Saturday, June 27, 2009

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I saw broken roads and abandoned buildings in Detroit

I saw broken roads and abandoned buildings in Detroit. It can be very sad. When my daughter gave me the downtown tour, I almost asked to leave because I couldn't face the despair, but I stuck it out. It was a hot afternoon, so we ducked into a hotel for an iced coffee. There was a line in the lobby -- baseball fans coming into town for the game. The Detroit Tigers are really hot this year and Comerica Stadium has a sell-out crowd every night.

That evidence counters the sight of the ruins, so I can't support the grimmest scenario.

That same day, we drove out to the countryside to camp by a lake. The campground was full to overflowing with happy people and children riding bicycles. They may have been on their last dollar and escaping from the misery of their doubtful future. But I saw America at leisure -- America like you can only see it in the Midwest -- overfed, in lawn chairs, swatting mosquitoes in the sultry air.

I interviewed a young man studying history in graduate school at the University of Michigan. He's worried about getting a job when he finishes. But that's not news. The humanities have always been a tough sell.

I toured the Business School on the Ann Arbor campus and talked with MBA students and faculty. They are happy people. Business school is not theoretical, it's about how to get thing done. Business school is about developing a project that will solve a problem. And when you have a project that engages your mind and your heart, you tend to be happy.

I have been chided by loyal Frog Hospital readers to get off the happy face and tell it like it is. Well, the news is not all bad. I'm only writing about what I have seen, to the best of my ability.

So I have arrived at a balanced presentation of the state of Michigan. It's an awesome beautiful place, full of energetic, intelligent people, and it's really, really screwed up right now.

Monday, June 22, 2009

America Gives Iran the Tools of Democracy

President Barack Obama has been urged to take a more forceful and direct stance in supporter of the street demonstrations in Tehran. "He should speak out. He should send aid and give clear moral support." People are saying that.

As we watch the news unfold with beautiful and tragic scenes of Iranian people speaking out in fear for their lives, we wonder, "What can we do to help?"

Well, there is lot more that we can do, but I want to point out that we are already helping quite a bit --

because we have given Iran the tools of democracy, and those tools are called Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

These so-called trivial social networking sites, designed and implemented in our open (maybe not open enough) society, have allowed the Iranian opposition to communicate and coordinate their efforts.

I have been on Twitter for two months now, and I often thought I was just playing a silly game. A lot of it is silly, true enough. But the mullahs can't jam Twitter, and the people on the streets and rooftops are using this "silly" program to full effect.

So we are helping, and in the best possible way, too. We're not telling them what to do or what to say. We're not sending soldiers or money.

We are simply doing what any neighbor would do. "Here's the tool box. You build the house."

Sunday, June 14, 2009

My cousins in Chicago

I have wonderful news. I'm speaking to my cousins in Chicago again. We quarreled 13 years ago over an inheritance, and then papers were filed and lawyers became involved. That really killed it.

My sister and I won the lawsuit and got the money, but we lost the affection of our cousins and that hurt.

It's not like I have much to do with them anyway, but they are my family. Like my cousin Dennis. He's a complete dork. I would never choose him as a friend. And that's the great thing about relatives. They just are who they are, and who they are is no reflection on your character.

So I cherish my cousin Dennis and I hated that we fought over the money.

What happened is that my Aunt Carolyn died in 1996. She never married or had children. She was a legal secretary and held the same job in downtown Chicago for forty years.

We all knew she was going to leave us a little money when she died, but we didn't know about the savings bonds. Aunt Carolyn suffered poverty during Depression and she had to fight for every penny back then. She began buying savings bonds every year, starting in 1935.

Well, it turns out that if you buy savings bonds every year from 1935 to 1996 it starts to add up, and when she died she left us all a bundle of money.

It was money that we didn't deserve and didn't earn, but she wanted us to have it and that was awfully nice of her. Except -- how can I put this? -- I think she liked me and my sister better than Dennis or my other cousins, because she left us most of the money.

The cousins only got half as much we did, and they were really mad about that. I said to them, "Why are you mad at me? It wasn't my idea. Why don't you get mad at Aunt Carolyn instead?"

But long-standing differences came into play as well. The cousins are conservative church-going people who stayed in Chicago. My sister and I are free spirited hippie types who moved out West. Our lives were very different than theirs.

We just couldn't reconcile. It seemed like we no longer spoke the same language anymore.
Compromises failed. People screamed and cursed at each other. They had turned into strangers and it was all about the money.

There's nothing new about this. Families have been fighting over money since Adam and Eve.

But I'm still so very happy that the fight is over, and I think it is news -- good news and something to share with the world at large.

We never resolved the issue, of course, but time healed it -- thirteen years was enough. My sister flew back to Chicago last week from her home in Denver and made a tentative phone call to the cousins. She was greeted warmly. She was invited over for dinner. They said, "Why are you staying at a hotel, you could have stayed at our house?"

My heart felt so warm hearing this from my sister. I know that's a cliche, but it's true. And Dennis, my sister reported, is still a complete dork.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Apologies to Candy Hatcher

I am subject to delayed grief, but this Monday, at the coffee shop in Seattle, it was when I finally realized that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is gone forever. It's not ever coming back. I am so very sorry about that. I miss that paper and I miss how newspapers used to be even a few years ago.

I miss the Los Angeles Times when I read it on my sister's kitchen table in Venice Beach -- acres of print, an abundance of more than I could ever read, vast resources of highly-skilled reporters going over stories from every possible angle. The Los Angeles Times is still with us, but it's a pale ghost of what it was.

Now I feel the need to apologize for some comments I made this spring about the demise of mainstream journalism -- I mocked them in their hour of defeat when I should have shown sympathy.

I apologize to Candy Hatcher at the Virginian-Pilot, to Elaine Kolodziej and Susan Hodges at the Wilson County News, to Stedem Wood and Beverly Crichfield at the Skagit Valley Herald, to Sandy Stokes at the LaConner Weekly News, to Tara Nelson at the Northern Light and to Monica Guzman at the Internet version of the Post-Intelligencer.

You are all doing good work. It's getting really tough, and I don't know how this will work out, but ..... Hang in There, and It's Not Over and Don't Quit.

I actually like a well-worn cliche. There are times when nothing else will do.

SCARECROW. Welcome to the world of best-selling authors. Sometimes the vast multitudes are right and there's no reason to be a snob about that. I have been enjoying the detective novels written by Michael Connelly, especially Angels Flight and the Lincoln Lawyer.

Connelly was inspired by the hard-boiled fiction of Raymond Chandler, and his novels celebrate the landscape of Los Angeles.

When I talked to Connelly at the book-signing yesterday, I said, "You love Los Angeles, I can tell." He protested and said, "I get pretty cynical about it, but yes I do."

The book-signing was at the Seattle Mystery Book Store in Pioneer Square in Seattle -- a couple of hundred people quickly lined up at noon for the ritual. Connelly sat in a fat leather chair behind a table, protected by hovering acolytes on each side, obviously weary of the whole procedure as he has been manhandled from city to city on his book tour -- but he's a game fellow just the same, willing to do his duty and sign book after book, while mumbling platitudes of appreciation.

He's left-handed.

That was yesterday. I read most of Scarecrow last night and I finished it this morning. It's very good.

THELMA PALMER. It's possible to write a very good poem on the Internet. This poem is by Thelma Palmer who lives on Guemes Island.


By summer dream
a stile rises from the bay
beyond my bedroom window,
that is low and open to the night.

And, there, dead darlings
from my childhood rise and call to me.

One by one they climb the steps,
pause briefly at the top,
sing out their names
and slowly walk back down to water.


If I call out in trembling
"What do you want?"
they answer back,

"Remembering. Just remembering."

LOVE LETTERS FROM THE SIXTIES. I have been writing about love and marriage these past few issues, and its been very rewarding. I hit a vein of solid gold when I wrote the high school story about Jill's letters to Sam. It was like letting something out of a closet that had been nailed shut for 45 years. Things happen in high school that are very, very important, but it takes some strong medicine to deal with it. I think we've had enough for now.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Summer is Depressing
by fred owens

I got an email from Eric in Baltimore:

Thanks for the good news about summer in the Skagit Valley and going out in boats and summer evenings and all that cool stuff. But I always get depressed when summer comes. For me, it's the end of hope. I'm still stuck in this job, which I hate, and I don't want to hear from people that I should be grateful to even have a job. This job I have is crummy and I'm stuck here.

And Lisa looks like she's going to move out any day now. I know I've complained about how she talks so much, but now it's like super quiet around, or I come home and she's finishing a phone call, but she doesn't tell me about it.

Not good. Depressing. High heat and humidity. I hate summer.

Anyway, I liked that story, “Love Letters from the Sixties.” It was fresh like you said. But this was way before my time, and I wish it had more context, like a background or something -- I'm just telling you how to write your stories.

So Eric writes from
Baltimore saying that spring is about hope and new beginnings, but summer is the harsh reality. I feel the same way -- you know --because it never happens like I hope it would.

Another June and all the same old dreck, with or without mosquitoes.

Then, I have to say, these love stories I have been writing are very difficult. They probably don't look like a lot of work, but they are. Also, I get too sentimental -- I'm susceptible to that, like crying at the movies.

I could always write something about politics. Let’s see -- Obama is in
Cairo, and everybody under 35 is gay -- that about covers it.

I am sitting at a strong oak table at the Anacortes Library. I drank two Americano doubles, one after another, but I am still very sleepy. I don't know why.

4 p.m. Let's review the day. I woke up at 5 a.m. because the sun is so bright and my window faces east. I rolled over and tried to go back to sleep, but I only tossed and turned until 6:15 p.m. when I got up.

I made coffee. I put on my shorts and went for a run. The running was good today, going down
Fir Island Road and I made it as far as the mail box around the curve from our house -- not very far, but pretty good for this ex-smoker.

Then I showered and dressed and drank a little coffee and left for the Rexville Store to have more coffee with my pals.

David Hedlin was there. He's a farmer. He orders toast every morning, and he likes it with peanut butter and jelly like a whole meal. Toast only cost $1.50 so that's a pretty good deal.

But today when Dave said "Toast," I jumped right in. "Me too."

I looked over at Dave, "Did he hear me?"

Dave assured me that my order had registered with Stuart who makes the toast -- Stuart Welch is the owner of the Rexville Store and our morning host.

8 a.m. I drove to Mount Vernon to get my new tires. They cost $267 for all four, with a 40,000 mile warranty. No sense getting a longer lasting tire, because my old Toyota has 240,000 miles on it.

But it feels good to have good rubber so this made me happy.

I got the tires, and then I drove back to my crew leader's house, which happens to be across the street from the Rexville Store.

I mean my crew leader for the U.S. Census job, where I have been working for the past 6 weeks, going house to house with a hand-held computer, getting everybody's address mapped correctly.

That was a great job -- $17.50 an hour, plus 55 cents per mile on the car.

I love the federal government. I adore the government -- this is the most money I have made in years. I could weep for gratitude.

But leaving that all aside, I went over to the crew leader's house and turned in my badge and hand-held computer -- because the job was finished.

I knew it was only temporary, but it still made me sad.

Then, as soon as I was done with that, I called the office of nursing administration at
Skagit Valley Hospital, to tell them to put me back on-call for my nursing aide job at the hospital.

My job as a nursing aide is very hard, stressful, and it doesn't pay well. But it's the job I have, so that's that -- just don't tell me I should be luck to have it, okay?

Anyway, the hospital was glad to hear from me, glad to know I was once again available to work on the evening shift, and said they had plenty of work for me.

That's a good thing about hospitals -- they don't run out of work.

Now, it's
noon. And it's very hot -- at least for the Skagit Valley.

I decided to do a small gardening job. There's a traffic island next to the Rexville Store -- just a small bit of earth, and you could hardly expect the state or the county to come and tend it. So that's my little volunteer job. I dug up some of the weeds and cultivated the soil. It was really hot and sweaty, but I worked slowly.

I won't plant this little plot until tomorrow morning when it's nice and cool -- everybody knows that it's not wise to transplant delicate flowers in the heat of the day.

After I finished that small garden job, I drove back to the farm, took a shower, and had a twenty minute nap.

Than I drove to LaConner to stop at the Next Chapter bookstore. I saw Lisa, the owner, and she asked me did I have the new poster for our Winter Writers Group. I said yes -- I went back out to my car and got it. Then Lisa put it in a good spot.

The Winter Writers Group meets all summer long, in case you wanted to know. We meet at
10 a.m. every Saturday at the Next Chapter in LaConner.

Before I left the bookstore, I got my first double Americano. But when I got to Anacortes and set up my laptop on the library, I was still sleepy. So skipped out of the library, drove back over to Starbucks and got another coffee.

The caffeine is barely working today -- it must this sleepy, hot summer weather.
As you can see, I've been busy today, but nothing really that hard.

Anyway, I wanted to respond to Eric's request to put the love story in a context -- this is a very good idea. I have enjoyed thinking about my life in 1964, when I was in high school on the North Shore of Chicago.

I have the right attitude for this story--this it not about nostalgia. But this is about a place I can go to, and bring you along, because it still exists, and so does Jill Farias the girl friend who "Sam" dated. She's flopped on her bed, kicking her feet, waiting for Sam to call, because it's 1964 and girls don't call boys. ….

Just give me a little more time ….