what you call cousins, but we call brother and sister -- we all lived together.

Then if grandfather was mad at us he would start to chase us, but we could climb up into a tree or on to the roof of the house, and then he would shout at us, but after a while he would just smile and walk away. He was never mean.

Then he would sit in the front of the house, under the guava tree, and tell us stories about his village in Malawi, way up in the mountains, where he grew up. He said the missionaries found him one day and because he was a clever boy, they sent him to school in Dedza town. After he finished school he came all the way to Zimbabwe to work, and since then Zimbabwe is his home, but also, like most people in Africa, he has more than one home, because he goes back to Malawi to see his family. And me, I was not born in Malawi, but it is my home too.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Bulawayo is my town

This photo is not the downtown of Bulawayo where you will find tall, modern buildings with elevators, full of people working on computers and cell phones, just like any place else. This photo is from the townships, the old neighborhoods which were reserved for native people under colonial rule. This photo is my grandfather's house in Luveve. Old Mataka, my grandfather, sits on the veranda on the front porch, everyday. He reads the daily newspaper, the Bulawayo Chronicle, and drinks his tea. He sees the neighbors passing by on their way to the market or to the beer hall. He gives his greetings. Or he just watches, so that my grandfather knows everything and everybody in Luveve. He can tell you who is trouble, and who is a good man. He has seen them all. My grandfather is a happy man. Look at this quiet peaceful home, see how blue is the sky. Wouldn't you be happy if this was your home?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Crime story in Marfa, Texas

They have a good coffee shop and bookstore in Marfa, plus a wireless connection for my laptop. For a real bonus they have picture glass windows at this coffee shop, and I can see the Union Pacific freight trains roll by from where I sit typing this report. One train just rolled by, going west, five engines pulling, with double-stacked containers, probably all empty, coming back from the Wal-Mart warehouse and going back to Los Angeles, and then on to a boat, to get filled back up again in China.

I have a question: How come our gov’t. forbids trade and travel to Cuba, but somehow we can’t live without China and their trade goods? A Chinese citizen needs an exit visa to leave the country – that is the signature of a communist government, that you need permission to leave your own county. That, and a host of other freedoms, which we enjoy, but the Chinese citizen is refused, such as the freedom to criticize the gov’t.

But I digress. The sky is clear beautiful and fine here in Marfa. It is good to be back in Texas. I drove straight through from Los Angeles, with just a couple of roadside naps, so I will just sit and rest here today. I have already met several people in just a few hours.

CJ runs the coffee shop. He used to live in Manhattan, “But I’m a Marfan now,” he adds quickly.

I walked two blocks to the thrift story and bought a red XL t-shirt for $1.50 – a good deal. I asked the clerk – her name is Kitty – about why the newspaper office was closed and she said, “They don’t come to the office on Wednesday.” That means I will visit the Editor, a man named Halpern, on Thursday.

However I did read last week’s issue of his paper, the Big Bend Sentinel. It looks like a good paper, but it had what seemed to me like an over-blown crime story on the front page.

A Marfa man named Upshaw may or may not have wiretapped the telephone of his ex-wife and several other people. That was 3.5 years ago. Upshaw was indicted on that charge. This is only from what the paper says. This is the third time Upshaw has been indicted by the DA Frank Brown. What that says to me is that either Upshaw is up to no good and hasn’t got caught yet, OR Frank Brown has it in for Upshaw.

Now, it just so happened, that Upshaw’s defense attorney is none other than Dick DeGuerin, who is also defending a certain T. DeLay of Sugarland in an unrelated matter. Small World.

But the editor managed to insert himself in the story by being on the receiving end of some documents from the courthouse that cast the DA in an unfavorable light. The publication of those papers caused the DA to subpoena the newspaper editor to find out who passed on these papers from the courthouse. This gave Editor Halpern a golden opportunity to be a hero and refuse to name his source, all detailed, of course, by Halpern himself on the front page of his paper.

As I said, it seems overblown to me. The underlying offense is unusual, wiretapping by a private citizen against another private citizen. That seems to barely qualify as a felony.

However, I’m sure that DeGuerin is not a low-profile defense attorney either. I don’t know what he has to gain in this neck of the woods – maybe he owns some ranch property around here. The Marfa area has seen a heavy inflow of outside investors and is now quite a center for art and theater.

It is a regular left-ling liberal Hollywood town in fact, and somewhat surprising to find this in the middle of West Texas. But I saw ladies in leotards on their way to yoga class, and across the street it says Wine Bar. I saw several galleries and artist studios and I would say that the art work here is very good, and there is a distinct feel to it. It’s the air and the light – artists will always tell you that. The air is especially clear, and a little bit different in quality that what you see in New Mexico or Arizona – that certain quality of the light. Marfa, as a small town with an artist’s renaissance, has done a pretty good job over all.

This evening they are having a vigil for the 2,000 American soldiers now dead in Iraq. I am going. Whether as an observer or participant matters little to me. And whether it’s for the war or against matters little either. I can bow my head and say a small prayer. As far as the direction and purpose of the war – I’ll say what I’ve said before. I’m stumped. I’m not Cindy Sheehan, and I’m not Donald Rumsfeld. I AM one of the rest of us, and so I will be there on the Presidio Courthouse (built in 1886) lawn at 6:30 p.m.

AND, while being respectful, I will have my portable transistor radio tuned in at low volume to the Fourth Game of the World Series. This is America. I’m not sure about the war, but I AM sure about baseball.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Sitting where your seat is

We say if you sit on the ground then your seat is everywhere. Men need to have a stool or a chair. We only need a mat for being clean, otherwise the ground is fine. And we sit together. You see that. Ladies together. We can keep our hair this way. We can do our business or talk about our children.

African women get too jealous. One has a man. Then she looks left and right. She knows that her sister will steal her man, just with a look. Then they are both jealous. Angry words. Bitter glances. There is nothing you can do about this. It has always been that way.

But we are sisters too, all sisters. Even if you meet someone from far away -- you ask them who they know. If she is from Zaire, and I am from Zimbabwe, then maybe we both know somebody from Tanzania. I myself have never been to Zaire, but I have been to Tanzania, only one time, but I know it. So if we can find that someone who we both know -- then we are related.

In Africa we are all related. It is one village.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Tuku is the Greatest

We call him Tuku. He is Oliver Mtukudzi. He is famous even in America. Tuku is a Shona man from Harare. So, if you know Zimbabwe, then you will know that I am an Ndebele woman. I don't hate Shona people because I don't hate anybody -- but we are not the same, Shona and Ndebele. Shona are the majority people of 10 million. The rest of us, two million, we are Ndebele, living in our southern portion of Zimbabwe, and our capitol city is Bulawayo.

Even so, with these differences. I love Tuku and his soulful gentle music. Everybody can hear it, the unviversal sound of love. You may know about the troubles in Zimbabwe now, but you won't hear them from my lips, because I only believe in the good things. Tuku is like that. He doesn't have politics

My sister is working in the field

My sister Amina is working everyday in the field. She is my half sister. Her mother is Tonga, from the Zambezi Valley. The Tonga people are more traditional. Their villages are far from the city. The elevation is low, where the baobab trees grow. The rainfall is very little. The women go to the fields in October and November, plowing everyday with their hoes, and planting seeds for maize. If the rains come there will be plenty of sadza -- the corn meal porridge we eat every day. If the rains don't come the Tonga people will be hungry.

If there is no rain, they beg from their relatives in town. Most of the men are gone all the time, working in town. They come home at month end when they are paid and bring money and food.

That's my sister on the left with the red scarf on her head. You will see the ladies all wear a wrap skirt. These are a pretty color and only cost a few American dollars. In Zimbabwe women always wear a dress or a skirt. We don't want to look like men. Men are lazy. They don't work in the fields.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

"Too Many Girls"

My name is Zodwa. It means "too many girls" in the Ndebele language. It's what my grandfather, Mr. Mataka, named me. He had ten children, The first-born was Lovemore Peter. And I was the first-born child of Lovemore Peter. But "too many girls" can mean both things in Africa -- for Mr. Mataka it means he wanted a boy instead, but it also means he is happy that I was born because I am his favorite grandchild.

He raised me. Often we are raised by our grandfather and grandmother in Africa. All my brothers and sisters we lived at Mataka's house in Luveve.

Luveve means butterfly in our language. So you think our town was named after a butterfly, but it was not. It was named after a white man who came to administer our area. The white man would sometimes get up and leave quickly, so we called him Butterfly -- see, we always give somebody a name. Butterfly was our white chief long back, so we named our town after him -- Luveve

My grandmother's name was Grace, She was a Kalanga woman from Plumtree. I loved her very much but she died. When she died her relatives came from Plumtree and had the burial in her home village. That was because Mataka, her husband, had never finished paying his "Lobola" after all those years. You have to pay for your wife in our culture, with so many cows or so many dollars. It gets very complicated. Mataka didn't pay all the lobola to Grace's family, so when she died, they came and took her body back to Plumtree.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Mkomo is how we call the baobab

"Mkomo" is the baobab tree in my language. You see how smooth it is, like bare arms in the sky. Mkomo is how we say it in Matebeleland. This picture is a young one, we say a young man, "indoda" is a man, like this tree, very strong and smooth. When the tree is older you see it wrinkled.

In Hwange Park and near Victoria Falls and going towards the Limpopo River -- that is where you will find the Mkomo growing because the land is low and hot and there is not too much rain. "izulu" is the rain. All of Zimbabwe is like the shell of a tortoise, with the highland plateau in the middle, with more rain and good soil, where all the people live, where the white people have the best farms, in the middle. The poorest people live on the edges.

But the edges, of Kariba, and up and down the Zambezi Valley, the home of the Tonga people -- my stepmother is Tonga, and my sister Amina is pure Tonga -- black as coal. All this low, hot country is for Mkomo, and the Limpopo River, low and hot.

My name is Zodwa Mataka. I will be telling you stories about Africa.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

My Baobab Tree -- Forty Lives Interrupted

The baobab has a scientific name -- Adansonia digitata. I used to see it in Botswana and Zimbabwe and Malawi -- in the low, hot country. It won't grow in the highlands, not near any hint of a frost. I used to take photos of baobabs. Other people took pictures of giraffes and lions, but I love my trees too much.

I grew a baobab from seed, when I lived in Zimbabwe. It was a foot tall by the time we left. Who knows? It is barely possible, but it might still be there where I planted it. In the back yard of our rented house at 23 Shottery Crescent, in the suburb of Southwold, in the city of Bulawayo, in the province of Matebeleland.

I was a bold gardener to plant this tree. A baobab will not grow naturally in Bulawayo, because of its elevation, over 3,000 feet. It gets too cold there.

So maybe a frost has killed my baobab. Maybe the new tenants at 23 Shottery Crescent didn't like it. Maybe they cut it down. But I don't know for sure. It still might be there, and that was eight years ago. It might be 15 feet tall, and it might be in a sheltered spot where the frost won't touch it -- because we humans can often grow trees outside of their natural range, with a little care.

If you're a good gardener, you give your new plant tender care, but after a certain point, you need to have faith, you need to turn your back and walk away, you need to believe in what you planted. I left my small, might tree behind that way..... The photo shows how big they can get, in a 1,000 years.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

an acacia tree in Botswana

An acacia tree in Botswana. I was there in 1997. Some day I will return.

Tarot Talk, and Baseball News.

My daughter mocks me for being an old hippie because I chat with Tarot card dealers on the Internet, all woman, nice people, from around the world – Chile, Sweden, the UK, Australia, Israel -- talking about their aches, pains, jobs, families, their elaborate alchemical fantasies, and their cosmic uncertitudes. Go to Aeclectic Tarot Forum It’s all very polite, like having tea with ladies.

For macho balance, I listen to ESPN Talk Radio Tonight I’m listening to Game Six of the playoffs between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Houston Astros. The winner of these best of seven playoffs will face the Chicago White Sox in the World Series.

I grew up in Chicago. I was born in the North Shore, and therefore expected to be a Cubs fan, because they are the nice boys from the north side of town. Instead I turned out to be a fan of the White Sox, the tough guys from the south side. I’ve been a Southie ever since.

Forty Lives Continued.

Ron Firman was cooking a single cocktail-sized Smokie Link in a cast-iron frying pan in his Berkeley, California apartment sometime in the early 1971. That is my enduring image of Ron. The amazing thing is that he still lives in that same apartment, on Spruce Street, north of the UC campus. Ron owns a custom painting business called Arthur Deco, and he has the most wonderful and engaging obsessions. Ron is a remarkably healthy man with such a light touch of humor, never married, no children, but he has good shoes and a steady girl friend.

I visited him last year. I hadn’t seen him since the 1970’s although we had stayed in touch. I slept on his sofa bed. I trimmed his bamboo hedge in the back courtyard, and I bought him a brand-new warehouse broom – a stout instrument with natural cornstalks – which I consider to be the essential tool in patio sweeping.

Note: Ron bought the four-unit apartment building that he lives in, because he didn’t want to move.

Geraldine Gross walks like a delicate crab. She lives on the hill in LaConner in a tiny house built next to Joan Cross’s much bigger house. She is the dominant gardener in LaConner, I would say. There would be no point in her being humble about that. She puts in considerable volunteer time tending the various patches of public gardens around the town.

Last spring she let me house sit in her small place while she went on a month-long Buddhist retreat. I was grateful to be offered her place, but I didn’t really like it there, it was too austere and spare. I kept worrying that I might make a mess.

Glenn Johnson talks too much, everybody says that. He doesn’t “get over-excited,” because he is always that way. I never met a man with so much mental and physical energy. If he didn’t have that organic farm to work on for 80 hours a week, I’m sure they would have locked him up some place. But the farming grounds him – him and his over-emotional wife Charlotte. They make beautiful vegetables. The place is called Mother Flight Farm, twenty acres on Fir Island, in the Skagit Valley, with the best topsoil in America.

I sold vegetables for Glenn and Charlotte a couple of years ago. Every Saturday morning I drove my truck to their farm, loaded up with wonderful kohlrabi and carrots, onions, potatoes, lettuce, spinach, beets, basil and garlic – on and on – vibrant live plants, picked just the day before. I took them to the small farmer’s market on Camano Island, sold most of it, made a few bucks, and got to take home several bags of veggies for my own use. It was a good deal – mainly because I was out of Glenn’s sight and he had to find somebody else to talk to.

Gretchen Dykers is a big-hearted lesbian woman and too much of a drinker. She is a hefty farm girl by any standards. She loves horses, so if I compared her to a Clydesdale or a Percheron, she would likely feel flattered. Gretchen runs LaConner’s premier coffee shop, the Café Culture. I have spent way too much time there, hanging out with my pals in the morning, or doodling on my laptop in the afternoon.

The motto of Café Culture is “The barista is always right.” I coined that phrase for reasons that are hard to explain, except that I used to work for Gretchen as the substitute barista. I liked serving people and I made a very good lattes, but there was no way I would put up with an overly-demanding or whining customer. Hence the slogan.

I’m gone from there now, but Gretchen hasn’t taken down the sign.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Two days of rain in Los Angeles – and “Forty Lives” continues

It rained hard yesterday and today. I walked the beach this afternoon and it was littered with plastic poop, fast-food wrappers and natural leaves from the storm runoff. They keep the beaches pretty clean here, but they will wait a day or so before they bring out the equipment. They will wait until the runoff has finished flushing and then rake the sand all clean and pretty.

I saw two black-headed seals off the breakwater. The seals in Puget Sound seemed to have a grey color. Here they are pure black – same whiskers though, same curious eyes. You want to say hello because you know they’re looking at you.

“Forty Lives” continues with four E’s

Elaine Kolodziej is my editor at the Wilson County News, located in Floresville, a one-hour drive southeast of San Antonio. I write a weekly column for Elaine on national affairs. A good writer needs a good editor. I am grateful to be working for her. She has beaten the cleverness out of me. No twists and turns allowed. Every sentence must be clear, and must lead to the next sentence. Doing it that way makes the piece stronger and more effective.

Elaine is 59. She is a conservative Republican who admires Condoleeza Rice, and was inspired by the career of Phyllis Schlafly. She has built the Wilson County News almost from scratch – she took over a little, local shopper and, over 20 years, built it into a solid, paid subscription newspaper, with a circulation of 8,000 and a staff of 20.

This is what she has achieved. Now I wonder what Elaine is going to do next? Turn the paper over to her daughter and go see the world? Or, buy another newspaper and build up a media empire, or run for public office? Or...we’ll see.

Everton. Wayne Everton, age 77, is the mayor of LaConner. Wayne grew up a Mormon in Utah, but left that behind with his childhood. He served in the Navy towards the end of World War II, married his wife, Beverly, after the war and made a living publishing free shoppers in the San Francisco Bay area.

Wayne retired in his late fifties, having made a bundle, and he moved up to LaConner and bought a very nice home in 1981 – on Maple Street, just two doors down from Chris McCarthy, the one with the killer bees. I also lived on Maple Street at that time, in a double-wide trailer with my wife and two small kids, a sandbox, a swing set, a garden, some fruit trees, and a wonderful split-rail cedar fence around the lot. In fact I was right across the street from Wayne and Beverly when they moved into their new, luxurious custom home.

Everyday I got to look at what I couldn’t afford – their house. And everyday Wayne and Beverly got to look at my double-wide trailer, which was holding down their property values. It was a challenge for both of us.

But soon enough I sailed across the street and said hello. Wayne invited me in for a glass of wine on his soft beige couch and we talked politics. He was a Reagan man, and soon became very active in local Republican politics. I was a Jesse Jackson man. We argued, pleasantly.

Wayne is very bright fellow, I’ll give him that, and a good debater. But he had this bad habit -- which has little to do with his politics – of having to get in the last word. I confess that I often let him win the point just so we could move on to something else.

I am also pleased to say that, over the past years, Wayne has improved and mellowed, and he no longer has to get in the last word – pretty good for an old dog.

Two years he decided to run for Mayor. I was the ghost writer for his campaign platform and Wayne won in a landslide.

Eugene Owens is my son. He has a round face and a small beard that gets better with age. He’s 28 now. If I call him, he’s usually busy and I get the recording. Then he might call back a few days later and we can have a long chat. Now I’m beginning to realize how smart he is – he’s been gaining on me, doing all that reading of books, and observing the life of streets and cafes.

He goes to graduate school in Boston to get a Master’s Degree in Library Science. Boston is a tough town. Sometimes I worry about him being lonely, because you never hear about graduate school being any fun.

Eva Anderson has been a major friend in my life since 1973, when I first saw here, wading across the shallow Rio Grande River in Big Bend National Park. Her long skirt was trailing in the muddy water, and she was carrying a steaming pot of beans in a cast iron kettle. That’s because her hippie bus family was setting up camp in a fallen-down adobe across the river into Mexico.

That place was called Solis, although it wasn’t really a place at all – just that fallen-down adobe hut built into a low hillside, almost like a dugout. But it was cool inside and nobody else wanted to live there.

I had been walking up the river from a bigger, formal campsite near Boquillas. I had just gotten to Solis that same day, when Eva and her hippie bus arrived. So we joined up and made camp. Eva was always cooking, and usually it was beans.

We took the bus into Mexico, had no money and the bus broke down. We sold it for practically nothing, and the party disintegrated. Everyone walked or hitchhiked down their own separate paths and we lost contact with Eva. But eleven years later, when we were living in LaConner (and after my wife had named our daughter Eva in her honor) we discovered that Eva had been living in Anacortes, Washington, only 15 miles from our house – just that kind of cosmic connection that made the 60s so cool. Our families became intertwined again and we always went to Eva’s house for Thanksgiving dinner with blackberry pie.

Fred Owens, at Venice Beach in Los Angeles. Photo taken by his sister, Carolyn Rios. Ohio State sweatshirt is a souveneir from last year when he was in Ohio work at the John Kerry campaign. Kerry lost the election, but Owens was named an honorary Buckeye for his good service. Posted by Picasa

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Astonishing Debbie Rosenblatt

Forty Lives is Interrupted by this Dramatic Insertion

The Astonishing Debbie Rosenblatt
. I forgot the promise I made to myself. After I met Debbie Rosenblatt from a personals ad in the Boston Globe I said I would never, ever do that again – because she was such a winner.

It was like hitting the $10,000 jackpot on a slot machine. Take the money and never go back to that casino again – after giving everybody working there a nice tip, of course. But don’t go back to the honey pot. Good luck is a moving target. Wherever you found it, it won’t be there the next time.

I called her up after I read her ad. She lived in Framingham, an outer suburb. She was a widow. She told me her age – she was seven years older than me. Then she said, “I’m probably too old for you.” But she was fun to talk to. I said let’s meet. She suggested this old-fashioned watering hole in Wellesley. I thought – what the heck.

I got there a little early, to make sure she wouldn’t have to wait for me. I am compulsively punctual anyway. But it was when I saw her walk into the room, making an entrance – that’s when I called her astonishing.

She was five-foot ten and she had legs up to here, a long, elegant neck that would put Audrey Hepburn to shame, and longer arms that waved in the air like a flock of snow-white geese, and sparkled in the light with dozens of gold bracelets and scarlet red, red, red polish on her exquisite fingernails.

She just said hello and “you must be Fred,” but to me it sounded like “How are you, handsome?” Such enthusiasm and zest, pitter pattering – she loved jazz and dancing and her precious daughter and those special, darling children of mine – she asked me about them, and was sure they would grow up to be famous and wealthy.

I took her dancing, to the rooftop of a Boston skyscraper, valet parking, Cole Porter, and she was lovely and smelled so good. We made love and we were so hot.

That’s when I made the promise – it makes sense, doesn’t it? To meet a woman that good from a personals ad who was so uncomplicated and so much fun? I would never go to that well again.

Debbie and I had a fling. Nothing as good as a widow – she loved her husband, but he was gone and buried. All she wanted to do was have a good time and enjoy herself again with her new lover man.

For a season, not more than a month. Truth is, I couldn’t afford it. I was the sole support of those two kids. Valet parking was something I couldn’t keep up, and I only had one sportcoat and a few good shirts.

Debbie was completely innocent in her needs, which were expensive. So we called the whole thing off. Oh, I forgot about the grand piano in her living room. She could be so ecstatic just to hear me stumble through a few chords of Gershwin. The room would have been garish with color and crystal, but it was so like Debbie, so completely true to her nature.

She had me over for a seder, with a few friends and relatives who enjoyed complaining about everything. I felt at home and smiled.

No, my life was too serious. But a woman so sexy and so virtuous and honest too. I can see her shining in the sky, and spread-legged, hot and grabbing my hair on her bed.

We called it off. We became friends – this was a new idea to her. Everything was new. She had lead a sheltered life and married her first boyfriend, and he was a good husband and all her needs were provided for. She never had a job, a merry widow she became and I was her first man. There were others after me. We talked on the phone sometimes.

But it’s been years, I had forgotten. These computer dates are weird. The meetings are hollow and so un-fated. I have met several women this way, nice enough, but now that I remember Debbie, I know that I won’t ever do that again.

Flirting with women, listening to baseball on the radio

Flirting with women, listening to baseball on the radio. I found an old transistor radio and put new batteries in it. I listened to all the playoff games between the White Sox and the Angels, setting the radio on the kitchen table, or clutching it while I walked on the beach.

I’ve been flirting with women, being charming – but a little of that goes a long way. Life is better with purpose, which is the middle path between two extremes.

One extreme is flirting and flitting and shopping and cruising and changing channels. The other extreme is righteousness, obsession and in general, being too tightly focused.

One hopes for a balance, a decent purpose. As for women, I think to have a partner is the best. When I was married I was just nicely focused on her – sometimes being charming, of course, and sometimes being righteous, which is awful, but mainly working it all out with just one woman. It’s better that way.

Forty Lives Continued -- Dana, David, and Dean.

Dana Rust lives in Edison, Washington, a small, unincorporated town at the mouth of the Samish River. Edison is famous for being the hometown of Edward R. Murrow. Dana and his wife Tony Ann live in the old hardware store, a huge place made of wonderful warm, old wood. She teaches school. She was my childrens’ Head Start teacher years ago on the Swinomish Reservation across the channel from LaConner.

Dana was a commercial fisherman. He ran a hippie crew on his purse seiner, the Pacific Breeze. I went out with him on the boat one time – the time he hung the net on a rock near Apple Tree Point off the Kitsap Peninsula. That was in 1983. Dana didn’t bother looking at the chart and he was just being careless – so we lost most of the day getting that huge net off the rocks and only caught a few fish.

Maybe ten years ago Dana gave up fishing and started an art gallery in the front half of the hardware store. It’s called the Edison Eye. It is the best art gallery in the Skagit Valley. I enjoy going to the openings there – to meet old friends and new people.

A few years ago Dana had major surgery for a brain tumor and he came very close to dying. I think the tumor and the surgery altered his basic chemistry and he has not been like his old self, often getting depressed.

David Schlitt never answers my email anymore. I guess he thinks I’m a pest, but I only wanted to be friends. He is from Brookline, Massachusetts, from a semi-observant Jewish family. He graduated from Columbia University with a degree in Yiddish. Then he came to Ohio to work on the John Kerry campaign. That’s where I met him. Of all the smart-aleck Ivy League brats who provided the campaign leadership, he was the one I liked the best.

They were nice kids, but they should not have been running the campaign – being all brains and no experience. Now David works in Washington DC for some Reform Jewish advocacy group, making small money and hoping to get a date. David is a good-looking guy with a nice sense of humor, but he is hopeless with women. He should listen to me – I had better luck when I was his age.

Dean Flood has been in a wheel chair for more than 25 years. Drunk, driving too fast on the Fir Island Road, he drifted off the road and crashed into a utility pole. That crippled him. He had been an active outdoorsman and the Superintendent of Public Works in LaConner. Friends rallied around him after the accident and re-fit his house on South First Street for wheelchair access, but his wife left him after a few years.

Since then he has lived by himself. His speech is slurred. He can walk with braces, but mostly he stays home and watches TV. The best thing about Dean is his cheerful attitude. You gotta play the cards you were dealt, he says, and never complains. Although if you press him, he will admit that life in a wheel chair really sucks.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Fear of Winter -- Forty Lives continued

Fear of Winter.
What a cold shock in the puss. We had to turn the heat on this morning. When I went outside to pick up the paper it was cold. Cold! I can’t stand it. I wish summer would go on forever. Reality is supposed to be a blessing, so I will get this sludge-bucket carcass moving – because it is time to MAKE PLANS. Making plans does not come to me naturally. Yet I will do it – make two lists. The first list, the easy one, is all the things that I can do at my sister Carolyn’s house – like painting the shed, and repairing the masonry wall – enough work to keep me busy for two months – and a really good value for her, because the work suits my talent. I will show her the list this evening and let her decide.

The second list will have too many branches – going to Texas, but either to stay at my daughter’s house OR to find some house-sitting. And working for the Wilson County News if Elaine will hire me OR going to Louisiana to volunteer for disaster relief. This is not quite a plan. But winter is undeniable.

I like reading Aurielle's blog

Things ended with Eileen. There was a candle-lit dinner and a walk in the neighborhood. Then we sat on the couch and listened to music. We kissed. I didn’t really feel anything, and she neither, because she said, “This is awkward.”

We were not even disappointed……Onward.

The Beach. The glorious sunset. The sparkling water. A woman sitting on the sand as if in a dream. I was walking near the waves, clutching my portable radio, listening to the White Sox hammer the Angels.

The Boardwalk. One of many Living Rooms in Los Angeles. You go there and it’s your family and everybody is “at home.” I sat on a bench for a long time and then went home, feeling refreshed.

Three more lives -- Carolyn, Chris and Claudia

Carolyn Rios – she’s my older sister by two years ago. She married Frank Rios, the beatnik poet. Carolyn and Frank bought this bungalow house in Venice in 1977 and they had two children, Primavera and Zana. But he went back to drugs and she ran him off. She became a school teacher, teaching at Venice High School nearby – although never in the regular program, but in the Special Ed section for troublesome children which means very small class sizes and individual attention. She has always liked this job, plus it is so close to her home.

I have been staying at her house for several weeks now. I am excited to have a chance to overhaul her garden – something I always wanted to do, but never, until now, was she ready for that. It was having the crew removing the huge banana plants in the back yard – she had been looking at them for 28 years, but they had to be removed because she was finally having the termites exterminated and the exterminator said termites love banana plants.

Anyhow, removing the giant banana plants broke her mental log jam, and now she has given me the green light to fix a whole bunch of things in her garden. It’s good work.

Chris McCarthy is a nurse in LaConner. She lives on Maple Street, two houses from Wayne Everton, who she is never gotten along with – ever since Wayne called Town Hall and complained about her bees. Chris claims, and I believe her, that her backyard bees never bothered anybody, that the farmers bring in many hives of bees every spring to pollinate the cabbage seed plants and other crops. Chris went on to explain that Wayne had a big hedge of heather leading to his house and heather is known to attract bees from miles away, and that it was really those heather plants that were bringing the bees that were bothering Wayne’s wife, Beverly, which caused him to complain.

Claudia Miller, MD is a doctor in San Antonio, Texas. I got to know her through, the Jewish dating service, although neither of us is Jewish. That was last winter. We got to know each other and exchanged some heartfelt emails. We even had several cozy phone calls. I had pleasant sexual fantasies about Claudia, and I would describe them to her – she didn’t discourage that.

What I enjoyed about emailing her was the frankness of it. Claudia was a doctor, and I realized that I could tell her absolutely anything about myself. I even typed a very complete medical history of myself which she enjoyed looking at.

We never met. I was in Texas when we first made contact, but then I came back to the Skagit Valleyin the spring, and so I was too far away. We still liked exchanging emails, but I stopped it, figuring that I better try to meet a real woman in the flesh.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Santa Monica Farmer's Market and Forty Lives Continued

Saturday at the Santa Monica farmer's market. I bought new potatoes, brocholi crowns, and cherry tomatoes. Then I drove back to Venice to have coffee at Abbot's Habit.

Forty Lives will be followed by Forty Jobs and Forty Places --- so the Frog Hospital blog has a plan and a direction. I have had at least forty jobs and lived in at least forty places, so it will be no trouble to compose this.

Like the time I worked as a bouncer at a disco -- honest. It was in the late 1970's. I wore black clothes and tried to stand impassively by the door. The job was short-lived however, because the security firm that hired me lost the contract.

Forty Lives, continued. We're moving into the B's now -- Barb, Ben, and Bob.

Barb Cram
doesn’t wear her false teeth at home. She retired this spring on her 70th birthday. I have known her for a long time, since my kids were small, when I first moved to LaConner. She used to run Friendship House, the homeless shelter in Mount Vernon. Years passed, but she was always drinking coffee and smoking, always on the phone, always making connections, always telling everybody what to do.

Barb took up with Pat Simpson, who was formerly the Methodist minister in LaConner. Barb and Pat being an item and also being fairly prominent, it was too much of a scandal for a small town, so they moved to Seattle.

Now Barb and Pat have a nice home with a view of Lake Washington. I come down for visits and take care of their garden. After the garden work, I take a shower and Barb fixes dinner. She’s a terrific cook.

Ben Munsey. He lived in Fishtown with Meg. Ben and Meg lived in Bo Miller’s cabin with their four children – three of them from Meg’s previous marriage. Ben was quiet then, and he’s quiet now. I believe he grew up in Tacoma and his Dad was in the lumber business.

Ben has long since split up with Meg, and Fishtown was destroyed, and Meg committed suicide years later – the destruction of Fishtown and her suicide being related – but Ben has “moved on,” at least a bit. Now he teaches at Skagit Valley College and lives in a nice old cabin with a view of Deception Pass.

Ben frequently advises me on computer questions – he is somewhat of a techie, and likes to know the intricacies of the Windows Operating System. He’s always glad to answer any of the dumb questions I run by him.

Bob Raymond and I have a difficult friendship. He and are simply not alike. For one thing, Bob is a very fussy eater – practically a Vegan. And another thing – Bob is extremely circumspect, probably the most cautious man I know. This doesn’t just bother me, I think it also bothers his wife, Dorothy, who looks like she wants to be going out for a good time and Bob is too dull to party with.

But Bob is a steady fellow. What he has to offer, in carefully measured doses, is offered genuinely. He has always been honest with me. I have often been to his house where we sit in the nook overlooking Swinomish Channel and talk about local and national politics.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Forty Lives....Also Life In Malibu

Recommending Aurielle's blog. She had a cat named Ceasar but she can't seem to find him now. Go to

Three lives posted yesterday, three today, and 34 more to go in this exciting biographical extravaganza, but first the news from Malibu. The women here are not as beautiful as the women in Venice -- I think it's more about money in Malibu, this quiet luxury. I'm certainly enjoying it.

Malibu is just a short drive up the coast from Venice. I got here yesterday and made camp at Leo Carillo State Beach under the sycamore trees in the little canyon in back of the beach. It was awesome quiet last night sleeping under the moonlight without a tent -- so warm and gentle the breeze. Except for this almost vicious squirrel that was stealing my Top Ramen and Ritz crackers -- I had to put the food in the car.

This morning I walked the mile-long Zuma Beach in Malibu. Zuma is such a fine name, sand so fine, waves so clear and sparkling, rolling on glassy seas with no wind. I saw a black seal poke his head up just past the waves, and the seal saw me.

Then a school of porpoises, frolicking and feeding, almost twenty of them. Toasting in the sun, reading Mahfouz from Egypt -- his novella, Miramar, set in Alexandria.

Three More Lives

Aisha Barbeau
is my niece, my brother Tom’s oldest daughter. She lives in San Francisco. She’s going to law school now. I think she’s 32 or 33. She’s marrying Matt in December in Cozumel, Mexico – such an expensive place for a wedding. I am a little resentful of that, because I can’t afford to go. Aisha was my Dad’s first grandchild – the only one he lived to see. There’s a picture of Aisha sitting on her Grandad’s lap while he read her a story. I wish there had been more of that, but the old man died.

I can’t say anything about her becoming a lawyer. I can’t say things like, “Now she won’t have to work for a living.” You don’t get to say things like that. I keep quiet and let my brother be proud of his very bright girl.

Andy Boyer. I spoke to him the last time on the hard, hard morning after we lost the election in Ohio. Andy had been up all night, hadn’t gone to sleep like I had. He was out of his mind from exhaustion and grief. He said it was “guns, gays, and God” that cost us the election. He said he had to go back to his parents’ house because he was broke. But if only we had won! Then Andy would have gone sailing off to the Washington DC, for the inauguration of a new President – his dream – and a meaningful new job. Too bad it didn’t happen.

Anita Boyle is an emerging poet, like Venus rising from the foam, but not quite as beautiful or sexy. She never does her hair, it just hangs there, so when you first see her you think she’s not pretty – but stick around, it gets better. . Anita is a widow. Her husband died more than ten years ago in an accident. Jim Bertolino, a more experienced poet, moved in with her two years ago, to her small farm outside of Bellingham. Anita and Jim have combined to make a powerful writing team. Like peas and potatoes.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Ben Munsey said.... including the first installment of "Forty Lives"

Ben Munsey said that maybe a 6,000 word story is too long to post on a blog. He said it would clog up his aggregator. I already know that people rarely have the stamina to read something that long on a computer screen. Instead Ben advised posting three or four lives at a time, as a king of blog-serial. Here goes:

Forty Lives

By Fred Owens

Brief Biographies. These are the people I know, in almost alphabetical order, because I am using the list of numbers on my cell phone – forty people in all. People who matter to me for one reason or another, people worthy of praise, long memory, and small tears.

Greg Love is a man I met in Columbus, Ohio, last fall when I was working on the John Kerry campaign. He was a cheerful wit who told raunchy jokes. He sat in the corner and did things on his laptop – I have no idea what. A good-looking man, but unemployed, as he said, even though he was a lawyer. He had a tender regard for his wife, back in Washington, DC, and spoke of her often. I called him nine months ago. Greg said that he and his wife might be starting family. I thought that was a good idea.

Victoria Pavlik was really something – probably still is – a piece of work, a force of nature. I stayed at her house in Columbus, Ohio for three weeks, when I was working on the campaign. She owned a forty-acre horse farm called Jade Ranch. Tall, thin and lanky, sparkling eyes, crooked teeth, favoring a cowboy hat and stressing her hillbilly background with an adopted twang. She was an accountant who worked for the state government, age 42, bi-sexual – she told me that right off the bat. I suppose that she told so that I might know where I stood with her. But it only confused me in a most wonderful manner. She drank a lot of Budweiser, smoked dope, stayed up late doing laundry and talking on the phone, and she had two beautiful children, the first with via sperm donation and the second with some no-goodnik.

I think she was doing some cocaine – how else to explain her ceaseless manic energy? She infatuated me, and I loved her Ohio farm. But I had to leave – too much trouble.

Eva Owens is my daughter. She was born on March 3, 1979 at Skagit Valley Hospital in Mount Vernon, Washington. Dr. Logan was the Obstetrician. She had nice, thick, curly black hair when she was born and the nurse combed it nicely after they cleaned her up. Things have gone well for her ever since.

Last week she and I went camping in Yosemite National Park – we had a fabulous time, except Eva caught a dose of poison oak.

This afternoon I called her – she lives in Austin, Texas – she said she was all stressed out, but she could talk to me tomorrow.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Discovery Day, or Columbus Day

Discovery Day, or Columbus Day – a holiday for Italian-Americans who take pride in the voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1492 – setting sail from Spain and sponsored by the great royal couple, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. But Columbus was a native of Genoa, the great merchant port of Italy, and so modern-day Italians claim him as a hero.

I saw some newspaper rename Columbus’s Discovery the “Encounter,” as if two boats had stumbled upon each other in the mid-Atlantic, or if two old friends had run into each other at the grocery store – that’s an encounter. But it cheapens history to call Columbus’s voyage an “Encounter.” It’s when we found out the New World was there. Later on my ancestors decided to immigrate across this ocean. And I’m here now. This is an awesome fact. The whole world changed because of Columbus. We didn’t know each other before his voyage, on either side of the Atlantic – but now we do. The rest is details.

So what’s with all the apologies? They are so fake. There is only one kind of real apology and that is when I myself do something wrong and, knowing that, I confess to the people I have offended. One cannot apologize or take credit for the deeds of other people. You can make a general apology along the lines of “Excuse me for living.” What is that worth?

A good enough writer to be a bad gardener. This is what I am – a good enough writer to be a bad gardener. Oh, I could be a really great gardener if that is all that I did. If gardening was my first and truest vocation, I could be one of the best in the world. Take this weekend, for example. I worked on my sister’s garden in Venice, and I worked on my brother’s garden in Pasadena. Not knowing the plants and climate of this sup-tropical climate, I still did an incredible job. I achieved a transformation within the time allowed and using the materials at hand. I could just see it, even with these unfamiliar plants. And the work was deeply satisfying as well.

Now, if that was all I did, I would become one of the best in the world. I would be writing gardening books, designing public landscapes, and be deeply involved in horticultural research. I would be recognized as an authority – that would simply happen if I chose to focus on that work – if it were possible for me to focus on that work.

But it’s only my day job. I’m a writer. That’s what consumes me. That’s what is on my mind most of the time. And the more I write the better I get. I started writing 30 years ago – 29 years ago actually, in 1976. I have slowly gotten better.

But I’m still not good enough. I can’t get the paying gigs. I can’t get the attention of the great Editor who can do something with it. So I can’t put the time in – I have to keep my day job. If I could put the time in, doing a lot more writing than I am doing now – if I could justify that effort with some income and readership – then I would be so much better at writing than I am now.

I am not such a good gardener, and I am not such a good writer. That’s it. Meanwhile beautiful women keep walking into this café. I am not exactly suffering.

Cheeseburgers. Saturday night, on a movie date with Eileen – she of the long-stalking legs – we discussed after-movie food. That’s when I started thinking of a cheeseburger, except I knew it was too late in the day for such a large meal, so I fell back on a grilled-cheese sandwich. Eileen fixed me one at her place. She used good rye bread with lots of caraway seeds.

Okay, but the next day, Sunday, I’m still thinking of a cheeseburger, like a faint mirage, only I’m getting closer. And today it was even stronger. I have had three days of strong physical labor, so I can surely handle one now – with French fries and a Coke – the complete classic.

But then I had this idea. Here I am in sunny Los Angeles where nobody eats red meat – not my sister, not Eileen, not my brother – none of them eat red meat except every once in a while. Why don’t I, as an experiment, get on the team? That’s what I will do – skip the cheeseburger and eat light – fill up on avocadoes and fruit cups and hummus and fish – like the natives do. Can’t hurt.

Friday, October 07, 2005

The Santa Anna

The Santa Anna. The usual breeze comes off the water and brings morning fog and cool evenings. But the Santa Anna is the east wind that comes out of the San Fernando Valley. It blows hot and dry, and it came yesterday and today. Then the temperature along the coast soars into the 90s. Eileen loves it, she told me. So I tried to love it and I did, a little, but it leaves me tired, and I walk so slowly.

It’s 6 p.m. and I’m perspiring. The mind is blessed free of thoughts. Fast cars on the Boulevard. Beautiful young women coming in for coffee. Some kind of music – the music is always loud at this café, but I seem to like it. I wrote a terrific column today titled “It’s a Matter of Good Judgment. I will post it on the blog tomorrow. I read the news about Hurricane Katrina from the Times-Picayune in New Orleans. Go to . I think it’s worse than we imagine. I think we don’t yet get the extent of this disaster. I think even New Orleans doesn’t know what happened. The shock is going to wear off sometime in November and then it’s going to be a very hard winter for those folks.

I’m not sure how long I will be in Los Angeles. I sure love it here – the colors and the people, the art and the food, the sky and the weather. Oh no, I won’t be rushed to leave here. Me and Eileen are going to have some fun first, and there’s something I’m supposed to get. Something is going to click, and then I can go.

Eva left for Austin yesterday. I drove her to the airport – LAX – it’s only 20 minutes from Carolyn’s house. Carolyn and Tom just keep getting up every day and going off to work – to teach school. I was out late last night, dining and dancing with Eileen, with her henna-red spiky hair and bright eyes, her lanky figure and square-shoulders.

I slept in until 8 a.m. this morning. Carolyn and Tom were already gone. The Los Angeles Times was spread out on the formica kitchen table and there was strong coffee in the pot. The quiet was nice. I read the paper and went down to the café after nine to see if Eric would be there. He wasn’t. I hope to see him tomorrow (Friday) because he’s leaving on Saturday to visit his daughter and grandchildren in San Francisco – a good pal, a wise, old Jew.

Eric has made a fortune in real estate, but he keeps a low profile, occupying his usual table in the café, greeting all kinds of folks, and holding forth with a quiet strength, or doing the crossword puzzle. What I like about him is what he knows. He knows what is worth money and what is not worth money. He’s quite clear about what has always confused me. Eric knows – this is business, this is money, this is buy-and-sell, this is the value of it – which is real estate, that which is concrete and material and tangible. And then he knows what is not about money – family, friends, fresh air -- all those good things. So you see, he is quite a spiritual man – because he knows what the spirit is, and what it is not. He doesn’t need philosophy. Rather – he has solved the questions of philosophy and he only needs to monitor the situation, sitting in judgment. This is a good man.

He plays paddles tennis on the beach – doubles, gets a good workout, says he’s getting too old for that and his joints won’t forgive him, but he still does it.

Prose and Cons, October 12, 2005, No. 13

It's a Matter of Good Judgment

By Fred Owens

The new Chief Justice, John Roberts, impressed friend and foe alike
during the confirmation process. The Democrats, who were spoiling for
fight, could only muster routine objections to Roberts' nomination to
the Supreme Court.

President George Bush made an inspired choice. I don't suspect him of
trying to please everybody, but he did just that. Besides Roberts'
impressive education and judicial accomplishment, which were examined
and discussed by the media and the politicians, we also saw photos of
his attractive family.

Chief Justice Roberts has a wife and she calls him John. A wife knows
things about a man – what he's like when's feeling down and
discouraged – things we will never see. A marital partner has a way of
bringing you up short when you're drifting off course – you all know
what I'm talking about. And there's no escape, it's 24/7.

Roberts has small children to look after. They don't call him "Your
Honor," they call him Daddy. He may go to work and make decisions of
national importance, but his little children don't care about that.
They just want for him to read a bedtime story.

Marriage and a family constitutes a complete course in character
development. It helps a man or a woman to develop good judgment.
Conservatives rail against judges who legislate from the bench, but
they skip over the larger question – What is good judgment? And does
this particular candidate have good judgment?

That's not easy to define, but I will give you an example. I have two
grown children, well educated, strong in spirit, and making a good
living. They're smart kids. They may even be smarter than me, and good
for them if they are. But the only thing I have that they don't have
yet is better judgment. My better judgment comes from being thirty
years older and comes from all the work I did raising those two
children and comes from all the mistakes I made along the way.

You just get a sense of it after a while. When my kids were teenagers
– those were tough years for me – I encouraged them to think
independently. I encouraged them to ask challenging questions. I was
willing to discuss and debate any issue for as long as they wanted.
But I always made two things perfectly clear. One is that they didn't
have a vote. And two, they must talk with me in a respectful way.

Oh, we had lots of arguments, but I believed I had earned their
respect and I was determined to enforce that respect. This is where I
honed and improved my sense of judgment. What is the difference
between a challenging question, which is a good thing, and a
fifteen-year-old girl with a smart mouth? A parent had better learn
the difference because children will eat you alive if you let them.

Attitude. That's a good part of what judgment is and that is not
written down. Parents learn to recognize attitude, good and bad, and
in doing so, they improve their own attitude – they develop good

So a judge needs to have balance, a sense of fairness, a human heart
that cares about people coupled with strong detachment and
objectivity. A judge needs to be honest with himself about his own
weaknesses, because he surely has them. A good judge will make three
kinds of mistakes. One mistake is a simple miss-weighing of the
evidence, and this is more of a mental error. The second mistake is
prejudice, which is emotional in nature, where a judge gives in to his
own affection or animosity and rules accordingly. The third mistake is
pride and ego – this is when a judge legislates from the bench,
because he thinks he knows better than anybody else.

I said a good judge makes all three of these mistakes because he's
human, but he will try his darndest not to and struggle every day at

Let's consider President Bush's current nominee to the Supreme Court.
Harriet Miers is a close personal adviser to the President and a
corporate attorney. But has she married a man? Has she raised
children? Has she served as a judge? Has she written a book? Has she
fought in a war? Has she lived in a foreign land? Has she climbed a
mountain? Has she raised crops on a farm? Her resume comes up light in
my mind. I'm willing to listen, but so far I'm not impressed. Those
life experiences, which develop good judgment in a man or a woman,
don't seem to be there in her case.


Prose and Cons, October 5, 2005, No. 12

Is it better in California?

By Fred Owens

Comparing Texas and California is a good way for this writer to get in
trouble, but I like to live dangerously. I'm out here in Los Angeles
visiting my sister. She lives near the beach so she gets lots of
company. It's an expensive neighborhood. They sold a two-bedroom
bungalow down the block for $1.2 million. Isn't that amazing? My
sister is a school teacher. She couldn't afford to live here except
she bought her house 28 years ago when prices were affordable.

It's a good life – the weather is always sunny, but never too hot. I
suppose that's why so many millions of people want to live here. If
you can get past the traffic and pollution and the high prices, then
you're welcome to it.

But that's not my topic. My topic is agriculture. California is the
number one farm producer in the nation, equal to the combined value of
Texas and Iowa. But being first in farm dollars isn't everything. How
about quality?

Consider California and Texas citrus. The crown jewel of citrus fruit
in America is, hands down and no question, the Texas Ruby Red
grapefruit. A Ruby Red is the summit of excellence and juicy good
taste. Texas oranges are sweeter and juicier than the California navel
oranges. It's true that a Texas orange is hard to peel. It's because
Texas oranges were crossbred with an especially wiry breed of longhorn
cattle. That's what gave them their tough hides. In fact a Texas
orange is like the character of the Texas people – tough on the
outside and sweet on the inside. A California orange is easier to get
at, but the flavor is not as good.

For watermelons, Texas also comes out on top. People in northern
states don't appreciate the Texas watermelons so much, because Texans
get a little selfish about watermelon. They eat the best and sell the
remainder out of state. The California watermelon, in comparison, is
an industrialized product and a volume business. California is where
they invented the seedless watermelon. The seedless watermelon is an
abomination and threatens to bring ruin to our nation's heritage.
Watermelons are supposed to have seeds. And the rules of dining
etiquette are relaxed a bit when watermelon is served – you get
involved when you taste a good melon. There's the indoor style, which
is a bit neater, and the picnic style with no rules at all. Everybody
has their own method and debates often ensue.

A seedless watermelon? That's the kind of thing that gives California
a reputation for being goofy. It's an improvement we can live without.
But it's their state. How about Texas barbecue versus California
sushi? I won't even touch that.

But California pulls out ahead in farm products when you consider
olives, avocadoes, artichokes, walnuts, pistachios, almonds, kiwis,
strawberries, figs, prunes, nectarines, raisins and a lot more. Texas
can only answer, "but we have the best pecans." Yes, California is a
golden land.

They also make movies here. Most movies aren't very good, but one in a
hundred movies is something that will take your breath away and teach
you something about life. You can talk about the trash that comes out
of Hollywood, but just remember those two or three movies you saw when
you were a kid that you can never forget.

And what is a movie? It's nothing more than the ancient art of
storytelling set to modern technology. Tales of romance and adventure,
true stories and the imagination of dreams. A good story is a human
need almost as necessary as food. Think of Homer's poem, the Iliad,
written 3,000 years ago, about Achilles and the Trojan War – a story
so exciting that it has been told over and over again for many
generations. Hollywood made a movie out of it two years ago, "Troy,"
starring Brad Pitt.

Or the story of Exodus when the Hebrew people left Egypt to come to
the Promised Land. Exodus is a matter of belief for most Americans,
but the reason we love it is because the drama is so compelling –
Moses parting the Red Sea and the Golden Calf and the rest. It's such
a good story.

That's what they do here in Hollywood – tell stories. You know about
Brad Pitt and Jennifer Lopez, but you don't know about tens of
thousands of people who work in the film and television industry –
building scenery, processing film, makeup, marketing and a hundred
other specialties -- people who aren't glamorous are famous or unusual
in any way. They just make a good living and they're a lot like
everybody else.

One more thing – Texas hurricanes and tornadoes versus California
earthquakes and mudslides – take your pick.