Saturday, August 19, 2017

Confronting Racism


Confronting Racism
I didn't go to the demonstration today but I confronted racism and anti-Semitism in the person of Charlie Krafft. He is a confirmed white nationalist and Holocaust denier. He would claim that he does not deny the Holocaust, he only wants to point out some discrepancies in the historical accounts. Sure. Charlie once told me he practiced a "genteel anti-semitism."  I kind of understood what he meant, like your law firm has one Jewish partner, "but we can't have two Jews because you know how they are when they get talking to each other, they're close talkers."
I understand that. My friend Bobby is Jewish and he talks too close to my face. If he could just back up a few inches. But this isn't a strictly Jewish tendency. I think it's more Middle Eastern. Like the time I befriended an Arabic-speaking tourist on the quay at the Santa Barbara Yacht Harbor. We began talking and he kept getting closer and closer and then he practically climbed into my lap. Close talkers!
Anyway, my little bit for making the world safe for diversity is to confront Charlie Krafft once again, and to give him a chance to overcome his disease.
"Charlie, you don't have to explain or apologize for what you've done, but just stop doing it. Throw out the books and the Nazi memorabilia. Stay away from those dark websites. Get some fresh air. There's a better part of you waiting to come forth."
Charlie reads this newsletter, so Charlie, stop doing it! We don't hate you, we just hate what you are doing. Stop staying up late at night watching Nazi porn!
Charlie is well-known in the Seattle arts community and he is celebrated as the "mayor of Fishtown." We would like to forget and overlook his dark side, but maybe it's time for intervention. We all need help.
Well, that's my part on this very active weekend.
I  speak lightly of Charlie's condition, but it is a disgusting disease, and  a contagious disease -- it rubs off on you when you are exposed to it. You can feel the seductive, addictive quality.
If you don't know Charlie Krafft, look him up on Google. You can find his website. Contact him and be nice. He's getting old, past 69. Ask him about Fishtown. Offer to buy him dinner at a Chinese restaurant in the International District. Charlie would like that.

Total Eclipse
I saw the total eclipse of the sun in southern Mexico on March 7, 1970. The path of totality crossed the isthmus of Tehuantepec and we were there to observe.
Dozens of tourists -- not thousands -- dozens of tourists pulled off to the side of the lone highway to stop and stare at the sun. It was very quiet. The corona appeared, and shimmering, quivering light raced across the fields, and all the birds began to sing. The local people hardly seemed to notice.
So I have this one already checked off on my bucket list.
But if you get a chance to see it -- the totality -- then it's worth the expense and the crowds.
We will have 62 % totality in Santa Barbara, on Monday morning. I will be working in Lulu's garden at that time. She lives down the street and will be celebrating her fifth birthday very soon. Her mother hires me to weed and tend her garden.
Dr. Berkowitz Deals with Depression

I can’t even brag about how bad it was. I never went to prison, or fought in a war, or battled a disease, or overcame an addiction. I just screwed up on a small scale and I felt lousy. I remember talking to Dr. Berkowitz about this in 1993 at his clinic in Somerville right outside of Boston.
Dr. Berkowitz was a small younger man with a tight black beard like the Smith Brothers on the cough drop package. He made a good living as a general practitioner, but he could have made three times as much if he had taken up a specialty in cardiology. As it was he owned a nice home in the leafy suburb of Newton.
But he worked in Somerville and served the food stamp clientele that needed walk-in service with family aches and pains, and he liked talking with people.

So it was the winter of 1993-1994 and the winter was dragging on with frozen piles of dirty snow in parking lots and sidewalks. By March half of Boston was suicidal and I was one of them not, not suicidal, but in a very blue funk. Plus I was lonely since I broke up with Louise – which is another story, a long pathetic, embarrassing story – but I broke up with her and money was short and winter lasted too long. I thought maybe to get a medical solution to this.
I said to Dr. Berkowitz, I’m depressed. He took a deep breath, looked me right in the eye and almost laughed. “You’re not depressed. You know I have patients who are actually depressed. They sleep 16 hours a day. They don’t leave their apartment for weeks at a time. They are afraid to even say hello to the mailman. They don’t bathe. But they drink and find pills to take, and they don’t get those pills from me, but they get them. These are people who are clinically depressed, if I might use a clinical expression, and I treat them as best I can, although some of them need extensive psychiatric oversight and perhaps sheltered housing and sheltered workplaces.
But these people are depressed. You, on the other hand, are not depressed. You got the blahs, you got the blues, you need a good fuck and if you can’t get that you need a good kick in the pants. Get out of here and come back when you have a real problem.”
I was taken aback by Dr. Berkowitz’s unusual vehemence, but I had to admit it was a healing experience, because what he said in so many words was that I did not have a problem, not in his experience. I was okay. Maybe all I needed was a week on the beach in Florida, failing that I might go see the afternoon showing of the Marx Brothers film at the revival house in Harvard Square….. This was in 1993 when they had revival theaters in places like Harvard Square -- and film buffs who memorized every line of Ingmar Bergman’s dialog of death and doom and destruction and despair and disappointment.
Bergman was Swedish and those people understand depression. The masters. But Dr. Berkowitz was Jewish and those people understand laughter. “You’re suffering? You’re dying? And I’m laughing my ass off.”
I walked out of the good doctor’s clinic. It cost me $45 to find out I wasn’t really depressed. And he’s laughing all the way to the bank for ten minutes of work. Except he didn’t have to work in Somerville with his food stamp patients. He could have been a specialist with a tony office in Back Bay. He really did like us better than the uptown folks.
But I am not supposed to dwell on the past, but to just go to the past, find something there and bring it back. Today I found Dr. Berkowitz, and this being the present tense in August of 2017, while Confederate statues are being smashed with ball peen hammers like they were peanuts or pumpkins -- I looked him up on Google.
Guess what! – he is still there, now 80 years old and I said he appeared younger than me but he was only smaller and shorter than me – but today, this year, after 54 years practicing medicine he is still doing that, still dividing the truly depressed from those who just need a fast you-know-what and a kick in the pants.
I should write him a letter. He might remember me. I will say one thing about myself – that part about being idiosyncratic – which is distinctive. People want to put me on a shelf and file me away in some forgotten drawer, but I don’t fit in any drawer, I stick out somehow, and for that reason they tend to remember me. So I will write Dr. Berkowitz and show him this story. He might like it.
thank you for reading this, have a calm and productive weekend,
Fred

--
Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Suppose you're a cop in Charlottesville


By Fred Owens

Suppose you're a cop in Charlottesville

Suppose you're a cop in Charlottesville, twelve years on the force. You lived here all your life, and you know half the people in town. You daily experience is handling domestic disturbances, pinching shoplifters, and hauling drunk college students to the hoosegow. You have never drawn or fired your weapon on the job, although you are prepared to do that.

Comes now the KKK to hold a rally in your quiet city of 47,000 -- some 500 seriously disturbed and dangerous young men looking for a fight. Comes now the national media, some hundreds of pushy people pointing cameras at you. Comes now the counter-demonstrators, some peaceful, some angry and shouting, some wearing bandannas to cover their faces.

And all of these people -- the KKK, the media, and the counter protestors are from out of town. Nobody you know.

You're a local cop used to dealing with local people. What you wish more than anything is that these people would just leave, all of them.

But your August vacation days were cancelled. No golf. No fishing. You have to face down the mob, only how do you tell the good guys from the bad guys?

Imagine yourself as a cop in Charlottesville, facing this situation. Would you know what to do?

Friendship in America

Much has been said about the American family -- the family is the strength of our nation, the values of a family are so very important, and we need to keep and cherish those values.
Not to defend or define those values here, but to mention something equally important -- friendship.
Friendship is not unique to America, but we might compare our society to the undeveloped world where the extended family is the norm, in Latin America or Africa where a man counts his relatives in the dozens -- large families that depend on and care for each other. In countries where the government is often rapacious and confiscatory, where social services are nonexistent, the extended family is the sole tool for survival.  Care of the elderly falls on the children and grandchildren -- there is no choice in that, and less virtue because there is no choice.
The extended family, this large and warm unit, is also the main source of corruption in poorer countries. If you have a government post, and your cousin needs a job, you will take care of him. If your business prospers, all your relatives will line up with their hands out. It is your duty to care for them above others.
It’s not merit, but relation, that allocates the rewards of society in those countries.
America is different. We send our cousins Christmas cards, but we don’t expect to feed them. Even a brother, applying for a position, would be subject to close scrutiny. “Sure, if he’s qualified,” we would say, but not for a favor.
Blood is thicker than water, and many of us would make a great sacrifice for our close kin, but the sense of fairness, and of equality for all, is so strong here, that the corruption of family ties is at a minimum.
What we have instead is friendship -- smaller, nuclear families and a web of friendship that unites and levels the country. Friendship is freedom. You choose your friends. Friendship is responsibility, because the friends you choose are a reflection on your character. Friendship is voluntary, even a long-standing friendship must be earned from time to time in small or large ways.
We might do a favor for a friend, or even surrender our lives, we might support them in illness, or go their bail, but it is always because we choose to. That’s freedom in America.
The family is good and essential, but it has never been enough.

Shannon Moon is going to be a nurse, maybe

Shannon was sitting at the dining room table scratching her head. I said what's up, and she said I’m just trying to figure it all out…… Oh boy, do I know that feeling….. You get overwhelmed, you can’t decide what is important. Everything matters. Nothing matters. Shannon is a mid-thirties woman with a future  -- I’m sure of that. She’s going to become a nurse. I know she has continuous self-doubts about that, but she has completed the science prerequisites – those boring courses in anatomy and organic chemistry. Right now she is figuring out what nursing school is best for her. The options for nursing  school are bewildering – that is clear. But what is just as clear is that Shannon will make a good nurse. She has that combination of toughness and compassion.
A good nurse wants to take care of people and wants to make a good living too. You don’t want a bleeding heart who wants to sacrifice her life, and you don’t want someone who just counts the dollars.
You want a balanced person, with a strong heart and a strong mind. Being a nurse is a tough job. If you can handle the stress and pressure, then you can make a difference in the lives of the people you care for. And you will always have work.
But sitting there at the dining room table trying to figure it all out….. Nope, doesn’t work. You make a decision, and you make a plan, and then life happens.
She left our house in Santa Barbara and flew to Taos, New Mexico to do volunteer work at the Lama Foundation.  She will make up her mind about nursing school when she comes back in a few weeks.
Shannon is my Laurie’s younger daughter.

*************

I am learning to write in a new style that I picked up from the Norwegian author, Karl Ove Knausgaard. He wrote a six-volume autobiographical novel called My Struggle. I am reading Volume Four which is about his youth. In the story he has just turned 18 and left home for the first time to take a teaching job in a remote northern village.
It’s not that his life is so special or different. This is not a man who flies to the moon and jousts with dragons. This is an ordinary man who writes about his life and he makes it interesting.
That’s the trick, to make it interesting. I mean, I already knew that, but I needed some re-enforcement for my writing. Everything is interesting. The four remote controls on the coffee table in front of me are interesting. The stack of firewood that has been sitting next to the fireplace for several years -- there’s a story.
I'm writing a book called The Quotidian which will have some of these stories. And I will put excerpts in the Frog Hospital newsletter from time to time.

thank you,

Fred

--
Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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


Monday, August 07, 2017

tree blessings


 By Fred Owens

I am late with this issue of Frog Hospital because my daughter had a baby boy and that was quite a celebration to greet the infant and see the mommas be happy and the infant well fed and happy. He was born at 12:48 a.m. July 29, this year, at a hospital in Seattle to Lara Rogers and Eva Owens. They own a home in the Ballard neighborhood in Seattle. Lara works at Amazon and Eva works at SEIU. I suppose they have parental leave, but I don't know the details.
Laurie and I will visit them in early September. That gives them a chance to get settled with the new infant, if it is possible to be settled with a new infant. My daughter says the little guy sleeps well and feeds well too, so his prospects are quite good.
What is his name? We have a pretty good idea about that, but they are still refining the choice, so we will know his name fairly soon.

He weighed eight pounds.

Now here is the story:

Tree Blessings

Enjoying a long neck Budweiser, sitting on the couch, watching the news, and watching Gary Cooper in High Noon on my laptop at the same time. Gary Cooper rides off into the sunset with Grace Kelly. That is so cool.
We’re going to have tacos for dinner – got the fixins – got fresh cilantro, avocado, salsa, corn tortillas and a left over piece of pork loin. All is well in Santa Barbara.
I have a title for this week’s story. Tree Blessings.  That sounds about right. First I write down those two words, then I discover what I meant. Do we bless the tree? Or does the tree bless us?
I immediately veer to Catholic school guilt. Going around blessing trees is a religious scam. A way to avoid the necessary work of planting, watering and pruning. To be really honest with my own motives, I thought of blessing the trees as a non-strenuous exercise, a way to avoid honest labor. I could start an earth religion. There’s a lot of money in religion. I could publish a book of tree blessings. I could establish rituals and sell tree ornaments, …. Now I have ruined a perfectly good impulse. Why not just love the tree and let the tree love me back?
Tree blessings. Just love the trees. Jesus loved the trees. There must be something in the Bible about how Jesus loves the trees.
Tree Blessings and Garden Vigils. Prayers, songs, chants and dances. Things to do in your garden besides work. Garden work is highly over-rated. Get out of the way and let the plants grow.
Garden Vigils. Healing, Watching. Sitting. Reading. Napping. Walking. Visiting. Eating. Talking. Hard work in the spring – sure. But not now in late summer. Let it be.  Time for a vigil, all night watching in the pale moonlight. Night critters coming out of their burrows to say hello. Late at night in the garden – when the gophers party, and coyotes come to catch gophers. Late at night in the garden when the dainty skunks sashay across the street, and walk  so pretty through the hole in the fence and find some juicy insects and sprouts to dine on.
Spring is for hard work in the garden. Not late summer. Let the ripe fruit fall on the garden. Pick the grapes, but let some of them fall on the ground. Be generous. Be lazy. Don’t pick all the fruit. Let it fall. Breathe. Look at the sky. Sit and watch the garden. You can’t see things unless you stop working.
Last week I wrote about Illabot Creek and people liked the story. And I said I would continue the story….. but that would be too hard.
Illabot Creek – the most beautiful place I have ever camped, and I was so unhappy. It was just bad timing. That’s when I broke up with Gail Murphy in the summer of 1971. I was camping at the creek, in the beautiful sunshine and I was utterly broken-hearted.  The pure sparkling water. The fresh breezes. The long northern twilight.  And me suffering. The irony was too painful.
Why couldn’t I find a campground that maybe wasn’t quite so pretty, but where I could be a little happy?
Not possible. So I bought a saxophone. A Selmer tenor saxophone, a beautiful soul-ful instrument. I taught myself to play it and I played it very well. Howling, screaming, moaning. You can’t beat the tenor sax for emotional complexity. Picture me sitting on a very large maroon bean-bag pillow, sitting next to the stream, playing my heart out. And loud. But away from the other camps. Maybe one hundred yards upstream.
That saxophone got me out of Illabot Creek. You just don’t do wilderness with a sax. You do city. I needed to get out of this camp and go to town. So I went to LaConner, all 600 people living there, and no jazz musicians to play with, but more urban than Illabot creek.  I slept in Charlie Berg’s chicken coop and worked in the boatyard sanding vessels, and got the money I needed to buy a car. I bought a pristine green four-door 1951 Chevrolet  for $125.  I loved that car. I needed it too, because you just can’t hitchhike with a backpack and a tenor sax  -- too odd. Either go to the woods or go downtown.
I left Gail Murphy at Illabot Creek, bought a tenor sax and a 1951 Chevrolet and drove to Taos, New Mexico, far enough way to forget her and the creek.
I could not forget her. I forgot nothing. Taos was no help. This is not a happy story which is why I don’t want to tell it. I don’t want to remember it, all the details, the way she looked …. No.
Better to be Gary Cooper riding off into the sunset with Grace Kelly.
Charlie Berg and Beth Hailey did not yet live in the house on Fourth Street with the large chicken coop where I slept while I worked to make enough money to buy the car and leave. At the time of this story in late summer of 1971, the chief tenants were a couple known as Truman and Mary. They were an odd pair. Truman played the Violin. Mary was a Ditz. Forgive my movie metaphors, but picture Katherine Hepburn playing a ditz in Bringing Up Baby. That was Mary. She didn’t have a clue, but I liked her. A lot of men liked her. She was friendly in that way. I think that’s why Truman always had such a sour look on his face. He had two negative choices. Either pay closer attention to Mary and endure her ditz-itude. Or let her be free to share her favors with the gang.
One day Truman changed the flat tire on Mary’s truck. When he was done Mary and I hopped in for a journey up to the Old Day Creek Road commune outside of Sedro-Woolley.
We got as far as Clear Lake when a loud clunk and clatter banged around the truck. The left front wheel had fallen off. The brake drum hit the pavement and threw up a shower of sparks.  The old truck came shuddering to a stop and the errant wheel rolled into a ditch.
The wheel fell off because Truman had not fully tightened the lug nuts when he changed the tire.  He forgot to tighten the lug nuts? I didn’t want to go there. It seemed I was getting between Truman and Mary and maybe I should not be in that place. I don’t know what happened to them, but I expect they did not stay together very long.
Meanwhile me and a dozen hippies were sleeping in the large chicken coop next to their rented house. The house where Charlie Berg and Beth Hailey came to live for so many years before they moved out to Pull and Be Damned Road on the Swinomish Reservation.
New people moved into that old house after Charlie and Beth left. They strung up aluminum foil all over the attic in an attempt to grow marijuana with grow lights. Their hare-brained wiring system and grow lights caught fire and the place burned down.
So the owners bull-dozed the wreckage and installed a double-wide trailer. Life goes on.
But I only brought up the story about Truman and Mary as a diversion. I was miserable, unhappy, depressed, and broken-hearted because Gail Murphy didn’t want me back. This is overlooking the fact that it was my idea to break up, a decision I regretted after only a few weeks, but a decision that she embraced as final and conclusive….. making it my fault, or at least not making it her fault.
Who cares about all this stuff? People are no smarter now than they were in 1971. I did not get any smarter, I just got older. And Illabot Creek still flows. It’s flowing right now, not older or younger, or smarter or dumber, but melting glacier water in the summer sun and flowing down to soft gravel beds where the salmon spawn.
The humpies spawn in odd-numbered years. Thousands of humpies spawned on Illabot Creek in 1971. This year of 2017 is odd-numbered so they should still be there, to love and die and feed the eagles. It’s an awesome natural drama, to sit by the stream and watch the now dark and tattered fish go for their last dance, waving fins over gravel beds, spreading eggs and milt. Tree blessings. Salmon blessings. It goes on forever.

She wasn’t pretty, but she had a voice like silver bells.

Quisiera llorar, quisiera morir de sentimiento
--- words from a Mexican folk song. “I am like a leaf on the wind, I want to cry, I want to die, because of my feelings.”

It was sad for me but good things happened for other people at Illabot Creek. In 1971 Katy came to the creek wearing nothing but a guitar, striding into view like a goddess. She liked Steve Philbrick and they camped together. They camped seven years at the creek. Saved money, bought land, built a house, had four kids, raised them all and now in sweet elder years they have grandchildren running around all over. They had it good, God bless ‘em.

If you got this far, I thank you for reading this. Please send me a comment, critical or otherwise. I would love to hear from you.


--
Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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