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

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