Martin the Arsonist and Paul the Schizophrenic
I wish I had more imagination. I wish it was easier to make things up. Like these two guys -- Martin and Paul. I actually had to live with them in order to write this story.
I should have spent my time with a classier kind of people -- people with connections, people who are making a bit of a splash, good-looking, well-read and widely-traveled people ---- I should have spent time with the up and comers instead of these two losers -- Martin and Paul.....
Martin the Arsonist and Paul the Schizophrenic
Martin was a Latino man of age 30, quiet, with good manners. He had served a prison sentence for arson, but I never got the details -- didn't want the details..... Mainly I noticed small things about him -- that he had no nervous twitches and he enjoyed petting the cat. You can co-inhabit with such a fellow.
At this point in 1989 I was separated from my wife. She and the two children were living a mile away and I had dinner with them most nights. But I was living at the old farmhouse on Martin Road. This was in Mount Vernon. The old farmhouse was on a forty-acre plot that once had a dairy, but in 1989 it was only blackberries and alder -- plenty of firewood from the alder, but not much else.
It was given to Friendship House, the homeless shelter, to be occupied. And Friendship House gave it to me. There was no rent to pay -- of course there was no running water and no electricity either, and not much basis to charge any rent.
The owner didn't care about the money anyway. He just wanted someone to occupy the house and keep the ruffians and vandals away.
So that was me and my wife and two kids. After a year's time I had the money for a waterline from the road. That cost $1,000 just to get the water on the farm side of the road. But how to get the water to the house involved digging a ditch 250 long. I did that, with the help of Singin' Dan from Fishtown.
Later we got electricity. And later the marriage broke up and my wife and two kids took a good apartment nearby.
But the old farmhouse was good enough for me, and they asked me at Friendship House if I could take Martin and Paul off their hands. I knew Martin would be all right. But Paul was a challenge.
Paul was 22, big, fat, and jovial. His mental development was about age 10. He was schizophrenic and medicated.
The idea -- and I really think it was me who was stupid enough to have this idea -- was to bring Paul out to the old farm and get him to work. A little fresh air and exercise would do him some good. If he helped me chop and load the firewood, he might feel a little confidence that he could do some honest work like any other man. He might lose a little weight. He might need a little less medication.
Worthy goals. But it wasn't easy working or living with Paul. It was like this -- he would look up at me with a big smile and say, "Fred, you're my best friend." Fine. Except he would say that again five minutes later. "Fred, you're my best friend." And 25 to 50 times a day, those same words. It got tiresome.
The problem is that I had Paul to look after seven days a week and that wasn't the deal. Friendship House figured if they left Paul with me that would solve their problem of looking after him. But they never gave me the backup they promised.
So sadly, I sent Paul back to Friendship House after about two months.
Martin was never a problem, but he had to leave when I had my two kids move back in with me and my ex-wife went down to Seattle for a while.
I was more involved with homeless people back then. Today if I see some fellow with a cardboard sign by the road I avoid eye contact.
She sat on Martin's lap by the wood stove. We called her Twiggy because she had two tails. It must have been the result of an injury that had healed nicely but left about one inch of tail with a muscle and a separate inch of tail with a bone.. a cat with two tails is good luck if you ask me.
The Girl Friend
My girl friend at the time thought my home with Martin and Paul was disreputable. I don't know why I listened to her. The housekeeping wasn't too bad for three bachelors living in a drafty old farmhouse. It was our home! She wanted me to get rid of them. I should have gotten rid of her....... I did have to send Paul back to Friendship House and Martin just kind of moved on.
So ends the year at Frog Hospital. We are wishing all of you a peaceful and prosperous year in 2018.
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But There is More. If you want to hear more about Martin and Paul and me at the old farm, then you can read this expanded version of the same story.
Rebecca -- Sunday, November 27, 1989
A day at the Farm and an evening at Barkley’s Pub, rather ordinary -- as the world turns, and things happening in Eastern Europe are changing our lives in more ways than anything that has happened here lately.
I worked all morning on the farm, cutting and splitting wood, pulling weeds, raking up debris and re-planting daffodil bulbs. Martin had the hardest work, he was crawling underneath the house to put insulation on the plumbing and did not come up for hours. Paul slept until 11:30, by permission. When he got up he stacked all the new wood on the front porch.
I was going to cut the wood with the handsaw when I got up that morning because we do not yet have a chainsaw. But caution and past experience was guiding me and telling me to approach this arduous task very slowly.
As I approached the pile of 6-foot limbs which we had snaked out of the woods, a man drove into the yard with a pickup truck. His name was Kelly; he lives in Avon. He asked me about the old boat in the barn, and he said that a friend of his wanted to buy it, to plant in his front yard and fill with flowers.
The boat had been in the front yard for two years. It was 17-feet long, built of wood, with a stout keel and mounting for an inboard engine. It had been recovered with fiberglass and was painted red. The boat had been stored in a shed at Fishtown for many years. Bo Miller was the nominal owner. During the Fishtown Woods Massacre, we decided to have a fundraising auction, so Bo and Jack Hubbard somehow manhandled the old boat on to a truck and brought it over to the farm.
The auction fizzled out due to a lack of planning and interest and there the boat sat. Six months later I moved off the farm into an office-cum-lodging facility in LaConner -- but I was rudely evicted from that spot when the landlord sold the building to a new owner who simple didn’t want me around. After a three-month odyssey of temporary quarters, I moved back to the farm, which is at 3325 Martin Road in Mount Vernon, under the auspices of Friendship House. The boat was still there.
And Kelly wanted to buy, but I didn’t really want to sell it -- I like old boats. I was planning to drag it out of the barn someday and turn it upside down on blocks and just let it set there for decades, so I could admire its beautiful lines.
So I said “$50”, hoping to discourage him. Then he said he really didn’t want it, that it was for a friend, it wasn’t really worth much...
Obviously he preferred to pay nothing, and I began to think that he was lying, that he wanted the boat for himself, because he told me he was a fisherman and had three other boats. His little lie did not disturb me because I felt that if he really wanted the boat, he might give it a good home.
I was thinking this as I stood by the woodpile with my handsaw trying to avoid brute labor. Then I got a flash, I asked “Do you have a chainsaw?” Kelly said yes, he was cutting cords of wood for spare money at the time. “How about if you cut up this wood, and help us cut up some more wood in the forest by the road, and we’ll give you the boat?”
And I thought, thanks, Dad, for sending me to college -- so I can use my brain because my back is not that brawny.
The wood was cut, the boat was hauled out of the barn and on to Kelly’s truck, and we have not seen him since.
Later in the day, about 3 o’clock, Paul and I took a walk around the farm. The farm is 40 acres -- about 15 acres of overgrown unfenced pasture, and 25 acres of woods. It lies on top of a hill just to the north of Skagit Valley College. On the south and east sides of the farm, it is abutted by new housing developments, but the north side joins other farmland, and the eastside is just up the hill from Barney Lake, where the trumpeter swans line in the winter. Rainwater from the farm drains into the Nookachamps River. And although our farm is located within the city limits of Mount Vernon, we consider ourselves to be Nookachampions just like the folks in Big Lake and Clear Lake.
The farm forest is primarily alder interspersed with towering cottonwood trees, vine maple, wild cherry, and here and there a heavenly-scented grove of young cedar trees. A small herd of deer inhabit the woods and have left well-marked trails.
Paul and I call our walks “surveying the property.” We found a lovely fern garden, and I discovered red berries growing on a small tree, of a kind which I have never seen before. We picked small branches of the red berries plus some ferns to put in the cookie jar (we use it as a vase) on the dining room table. Martin got the cookie jar at the Salvation Army thrift store where he works. It looks like a pig sitting up on his hind legs and wearing overalls and a straw hat -- we call him Farmer Pig.
The Friendship House Farm is probably the last low-rent old farmhouse in the valley. The property is owned by a logging company which owns extensive acreage throughout the area. The owners plan to log off the woods and then sell the property to a developer who will build more housing. In the meantime it has been offered for our use free of charge. The house needs a lot of work, especially the plumbing and insulation. So we make improvements in lieu of rent. The farm is ideally suited for additional housing because of its flat hill top location. We don’t object to the plan, but only hope that some of the trees are spared, especially the cedar groves. We also hope that the farmhouse and barn plus a few acres around it could be sold to Friendship House at a reasonable price -- we have plans to do some serious gardening and chicken-raising.
Oh, we also have a cat with two tails. Her name is Twig, she’s a calico, about five months old. It’s really a split tail, about four inches long; one part has the bone and it doesn’t move, the other part has the muscle and it wiggles around.
At four o’clock I took a bath; I was very tired. I put on nice clothes and went to visit Susan and the kids. The kids were playing upstairs. Susan had laryngitis and was talking in a whisper. She had made a beautiful quilted wall-hanging with warm, rich winter colors. She invited me to dinner and heated up some turkey, gravy and dressing.
At Barkley’s Pub
I left Susan’s house, got into the car and didn’t want to go back to the farm. I tried to think of any place to go besides Barkley’s Pub in LaConner. I had not been to Barkley’s for a week because I had drunk too many brandies on the Saturday night previous and felt stupid about that.
But I went there and had only one. I sat with Rebecca and artist Richard Gilkey of Fir Island. I sat with them in the booth and listened mostly because I was too tired to talk. Steve was sitting on a barstool with his back to us. He turned and asked Rebecca if Amy had come back for Thanksgiving. Amy is Rebecca’s daughter. She is a freshman at Smith College in Massachusetts.
“No, she’s not,” Rebecca answered, and she said that Amy had been a bit homesick, but she has a boyfriend now. The boyfriend drove Amy down to Baltimore to stay with friends for the holiday and then continued on to South Carolina.
Steve remarked that it had been snowing back East. Steve is from Massachusetts and travels frequently on business, going from one big city to the next, although he rarely has time or energy to look around these distant places -- just the airport and the hotel. He lives with Sue Dental in Bonnie McDade’s old house on Snee Oosh Road.
Steve has a round head and face. A rim of black hair surrounds his evenly bald head and is balanced by a neatly trimmed beard of the same proportions. He is both cheerful and quiet.
He mentioned that he had a frequent flier discount coupon good for a roundtrip to the east coast for only $175 and offered it to Rebecca, who said she was interested.
Then Rebecca began talking about what she calls “mama drama” and she as able to embarrass her 18-year-old daughter at a distance of 3,000 miles. Amy had been calling home more frequently in the past week because she was homesick. So Rebecca wrote a note to the senior student in Amy’s dormitory, telling her that it would soon be Amy’s birthday and asking her to give Amy a birthday hug from Rebecca. Apparently the senior student made a big production of this at dinnertime in front of all the other students.
Rebecca and Amy are a two-person family. They moved here to LaConner from Mukilteo about seven years ago. Rebecca works as a waitress at the Lighthouse Inn and has rented several housse and apartments in LaConner since then. She does not like waitress work although she has no complaints about her employers at the Lighthouse, who provide Scandinavian security and stability to their employees, who, in return, do not leave to work elsewhere. Both mother and daughter are gifted with a fine intelligence and a yearning to do and be more than what they are.
Richard Gilkey, the artist, sat across the booth from Becky and me. He is over sixty. He has short, grey hair, rugged wrinkles and dark, sparkling eyes. He was wearing a logger’s hickory shirt and drinking Cutty Sark and water. He had a car accident about five year’s ago which messed up his shoulder. It has pained him ever since. Two months ago he had an operation which repaired the rotator cuff and “cleaned up the debris”, as he put it. The operation had been successful and Richard praised the doctors. But he talked about how awful it was for him to be running down to Seattle for treatment. Truck drivers splashed mud on his car as they passed him.
Rebecca agreed that truck drivers drove much too fast, were strung out on amphetamines -- how they tail-gated at 65 mph, etc. This was said without any animosity, but more to continue the conversation which seemed to want another topic altogether. I supplied one. I mentioned that Lloyd Trafton commuted down that same freeway everyday to his job in downtown Seattle.
That reminded Richard that he and Lloyd had been high school classmates years ago at Ballard High School. Lloyd is in middle management at IBM and has a 25-year pin. “I don’t know how he does it,” Richard said. Lloyd frequents Barkley’s and provides an interface between the corporate world and the rest of us.
Rebecca sat next to me in the booth with her knees up, relaxed as if she had her shoes off. She told me two times, first when I entered, and second when I left, how much she liked my red shirt. I replied, “Yes, I took a bath”, and she laughed.
What I meant was that I looked good because I felt good, and I felt good because I had done some good outdoor work and got cleaned and got dressed afterwards. But I was tired and I could only manage that short phrase. I would also have said that I bought the shirt one day when I was feeling low. I had driven over to Clear Lake to visit Helen Farias. She was wearing a red dress which I found very cheerful. She and talked about how different colors create different moods. I left Helen’s house and drove directly to J.C. Penney’s where I bought the reddest flannel shirt I could find for $30. It does tend to cheer people up.
No one else was in the bar except Ben, the cook, who fills in as bartender on Sunday night. Ben was wearing his special paisley vest which everyone admires. He has a long and rather interesting story about how he acquired it in exchange for a painting. I have offered to rent the vest from him by the week, but he declines. He lives in Burlington and is devoted to his work at Barkley’s and to his employer, Michael Hood.
Michael came in just then, stood behind me and talked to Richard. Michael and I do not get along well. We ought to get along well, but we don’t.
He talked to Richard about the opening of the Kaleidos Gallery on December 1. Susan, the owner of the gallery, had mailed out over 2,000 invitations to God-knows-who. Michael was wondering how many people would actually show up, since he was catering the event. Richard said, “Put out a lot of peanuts”.
Richard talked about Janet Huston’s gallery. She is Richard’s dear friend and show his paintings. She has been collecting names for her mailing list for 15 years, he said. She is very sharp and professional about this. The artists approve of Janet because she shows many of them and brings in buyers with big bucks.
Michael has been a bit short lately, not his usual gracious, humorous self -- most likely because he lost the election for town council to Jerry Hedbom by only three votes. Ben had turned the radio to KPLU in order to hear the jazz and blues program which starts at 7 p.m. and which everyone likes. The problem is that it was only 6:45, so we were listening to “Car Talk” with Click and Clack from Massachusetts -- two guys bantering about mechanical problems and fielding calls from the listeners. Michael wanted the station changed. Ben registered a mildly strained expression on his face and then switched to classical music for the remaining 15 minutes.
During a lull in the conversation between Rebecca and Richard, I decided to talk about recent events in Czechoslovakia. I said that I enjoyed watching the huge crowds on television -- so full of life and hope. They both nodded with approval and looked like they were ready for me to continue on that subject and all the big changes in eastern Europe, but I was too tired to elaborate.
The conversation drifted on, but slowly my mind came into focus, and I said, “Can you imagine the conversations and the people talking about things they never could talk about before, and people talking to complete strangers, pouring their hearts out -- endless exciting talk?”
Again they nodded with genuine sympathy. And I wanted to say more, even loudly something like this, Look, I read the newspapers every day and often watch the TV news. Every little story they cover, they smother, they frame it up tight and interpret it; they make it clear that this little bit of news has been “brought to you by CBS” and Dan Rather is spoonfeeding this little slice of life to you from the network government.
But what is happening in Eastern Europe is so alive and incredible that the media cannot interpret or filter or “present” this torrent of life and awakening. The wall has been torn down, the East Germans are flooding across, real life is cascading through the airwaves and into our newspapers and living rooms -- real life, direct, live, unedited. It’s wonderful.
But I didn’t say it, I was happy just to sit and listen. I left after one brandy and drove back to the farm. I stopped at Safeway to buy cornflakes, milk and sugar, which Paul had earnestly requested. I also bought ten Medjool dates at $2.98 per pound and three golden delicious apples.