Sunday, May 31, 2009

Love Letters from the Sixties

all exclamations points intact

I found these letters in the attic at my mother’s house in Chicago. We were cleaning up after the funeral, and I had kept several boxes of memorabilia, old photos, and high school year books -- all kinds of neat stuff. These letters were tied in a bundle. I hope I’m not breaking a confidence here. I’ve changed some of the names.

The first letters are from Jill Farias. She’s a senior at an all-girls Catholic high school in a suburb of Chicago, and the oldest of six children. She’s writing to Sam, who has been her boy friend for two years, but now’s he gone off to college at the University of Toronto in Canada. The year is 1965.

This is not the diary of Anne Frank or the memoirs of Doris Lessing, but to call them “ordinary” is a disservice to the heart.

Do young people write letters today? I believe they do it on the Internet. I’d like to show these letters to some college students that I know -- and find out what, if anything, has changed since 1965.

And I should apologize for the length. At 2,100 words, this story is too long for the email format being used. My excuse is that I am a terrible editor. I kept trying to cut out certain parts, but I couldn’t do it. So, you don’t have to read it all, but if you do read it all, you will find yourself in a different time and place, and it feels really fresh and alive.



le 22 janvier, 1965

le vendredi


Dear Sam,

I did very well on all my exams and I’m getting an “A” in French for the semester. I want to go on the New York senior trip and it’s going to cost $150. Pop says he won’t pay for any of it, but I’m hoping that he’ll relent! The trip ought to be pretty good because Maura and I are planning to get tickets to “Golden Boy” with Sammy Davis, Jr. and the “Fantasticks.”

I’ve decided, and discovered through experience, that unless one goes to New Trier [the public school], there is nothing to do around here. A senior girl without a date might as well resign herself to a life of spinsterdom and bore-hood. Other years it wasn’t too bad because you could always get a ride to Loyola’s (YICK!) sock hops. But this year, just forget it. All it seems that senior girls do is drift from party to party to Rolling Stone to Campus Den to Hubbard’s Cupboard to party again. I’m sick of it and I HATE IT intensely. I think I’d almost rather stay home. Everything’s in a rut -- school, home, etc. I can’t wait for summer to come -- then at least it will be a pleasant rut.

So anyway, when exactly is the weekend that you’re coming home in February? Will you be able to make it to the dance on Feb. 5 ? Please tell me in your next letter because if you aren’t coming, I’ll ask Bob Heineman.



I despise it. Kathy [Jill’s younger sister] literally pours it on everything. I put on my green mohair cardigan last night and I was almost knocked out. The fumes were too much to bear so I had to take it off. If any poor insect, let alone any moth, had come within 50 ft. of that sweater he would have been killed instantly. I honestly believe that Ambush perfume has a good market as an insecticide. What do you think?

I still miss you.




le 13 fevrier, 1965


Dear Sam,

How’s your bod? Have you gotten your hair cut yet? It’ll be great to see you Thursday so speed yourself home.

I can’t wait to go to college. No one around here respects my opinion on anything. My parents and my grandmother treat me like I’m an absolute moron. Every time I open my mouth Dad tells me “you don’t know what you’re talking about” and “when you are older, you’ll realize...” etc. I’m sick of it! If I don’t say anything, Mom tells me to quit pouting and “you’d better brighten up or else!...”

I’m getting inducted into the National Honor Society this coming Thursday. Dad won’t be able to make it because of a business trip and Mom acted like she was really going to have to put herself out to show up...”I don’t like to go to these things alone.” She really just doesn’t want to be bothered. Sometimes it seems that they don’t give a damn about me! The sooner I get away the better I’ll like it.

I know I shouldn’t burden you with my problems but it seems like it always ends up that way. I suppose it’s because you’re one of the few people I can trust.

I don’t understand it, but for the last couple of weekends I’ve been terribly depressed and I can’t seem to shake it no matter what I do.

Well, things are looking up. After dinner last night, I went out with Maura and Fitz, and Bob Deirdre. We just went down to the “Huddle” in Evanston for a coke but it was a lot of fun. It stopped my depression. You should have seen us in Evanston, we were running around screaming -- some people call it singing, but truthfully speaking it was screaming -- some song about “on the Russian field we will beat the foe” from the movie, Alexander Nevsky. Anyhow, it was a lot of fun.

Enough of that! If I ever suggest going to a horror movie again, please kick me in the appropriate place! I’ve seen “Psycho” and “Two on a Guillotine” in the past two weeks. “Psycho” was rather disappointing, but “Two on a Guillotine” was awful. I don’t know why I go because once I get inside I’m a nervous wreck and I hate every minute of it. It got so scary in one part that I left, under the pretense of going to the john. Never again!

Signing off for now,



P.S. I saw John Donovan last week. Did he ever look neat in his uniform!


San had invited Jill to a formal dance at his college, and she was making plans to fly up for the weekend from Chicago.

February 22, 1965

Dear Sam,

Mom and Dad want me to take a plane to Toronto. Mom said that if you can’t meet me at the airport, we can just forget about it right now. Both have decided that I’m an idiot for going to Toronto instead of the Senior trip, and Pop is starting to be rather difficult. Anyhow the fam is still rather vague about what flight I can take so I’ll let you know a couple of sentences from now -- after I’ve talked to them again!

Everything’s kind of a mess! My parents want to know exactly whom I’m staying with, etc. so send the information as soon as you can get it! Why don’t you telephone instead? It would be a lot easier! Pop has just announced that he wants to hear from a nun in the dorm who will say that it’s all right for me to stay there. Maybe she could write a letter or something. I really think it would be better if you called so everything could be completely settled. Mom is completely deadset against this trip, but I think things will work out anyway.

Goodbye for now, hope to hear from you soon,




Ides of March

Monday night

11:45 p.m.

Dear Sam,

I am very. very sleepy. So what else is new, you say. Nothing much!

Thank you for asking me to the dance. I had a wonderful time for the whole weekend, but I sure wish you had met me at the airport.

[The editor can’t help bursting in at this point. Sam invites his girlfriend to come in for the weekend and he doesn’t meet her at the airport. What a jerk! ]

When the plane took off to take me back to Chicago.I started missing you immediately. However the full brunt (Doesn’t sound like the right word.) finally hit me when my fam was driving me home from the airport and Dad started harping on “5:00 curfews” and “know-it-all teenagers” He’s still a dear anyhow. Anyhow the whole point of this midget paragraph is that I do miss you terribly and wish that I was back up there with you.

I’m getting sleepier and sleepier.

I’ve done lots of thinking on you and me and have come to some conclusions, so I’ll have much stuff to talk to you about in May. It’s not really so far away. I still haven’t heard from McGill University [in Montreal] yet, but I’ll know for sure by tomorrow night because Dad is calling them. Good night for now.

I love you,


St. Patrick’s Day, 1965

It’s been snowing for some time now, 6 inches, and I’m not going to school. It’s really kind of funny -- here it is 9:30 on a school morning. and I’m still lying in bed. It’s so peaceful around here right now watching the snow coming down and listening to some music. It’s almost like being asleep only I’m not. Things seem to be drifting around me and not really affecting me, just kind of floating by. It gives me a very detached feeling.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking again on different things -- mostly you and me, but anyway why don’t you address letters to me as Miss Jill Farias instead of just plain old Jill Farias? Please tell Michele that I found the jewelry that I thought I had left there.

Sue O’Gara had some old Loyola yearbooks lying around so I caught a picture of you in Freshman year. Ha! Ha! Ha! Even my Freshman pictures weren’t that bad. Such a baby face!

Maureen and Fitz are their usual selves. Fitz is coming in AGAIN this next week-end and staying for a whole week. That doesn’t make too much sense. He’s been in almost every week-end since the end of January --Don’t think that’s a hint because IT IS! I wish you would come home every weekend.

So much for today.

I love you,



March 27, 1965


6:25 p.m.

Dear Sam,

How’re things in Toronto? I haven’t been working at all this last quarter and I’m going to get at least 2 A’s and the rest B’s. Needless to say, I’m feeling pretty good about the whole thing.

I really did a stupid thing last week. I went under the sunlamp without any goggles on....You should have seen my face, not only was it red, it was completely swollen up. My eyes were just slits in my face. I’m glad you didn’t see me. As my face was de-swelling, I caught a cold. The cold made my nose get all drippy-red and made me miserable. I think, on the whole, that my bod is falling apart. For the first time in about a year, I talked to Fitz alone, i.e., without Maureen. It was really nice. You should see his beard. It’s really getting thick. He really looked neat the other day. If I didn’t love you, I’d probably love him. I still love him, but in a different way.

I still haven’t heard from those creepy McGill people. I’ve practically given up. I suppose it doesn’t matter anymore anyway. I can see how you could get all mixed up after studying all those philosophers because I haven’t studied any of them -- except Sartre, who I think is an idiot! -- and I’m pretty mixed up. I don’t suppose it’s any comfort to you to say that it’s just a stage that all people go through sometimes in their life. Most of the kids I know are having problems of some sort or another right now so you’re not alone.

It seems as though Fitz has solved his problem, whatever it was, because he is a great deal happier now than I have seen him be in a long time.

Were you just exaggerating when you said you were an agnostic or were you serious? Please let me know because you worry me a lot sometimes, especially when you start talking about becoming an agnostic.

Well, there’s not too much else doing here so goodbye for now.

I love you,


P.S. I think of you often.

This was the last letter. When Sam came home for the summer that year, things were just too different. He had been out in the world, and Jill was the one who got left behind. So, they broke up.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Photo of Natalie Wood

I got over to Beaver Marsh Road for a conversation with Sheila. I came upon her stooped over in the garden, and I gave her a shout, "I love to see women working."

Sheila straightened up, wiping off the sweat. "You watch your mouth," she said.

"Whatcha growing there?" I asked, pointing at one of the rows.

"Those are collard greens. I have a friend in LaConner. He's from Mississippi and his soul will shrivel up if he doesn't get his greens, so I'm growing them for him -- Herb. His name is Herb."

"That's pretty friendly of you to do that," I commented. "Is this some kind of thing you have, you and Herb?"

I got another one of Sheila's strong looks. "No, it's just the collard greens. That's all."

Well, those were the preliminaries, getting that out of the way, we began walking toward the house, and I was expecting tea.

"I don't have any burning questions, I just stopped by," I said.

"You can learn more without burning questions," she said.

"Did you hear about the bear in Seattle?" I asked. "They found a small bear in Ballard, then they saw him in Magnolia. It's all over the news."

"They need a bear in Seattle. It doesn't have to be a real one," she said.

"Oh, it's a real bear all right."

"Okay, if a real bear shits in the woods, how would you know?"

"It ain't in the woods, the bear is in Ballard," I said.

"Anyway," she was looking straight at me and I was close enough to see her freckles, "we need to talk."

We need to talk -- I was terrified. I am not sleeping with her, so why would I need to talk with her? -- but I didn't say that.

"Sure," I said, my discomfort being quite visible.

"Look," she said, sitting down next to me, both of us looking at her garden, "I'll just say it. I can't be in your newsletter anymore. It was nice you wrote that story last month about me reading the Tarot cards. But then the phone started ringing. I mean, it was like the Lonely Guys Hotline. Sheila help me, Sheila, nobody understands me."

"Well, I'm sorry that happened, but I figured that since you're not a real person, it wouldn't be a problem."


"Yeah, you're not real. I just made it all up."

"Okay, you're really on thin ice now. I may not be real, the way you say it, but I have feelings, I have a life, I bleed when I get cut... You think I'm not real? What about those collard greens I'm growing for Herb."

"Well, Herb is real," I admitted, "but that's not his real name."

Sheila was getting upset. Her bosom heaved. Sheila had the amplitude for that, being in the melon class, breastwise.

"So, what if we just didn't use your real name?" I said. " Would that work? Because I got a very strong response when we ran your story. A lot of people would like to meet you. They keep asking me, Where's Sheila? I have to tell them something -- If you look for Sheila, you can find her -- but that's like hippie talk. So I'll just tell them you're not real."

"But I am real," Sheila said. "Just don't tell them where I live."

"On Beaver Marsh Road -- It's too late for that."

"What about the bear?" she said.


"The bear in Ballard. There is no bear there," she said, smiling now, calmer. "Tell 'em it's like the bear in Ballard -- just your imagination."

"Well, okay," I agreed. "That might work."

We got that settled. So she invited me into the house for tea. She served Constant Comment, the kind with bits of dried orange peel.

She walked over to her small altar and lit a candle before the silver- framed portrait of Natalie Wood.

That made sense to me, the way I know Sheila. She has a devotion to Natalie Wood. I understand this. It's the kind of thing where you don't need any explanation. You don't learn by asking questions anyway.

Asking questions like Is it real? Or Did it really happen?

NEXT WEEK. Is it more important to be real or to be lovable? In the next issue of Frog Hospital, we'll be hearing again from the African Woman. "I have something to say," she said.

MANHATTAN TRILOGY. This week's recommended films are what I call the Manhattan trilogy -- terribly romantic. The Apartment with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, 1960. Love with the Proper Stranger with Steve McQueen and Natalie Wood, 1963. And Woody Allen's masterpiece, Manhattan, 1979.

FILM TRIVIA. Edie Adams, the blonde bombshell for intelligent men, the widow of Ernie Kovacs, played supporting roles in both The Apartment and Love with the Proper Stranger.

BLACK AND WHITE. All three films are in black and white, and all are set in Manhattan.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Unusual Things

David Maritz lives on Camano Island where he pursues falconry, which is more than a hobby. He is originally from Zimbabwe and makes regular trips to Africa. This is a story he wrote, and I thought it would be a good one for Frog Hospital.

By David Maritz

Ohh the unusual, I wrote to Rochelle, you asked about the unusual!

and I continued..

There have been times that unusual things have happened to me.

If I were religious I would say it was directed by the hand of God. But I am not religious. I think that all belief in faith is no better than a bushman's belief in tokoloshi. Yet things happen that are stranger than coincidence. Thus I teeter 'tween, atheist and agnostic.

Saturday was one of these... Not as strange as some, but nevertheless unusual.

While I was in Africa I had a few facebook 'friend' requests from falconry buddies and I had your last greetings to reply to.

I decided to answer them all in one session.

With a stab of shock I saw in amongst them a new one, a 'friend request' from Meira.

Remember her? Once we came to visit you. Like me she was still wearing ma'adim, her uniform.

I nearly divorced Dorit for her. It was 1979 and I was in the army. Dorit and I had already been to the rabbinate to start the divorce. It was before we had kids. I had already found an apartment in Jerusalem to be near Meira at Bezalel. Off a tiny courtyard in the Sha'arei Hesed neighborhood. It did not have a shower or tub. But I figured I could always run across the valley to the Beyt ha’Hayal, the soldier center, to take a shower. I was so fit I could run forever in those days. So many 'alreadies' already done.

Then I went back to Tivon to pick up my stuff and Dorit cried and cried... great sobbing, heart wrenching sobs, hour after hour.

I was soft in my heart. I did not have the strength to resist those gut wrenching sobs. I said for us to drive around the north and I weakened further, and said I would spend another day with her.

On Mount Tabor we took two photos, me looking back and her looking forward. I labeled them " Mistaklim al ha'avar v'ha'atid b'etzev " - In my heart I already knew it was not going to work out - "Looking on the past and the future with sadness."

I still have them in my album!

and sure enough I lost Meira.

Three years later fate gave me another chance just prior to the War in Lebanon. Once again Meira and I were together and my daughter had just been borne. I was once again going to split from Dorit.

But the war intervened. I found myself dueling with a tank high in the anti-Lebanese mountains. As it's shells broke the sound barrier inches over my head I found myself praying to a 'God Unknown' to let me to see my new-born daughter one more time. In the flash of steel on steel that came through the smoke and dust of my last cannon shot I knew that my prayer had been answered (It was the only T-72 destroyed by tank fire in that war, all the rest were hit by missiles).

Also in that flash I realized that the taking of life is sometimes even more exciting than the making of life. But in living there is also death. I turned inward in guilty penance to that unknown God. The moral pound of flesh extracted was my silence to Meira's pleas.

Months later when I came out of those high bleak mountain valleys, and my remorseful mental cocoon, Meira was gone!..

and it was seven years later and a continent away, when the sadness of the future came to pass. Dorit and I divorced, with all the tragedy that goes with that and three kids.

On a whim I sent a post card and a photo to the address of Meira's parents in Rishon. A while later out of the blue I was stunned to get a phone call in my office at Microsoft. It was Meira.

She was studying in New York.

I was headed on a recruiting trip to Princeton and arranged to meet her at a cafe on the edge of Central Park.

She recognized me first from inside the gloom of the cafe where she was waiting. For a brief hour we walked in the park and sat on a bench and she told me about her life. It seemed she was married and had a daughter. She was working as an architect to support her husband who was studying film. She boasted of designing an arbor for Abe Soffer... whoever he was.

When we parted she did not want me to follow her back to her apartment.

I called her a few more times and I think that her partner heard her speaking to me. I think that she was scared of him.

I heard words in the background and abruptly she said ' I don't want you to ever contact me again '

Stunned, I said OK.

I kept that promise.

That was almost twenty years ago. Yet I have always longed to hear from her. She had hips like bells and hair as gold as the sun on summer barley. I had loved her absolutely but I had been too weak to overcome the obligation of an unwanted marriage.

I knew I had fucked up completely with her. Over the years I pondered the inflection points that nudged me away. I would say to myself "You fucking idiot."

Then came the internet. Every now and again I would search for Meira.. that was easy... but in English was her surname with a 'w' or a 'v'? or a 'i' or 'y'?. I found her under almost all the combinations. Now, it seemed, she is one of the most successful architects in Israel. With her partner, also the head of architecture at her old college, doing such grand projects as the refurbishment of the Israel Museum.

Thus last Saturday my hand trembled as I clicked the facebook request, the one I had waited twenty seven years for, to again be Meira's friend.

It was my birthday.

That's what made it even more unusual. After nearly three decades surely she could not have remembered! Was that 'Unknown God' once again messing with my mind?

I wrote to her....

March 14 at 9:47pm

Is it possible that my Meira has parted the curtain of the past?

Maybe it is not the same? The profile birthday does not mesh... But it certainly meshes with ~ when I first

laid eyes on you.

- David

To which she replied

March 15 at 5:13am

Hi, Is it u?

I am younger and older now.


Fuck me sideways! That is all she offers after all these years!!

Then I look more carefully at her profile picture. Her genius for design and innuendo seeps forth!

Obviously it is her office and bookshelves, and maybe an aerial photo of Jerusalem on the wall.

And cocked lazily out from behind the end of the shelves..... just her splayed legs. One ankle resting on the bench, the other from its apex on her tall chair, clasped in mid air suspension.

They are her legs, I recognize them... high arched, curved, soft, full female, emanating from those hidden bell like hips, that I remembered.

Suddenly I burn with a desire to pad softly over, to stand before her, and gaze into the hidden and suggestive apex of her life that should have borne me sons and daughters.

I want to stand before her and say I am sorry,... I am so utterly sorry!.... I really fucked up!

I want to stand before her and quote E.E Cummings

i like my body when it is with your

body. It is quite new a thing.

Muscles better and nerves more.

i like your body. i like what it does,

i like its hows. i like to feel the spine

of your body and its bones, and the trembling

--firm-smooth ness and which I will

again and again and again

kiss, i like kissing this and that of you,

i like, slowly stroking the, shocking fuzz

or your electric fur, and what-is-it comes

over parting flesh... and eyes big love-crumbs,

and possibly i like the thrill

of under me you quite new.

and then turn and walk away...

because we are thirty years, and two continents, and an ocean apart...

and that God is still unknown.

- David

Editor: I like this story quite a bit. David and I kicked this story back and forth and there only needed to be a few changes for the sake of clarity.

Frog Hospital will continue this theme of love and marriage. Some of the characters -- Sheila, the Tarot queen from Beaver Marsh Road, Carla, the librarian from San Antonio, Nora, the lady gazing into the mirror on her dressing table, and the African woman who has several names -- we'll be hearing more about them in subsequent installments.

Monday, May 18, 2009

She Liked Breathing into the Phone

It’s not about politics anymore, it’s personal. I think of Nora and her fine hands, her closet full of clothes, her dressing table laden with middle-age lotions.

She stepped out of the tub toweling off, gathered in her robe, and sat down before the mirror.

“Damn,” she said, almost out loud. She looked at her neck and saw the signs of age -- it’s always the neck that shows age in a woman. Nora was matter of fact about this.

She thought about her husband while she fixed her hair. She still loved him.

She was 44 with eyes of shining brown. Her nerves fluttered, sometimes they screamed. Sometimes she stood in the hallway upstairs and felt dizzy -- but not often, not usually. Her life was serene and contented. Her days passed in busy errands and idle moments, and she was bemused by her own happiness.

She dabbed some powder on her face. Her husband never noticed her neck, but she did. “And it’s not getting better,” she told herself. She had put a streak of ginger-brown color, just a tiny streak, more like a wave, in her hair, which was short and dark brown.

She was thin, not from jogging or smoking, but from worrying. She had discovered that worrying can burn up a lot of calories. So she kept thin, and her husband was rich, and her posture was so much more elegant and erect that it had been when she was younger.

She worried constantly about her children, but she was not insecure. Women who worry because they are insecure go straight to the refrigerator and eat. They get fat because they think no one loves them.

Not Nora, her husband and three daughters loved her very much. She was a queen. She was holy. She worried in very comfortable and tasteful surroundings. Her nerves were under control.

The house was large and white, overlooking the pond. It was built near the time when Nora was born. “Almost exactly as old as me, this house,” she said. And who would have thought -- those who knew her when she was younger -- that she would become an outstanding housekeeper.

Not the kind that can’t sit still -- always dusting furniture and ironing sheets, or the kind that bustles morning and night and cans fruit in season. Nora put up some strawberry jam five years ago, but the experience was not satisfying.

No, Nora was a practitioner of intelligent housekeeping. It wasn’t the way her mother did it, but even her mother had a grudging admiration for her domestic style. She ruled her house with her heart and her mind. Actually, the place was not that tidy. Dust lay on the dining room table, enough dust to embarrass the kind of woman that works hard to impress her friends.

Nora would notice the dust in a disinterested way. She would see it on her way to the patio, where she often went to read a book and watch her youngest child at play.

- - -

Nora was at her dressing table. She looked in the mirror and thought about herself. Mostly, during the day, she was busy or thinking about her children. Or she might be talking on the phone to her friends. She spent a lot of time on the phone. She had morning phone friends and afternoon phone friends. She had one late night phone friend for special calls.

She liked breathing into the phone, whispering closely into the ear of her beloved. Her voice came over the phone like a warm, curling maternal way, the way a momma cat licks her kittens. But she was not a real social animal, she didn’t go out much to visit.

On this Tuesday evening in May in Massachusetts, she wasn’t thinking about her friends, or her husband or children. She was thinking about herself.

“Oh, I’ve been through this identity thing before. It’s just a college girl’s torment. I don’t see why I have to think about it anymore,” she said, but she looked deeper, peering past the perfume bottles, and the little snapshots tucked in the mirror frame. She looked at her face in the mirror. Her face was like a sister. She hated her face. She was stuck with it. She knew every line. But now she looked deeper. She looked past her own beautiful brown eyes. Lovers had told her so often about her eyes, and they had gazed at her in wonder.

She kept looking deeper, and she felt foolish. She wanted to glance back over her shoulder to see if the bedroom door was closed.

“I’m not an introspective person, this is selfish,” she thought. Still there had to be an examination. Her life was passing in an orderly procession of picnics and small tragedies, with plenty of time for reading good books, doing chores and watching over the children.

Periodically she knew she must look at herself and be herself, all alone, and not get right up and get on the phone and call Cathy long distance to talk for a half hour. No, this was not to tell, this was to keep for herself...

[We'll be hearing more about Nora in upcoming issues.]

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Scars on Her Face

I met Carla Montejo in San Antonio, at La Tuna. It was an outdoor cafe that served beer under the pecan trees. La Tuna was an island of pleasure and ease in the brutal heat of south Texas.

So I went there on a Friday evening after my week at the newspaper. Carla was sitting at the picnic table waiting for my approach.

"It's not polite to keep a lady waiting," she said, with an arched eyebrow.

I walked up to her. "We haven't met," I said.

"But you have been watching me," she said.

"I ... "

"What do you want?" she said.

She looked at me. She had strong black hair cut in bangs over her eyes, and these sculptured eyebrows, which were too perfect. Her skin was white, as if she avoided the sun.

"My name is Fred. Me llamo Federico, si entiendes."

"You think I am Spanish?"

"I don't know your people, but I think you are intelligent and beautiful."

"Intelligent?" she asked. "How can you tell?"

"Well, maybe I'm wrong, but I am a confident man. I trust what I see -- you are educated."

"I'm a librarian," she said.

"Exactamente," I said. "May I join you?"

We drank beers at the picnic table, and became acquainted about her family and mine, about her work and mine. Carla had always lived in San Antonio, except for five years in Atlanta, which she hated. She had a difficult relation with her parents, an ex-husband who was no good -- and a very beautiful teenage daughter, she said.

"My daughter is not ugly like me," she said.

"You're not ... " but I stopped. This was a trap. A woman doesn't say she's ugly. If I were to deny her ugliness, it would be as wrong as saying it was true.

"I was in a car accident twenty years ago, when I was in college. Take a closer look at my face," she said. I leaned across the picnic table, coming near. "You see," she said, using her fingers to outline the scars on her face, the fine tracery of many stitches, the result of three surgeries.

She had no eyebrows. What looked so perfectly arched and symmetrical from a distance had been drawn on her face, just so, just right. Every day, she looked in the mirror and put on her face like that.

"You're not ugly," I said. "I noticed you across the patio. It was your hair and your eyes that I saw. " But I couldn't say more, because of this trap, because of what other men had told her, when her stitches were raw and painful.

She could have been sweet and tender as a maiden, but she was scarred and ugly.
Mexican matrons talked behind her back -- que lastima, she'll never get a husband. Friends came to see her in the hospital, but they avoided her later. I could see all this, and knew that she would be telling me this, in long talks.

We began to go out together. She made me strong, and I began to care for her. I liked her size and her height. We went to movies and poetry readings. I was proud to be seen with her. We walked together in a careful way. If we were in the lobby at a concert, I was glad to be noticed by other people.

She invited me to her apartment for her cooking. "I want you to eat at my table. I will make beans better than anyone you know."

"Good Mexican food? I love it," I said.

The beans were like velvet. The tortillas were wrapped in embroidered cloth napkins. The table was heavy oak. The windows were covered with wooden shutters to banish the heat.

This is what I wanted to learn. Carla knew how to live in south Texas. Her apartment was cool and her skin was white.

I wanted to learn because she and I would be together in this country, meaning I would stay somehow. At least that's what I was thinking about when we sat on the couch after dinner.

But she was too quick, too observant, "Fred, what do you want?" she asked.

I felt invaded, nurturing a thought that needed time to grow. "Paloma... dulcita ...."

My endearments aroused her in a flash of anger.

"You won't ever love me, I'm not pretty enough for you," she said.

I was done for and I knew it. I began mumbling excuses and making signs to leave.

"You're a coward," she cried. "You have no guts. You looked me over and then you changed your mind. What kind of man are you?"

What kind of man? A man who was out of his element and needed a cigarette or just some space. I began heading for the door.

"Get out," she screamed, and she picked up my shoes and threw them at me while I opened the door. "Zapatos, la tuya!" she cried in triumph.

I got to my car , walking in my socks, and I left. I mean, I really left -- Carla, my job at the newspaper, San Antonio, South Texas altogether, and the blasted heat most of all. I didn't stop moving until I got back to the West Coast.

But she was right. I was a coward. She was all in, and I was dithering. I played it safe. I wanted to be careful. What kind of man is that?

STORY TIME. It's story time at Frog Hospital. Last week's story, the "Ten of Swords" was a huge hit and many readers asked for more. There were also several pointed inquiries about how to get a hold of Sheila, the woman who lives on Beaver Marsh Road and reads Tarot cards. I have forwarded those inquiries to Sheila.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Ten of Swords

It rained hard all day, so I knocked off early. I went home and read a detective novel, Echo Park by Michael Connelly.

But I was restless. I kept thinking about old business, especially my ex-wife. How come I was thinking about her after five years? How did she know I had money?

She had her voodoo working against me. She lives in Pennsylvania now, but she can still tell when I have money. That's when she calls, acting nice.

I'm glad she's so far away because I still love her and I would give her the money.

But I'm here in Skagit County, which is 2,000 miles, mountain ranges, great rivers, and vast plains away -- it's a long drive to Scranton, up there in the Poconos where she lives, in eastern Pennsylvania. The Poconos have great hunting for deer and bear in the fall. Fat bears and silky deer. I'm glad she lives there and not here.

I decided to have my cards read about this. Just this once. I went over to Sheila's house on Beaver Marsh Road. It's twenty dollars. What's the harm?

Sheila had me sit down, handle the cards, shuffle them, cut them, and hand them back to her. She spread them out on the table and said, "Draw three."

First, I got the King of Pentacles. Second, I got the Queen of Pentacles.

"Oh, that's very good," she said. "That's the money. You're prosperous now. You have the King and Queen working together. This is your inner spirit, your male part and your female part in harmony, working for the money."

I smiled, "Yes, there has been a little abundance. I'm not as poor as I was anyway."

"The Pentacles are called Coins in the old decks," she explained. "This is a good thing to have the King and Queen of Coins. It's better to have money, you know. But draw another card now."

I did. It was the Ten of Swords.

"Oooh," she said. "This is so interesting."

The Ten of Swords shows a man lying on the ground, with ten swords stuck in his back, and you start with the obvious, like who is stabbing you in the back.

"So who is it?" Sheila asked.

"My ex-wife," I said. "Maybe this is a joke. Stabbed in the back. Ten Times. Kind of overdoing it, don't you think?

I laughed. "This doesn't make me feel bad. It's like I got killed ten times over so I can finally get some rest now. It's better to be dead because you don't have to do anything, and you don't care."

"You're ex-wife did this. She was the African woman, right?" she said.

"Oh, you knew her, but she had too much witchcraft going for her. She used all these powders and charms. She would tell me to put this powder in my shoe, it will make me stronger, or put this piece of bark in my mouth and keep it there when I go to the office, and then everyone will believe me.

"She used all that voodoo -- the things she wore under her western clothes, beads and charms. And that was only the stuff I knew about. I didn't worry about that. It was the stuff I didn't know about, like what she buried in those holes in the back yard.

"So, yeah, she stabbed me in the back. Got all my money. Wrecked my house. Chased my children away. Left me with nothing," I said.

"But your soul," Sheila said, sitting up right, staring now.

"My soul?" I asked.

"Yes, she took everything but your soul," Sheila explained. "That's why you said you were glad to be dead. The Ten of Swords can be a good card, you know. You wanted to get out of your old self, but you were afraid to let go. So the African woman killed you with ten swords. She was doing you a favor. You said so your self -- that you got some peace after you died. You said it like it was a joke. But it isn't a joke. You have a beautiful new soul now."

"Yeah," I interrupted, "And no money, and no house, plus a lot of debts I can't pay."

"And a beautiful new soul," she said with a big smile. "What else you gonna do? It's all over now anyway. You have the King and Queen of Pentacles going for you now. All that money will be coming back to you. You can buy another house pretty soon."

I thought that was pretty good, the way she read the cards. It's not the kind of thing I do too often, but the African woman was too mysterious and I couldn't find the answer in books, so I asked Sheila to read for me about this.

I left and I gave her some extra money besides the twenty.

Now I'm sitting here in the bookstore, sipping a latte, sitting by the gas fireplace. It's been raining hard and steady all day.

I'm watching time slip away like the tide, wondering what will happen next.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Totally threatened

I saw photos of Third Year law students at Stanford University. They were at a party, wearing dress up clothes. This was a Photo Album on Facebook. One of these law students is a Frog Hospital reader, which is a sign of maturity.

But I gotta tell you, seeing these kids, in their mid-twenties -- I sure hope they don't take over the world. It looked like a lot of brains and no experience. They are not ready for the power and the high salaries and prestige.

You should never go to law school until you have lived -- until you have worked as a waitress for at least a year, or served in the military, or borne and raised children, or done farm work.

I would never let anybody go to law school until they were at least 35-years-old.

And women make half of the law students today. Nobody listened to me back in the seventies when women began going to law school. But I will state my plan, as I said it back then.

Every time a woman enters law school, we need to get one man to retire from practicing law. This way we would not increase the number of lawyers in the country. I proposed a federally-financed buyout program, where a practicing lawyer would surrender his law license for a substantial sum, and then find some other way to make a living.

But we didn't do that. Instead all the women went to law school, and now we have twice as many lawyers as need to have, and they are all very expensive to feed.

I feel threatened by these people. I am old and weak, and I fear they will make new laws that I do not understand, and then punish me.

NOT THREATENED, BUT NOT IMPRESSED EITHER. Tom Robbins is coming out with a new book. He will stage a book signing at the LaConner Brewery this Tuesday, May 5, at 6:30 p.m. All you Tom Robbins fans can come a running.

I don't get this guy. There are all these women who seem to go ga-ga over a man-child, some little farts-in-his-pants Peter Pan type of guy, and they chase old Tom Robbins around the block, trying to recover their lost youth. This is all very second-rate.

That's why I don't live in LaConner. Tom Robbins takes up way too much room.

I saw this clearly after going to the Leonard Cohen concert last week. Cohen is an artist of great stature, whereas Robbins is a writer who sells a lot of books. There is a difference.

So be my guest. Go to the book signing. Meet your "I never wanna grow up, wa-wa" Man. I will be someplace else.

ON FIR ISLAND. I rent a place on this big farm. I could have a very big garden, but I don't. Just a small plot, no bigger than a kitchen table in size. I planted collard greens last month and they are doing fine. In between the collard greens I put in some parsley, and then to get it really crowded, I added some shallots. I like the plants to be all close together.

This small plot is surrounded by a five-foot swath of wood chips. I call it the slug wilderness, as any hungry slugs would have to traverse this barren strip in order to get at my collard greens.

I dug up another small plot next to the house, on the south side, right next to the faucet. I did this because I'm too cheap to buy another length of hose. Being right next to the faucet will make it easier to water.

I'm going to plant scarlet runner beans in this plot. I was going to plant them today, but an old timer warned me -- it's still too early. The soil temperature is still too low for beans. They will only rot in the ground. So I will put the scarlet runner beans in next week. Plus some indeterminate cherry tomatoes that can grow up the same trellis with the beans.

Of course, I will need to build a trellis for these climbers, but I can do that later.

SUBSCRIPTIONS. Frog Hospital is doing fine. We have received a total of $855 since the drive began in February. We are hoping to break our old record of $2,000 set in 2005. Frog Hospital was doing good in 2005, but then I took the job at the conservative Texas newspaper, and I didn't really have the time for Frog Hospital. I let things slide. Revenue fell lower and lower, until last year, we only earned $470.

But I am renewing my effort, and it's beginning to show. The newsletter is as good as ever, and people are still willing to pay for good material -- something those idiots in the mainstream press don't seem to realize.

So many Frog Hospital readers are defenders of mainstream journalism -- I realize that. I understand your concerns. I just don't agree.

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