Monday, May 20, 2019

A Letter from Montgomery

FROG HOSPITAL -- May 20, 2019

By Fred Owens

A Letter from Montgomery. A friend of mine from college days lives in Montgomery, Alabama, which is ground zero in the abortion debate. Knowing her to be a fairly conservative Catholic woman, I asked her to write a story about how she sees the new anti-abortion law in Alabama. Does she support it? I said I would put her story in the next Frog Hospital without editing or commenting. but just let her say what she wants. I told her that most of my readers are pro-choice so that is who she will be talking to. I am pro-choice myself, but my highest purpose in this conflict is to keep open the lines of communication. Her name has been withheld. She is the mother of five children and a retired French teacher. I know her to be a kind and decent person with a good sense of humor. So, without further ado ....

To:  Frog Hospital, concerning the law just passed in Alabama preventing abortions from being performed in most cases.

From:   People who have lived in Alabama for 40 years and are committed Catholic Christians.

Background on Alabama:
  • We have lived in Montgomery, Alabama since 1979, moving here several months before George Wallace was re-elected for a 4th term.  Since segregation no longer got votes, and since he was basically a populist, he won BECAUSE of the black vote.  [If you can imagine, he was the liberal candidate.]  In 1979 the majority of people were "yellow-dog democrats;" they would vote for anyone on the Democratic ticket, even if it was a yellow dog.  Few would vote for the party whose first presidential candidate was Abraham Lincoln, and there were often so few Republican candidates that in an election the Democratic primary was basically the election result.  But from Goldwater to Gingrich there was a massive shift of conservatives from the Democratic to the Republican party.. Now there is a Republican super-majority in the state legislature.  The conservative positions are often spoken of in Christian terms [pro-life, anti- gambling], although some stances are not what Jesus would recognize [low funding for health care and help for the poor, homophobia, some latent racism still...].  There is also a latent fear and resentment of the Federal government, even though more federal money flows into Alabama than taxes go out. Remember that States Rights stance you learned of in US History class??

All that to say that Alabama, like every state, has its peculiarities. California ain't like anywhere else either!

This Alabama law is directly designed to be a challenge to the Roe vs. Wade decision that women have a legal right to abortion.  It is based on the science that life begins at conception; that is why it is so restrictive.

We see ourselves as Catholic Christians and liberal Democrats, which is awkward, because neither party platform conforms consistently to principles of protecting, defending and supporting human life in its many stages and phases, especially the most vulnerable.  To over-simplify: Republicans support embryonic human beings; Democrats support the poor, the sick and the marginalized. No party consistently puts reducing weapons, warfare and street violence before the fears of Americans and the interest of the military industrial complex.  It is complicated; no political party supports all vulnerable groups.

“Thou shalt not kill” applies to the unborn child, the prisoner on death row and the incapacitated older person—not to mention civilians in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen, and families in places with polluted water, etc.  It is only consistent that the unborn child, recognized as a human being in laws that protect her right to inherit and in laws that characterize the killing of a pregnant woman as a double homicide, should have her right to life protected before she is born.    And it is consistently pro-life that a pregnant woman be supported and have access to medical care and physical needs.

 Respecting human life and supporting those in need includes the unborn child and the pregnant young woman, children and young adults prey to sexual assaults, the poor and the sick who cannot pay for all their needs on a non-living wage, those marginalized and stigmatized as "other" because of race or sexual orientation, inconvenient older people who need care, and those victimized by violence—including those victimized by our warfare abroad.  You can’t protect only one group or exclude only one group. The needs of some do not need to be pitted against the needs of others as they claim their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The End.

Well, that's all she wrote, as the saying goes. I thank my friend for this well-thought out contribution to the discussion. I ask my readers to consider what she has to say and I will leave it at that.

until next week,


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Monday, May 13, 2019

Sisterhood and the Red Truck

By Fred Owens

Sisterhood. Let's talk about the four women in the Senate who each want to be president  -- Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, California Senator Kamala Harris, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and New York Senator Kirsten Gillebrand. One of them might be the next occupant of the White House. They are all qualified for this high office and I would vote for anyone of them in a minute.

I'm trying to come up with a name for this group of female senators -- something like the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, only not so terrifying, but more militant than a garden party. Right now they are going around giving speeches and doing the usual political routine and frankly I'm getting bored with the progress. Where is the innovation? Where is the creative difference in style?

Here's an idea. What if the four ladies work together at some level and show the power of sisterhood. For an example I am thinking of the tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams. They are loving sisters but fierce competitors on the tennis courts. So use your imagination and picture this -- Kamala and Elizabeth making joint appearances and riding on the same campaign bus, issuing a joint press release that they decided to ride together for a day as a way to save gas. They could debate each other most vigorously. They might dispute and challenge each other, but at the end of the day, they might enjoy a glass of wine as the bus rolls along from one town to another in rural Iowa.

How about the lesser known of the four -- Kirsten and Amy. What if Amy Klobuchar invited Kirsten Gillibrand to Minnesota for a day of canoeing on one of the beautiful lakes in that state? What a dramatic video that would make. Two female senators paddling together on a lake while discussing and disputing climate change issues.

This spirit of competition blended with cooperation would set a new campaigning standard. It would be a lot of fun too. The problem that women have as presidential candidates is that they think they need to act seriously in order to be taken seriously. Not so. The truly confident candidate will make a joke at her own expense. And then make a dig at Trump. Trump is a truly frightening man so we need to laugh in his face and overcome the fear he generates.

One of these four women might become president -- but only if the other three candidates stand with her at the end of the day.

Well it's Monday morning here in Santa Barbara and that was my idea for the day.

The Red Truck

Acton, Massachusetts, 1995. The red Chevy S-10 I had that year was a sweet truck. Just the right size for hauling plants and soil and tools.  I took it to the nearby garage for an oil change. Lucy Stinziano ran the place and we talked. She sat behind the desk and I sat across from her piles of invoices and orders for parts. "We can do the oil change and give your vehicle a going over. See what needs fixing." I said sure.

I liked sitting there talking with her. She said, "This was my husband's business. Danny died two years ago and now I run it. We have two bays and two mostly full-time mechanics doing the hard work. I'm here at this desk running things. I'm a single mom now. I have two teenage daughters, Stella and Mary Louise. They're good kids, try to be good anyway. My mother-in-law lives down the street, but she practically lives at our house these days.. I'm struggling. I'm 43 and I expect to be happy when I'm 50 and get these kids out of my hair -- sell this business, do something I really like."

Same here I said to her. I'm a single dad -- divorced -- and I have the two kids, teenagers. It's too hard. My landscaping business is going well and I have big plans. Except what good are plans? Mostly I just have bills to pay.

"Look, " Lucy said, "You can come back on Monday and we can do your brakes. They need it."

I said fine. I came back on Monday and we talked while they fixed the brakes. I liked talking to her. She was all business with me, but she didn't tell me to shut up and leave, so I kept coming back for more repairs.

Some new windshield wipers one day. The next week there was a squeal on the fan belt -- might tighten the belt or need a new one. I was really getting premium service on my red truck, but I was hoping for something from Lucy. Finally I talked to her, and told her my life while they installed new sparkplugs and and a new air filter.

I said to her, look, what I'm saying might offend you ---

"I'm sure it won't."

It's not like I'm your type --

"You're like a college boy, a hippie."

Let me finish..... I'm not what you're looking for and you're probably not even looking. But I'm just me. I haven't got a girl friend, not that I was thinking of you like that. I don't see it like that. I has just hoping for a bit of your company because I'm running out of money for repairing my truck.

"We did one hundred percent good work on your vehicle. You got the best of service."

I didn't mean that. I was just hoping we could do something like see a movie together. I mean, who wants to go to the movie by themselves? It wouldn't be a date. I could meet you there. It's just that I like female companionship and you're nice.  I like talking to you....we could just talk.

"No, not me. Like you said I'm not ready for that kind of thing. I got too many worries right now in my life. I got no time for fun."

It wouldn't be fun, it would just be passing the time.

"No, not for me. I appreciate your business, Fred, but that's it."

So that was it -- $700 worth of repairs on my truck and I could even get a date for coffee with Lucy. But I tried.

That's all for this week, take care,


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Monday, May 06, 2019

Will the Meek Inherit the Earth?

By Fred Owens

Will the Meek Inherit the Earth? No, the Scalias will. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia may have left this earth, but his progeny remain and they are abundant. He had nine children and 33 grandchildren. In contrast, although it would be wrong to describe these three women as being meek, the three female Supreme Court Justices have, in total, two children and two grand children, all belonging to RBG,  Justices Kagan and Sotomayor having none.

This is a question I have posed to progressive people -- If Save the Earth People have small families and Rule the Earth People have large families, which side will prevail in the long run? The Scalias, of course.

So I always encourage my friends of child-bearing age to have children, because I want our side to be abundant. Let me say first that it is very wrong to shame people who choose not to have children, and equally wrong to shame people who have a lot of children. I am only talking about situations where someone says they might have children when the time is right, and my response is Go for It. I believe we should have strong and fully supportive prenatal care for would-be parents of any income level. We should have full and complete reproductive choices. We should have generous and lengthy parental leave. Under those good circumstances, people will have as many children as they want, and when you get right down to it, the number doesn't count, but the quality of care does. So strictly speaking I don't believe in population control. This sounds idealistic, and it is, but the number of human beings on this planet doesn't matter, what only matters is the quality of human love, love for each other and love for the things of this earth.

We can divide ourselves into two camps -- Save the Earth and Rule the Earth. I grew up in a Rule the Earth culture -- that the earth was ours to master and control and build on and modify and explore. But I found that to be insufficient so I changed to Save the Earth, and feared for the future of the planet, and drastically reduced my carbon footprint and supported all things renewable and sustainable.

But that didn't work either. I worked very hard on various organic farms but I was disappointed in the results -- we just did not produce very much food and my sustainable organic vision had such a small population. Like the Skagit Valley where I used to live could be a paradise with only 10,000 people living there. We would need to kill the extra 100,000 who do actually live there, or else convince them to move back to California.

Nope, that effort at Saving the Earth didn't work, and brought me some renewed respect for Rule the Earth because when it comes to such critical things as the food supply, conventional agri-business sure kicks out a lot of groceries. I know people say that can't last, but it has lasted all my life and I got tired of waiting for it to collapse.

So, as of today, I would say that I love nature, but I'm willing to give it a shove now and then.

Current Affairs. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is losing her nerve, or else being wisely cautious. Maybe Trump has got her spooked, or maybe she is just not showing her hand. She does not favor impeachment, not yet. She may or may not want to cite AG Barr for contempt of Congress. She might want Mueller to come to the House and testify over Trump's objections. Or not.

Sure, it's easy for Sanders and AOC to criticize her decisions, but how would you like to have her job? She has to deal with Trump every day and for the next two years. Could someone else do a better job? I think not. I support Speaker Pelosi.

Family Reunion on the Occasion of My Sister Carolyn's 75th Birthday. We had a fine family reunion and weekend party at my sister's bungalow and backyard in Venice by the Beach, which is part of Los Angeles. We had a banquet dinner for 24 relatives and friends at a festive Italian restaurant. The wait staff sang Happy Birthday in Italian. My daughter Eva and her wife Lara brought my grandson Walter down from Seattle for the occasion. I don't write about grandchildren because I would just start to gush and boast, and then I would have to listen to other people gush and boast about their grandchildren and then hear the suffering silence of people my age who do not have grands, so I just say I enjoyed playing with the little tyke.

I do have a bevy of beautiful nieces -- Aisha and Jordana, Prima and Zana, Liza and Rosie, all present except for Laura who lives in Monaco in France. The nieces were lively and funny and serious and strong and helpful and steady  -- all good. My son Eugene was there as was my brother Tom and my sister Katy. My niece Jordana, about to turn 21, was brave enough to bring her boyfriend Ron. We tried to scare him, but it was a bluff and he knew it. Ron is a fine young man and I like him quite a bit.

Twenty-four people, all Democrats. Funny how that worked out.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Monday, April 29, 2019

Are You Gay?

Are you Gay?

By Fred Owens

I was thinking of questions you're not supposed to ask, so I came up with this list, not in order of importance.

Are you gay?  I was talking with a new friend and asking about his life, where he lived, what he did, and I was getting to relations, and I thought maybe he's gay. I mean, he did not mention girlfriend or wife, and some gay radar thing was buzzing, but I didn't ask.

Are you planning to have children? You don't ask people of child-bearing age this question, but you think it.

Are you planning to have more children? You thought to ask, but did not.

Congratulations, you got the job. How much are they going to pay you? How come you can't ask this question? Everyone wants to know.

How much did you pay for your house? Curiously you can ask this question. Or at least people do ask it often enough.

Where are you from? Or, to get right to the point, Are you here legally?

Asked by a white person to an African-American, may I touch your hair?

How come you're in a wheelchair?

This is not a complete list, of course. And if you were only five years old, you could get away with asking these questions. Maybe we could have an All Questions Asked and Answered Day once a year, because  you really want to know. You don't have a right to know, not in the least, but you want to ask, don't you.

Variety and Diversity.

I prefer saying variety because it pleases my ear. Diversity is the common phrase, but it sounds like division and divorce and it does not please my ear. So let me tell you of this small illustration of variety at the Wednesday lunch meeting of the Santa Barbara Kiwanis Club.

I come early and sit at one of the long tables. This allows later-arriving members to choose to sit with me. Bruce comes in. He limps and walks with a cane. His appetite is often quite poor. Three times a week he goes in for kidney dialysis and will continue doing that until he gets a new kidney -- a long story here, but I will get to the point  -- he is a Baptist preacher and a retired Navy chaplain. That's a lot different than my life. And, I suspect, but I only suspect because I have not asked, he is a conservative Republican Trump supporter. Well, we don't argue politics at Kiwanis lunch and there are many other things to talk about.

Joining me on the other side is Matt, a lawyer and former manager of the Santa Barbara Roasting Company, which serves the best coffee in town. Matt is the father of Joshua, by way of a sperm donation to a Lesbian couple. The three of them are co-parenting Joshua. It seems very complicated, but it isn't. You just love the child and you change him when his di-dies are damp.

Anyhow, that's a variety of experience, Bruce, Matt and me. I mention this because our country is not splitting apart at the seams unlike what some people say. That's variety, although you can call it diversity.

Parkinson's Disease or PD

My neurologist went to medical school in Bangkok. Her name is Dr. Mananya Satayaprasert. She's about 30, but she looks like she's 12. She is new at the Sansum Clinic where I go and nobody seems to know how to pronounce her name. I myself have been practicing the spelling and pronunciation of her name as the right thing to do. And for a practical reason, since I have PD and she is the captain of my PD Defense Squad we could be  working together for many years, we hope.

PD is random. Nobody knows who is going to catch it. It's just that one day you have it and it doesn't go away, but it usually gets worse over time. The best Dr. Satayaprasert could tell me is that when it comes to an older person -- I'm 72 -- it progresses very slowly and you can live long enough for something else to kill you -- which is not how she said it of course. What she did say is that PD can be quite manageable. So take these pills three times a day and get plenty of exercise, which I have done.Then I called my sister Katy in Denver who is surviving breast cancer. She said don't think about what might happen, just think about today. So there it is.

Nurses playing cards. I worked three years on the med-surg unit of Skagit Valley Hospital on the evening shift. I never saw any nurses playing cards. Mostly they were too busy to even visit the break room. They walked miles on their feet and they only sat down to chart and they hated charting. So it was a tough eight hours, or longer. Except, maybe once a month, maybe around 10 or 11 in the evening, all the patients would be quiet and sleeping, and then the whole staff sat down almost in a group, in great big sigh of relief, and caught a twenty minute break. Well deserved too...... but no cards.

Family party. My sister Carolyn lives in Venice Beach in Los Angeles. She will be 75 on May 2 and she is throwing a big party at her house. All her family is coming, siblings, nieces, nephews --- only one nephew, actually. Not too many children are coming. Aisha is leaving her two kids behind and Rosie is leaving her three and LIza is leaving one behind but bringing the other one. Also my daughter and her wife are bringing my grandson. Lots of fun, My sister Katy said she plans to sit, talk, eat and stroll. I like that idea.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Thursday, April 25, 2019

My Passion

By Fred Owens

A woman who lives on Whidbey Island told me I should follow my passion. Allowing myself that pleasure, I immediately thought of myself in the shade of an umbrella, next to Laurie, by a hotel swimming pool, sipping a gin and tonic and reading a book or magazine. No work. That is my passion. A hotel room isn't home, but there is nothing in it that reminds me of work. You look at the windows and you don't think they might need to be washed. Nothing needs to be fixed. No towels to be folded. Plants and flowers in  the garden are tended and watered by somebody else. And some other somebody takes out the trash. But I don't give any of that a thought, except to watch the children splash and play in the pool. I might notice the ice melting in my glass of gin and tonic. I might have some vague yearning for a sandwich or a snack at some time. I could lean further back in the lounge chair and rest my eyes. With my eyes closed, I might more easily hear the sounds of children and the song of birds, and the hum of traffic in the distance, all sounds harmonized in the daily symphony of people doing things. Except me, I'm not doing anything. Not today. That is my passion.

Sweeping the Sidewalk. I have three very good gardening customers. They have beautiful gardens and they treat me well. But things are getting a bit routine. Like every week I go to Keith's house and sweep the debris off the sidewalk  -- that part of the sidewalk underneath the jacaranda tree which is always shedding something. So I sweep it. Every week. I am reminded of Keith's instructions. "Do not sweep the debris in the street. That is  the responsibility of the city crew." Except the city crew never comes and the debris piles up and it's a bit unsightly. But I don't touch it. I just sweep the sidewalk, according to his instructions, every week. Why doesn't the wind blow all the leaves away into someone else's yard? Then I would not have to sweep. I would get to weed instead, on my hands and knees. I did that for two hours last week. A heroic effort if you ask me. After two hours of weeding I filled the green recycle bin with green detritus which is my signal that I have done enough for that week.

This is getting kind of boring. I could use a challenge, a horticultural challenge, something to stir the energy, some project where I could make enough money to stay in that hotel mentioned above, the follow-my-passion swimming pool, which comes after I complete the horticultural-passion segment.

Sage Ends. Now for the writing-passion segment. I got 5,000 words into a story about "Sage, the woman who did what she wanted." The story takes place in 1969 and I found it fully absorbing, going back to a time when I was much younger. I had thought to make a novel of this story and go to 40,000 words and take several months to complete. But that longer effort is not possible at this time. I already have two novels and three memoirs written and unpublished. So why would I write a third novel about "Sage, the woman who did what she wanted." Because it is not my passion to write something that will not get published. There is some personal therapeutic value in this, but the labor is large and the reward is slight. So we have to bid Sage a fond farewell.  The actually real person who inspired this story  --  she is 76 years old and, we hope, living well, unrepentant, possibly in Santa Cruz near the beach.

Cancelling Student Debt. The only issue --  many of them are very important -- but the only issue to get me fired up is this one that we hear from Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. Student dept is a huge burden to younger folk. The terms of a debt can be re-negotiated. You can lower the interest rate, you can stretch out the payments, you stay in touch with the bank, but basically they will settle for ten cents on the dollar if that is all they can get. But I will remind the younger folks with this burden of debt that Warren is not going to do this for you. YOU will do it. You will organize your fellow debtors and come up with a plan. Warren and others will simply stand out of your way and cheer you on.

To Impeach or not to Impeach. I think this is up to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. If she says to impeach, if she sees that path, then I'm with her.

Last minute addition. Joe Biden is in the race. Go Joe! There are now 18 candidates at last count for the Democratic nomination. One candidate will emerge as the leader and 17 candidates will take second place. My purpose in this process is to ensure that the 17 losers unite in support of the winner, because if we fall apart into bitter factions we will lose to Trump in 2020. But if we stay together as a team we can win. Go Joe! Go Team! Beat Trump!

Happy Days to one and all,


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Saturday, April 20, 2019

It will take a hundred years

FROG HOSPITAL --  April 20, 2019

By Fred Owens

The Middle Ages was part of how we got here. That age set the tone and the direction. I see a direct connection from rose-colored windows and flying buttresses to the invention of airplanes and space travel. We are connected to those olden times. We are what they dreamed of becoming, in part. As for the roof catching fire, well, it lasted 850 years and that in itself is quite impressive. The cathedral will be rebuilt, it will not be exactly the same as it was. It will take much longer than the five years promised by Macron. In fact, to get into the spirit of cathedral construction, let us begin by assuming that the work will not be completed in our lifetimes, or the lifetimes of our children. Think long-term. That is the great virtue of the Catholic/Christian tradition. (along with the numerous vices).

It will take more than five years. It will take a hundred years.

Sage did what she wanted.

A brief episode. Sage and I take the day off and head for the beach. We get to know each other.

The two would-be lovers approach their private sandy acre on Stinson Beach in September of 1969. The gods of the Zodiac will smile down on Sage and Fred. The wise old men will choose the right Hexagram in the I Ching.  Baba Ram Dass will hum mantras. Timothy Leary will call long distance and Eldridge Cleaver will start selling girl scout cookies door-to-door.  Anything can happen.
We spread the blanket on the sand and stretched out. It was a beautiful day, just warm enough for sunbathing.  I took off my shirt, lay on my back and watched the sky, all blue with clouds and small breezes. The waves were small and hushed. 
I looked over at Sage. She was taking off her shirt too. She said, “I can’t stand it. You can take your shirt off, but not me. Well, I will.”
“That’s fine with me, “ I said. I looked at her breasts, pale and soft. Then I looked at the sky again. We had the beach to ourselves. 
Not wanting to think about this too much, I took off my pants, to be naked. Then she did the same and there we were, getting to know each other that way. We could hear birds chirping in the bushes near the top of the sand.
I rolled over and embraced her. We began to make love. Then I stopped.  “You know, I’m not really up to this,” I said.
“I noticed.”
“Well, it’s just being out here in the air and all. It’s nothing but being a little bashful I guess.”
“But tonight, when we get home……”
“It won’t be a problem.”
With that we became quiet and held each other softly. Closing our eyes, we drifted away on day dreams. It was a special day. There was no one but us. All of nature was for us, for nurture and protection.  Time passed without reckoning.
Later, we drove – but floating – across the Golden Gate Bridge, back through San Francisco, and then back to Berkeley.
Sage told me she didn’t like listening to the AM radio in the truck. “All you can get are those awful Top Forty shows full of ads. “ So, it was radio silence for us, but I thought we could talk.
“Let’s talk,” I said.
“About what? “ she said.
“Tell me something about yourself.”
“The whole deal?”
“Yes, all of it.”
We became lovers and that lasted for two years.

Happy Easter and Happy Passover. I need to tell a story about how Pam Fleetman and her husband invited me to my first seder in 1993. I was living in Cambridge at the time. The seder was at the Workmen's Circle in Brookline, a Boston suburb. I avoided snacking before this big festive dinner. I showed up hungry. That was a big mistake. We sat down at the table, but we didn't eat for almost two hours. All this reading and talking, while I'm going blind from hunger. I didn't know.
The next year I was invited to a seder and I made sure to eat a substantial snack before I got there. That's how to do it.

Our Family. Laurie and I had a great time in Seattle for six days, visiting Eva and Lara and my grandson Walter Finnegan who will be two on July 29. Walter has almost learned how to talk. He actually is talking but it's kind of hard to understand. He says No a lot. No is a powerful word and a good way to begin. His other favorite word is Uh-Oh, which describes the human condition.
We spent one day in LaConner and visited the tulip fields, although it was cold and muddy out there and we scarcely got out of our car. We spent the night at the cottage that Janet Saunders has for guests. The cottage was built by Jeff Langlow about 20 years ago. Jim Smith had a desk and an old Macintosh computer for writing his weekly column in the cottage.  The desk is still there, but Jim has gone to a better place. Or you might say Jim made the place better when he got  there. Clyde is there and Avocado Richard is there. Robert Sund ...... I could go on... Jimmy Schermerhorn.......
The Fire at Notre Dame. This is a life-changing event. I am astonished beyond words. Am I wrong to say that this tragedy, as sad as it is, fills me with hope?
take care,

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Joe Biden is my hero

By Fred Owens

Joe Biden is my hero this week. He is being bombarded by idiots. This is not good for the Democratic party. In order to win in 2020 the candidate needs to be selected in a spirit of harmony. Joe Biden, and the millions of moderate middle of the road voters who think like Joe, is a part of this necessary harmony. This togetherness will lead us to victory. With Trump defeated, the Green New Deal can be fruitfully discussed. With Trump victorious, The Green New Deal is only a joke.

A random survey of people who live with me went like this: If you had to vote today, who would you vote for? Elizabeth Warren was the unanimous choice (sample size --2). I chose Warren because she is kind-hearted and not looking for a fight. She is an agreeable woman but not one to be pushed around. I am considering temperament as the chief deciding qualification for the next president. Our current president does not have a good temperament -- and that's putting it mildly. Warren's stand on the issues are reasonable and worth discussion. Yes -- we can work something out!

Going to Seattle and LaConner. Laurie and I are flying to Seattle this Wed., April 10. We fly Alaskan Airlines nonstop from Santa Barbara to SeaTac  -- $200 round trip. Laurie knows how to find these great deals. And flying direct from Santa Barbara is so cool. The Santa Barbara airport is like a country club -- quiet and serene  -- traveling like it used to be. We get into SeaTac and take the light rail downtown. Then we catch an Uber to Eva's house in Ballard. Eva, my daughter, and her wife Lara, have a nearly 2-year-old boy and they are expecting another bundle of joy in mid-August. What a beautiful family they are making.

Laurie and I will spend at least a day in LaConner while we are there. We might be staying in Janet Saunder's guest cabin. The tulip traffic might be awful -- but we can figure that out when we get there.

Part Five of "Sage, she did what she wanted." In this brief episode Sage tells Fred how she makes a living. Then she gives him a ride in her truck for a trip to the sands of Stinson Beach in Marin County. Will it be a picnic, or a tryst?

Excuse me, I’m getting things out of order. Nick, the astrologer, will propound on the meaning of the Sun Signs as they apply to Sage and me after we became a couple. She was Gemini,  I was Cancer.
But not this evening, in my first day in the house, when Sage and I and John and Nick gathered in the living room after dinner to smoke a bowl of hashish from Afghanistan.
The children were safely tucked away in their beds, Eric 7 and Sean 2. I had not really met them yet, but I was fascinated by their very existence.  I had just finished five years of college and never saw a baby or a toddler or a boy at play or a winsome girl humming a tune that whole time, and here I was in a hippie home in California – with children. That made it so powerful. Like real life. I was finished with school and beginning my life, in this house, with these people, in September, 1969.  That sounded so trite, and I laughed at myself.
Now the children were asleep, or  at least not making any noise. We settled in the living room and had our smoke. We smiled at each other and discussed what record to play after Cat Setevens. How about John Coltrane on the tenor saxophone, a Love Supreme? That was John’s suggestion. Sage wanted Joni Mitchell. “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
 I don’t remember. I put me feet up on the couch and time slipped away.
It seemed like the next day, but it was more likely a week later that Sage offered me a ride to the Berkeley campus. “We can ride in my truck,” she said. Sage had a truck, a 1955 gun metal grey International pickup with a utility bed and a covered wagon roof.  It was the most beautiful organic vehicle on all the highways of the world. I never had a truck before. I never dreamed of a truck before, but I had one now.  Well, it was her truck, not mine, but priority of ownership never came up. It was her truck, my truck, our truck, the truckiest truck of all trucks. I was living in a Grateful Dead day dream.
 God gave me a truck. No, no, Sage gave me a truck.  You can live in a truck, it’s a home on wheels. You can haul stuff and carry tools. Keep a foam pad and blankets. Keep a two burner Coleman stove and food supplies in the compartments.  
We dropped Sean off at his day care, and then dropped Eric off at his private free school, and we approached the Berkeley campus.
“I have work on campus today,” Sage said. “I’m a figure model in the art department. I can hold a pose and stand still in the nude for 45 minutes while they sketch me. …..”
Long pause. I nodded.
“I’m in demand as  a figure model because of my classic proportions, you know, square shoulders, firm breasts, and broad hips. Like the Venus de Milo. I look like a Greek goddess.”
I was a little astonished, a Greek goddess, with a truck.. Well, nothing wrong with that. That was the thing about Sage. She didn’t like wearing clothes very much. For a figure model , she could shuck off her garments and feel free. She was good at that. I wasn’t. But I didn’t compare myself to her anyway.
“Say I have a better idea. If you can hang out on the campus for a couple of hours while I do my modelling work, then we can head over to Stinson Beach in the afternoon. It could be fun. Have you ever been there?
I had not ever been there. It was in Marin County, across the Golden Gate Bridge, a good hour’s drive from the Berkeley campus.  So I said sure, let’s go.
I hung out on Telegraph Avenue, right off the campus, and she finished at eleven and we drove to Stinson Beach.
“I’ve never been to Stinson Beach,” I said.
“You’ll like it. I know a really private cove. No one will be there.”
The End of Part Five
Part Five ends here. The two would-be lovers approach their private sandy acre on Stinson Beach.  The gods of the Zodiac will smile down on Sage and Fred. The wise old men will choose the right Hexagram in the I Ching.  Baba Ram Dass will hum mantras. Timothy Leary will call long distance and Eldridge Cleaver will start selling girl scout cookies door-to-door.  Anything can happen as the two would-be lovers approach their private destiny on the sands of Stinson Beach, or is the whole world watching?
Frog Hospital will return in two weeks. Writing about a love affair fifty years ago can be emotionally draining. I need some time off. I do enjoy visiting the world of 1969 and seeing the younger version of myself in that world, but the going back and forth from 1969 to the present reality  ---- Whoah, I've wracked up some mental/emotional miles. My brother Thomas Joseph told me that what I did in 1969 is how I got to be where I am today. True. I also remind readers that this story is a work of fiction and not a memoir. Sure I draw on the past, but then I make stuff up. I just hope this tale is of some value to the readers. Your attention is greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Saturday, March 30, 2019

A Story about Sage, Part Four and Too Much News

FROG HOSPITAL -- March 30, 2019

By Fred Owens

Too much news. Asylum seekers from Central America are lodged under a bridge in El Paso. We have to do better than this. Mueller filed his report and there were no new indictments. Brexit got even more confusing. I made myself read and study an entire in-depth story about Brexit. That didn't help. Wiser people from England wrote me and said you're confused? What about us? We've gone bonkers. I do wish our English friends the best. We have our own problem and his name is Trump. I wrote to a right-wing friend and said his conservative agenda was at least arguable, but the guy in charge of  your program -- Trump -- is completely unacceptable. So I suggested what others have said  -- some how get Trump to be satisfied with one term of disruption and put former South Carolina Governor Nikki Hilton as their presidential candidate. I would like to see Nikki in charge of the conservative agenda. She is not crazy and ill-tempered. She speaks in grammatical English. She fights but does not feud. I hate to use this word, but Nikki Hilton is normal and that is what I like about her. I would still vote for the Democratic candidate, but I would at least listen to Nikki Hilton.

Roses and Poppies. We are making plans to drive out to the country side on Monday and view the riot of orange poppies. Southern California is ablaze with wildflowers this spring because of the abundant rain. We deserve this pleasure after suffering seven years of drought and vast scorching forest fires. These flowers shower us with hope. This is why we live here,

The Santa Barbara Mission Rose Garden has maybe 500 or 700 or 800 rose bushes in countless varieties. Laurie and I have volunteered to work on these roses for the past few years. The park management assigns us part of a bed with 24 rose bushes of four varieties -- Sweet Surrender, Falling in Love, Duet and a Touch of Class. We go to this beautiful garden once a week in the summer months to deadhead and prune. We usually go in the evening from 5 to 6 pm. The mission church bells sing out the hour at 6 and we all kneel and pray the Angelus -- no, that's Catholic trivia. Instead people are tossing the frisbee, walking the dog and spreading blankets for a picnic. There is often a yoga class and sometimes  a wedding. This is why we live here.

Family. Laurie's daughter Shannon has just started nursing school in Santa Cruz. She is a smart and dedicated women and she will surely succeed in the nursing profession. Laurie's other daughter Mariah finished several years of work booking and organizing bands at local music venues. She is hoping to invest, with some friends as partners, in some ranch land outside of Santa Barbara. She is a smart and dedicated woman and she will surely succeed in whatever she chooses to do.

My daughter Eva lives in Seattle with her wife Lara. They have one almost-toddler named Walter Finnegan. He is our darling grandson. Eva is also expecting another child in mid-August. What a wonderful family they will have. We are going to visit them in mid-April. My son Eugene is making a good living as a librarian at the Los Angeles public library. He enjoys his work and I see the benefit he offers his community in service to literacy. We had dinner with him on Tuesday night. I'm so proud of him.

A Story about Sage, Part Four. Sage comes home and joins the group at the dinner table. We learn a little about what she is like and how she looks. Read on ......

Sage did what she wanted. She wasn’t born doing what she wanted. I believe that self-awareness came to her some time after she turned twenty and gave birth to her son Eric. She married Eric’s father and became dependent on him. Well, she didn’t like that and somehow, over a period of time or maybe all at once she burst out of her cage and strode forth a free woman, albeit one burdened with an infant son and no visible means of support. She left Eric’s father and resolved to ignore him.
Stumbling her way along the freedom trail she managed to get pregnant again --- it can be that easy – and gave birth to another son, Sean, whose father basically never showed up at all. Two kids and no money. Move back in with her parents in San Jose? Why not just lie down in the freeway and get run over by a truck.
I never heard her describe any saving angel who came along to steer her forward. She found her own way. Got on welfare and food stamps. Enrolled in San Jose Community College. She wasn’t really a feminist, she never read the manual, or followed the program or went to the meeting. She just did what she wanted. Not reckless or careless or selfish, but with a sense of responsibility --- she did pay her bills.
But she had this joy in her that was her most telling attribute. She lived with joy and it filled the room.
The house where she lived in Piedmont, this group of hippies and her two kids, the furniture and the polished wood floor, the kitchen that could have been cleaner, it was a place of quiet joy and affection and Sage did that. Sage was a hugger. I was one of many huggees. She went round the evening table hugging and touching and then sat down across from me and filled her plate.
“That’s Fred,” someone said. “He’s staying on the couch.” Sage nodded and smiled. I felt a little awkward. We were not being presented to each other, unless we were and didn’t know it.
John, the soft-spoken man from rural Iowa, began to speak. He sounded like me when he talked, but slower. He had an easy sound on his vowels. Maybe it was the mustache hanging over his upper lip that benefited his acoustics. One of the few mustaches I ever liked. On his head brown hair like a mop, but combed and clean. My height, somewhat slighter in figure.
“I was in the Peace Corps for two years, in Afghanistan. Of course I didn’t know what to expect when I got there, except I was bursting with the best intentions to do right and save the people. Peace Corps training was minimal, they just wanted to see if you could tolerate a strange life in a faraway country and live in primitive circumstances.
“I could do that, and I could introduce progressive farming practices like we had on some farms back in Iowa, with soil conservation and crop rotation. Afghanistan was a paradise when the apricot trees bloomed. All the people were friendly. I had a little house with a kerosene lamp. I had a shaded front porch with a comfortable rattan chair. That was enough. The Peace Corps just left me there and I loved it.
“I would have loved it without the hashish, but it was better with the hashish. I had never smoked pot or anything until I got to Afghanistan and they offered me a toke on the pipe one evening. The hash brought me into a state of bliss, I guess you could say. And it was the end of all my Peace Corps intentions, the program part anyway.
Basically I got my own pipe and my own stash and there went the next two years, stoned, sitting on the porch, greeting the neighbors as they paced by, and representing the best of America --- peacefully. No war, no bombs, no troops, no invasion, no napalm, just me on the porch leaning back on the rattan chair,” John said.
“You made good use of your time, “ I said.
“I have friends who mail me hashish from Afghanistan. If you like we can clean up the kitchen and then smoke a bowl in the living room,” John said.
Sage agreed. She said, “I need to round up these children and get them started toward bedtime, so I’ll join you guys later.”
Sage stood up from her plate at the table and for the first time I got a good look at her. The evening light was soft. The dining surface was sweetly strewn with brown rice crumbles and tamari soy sauce drips over bits of chopped celery. John started clearing plates. Sage stretched her arms wide as if to hug the world, but she was looking at me.
She was looking at me and that flattered my ego, but I didn’t want to be a show off and make antics. And I didn’t want to rub my eyes with a closed fist like a small baby.
“I like your house here, “ I said.
“We like it too,” she said.
No chit-chat. The moment felt important, except important wasn’t the right word.
She had fine light brown silky hair, curly and down past her hears but not down to her shoulders. Combed easily. No makeup. Small earrings, pretty blue eyes under light-brown eye brows. She wasn’t a looker, but her face was expressive and unguarded. Smiles came easily, sorrow showed with blotchy red flushes on her cheeks, and tears jut as easy as her smile.
It’s hard to describe what she looked like, and much easier to describe how I felt when I looked at her – and I felt good.
She was my size, maybe an inch shorter, square in the shoulder, firm breasts, wide hips. Untucked flannel shirt and jeans, often barefoot.
She looked at me too and made her own description in her memory bank. No, no. She didn’t have a memory bank like me. She didn’t hold on to the image and file it away under broad categories to be sorted and treasured like a collection of coins. She was no mental hoarder like me.
But she looked at me and then turned away, saying “I’ve got to read my kids a story and sing them to sleep. I won’t be long.”
So I went to the living room and sat on the couch. John was there and Nick, the astrologer, was there too. Listening to a Cat Stevens record and waiting for her to join us.
“Did you say were a Cancer?” Nick said.
Sage came in at this and said quickly, “Gemini. I’m Gemini.”
“Gemini and quick as a flash, for you Sage,” Nick said. “But Cancer is deep water for you, Fred. Now let us pursue the dangerous course of making comparisons. Think Gemini. Feel Cancer…..Shall I continue?”

Friday, March 22, 2019

Elite schools, who needs them?

By Fred Owens

Elite schools, who needs them?  I guess that's a little harsh, but I have encountered the aura of academic prestige and did not care for the experience. Oh, she went to Stanford. People have a way of saying that. So that makes her a big deal? It does look good on a resume, and when you consider the networking opportunities there can be a great advantage to gaining admission to these schools. You might even cheat or bribe your way in. At least some Hollywood actors are accused of that -- paying bribes to get their children admitted. Isn't this pathetic?

I was at a reception at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. This was many years ago. I struck up a conversation with a promising young man who began to question me. He wanted to find out what important thing I had done. I mean, he didn't want to be seen talking with someone who wasn't important. I said I was a landscaper. He said a landscape architect? No, just a landscaper. You know, yard work. Of course I was playing my own game at the time, trying to uphold the dignity of manual labor. But the conversation ended there, he was too important to talk with me.

You find these people at elite schools. Not everyone who goes there is stuck up, to be sure. I  count several friends, who attended Columbia, or Yale or Harvard -- down to earth people and just folks, really smart folks, of course, but still retaining a sense of humility. Okay, I met some really, really smart folks when I lived in Cambridge. I was very often not the smartest person in the room  and I liked that. You just have to sort out the snobs from the real people. It doesn't take long.

But this admission scandal has been dominating the news for the past few weeks. And it brings up the larger question. Why do we have such elite schools?  Why are an enormous amount of resources devoted to a small number of students? What about me? What about my kids?  There has been so much talk of inequality. Maybe we need to start at the colleges and do a bit of levelling. Let's deflate that aura of academic prestige and bring those colleges down to earth.

Global Catastrophe. Another alarming headline, but that is not quite what I mean. Which is that we know so much more about disasters in the far reaches of our world. In the past week there was a plane crash in Ethiopia and more than one hundred people were killed. There was a mass shooting at a mosque in Christchurch in New Zealand and fifty Moslems were murdered. Mozambique suffered a terrible hurricane and flood. Thousands may have drowned. I want to know this bad news and I want the details if possible. These are human beings who suffered and died and they are so much like us with homes and families. Modern communication is a blessing.

Part Three of Sage. In Part Two I took up a romance with Susan Bird, the Go-Go Girl from the Brass Rail. The setting was after college graduation in Toronto, wasting away the summer of 1969, avoiding adult choices. In late August, Susan and I hitchhiked to Berkeley, California. We entered the hippie world of West Coast Dreams, and so Part Three begins.......

Her  name was Susan Bird, but she liked it when I called her San, San with coral pink toenail polish. We got to Berkeley, found work, rented a room right off Telegraph Ave and began the month-long process of breaking up. September, 1969.
We hung out at Cody’s Books waiting for tear gas battles with the cops. We went to the Fillmore and saw Santana and Grand Funk Railroad. Santana was the opening act if you can believe that, fronting for Grand Funk Railroad which soon disappeared from all knowledge while Santana still sings for the ages.
San worked part-time at a department store at the perfume counter. I did landscaping work sporadically. San was pretty and very nice to me. We never argued. I just wanted more. I wanted the whole world to explode. I wanted to be totally insane and suffer mental anguish. I wanted Fyodor Dostoyevsky to write my biography. I wanted Mao Tse-Tung to salute me. Comrade! Join the struggle. It was 1969, the hippie vision was breaking up into stupid little hippie clouds.  I resisted but nobody cared. I called long distance to my Mom and Dad back in suburban Chicago. They sent me money, they weren’t worried. I could hear them talking – he’ll sort it out eventually. Their confidence in me was annoying. I was 23 years old.  I wanted to throw away my shoes and live in a teepee. San just gave me a sad look about my dreams.
Why didn’t we have a discussion? Something like this – “I want to go to Mexico in search of the Treasure of the Sierra Madre, also to visit various Shamans in Durango. But I will come back in six weeks, or two months tops… is that okay and will you wait for me?”
“Fred, I don’t know. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Maybe we knew that the conversation wouldn’t work. We got along well but we didn’t love each other all that much. We shared this rented room, sublet from a grad student. I don’t even remember who moved out first. It just happened and we didn’t try to stop it. San was a quality babe. Why was I thinking she  could easily be replaced?  God, that’s an awful way to put it. Replaced? An awful word. I missed her, but I was glad to be in Berkeley on Telegraph Avenue looking for my future.

I had so many choices. The Hog Farm and Wavy Gravy. The Red Mountain Tribe and their radical newspaper.  The Rainbow Nation and their Native American pseudo-rituals. Love Israel, which is what they called themselves, a little too woo-woo for me. Jesus freaks, God help us. The Christ family – apocalyptic and the world would burst into flames. Hare Krishna and dance til you drop. The Roach Family, going to Texas on a blue bus to gather and eat peyote cactus. The STP Family, an evil spawn on the Avenue. They preyed on innocent suburban wanderers with rape and harsh drugs and brutality – they were scary dudes……. Baba Ram Dass, Timothy Leary and the Grateful Dead scattering blessings on us all.
I sat on the sidewalk, watching and waiting. Who comes ambling down the street? Ron Firman, in striped bellbottoms and a silver chain around his waist, smiling at everybody, humming softly as if he had lived there all his life, when in fact I knew him from Toronto.
Can I stop here for a minute and explain that when you’re hanging out on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, California, you don’t expect to run into someone you knew from Super House back in Toronto? Well, it would not matter to anyone else but me, but there was Ron ambling and there was I in a squat on the sidewalk with a home-rolled cigarette.
Did he see me first, or did I see him first? Ron was from Thunder Bay, a small town in northern Ontario. He was a sometime companion to Allanah Furlong, who was a room-mate to Cyndi Quick who had been a girl friend to Alan Archibald who was  the founder of Super House.
So I knew Ron well enough. His voice was like the sound of a treasured heirloom clarinet, a sweet sound. “I don’t have much to say, but I say it well, “ being his attitude.
He became an important figure in this story and in my life because he introduced me to Sage. Ron lived with Sage and some other hippies in a group home in the Piedmont enclave of Oakland.
“Come and join us for a meal. You can crash on the couch if you want to. We have lots of room.”
That seemed like a good idea. Piedmont was a spiffy uptown neighborhood so it was surprising to see  this hippie home with an I Ching flag in yellow and red hanging over the front door, but it was clean and well-kept. Patrick the builder lived in the garage. Neil Dodgson was formerly a research chemist in graduate school but he dropped out to study astrology. Neil had one of the upstairs bedrooms. Rosemarie Barbeau, who would have become my sister in law if she had ever married my brother, had another room upstairs. John Haroldson was from Iowa, recently returned from two years in the Peace Corps in Afghanistan. John had his room.
Sage had the fourth bedroom, mattress on the floor, batik curtains with beads, books and clothes strewn here and there. She was just too cheerful to be tidy.
I slept on the couch in the living room. I forgot the kids. Eric and Sean, 7 and 2, lived in a heap of toys and floor mattresses in a small room off the dining room down stairs. They were Sage’s kids. She had two kids.  I’m repeating that because I didn’t know anyone who had kids. Actual children that you had to feed and clothe and wash and soothe and teach. Every day you had to do that if you had kids. This was incredible. Five years of college and I never dangled a baby, never held one, never saw one, had only the most theoretical idea that I might have some of my own some day.
No one in the Piedmont house thought about children, except they were there. We took care of them well enough, just never thought about it. Kids just happened, they just showed up.
But I had not yet met Sage. I did not know her bedroom until a  few days later. First I met the gang downstairs and sat for the communal supper of fish, brown rice and steamed vegetables.   It was a pleasant meal. The kids were running around. Someone was designated to watch them, but I could not tell who the watcher was.
Sage was due anytime, coming back from her classes at Berkeley where she studied anthropology.
Then she came home and gave her smile and sat down to eat. Look, I’m not going to make this first encounter with Sage to be an earthshaking dramatic event with flashing love bolts. We met and thus it began.
Let’s just leave the gang  -- John, Patrick and Neal, Rosemarie and Sage, and those two kids, Eric and Sean – let’s just leave them to enjoy their dinner. They welcomed me, showed me the couch and I made myself comfortable, for that evening……
Part Three ends here. I don’t know whether to go on or just give up. Maybe I should look for a publisher, show him or her the first three parts and see if they want to make a deal.  Like I finish writing the manuscript and they agree to give me an advance. That would give me a lot more respect, like I am not just wasting my time. Such a deal! How could I get such a deal? I don’t know any publishers.  My networking skills are nonexistent. It is hopeless.
Except it is not hopeless. I live in Santa Barbara with Laurie, near the beach. How lucky is that!



Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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