Thursday, December 29, 2005


I interveiwed a plastic surgeon today, and he showed me slides of his work in reconstructive surgery. I saw a photo of a man who got his nose bit off in a fight, and then how the Dr. sliced out a piece of skin from the man's forehead, and flipped it down over the stump of a nose and, over several operations, constructed a new nose.

Many photos -- severed hands, faces ravished from skin cancer -- for him, these were challenges, something he could do, something he could make better -- a craftsman, an artist, a pretty good guy. He also does nose jobs and breast enhancements.

Gruesome photos, but when I saw it with his eyes....

Coincedentally I'm watching ER on the television.

The Lion of East Cambridge

Harvey Blume lives in Brooklyn now, but I knew him when we both lived in Cambridge -- he on the east side and I on the west side. We met at the Sunday morning Tikkun discussion group, an offshoot of the magazine, a salon of articulate Jewish intellectuals discussing progressive issues.

[What was I doing there, not being Jewish or articulate? Some other time, I'll explain this.]

Harvey is a freelancer and he gets published in various magazines. I've seen his interviews with luminiaries such as Doris Lessing and Edward Said.

It would be wonderful to live in Brooklyn and to meet Harvey for coffee somewhere. I still call him the Lion of East Cambridge.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Magic Touch

I heard the Platters in November, 1966, at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill -- 5,000 students. It was one of the most wonderful moments of my life. I heard them sing all those songs, and not a dry eye in the house. It had to be in North Carolina -- to hear it like that.

Los Angeles

You don't know how much I love Los Angeles. I must be geographically promiscuous. Ask me, "Which do you love the most, California or Texas?" and I will answer, "Yes, very much."

I said promiscuous, not because I believe my affection is cheap, but because other people seem to think that one ought to pick one place above all others. It may be so with a woman, and it is often so with a place to live, but I have been many places, and my heart doesn't settle, but expands.

Tom Waits

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Tom Waits

My last year in high school, I used to skip out and take the "L" to downtown Chicago, down to South State Street where they had burlesque theaters and tawdry used book stores. I could lie my way into the girlie shows and see strippers like you see in this photo of Tom Waits. Afterwards I could pick up pocket novels for 25 cents at the used books stores - good books, mind you, the classics. 1964 -- that was the year.


Tuesday morning in skip week. No one is working, just pretending. No news in the newspaper -- that's good, that means nothing bad has happened, except for the usual, like a meth lab gets busted. Why would anyone do meth?

I think I will write to my friend Harvey Blume tonight. I haven't seen him since 1995, when I lived in Boston. Harvey lives in Brooklyn now. You couldn't pry him off the East Coast.

And I might call Bo Miller in LaConner, in the Skagit Valley, where I used to live. Bo is my very snobbiest friend. This annoys me, but he really can't help it. He treats everybody this way. I get mad at him, then I forgive him. It's been going on for years.

Or I could call Paul Schulte in Cinncinatti. Oh -- that's a good idea. He's one of my old pals from college. It's been a long time.

This blog is undergoing revision in terms of content. I recommend checking it once a week at this point.

I love this week. It's so quiet -- people pretending to work.

I got an excellent 6-inch totally yuppie chef's knife for Christmas, super for chopping vegetables

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Chinese food

Food is interesting. We had Chinese food last night, at the Golden Wok in San Antonio. I shared the meal with Manahara, a concert pianist from Sri Lanka. There was a matter of etiquette when we ordered tea. The waittress brought iced tea. I said, in my most gracious manner, "Yes we are in Texas, but this is a Chinese restaurant, so we would like a pot of hot Chinese tea." [Everybody drinks iced tea in Texas, for those who need an explanation]These things can be negotiated. Manahara, who came to the U.S. when he was 14, is quite skilfull at navigating his way through the dominant culture any place in the country. I asked him how he reconciles his traditional upbringing with modern America. He said he sometimes feels mixed up and some times it is an agony, but for the most part he just deals with it. So it is for all foreigners in Texas. You must first pay homage to the national drink of Texas -- iced tea -- and then ask for what you really want. As long as nobody gets all het up about this, it works.

The food was great. I had pork lo mein, and Manahara had a stir fry. For dessert we had a sweet dimsum covered in sesame with a just-right bean paste inside. It was so good. In fact, it was the highlight of a long day.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Blog problems

I started this blog -- maybe for the wrong reason -- because that's what everybody was doing, that's where people's attention was going. Well-meaning friends encouraged me. They said this is what's going on. On that basis -- a new form of communication -- it was worth a try.

However, my reaction, after writing this blog since August, is that there is not much to it. I don't get much lift from writing it, and I get very little response from people who read it.

My old email newsletter format was clumsy and antiquated, but it fit like a glove for me as a writer, and it struck home with more than a few readers. I could put my heart in it, and reach the hearts and minds of the people who read it. So, I think I will go back to doing that for a while.

I will still make posts here from time to time, but right now my expectations are minimal.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

orange marmalade

I was thinking of cooking some jam, but then....

I drank some gin with ruby red grapefruit juice and laughed too much to do anything else. Holy fucking Jesus Christ -- feels pretty good.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


I woke up this morning and felt good about the situation in Iraq for the first time. I heard John Burns, a correspondent for the New York Times, and his testimony was sanguine. We're a bunch of smart alecks here in the United States, and Iraq is a very old country, but the outcome might be good. I keep in mind this thought -- optimism dies in the Middle East, but life goes on.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Bok Choy and Tofu

I had a Texas lunch, courtesy of the Christmas party by the local County Extension office -- all good farm boys. They served steak and boiled potatoes and green beans. It was a really good steak too, and I enjoyed the company.

But for dinner, I needed something lighter and greener, so I made myself a good old-fashioned yuppie dinner -- bok choy and tofu. Ah! I turned on a bit of classical music, I'll make some herb tea with honey and all is right with the world. I'm reading -- I've been carrying this set of books around for more than ten years and I'm just now getting to it -- the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. Now it's been made into a movie -- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe -- so I will see that when it comes to Floresville in a week or so.

People are drifting into a holiday mood in town here -- There is less and less work getting done anywhere. I sure don't mind.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Pickled Herring

I bought a jar of pickled herring -- Norwegian soul food, because I was lonesome for the far north country where I did once dwell, and the cold water fjords and the rushing rivers of Puget Sound, the tall trees, the dark nights in winter and longing for the return of the light.

Now I'm in Texas, which I love and embrace, but I still miss what I once had in the Skagit Valley up north.

I've been singing a Swedish song all week (Swedes and Norwegians!) for the feast of Santa Lucia. I had been practicing it, getting good at a proper Swedish accent, and dwelling in the meaning and melody of this traditional Christmas carol on the feast of St. Lucy, Santa Lucia, the fair maiden wearing a wreath lighted candles on her head, bearing the tray of sweet saffron pastries.

I was going to talk about this old custom at Elaine's Christmas party and then sing the song, but I am not quite a performer, so I did not. I'm sure they would have liked it, and I might get another chance, perhaps with a smaller audience, four or five people at most. That I could do. Here's the lyrics:

Natten går tunga fjät
runt gård och stuva.
Kring jord som sol´n förlät,
skuggorna ruva.
Då i vårt mörka hus
stiger med tända ljus
Sancta Lucia, Sancta Lucia.

Natten är stor och stum.
Nu hör det svingar
i alla tysta rum
sus som av vingar.
Se, på vår tröskel står
vitklädd, med ljus i hår
Sancta Lucia, Sancta Lucia.

Mörkret skall flykta snart
ur jordens dalar.
Så hon ett underbart
ord till oss talar.
Dagen skall åter ny
stiga ur rosig sky.
Sancta Lucia, Sancta Lucia.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Why I love Africa

By Zodwa Mataka

Why do I love Africa? Because we are all related. Biologically, where ever you are from in Africa, we are related.In Africa if you are from the same house - you are related, from the same village - you are related; from the same country - you are related. Even from the same regional grouping like west, east, north and southern Africa - we are related as long as you are an African we are all related. We refer to each other as brother and sister in Africa. We do not have cousin or nieces - all we have are brothers and sisters. That is why I love Africa - so let us stop killing one another.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

It's not a big river

I was on the river walk tonight in San Antonio. They had Christmas lights dangling from the cypress trees, hanging over the water. Ate a burger, walked on the river promenade, came into the lobby of the Hotel Valencia and sat down on a very swanky couch. Then I went to a Christmas party given for the local media people. It was a good party, but by the time I got there I was all talked out from a busy day of morning meetings, lunch with new friends, a press conference -- I wasn't all that tired, I just didn't want to talk. I don't understand how people can throw a party and get a decent band and then nobody dances -- they just stand around and talk. I hate standing around balancing a drink. I'd rather sit down and get off my feet, or get out on the floor and dance and get some non-verbal action going.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

the flag of Texas

I went to Wal-Mart after work today, to buy art supplies because -- well, the general idea is finding things to do that keep me out of pool halls and taverns -- I wanted to do a project, while sprawled out on the carpet watching TV. So I bought poster boards and a sketchbook and crayons and markers and cheap water colors, and glitter markers too.

My plan, such as I have one, is to make a drawing of the flag of Texas, which I am most strongly attached to --because of its clarity and simplicity. What this flag means is not so clear or simple, but I will discover that -- by living here in Texas, and drawing this flag on the poster board.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


By Annabelle Hawes, from Vermont, writing about her two youn children.

My children come into my bed in the morning. They press themselves on both sides of me and I breathe in their warmth. Their sighs stretch out and their limbs grow limp when the fall back asleep. I wake them again in time for school and ask about their dreams. Elizabeth often remembers hers, they are elaborate schemes of animals and natural events. Bradley dreams mostly of places we have been and things we have seen, but he doesn't recall the details often. He dreams of monsters sometimes. Elizabeth fears holes. They both believe that there is a certain pink stuffed animal monkey in our household who is responsible for bad dreams and they refuse to have this creature in their rooms. I love to listen to them speak, to hear what is meaningful to them. But that is how we know anyone, isn't it? We then discuss breakfast or the weather or the plans for the day. "It is cold today, Elizabeth you need to wear a sweater." Or,"Bradley you have library today, do you know where your book is?" It's nice (this morning meeting) before we toss back the covers and attend to the day.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Baking Bread again

I baked bread tonight -- four loaves. Rosemary bread, I picked the rosemary on Thanksgiving day and kept the small snips in a glass of water on the counter. I bought a small sack of flour that was half whole wheat and half unbleached white flour -- which is the right balance, I think. I bought three packets of yeast for 99 cents. Yeast is a very special thing, but I still don't like it that it costs so much.

I used three small aluminum loaf pans. I smeared them with olive oil, so they wouldn't stick. I mixed, and then I kneaded and let it rise twice. It was like the old recipe I used to use.

The first time in a new oven -- you know that might be a surprise, but it came in like a hummingbird. I'm just waiting for it to cool so I can have a taste

Cowboy up, Help ain't comin'

This is an attitude. I could explain it -- how to cowboy up, and what it means that help ain't comin' -- but it's better if you simply repeat the saying during quiet moments, and then implement it as a policy. It might have something to do with sleeping under a leaky tree in the rain, or being bug-bit on a hot day, and nowhere near the time or place for a cold beer. This is not confined to experiences in Texas by any means, but those with a decidedly rural character. Getting stuck in traffic doesn't count, unless, if you really want to cowboy up because you are stuck in traffic, you need to pull your vehicle over to the side of the road. You then pull a large ball-peen hammer out of your tool box -- this is not for beginners, you have to have the toolbox -- okay you get the hammer out and fix your vehicle in a manner that will leave it permanently in your past, including everything that got you stuck in traffic in the first place.

Having left the traffic jam, you start walking until you hit daylight. I mean daylight metaphorically, of course. Now your feet are sore and tired, you're thirsty, and finally, a lot of your friends will think you have lost your mind -- but you just keep on walking. Now you're cowboyin' up, and believe me, help ain't comin'

Saturday, November 26, 2005


The paper sent me out to the motocross event. I drove two miles down a dirt road to the dirt track.I parked my car and began to walk around. My first reaction was revulsion -- I had landed in redneck heaven. As much as I like Texas, there is a limit. What really bothered me was the dirt itself -- images of my years working in the mud in farm fields and landscape gardens, coming home caked with dirt and soggy jeans. This dirt which I had resolutely left behind in pursuit of my journalistic dreams. I enjoy so very much being clean now, and being clean at work -- and there I was back in the dirt again.

I got over this. I began to speak with people -- all very friendly, of course. There were 4,500 people in attendance, according to the manager -- people from all over the country -- Colorado, Oregon, California. It turns out that little old Floresville is world class in motocross circles for being a good track. And people came from Europe -- I saw a gaggle of Italians wearing funny clothes and heard German accents, and then I fell in with the contingent from New Zealand, lead by Joesphine and her "Mum," as she called her, and her boyfriend, Kevin. Josephine is a flight attendant for Air New Zealand, and loves her bike. She had been to Los Angeles many times in the course of her work, but this was her first trip to Texas. She seemed to like it here quite a bit, except she asked a number of questions about snakes. There are no poisonous snakes in New Zealand -- I could tell that she was fearful. I admitted as such that we have rattlesnake here and they can bite, but fatalities are quite rare, etc. I doubt that this re-assured her. But she was a pretty athelete and I enjoyed talking with her -- certainly fearless on her bike.

She asked me if I had ever ridden a bike. I said no. I didn't want to tell her that my oldest sister died in a motorcycle accident in 1974.

Baking Bread

I keep looking at the oven, in this apartment where I live now.

When I lived in Boston in the early 1990s I was on a major cooking and baking binge. I wrote a cookbook and printed about 30 copies. It was called a "love story with recipes." Being a story without a plot about a man who did a lot of cooking to get over his broken heart (me).

I baked so much bread that my friends and neighbors tired of the gifts of loaves. I threw parties with lots of good food and people liked that. I had a very good bread recipe, half whole wheat and half white flour, modified from the Tassajara bread book and the NY Times organic cook book. I mixed it in a very big heavy ceramic baking dish, which I also used to make casseroles.

It was always basic cooking. I was landscaping for a living and ate huge calorie filled meals.

I was a single father to two teenagers at the time, and cooking was a way to make a home, because I sure wasn't going to make curtains.

That all went away. Years passed. The kids grew up. I married a second time and divorced. I bought a house and lived in it, and then I sold it and moved on. Now I am in this apartment looking at the oven.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

I live upstairs from an antique shop.

I live upstairs from an antique shop. I have a very nice apartment. I walk across the street after a day at the newspaper and climb the stairs to my perch. I make tea and sit by the kitchen window, looking out over the rooftop. It can be very pleasant, and I enjoy being alone. My work as a reporter is extremely social. I am talking to people, on the phone or in person, all the day. By the time I get to the apartment, I am ready for solitude.

This year I will be able to buy Christmas presents for my two sisters. They always buy me presents, but I hardly ever buy them anything. Well, I'm a guy -- I don't shop. But now it's so easy -- they have little things in the antique shop that I think my sisters will enjoy having.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Town Council

We finish the paper on Mondays, then it goes to the printer. I left work at 5 p.m. and walked across the street to my upstairs apartment. I ate crackers and cheese and drank cold apple juice. I rested in the bed for a while, reading Fehrenbach's History of Texas. I read the chapter on the assault and defense of the Alamo. Then I closed my eyes for a while.

I left the apartment to drive 7 miles to a nearby town of 2,000 souls for their monthly town council meeting. I liked it there. Seven men and women sitting around three tables drawn together in an open square facing the audience -- five councilmembers, the mayor, and the clerk. It was a short one-hour meeting, routine business. The police chief reported from the audience -- all was well. The general manager of the electric utility presented his budget in a businesslike way. Bills were paid. An ordinance was approved which banned jake breaks on large trucks passing through town on the busy main road. I made a note to find out just exactly what a jake break was.

I got one good quote. The mayor said they had an unexpected visit from the state department of environmental quality. She said, "It was exciting, in a sewer kind of way."

Boxing champion Jesse James Leija

Jesse James Leija lands a right hook. Leija is a hero in San Antonio. Everybody knows his name. He will be the grand marshal in our Christmas parade. The young girls will scream. The mayor will beam. It will be a night parade, starting at 6 p.m., ending at the courthouse square. Then amidst gathering dignitaries and delightful music, we will ceremoniously switching on the Christmas lights all over the square. The season begins.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Prickly Pear

I'm getting in touch with my inner cowboy. Today, after I wrote my column and did my laundry, I took a drive out in the country. Going south and east from Floresville the country opens up and the farthest edge of San Antonio is left behind. The sky was bigger than heaven and the wind was fresh. I saw the prickly pear by the barbed wire fence, up and down the road. I saw as if for the first time. I wanted to keep driving and never comeback, to buy some acres out there and build a small house, and keep a dog and few tomatoes in pots -- I would just let the brush grow. I would call it Brush Farm.

Do they have owls in Texas? If they do have owls, and if I buy my small plot and build a house, then I will come out late at night and walk toward the pasture and maybe I will see an owl -- or hear its silent wings.

The Alamo

Saturday morning at the Alamo: Being new to San Antonio, and not knowing where exactly to go, I pulled into the nearest parking space and paid $10. There were likely better, cheaper parking places a few blocks away, which I will locate on my next visit downtown.

But I needed to switch gears, coming from quiet, traffic-free Floresville and driving into the big city. I needed to pick up the tempo. I needed to watch carefully while I drove, instead of gazing at cows and trees -- the way I drive in the country. Evidence of a failure to switch gears in San Antonio -- I was looking at a building and I drove through a red light.

I begin my comments on the Alamo with two paragraphs about parking and traffic, simply because that is the first thing one must do when entering a new city -- learn the driving and the parking.

The Alamo is still there. I last saw it in 1986 with Susan, my wife of ten years, and our two children, Eugene and Eva. The Alamo is still there. Never once, in the intervening 19 years did I ever think it would not be there. This is re-assuring.

My feelings would have been stirred by this passage of time, this re-visit to a beautiful and meaningful landmark, except I was too busy taking photographs of dignitaries and dancers -- the event that the newspaper assigned me to cover. But I will conclude -- the Alamo is still there.

Later I visited the San Antonio Botanical Gardens -- a complete disappointment, scraggly flowers and unswept paths. In order to re-assure myself that Texans can indeed maintain a good garden, I drove to the affluent Alamo Heights neighborhood and saw some very fine gardens.

Today, Sunday, I am back in Floresville, having a good rest.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Roast Chicken

The weekend begins after a good week. This is the first day that I am not exhausted from work. I nailed the real estate story. The emergency room story is quite good too.

I'm fixing dinner and I feel quite fine. Two days ago I cooked a nice and large pasta dish. I had hot leftovers for lunch for the next two days, but now I put the rest in the freezer. Tonight I will cook a cauliflower, and also make bacon and eggs -- scrambled eggs with a bit of chopped green onions. I am not a great meat eater, but I love bacon, and I must only buy one-half pound at a time, or else I will eat it at once.

Lately I've been thinking of ice cream. I haven't had any for almost a month. I would have bought some right after work, but the supermarket is too crowded at that time. So I stopped at the quick stop and got a candy bar instead.

Gonna roast a chicken too.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

No Talking

I would like to meet a woman who is quiet, like Holly Hunter in the Piano. She was fierce and terrible in getting what she wanted. Yes, but I would do anything she wanted, because she was quiet.

Fig Balsamic

Fig Balsamic

(This was sent in by a woman from Oregon. She asked me to withhold her name, but she sent me an email about the terror in her life now.)

I forgot to eat tonight. I just made a salad with goat cheese and walnuts, and then poured myself a glass of wine. It was from a bottle that had been rattling around the back of my car since I took it to the beach and forgot to open it. (How rude that was.) I drink too seldom lately, a half a glass and my skin is warm.

I exercised twice today. Movement is comforting.

There is gossip again. Who can blame them? Their days are empty. The trick is a preemptive and well-placed story. I am surprised how easy this game is to play. And of course we all know it doesn't matter. But I am not unkind, so they want to believe the best. I am fortunate to be liked, I have seen women reduced to tears in preschool halls, their children left out of parties for nothing more than neglecting to return a phone call. I wasn't meant for this life, it itches my neck and wrists like a woolen sweater.

I want to go fast, to fly down a hill of snow, skiing, my eyes watering from the wind. Or perhaps I can find speed on a cycle or a car with no top and a long desperate ribbon of road. I crave so many sensations lately.

I paint but never keep my paintings.

What would I do if I were not afraid?

I will not be afraid of what comes next.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Prom Queen

(Frog Hospital accepts submission from talented and interesting writers -- so far it's been all women -- so, c'mon you guys!)

By Judith Beckman

I was prom queen. (Don't vomit.) It was an accident, I didn't mean to be. I thought the whole time that it was just a joke and that they had elected me out of pity. There's a Tiara in the attic and a dress. Samantha talked me into getting them down in hopes of borrowing them for her upcoming birthday party.

The tiara is wobbly, I must have placed something heavy on it. (Yearbooks?) Strapless yellow silk, the dress is too sweet.
I must have worn a corsage. The boys favored the kind that pinned on so they had an excuse to feel our boobs while our parents snapped pictures. I had the same boyfriend throughout highschool so he had a bit of experience with mine. But still I don't think he would have missed a chance. That night he had plans to advance our pre-sex experience a bit and we tumbled about at the beach for a while. The grunion were running. Silver and scared they spawned on the sand. Their presence both enthralled and frightened me. Poor Bob, I wonder if he has ever had to endure three years of foreplay since.

I had dinner with a friend from highschool a few days ago. It seems like it has been a million years ago and yet we laughed like it had been a month. He said I looked the same, and I accepted his lie graciously. He poured blood orange martinis in my glass (they were served up) either enjoying the silver shaker or hoping to get me drunk enough to tell stories.

In highschool I was good. Too good. This same guy, the one with the cocktail shaker, once offered to pay me five dollars if I would say to him the f-word. It took me all day, but just before going home I whispered it in his ear, "fuck". It was the first time I ever said it.

I have always been fun to corrupt.

In the Poconos

President George Bush spoke at the Tobyhanna Army Depot in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania on Veterans Day, defending his war policy. It was a good speech. I just listened to it.

Tonight, I went shopping and spent $50 for food. This was at 8:30 pm, then I drove over to Roper's, the country night club here in Floresville. I thought it might be fun to try line dancing with the cowboys, but it was Mexican night, with a $15 cover charge to hear Los Desperados, a band I don't know anything about. I was only prepared for $5 and a beer, so I came home.

I have just eaten my second piece of pumpkin pie. That's it -- no more. But I bet I eat two more pieces of pie for breakfast. I love it so much. I'm drinking a fine glass of red wine, from a vineyard called Ste. Genevieve out by Fort Stockton, a variety called Texas Red, costing $3.75 -- it's good table wine, actually. Things don't cost much in Texas.

I was listening to the Basketball game on the radio, but it ended and the Spurs ( San Antonio team in the NBA) lost.

But the photo is from the Poconos. It just so happens that my ex-wife lives in Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania -- in the Poconos, a very pretty place.

Friday, November 11, 2005


I was building facts at the newspaper this week. They have to be plumb and square and true. If you build your facts strong, they will last a long time. They won't move. You can walk away, come back years later, and those same facts will be there, like diamonds or granite.

I built a lot of facts this week at the newspaper. Some were off kilter or out of focus -- I had to through them back into the sea of information. Information, data, the world is awash with it, meaningless, worthless, formless. But facts! Facts are worth something. They mean something. They are sturdy and reliable. You can build with facts. You can get paid for making facts. It's good work.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

I Can't Get a Date

"I Can't Get a Date"

By Hannah Silverman

I am tired tonight and yet so awake.

I realize I have needed other people's exhaustion to make me stop. Otherwise I keep going.

If you were the type to require rest, I would lay down beside you, my head on your shoulder, I might trace your clavicle with my finger. Or I would mimic your breath. It is deep and slow. Until my lungs can hold as much air as yours,you will lead this waltz, unknowing. It isn't easy for me, yours are much larger and I want to gasp for breath. But eventually I lose track of myself in the momentum.

And there is morning your hand on my thigh or lips on my breast and we are both again awake.

Monday, November 07, 2005

I am spinning

By Annabelle Hawes

"I am spinning. With centrifugal force I am twirling and all of the crap, the stuff that doesn't matter is flinging out of my life."

A girlfriend said to me last week, "I am afraid that you are spiraling down. And once you are down you will never get back up." She looked so worried and then she said what they all say, "I wouldn't say it if I didn't love you."

I think what she meant was I'll never be a suburban housewife again. She imagined I would snap another man into the place that Matthew once held -- as if they were interchangible. The wives hoped that some other husband might come and sleep with me and go to pick apples on sunny Autumn weekends. He might take me to Vermont for the weekend, or want to talk with me after dinner. Perhaps he would even share the remote, or laugh at a joke from time to time. No matter, to the other housewives, they are all the same. They would have welcomed him.

A bit irritating at times, husbands all have their bad habits. One has gas, another leaves his laundry on the floor. The wives complain about the husbands wanting sex as if they are asking them to wax the car. On weekends they get dressed and go to dinner and meet with friends. They can even be amusing for an hour or two assuming there was a bottle of wine and dinner wasn't deplorable. On Saturday mornings there is working in the garden, and watching the kids play soccer, there is a drip in the bathroom sink and new sheets are needed for the upstairs guest room. There are Sunday muffins and a coffee pot that leaks and a paper with the book section. Before you know it the weekend is over. Marriage is really only about 24 hours a week if you are a wife in Connecticut. So any man, assuming he is employed and discreet, is as good as another.

What the women don't know and what the wives choose to forget, is that men are not as good at numbing themselves as we are. They continue to live, to think and to feel. And they wonder what happened to us and if we really care what color the powder room is painted.

If I am spiraling, it is not down.

They knew that I was bored. When I went to the meetings at the New Haven Garden Club it was all I could do not to scream as we voted on what color napkins to have at our luncheon or which coffee cake we would all make for the bake sale. I might have complied. I might have baked my coffee cake and taken my xanex and closed my mouth and my mind. If I had done that he would have loved me. No... he never would have loved me.

I am not spiraling. I am spinning. With centrifugal force I am twirling and all of the crap, the stuff that doesn't matter is flinging out of my life. Be careful girls, you might be hit by an unnecessary spatula or broom or a pair of leather gloves.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Floresvillle, Texas

This is the Wilson County Courthouse -- built on or about 1884. Floresville is the county seat for Wilson County. Floresville has 6,000 people and it's 30 miles to the southeast of San Antonio. Wilson County has 30,000 people altogether.

The landscape is pleasant, green and treed with country oaks that spread wide. The feeling is spaciousness and quiet. Such a luxury to have so much room. The grass is green by the roadside, yet several local people told me how badly they wish it would rain -- that it hasn't rained in three months. The almanac gives Wilson County 28 inches of rain every year -- but that's average, and it's typical in Texas to have too much rain followed by too little rain.

I got here, to Floresville, two days ago. I moved into an apartment across the street from the newspaper office, and upstairs from an empty store. It is a very pleasant place to live. This Sunday morning it was as peaceful as the dawn. I went for a jog down the old railroad right-of-way and worked up a sweat.

This afternoon I'm going to Wal-Mart to buy an iron. I need to press my clothes because I'm beginning work tomorrow. I wish I could find another place to buy an iron. I drove around yesterday looking for a second-hand iron at a thrift store, but with no luck. So I have to go to Wal-Mart.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Barton Springs -- Best Swimming Hole in North America

Barton Springs natural swimming pool, in Zilker Park, in the middle of Austin, Texas, is the best swimming hole in North America. Pure, clean water, gushing out of a natural limestone spring at millions of gallons every hour. Always the same temperature of 68 degrees. It's like diving into an ice cream soda.

The first thing I did, when I got to Austin on Sunday morning, was to drive to Zilker Park and take a swim at Barton Springs.

Sunday, October 30, 2005


Falling and loving are two different things.

Falling down is good. With practice you get better.

What does a woman mean when she says no?

Gabriel Garcia Marquez has inflamed my imagination.

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 29, 2005

donald judd's abstract sculpture in Marfa, Texas

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

Friday, October 28, 2005

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Bulawayo is my town

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

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Crime story in Marfa, Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 24, 2005

Sitting where your seat is

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Tuku is the Greatest

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

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

My sister is working in the field

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

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

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

Saturday, October 22, 2005

"Too Many Girls"

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 21, 2005

Mkomo is how we call the baobab

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 20, 2005

My Baobab Tree -- Forty Lives Interrupted

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

an acacia tree in Botswana

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

Tarot Talk, and Baseball News.

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

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

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

Forty Lives Continued.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

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

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

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

“Forty Lives” continues with four E’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Astonishing Debbie Rosenblatt

Forty Lives is Interrupted by this Dramatic Insertion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flirting with women, listening to baseball on the radio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Fear of Winter -- Forty Lives continued

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

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

I like reading Aurielle's blog

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

We were not even disappointed……Onward.

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

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

Three more lives -- Carolyn, Chris and Claudia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Santa Monica Farmer's Market and Forty Lives Continued

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 14, 2005

Forty Lives....Also Life In Malibu

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

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

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

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

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

Three More Lives

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

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

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

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