Sunday, December 16, 2012

Turn the Lights Off

Turn the Christmas lights off a for a few days. It's too sad. Christmas is wonderful -- but this year it's not so wonderful.

Turn the lights off for a few days.

The flags are at half-staff but that isn't enough. Half-staff is for military heroes and national leaders, but it doesn't serve at this time.

In America we fix problems. It's the nature of our culture. If there's a problem, then we can find a way to fix it. We are not like some other cultures that seem to accept fate. So we are going to fix this problem -- but not this week. No fixing. No solutions. Not this week.

Turn the lights off for a few days.

This part of the Christmas story is often overlooked, but we might read it this year. There's no historical evidence that it actually happened, but our knowledge of tyrants and human depravity says that it's true.

The Massacre of the Innocents is at Matthew 2:16–18

When [the Magi] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. Get up, he said, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him. So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son."[5] When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.

After a few days, turn the Christmas lights on again. And tell a story about the sun and the moon. How the sun goes down every day and it becomes night, but we are not afraid, because the sun always comes back in the morning. And the moon goes to hide away every month, but it always comes back in a few days to brighten up the night.

Merry Christmas from our family to yours,


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My blog is Fred Owens

send mail to:

Fred Owens
35 West Main St Suite B #391
Ventura CA 93001

Monday, December 10, 2012

Legendary Actor Robert De Niro

While a typhoon raged in the Philippines and civil war raged in Syria, peace dwelt in Santa Barbara. Robert De Niro was in town to receive accolades from the Santa Barbara Film Festival. The headline in the Santa Barbara News-Press read "Film Festival honors Robert De Niro" and referred to De Niro as a "Legendary Actor."

De Niro is ..... legendary .... but he doesn't take this too seriously. He's a guy from New York who has had some good roles and some good luck. He makes a living. A favorite film is The Bronx Tale where De Niro plays the role of a city bus driver, a day-in and day-out job that makes him a hero to his family. This is the kind of guy -- that bus driver -- whom De Niro honors.

But the Film Festival picked De Niro for the mascot this year because once you get to the award level, they just keep picking you, giving you honorary degrees, all that.

What about five hundred other actors in Hollywood who are pretty good at their work, and when do they get an award? What about a man I know in Altadena -- Allan Wasserman is an actor, he makes a living. He's a familiar face on some TV shows, he also does theater. He keeps working and he's pretty good. He has a dog named Murray and a lovely wife. This friend of mine also comes from New York, like De Niro -- and I imagine these two gentlemen respect each other.......Robert De Niro and my legendary friend from Altadena..... who should also get an award.

Philippines Typhoon Takes Over 600 Lives and Damages Banana Crop

Aside from the still-climbing death toll on the southern island of Mindanao, the storm destroyed 34,000 acres of bananas, or 18 percent of the total crop. This crop serves as export income, and the loss will be felt deeply -- among other losses.

But just to point out that we live in a global culture and economy -- we eat bananas from the Philippines, and the price might go up a little bit because of the crop loss.

Which brings us to the ---

Kyoto Protocols. This is a treaty designed to reduce carbon emissions by the major economic powers. Less developed economies are not expected to reduce their emissions as much or at all --- that would make it like progressive taxation.

Only how do you account for the carbon life-cycle of a product? Our blessed land is a major exporter of wheat to Egypt.

We manufacture tractors and farm equipment, we use chemicals from agri-factories, and much fuel to grow the crops -- for the benefit of the people of Egypt. So who pays the carbon tax, the producer or the consumer?

Egypt is in turmoil. The military may soon intervene to restore order. Egypt receives over $1 billion in direct military aid from the US. We build tanks and jet planes and then "loan" the money to Egypt to buy the stuff. So who pays the carbon tax on the wheat and the military equipment?

And we pay a smaller amount to the Palestinian West Bank faction known as Fatah -- it helps to keep them moderate.

And quite a bit more to Israel.

How they gonna have a war without us? -- they would have to form a camel calvary and use swords.

But what about Rwanda? -- they didn't need chemical weapons or jet fighters from America, they slaughtered upwards of 500,000 of their fellow Rwandans, and they did it one corpse at a time, using machetes. (who sold them the machetes?)

The civil war rages in Syria and the typhoon rages in the Philippines. We say one is a natural disaster and the other is a man-made disaster. What is the difference?

A nice gift for Christmas, Frog Hospital, the book at where you can read a few pages -- It's a lasting value. You could read it today or five years from now -- durable words that won't wear out.

It's not a funny book. It's a serious book with a few jokes in it. Frog Hospital has three fire stories.

-- the trailer fire outside of Floresville, Texas, where a mother and two children died in the night

-- a memory of the Our Lady of Angels fire in Chicago in the 1950s when over 80 school children burned to death

-- a house fire in La Vernia, Texas, which was almost funny if it wasn't tragic.

The La Vernia woman was so mad at her husband that she poured gasoline all over the double wide mobile home and lit it afire, then stepped outside and called the sheriff to report her action. The house was left in ruins and she was arrested for arson. Some folks wondered if it was a crime to burn your own house down, but the sheriff thought it was a crime. Apparently the woman's husband also thought so, because he would not post her bail.

She stayed in the county jail. I didn't find out where the husband was sleeping.

That's the book. You see a photo on the cover of the author standing in a boat with Robert Sund's Fishtown shack in the background.
That's where the book begins, that's the attitude of the book, which is why it got on the cover -- but most of the book takes place in wide spaces from California to Ohio to New England, to St. Louis, and the year of drought in South Texas --- it's all about America.

You can buy it from Amazon for $14.95 -- and please let me know if you do that.

Or -- much better -- you can buy it from me directly and I will sign it...... Buy it from me by hitting the Pay Pal button on the Frog Hospital blog for $25 and then send me your mailing address.

Or -- takes longer -- send a check to 35 West Main Street, Suite B, #391, Ventura, CA 93001

We're approaching the goal of selling 1,000 copies. That's the magic number. At that point the publisher recoups his investment and we get to publish another book.

And that's the reward for writing books -- if it goes well, you get to write another one.

So far, it's been a pleasure. I want to finish by saluting two well-known authors.

Philip Roth, at age 79, has announced a retirement from writing fiction. I have just begun to enjoy his novels, and I am very glad he wrote them. He would know better than others if he is tapped out ---- well, let's remember Ted Williams hit a home run in his last at-bat and then said good-bye.

Elmore Leonard, at age 87, is still writing crime novels. He's a favorite to me.

So you give it up, or you keep going.

In the meantime, most of my words are on FACEBOOK these days. You should friend me at "Fred Owens" Nobody in America or around the earth composes more interesting and varied posts. Honestly, this writer is the premier FB poster of all time. That's what you will find out.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My blog is Fred Owens

send mail to:

Fred Owens
35 West Main St Suite B #391
Ventura CA 93001

Friday, November 09, 2012

Person, Partner and Parent -- new rules for marriage

FROG HOSPITAL -- Nov. 9, 2012

By Fred Owens

This is really boring stuff. It's like going back to school or reading the manual -- but it can't be helped......I need to get back to writing the farm news really soon.

Person, Partner and Parent -- new rules for marriage.

I will explain the new rules for marriage, which can be confusing, so I am using an instructional format. Ready?

The key words are Person, Partner, and Parent. The operative verb is Choose.

And this is how it works:

A person may choose a partner and may become a parent. Simple. Any person may choose any other person to be a partner and they may or may not choose to become parents.

Got it?

Okay, but there's an important variation. A person may choose to become a parent without choosing a partner -- this is called being a single parent.

Those are the basics. Notice that no gender usage is necessary in this format. Terms like husband, wife, mother and father may still be used but in a subordinate sense.

The wedding ceremony itself is a different matter. Curiously, the new rule is the same as the old rule -- women are very interested in weddings, all the details and customs and hoo-ha. Men, by a large, except for a few floral arrangers, only want to show up on time and wear a suit. The archaic terms bride and groom have not been supplanted, often causing confusion -- two brides? two grooms? Be assured this matter is under linguistic reform, but for now we carry on.

Now, let us bring up a difficult subject -- proponents of traditional marriage object to the new rules on moral and religious grounds, which is a topic for another day. I only want to make one point, but it is an important point -- that people who resist new marriage customs are often reacting from a great deal of confusion rather than moral objection. Consider that 15 or 20 years ago everybody knew what a marriage was and certain assumptions could be made. If a man was getting married, we assumed he was getting married to a woman.

Assumptions are important and make life comfortable -- again, I am discussing manners, not the right or wrong. All the old assumptions have been tossed into the air and some people are just getting cranky about it. That confusion and crankiness should be respected for what it is.

For further study. Old rules for marriage can be seen on film, in two movies. Father of the Bride with Spencer Tracy in 1950, and the 1991 remake with Steve Martin. New movies showing the new rules are coming your way soon.

Women in Journalism. I remember years ago when women were hesitant and even demure, when I had an editor's job and a female secretary who typed my letters. But I wanted things to change and I talked with the women. I encouraged them, helped them with confidence, and more than once I said "Well, you can write a story as good as any man in this office."

"I can?" -- she said shyly, and then, "Yeah, maybe I can."

And then she was coming out of the big editor's office, in tears, after getting dressed down by the boss and I told her "that old bastard is just a bag of hot air, don't let it bother you" and I told her "You could be the editor yourself some day, I mean why not, you're smart, you work hard -- don't sell yourself short."

Well, I moved on and eventually, after much struggle, she did become the editor and she was good at it, and then after a few years behind the desk she began to believe she got there all by herself. And the Publisher was happy after he got over his initial resistance to female staff -- "Hey, let's face it, they work harder and for less money, and I need to stay up with the times."

And the women in journalism didn't need pep talks anymore -- they were loud, brash, competitive spitfires -- get out of the way or get run over, because it's a tough business.

Anyhow, that's how things have changed over the years -- technological changes and the move from print to Internet have meant fewer jobs for everyone which is another topic.

But I'm thinking back to that moment in 1972 when I began talking to my secretary-- I wish I had kept my mouth shut.


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Fred Owens
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My blog is Fred Owens

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Fred Owens
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Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Looking for Work

I was looking for work yesterday, and I will continue looking for work today. Otherwise, there's not much going on around here.... The weather in Santa Barbara -- a high of 70 today -- is normal for November, and a chance of rain tomorrow, which is just in the nick of time -- they had a small fire in the foothills above Montecito yesterday. I could see a towering column of smoke from the freeway -- but the smoke was going straight up and that meant no wind, giving the fire-fighters a break --- they put it out quickly.

A Song for America. A song of America young, brown and female, where the women are strong and the men are kind, where English is one of many languages ..... where Eurocentric pride and patriarchal prejudice have been vanquished, and high fructose corn syrup has been banned ....

I am being ironic -- I can just make this stuff up -- left wing pap. Be careful what you believe. And don't expect too much from our leaders. I cast my vote for Barack Obama last week, so I'll have to own him now.

The Jersey Shore. It will be interesting to watch the recovery on the Jersey Shore -- this is a strong Democratic area -- but I don't think FEMA will pull through for them. Let's see how long it takes them to learn that they will have to do it themselves.

My bet is that they will soon take matters into their own hands.

A Farewell for Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney reminds me of some successful businessmen that I know -- they are good-hearted men but with poor social skills. Romney would never have been elected Governor of Massachusetts unless he was a moderate conservative. But he pandered too much to the Tea Party in order to get the nomination and then swerved back to the center in order to win the election -- too transparently phony.

Organic Airheads Defeated in California. Prop. 37 would have required labeling of GMO foods. Hey, don't get me wrong. I work in this field --- literally in the field on more than one organic farm, and we grow some mighty nutritious vegetables. I support this growing industry -- but, to be honest, we have some really flaky people on board, and they put their muscle behind Prop 37. It was just not a good idea. Hate to say it, but it was too complicated and expensive...... Back to the drawing board.

Democrats acquire super majority in California. Dianne Feinstein declared Senator for Life........It's wonderful to be living in a one-party state.

Let's finish with this good idea.

National Service Draft. Alan Archibald send this in from North Carolina. He writes:

I am increasingly committed to promoting two years' obligatory national service -- for everyone, no exceptions.
As I see it, young women and young men would be able to choose between service in "The War Corps" or a greatly-expanded "Peace Corps."

Have a great day, hope we get rain California, and a mild winter back East.

God bless America.

Subscriptions. We need your help to continue publishing stories like this. Please go to the Frog Hospital blog and hit the PayPal button with your $25 donation. Or write a check for $25 made out to Fred Owens and mail it to 35 West Main St., Suite B #391, Ventura CA 93001.


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My blog is Fred Owens

send mail to:

Fred Owens
7922 Santa Ana Rd
Ventura CA 93001

Friday, October 26, 2012

Voter Fraud in Ohio

The History of Voting Fraud. Voting, as we know it, began in Athens, Greece, during the classical age, commencing about 500 C.E. The procedure was to drop a small stone into a jar. The voters (adult married males who had served time in the military) would line up and, one by one, place either a white stone or a black stone into a jar to signify their vote. This first election was pure and direct democracy.

Voter fraud began on the second election. Some voters secreted two or more white stones within the fold of their tunics, having accepted gold drachmas from the candidate's bag man. When the bribed voters reached the jar, they slipped in the extra stones and thereby ensured a victory for their man.

Lesson: Voter fraud was not invented here, it's been going on for centuries.

Voter Fraud in Covington, Tennessee. Your favorite Aunt Denise, a lifelong Presbyterian Sunday School teacher, a wonderful cook, devoted wife, and loving mother, has also been a precinct worker for the past forty years in this small town of less than 5,000 people.
Everyone knows and trusts Aunt Denise. She has never been caught stealing votes, but watch her hand bag -- the copious one you see placed near to her at the registration desk -- somehow "damaged" ballots seem to end up in her hand bag, and somehow she kind of forgets to turn them in at the end of the day. Nothing wholesale, maybe 10 or 20 ballots, but sometimes that makes a difference in a tight race for sheriff.

Lesson: There is no typical vote stealer, it could a be your Aunt Denise.

Counting Votes in Chicago. In April, 1963, I was a junior in the Honors class at Loyola Academy, a Jesuit school for boys in Chicago. Mayor Dailey, the Mayor Dailey, not his son, was up for re-election that year. The general election didn't count because there was no serious Republican opposition, so what mattered was the Democratic primary.

Someone from Dailey's campaign team contacted the Principal of my high school and and said they needed to hire 15-20 students to help count votes on election night. The students in the Honors class were chosen -- some 15 of us -- we took the subway down to City Hall and got in place on the third floor when the polls closed. It was a fabulous experience, cop cars kept pouring in from all over town, each car carrying locked canvas bags stuffed with ballots from outlying precincts.

We carried these locked canvas bags over to huge tables, poured out the contents, and did an initial rough sort. From there we carried bundles to an enormous room, filled with at least a hundred women, each one at her own table with an adding machine, and those women did the actual counting.

We worked from 8 p.m. until 5 a.m. in the morning. And then we took the subway home and here's the really cool part -- we got paid $40 each -- as temporary employees of the registrars office. Not only that, we got the next day off of school.

So let's add that up -- a night of fun work in downtown Chicago, getting paid, and getting the next day off of school. All perfectly legal, and a decent reward for being a Honors student. It's not voter fraud, it's just smart politics -- because we all loved the Mayor after that.

Lesson: Voter fraud is no more common in Chicago than elsewhere.

Voter Fraud in Ohio. In 2004, the Ohio Secretary of State was Republican Kenneth Blackwell. He was accused of masterminding every conceivable fraudulent scheme. I can't testify for that, but I am sure of one thing he did that cost the Democrats a few thousand votes. Blackwell sort of mal-distributed the voting machines. If you lived in the suburbs with a reliable Republican majority, then your polling place was generously supplied with machines, and you didn't have to wait in line to vote. Park your car, pick up your ballot, mark your vote, and on your way.

But on election day in November of 2004, there was a cold, hard rain falling all day, and if you lived in Franklinton, one of the inner city neighborhoods, then you had to wait in line, in the rain, clutching for your raincoat and umbrella, for more than an one hour, even two hours. I was there. I saw this. And that was because Blackwell had somehow forgotten to get enough voting machines down to Franklinton. Other campaign staff reported long lines all over downtown Columbus in Democratic precincts.

So that was fraud on Blackwell's part. Was it technically illegal? I couldn't say. But I know it was wrong. Were the Democrats, then or now, involved in any fraudulent activities? Probably. And can the Republicans point their finger at the Democrats? Hell no.

Conclusion. Most people are honest, but there are a few crooks in every crowd.


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Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My blog is Fred Owens

send mail to:

Fred Owens
7922 Santa Ana Rd
Ventura CA 93001

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Autumn Leaves in Ohio

The links are missing on this, but I can send you the original email version with all the links. Email me at

The election countdown begins and the days are becoming tense. Don't forget the beauty of our great land. It's what we all care about.

Fall colors. Brandywine Falls in northeast Ohio, with beautiful foliage. The last two weeks of October are the happiest time of the year, especially this election season. For the next two weeks everybody believes they can win, Look for huge campaign rallies on crisp October evenings with thousands of happy, cheering people.

Polls in Ohio --- Every poll taker can make their candidate look good. This one from the conservative National Review takes a tie vote and spins it into a forecast of victory for Romney -- nice try! I would sooner consult astrologers.

Bruce Springsteen from the Plain Dealer. The Plain Dealer, in Cleveland, is Ohio's largest daily newspaper. This story tells of the Boss barnstorming Ohio for Obama. It's a free show and the crowds will be huge. The Romney campaign does not have that kind of fire power -- but they will trot out Condoleeza Rice. She can give a good speech at least.

Question. If you were a Republican and you liked Bruce Springsteen and you could hear him perform for FREE at an Obama rally, would you go?

Defiance from the Washington Post. Defiance is a small city southeast of Toledo and fairly close to Detroit. General Motors is and always has been the main employer in Defiance. And the factories are back to work -- so you would think that Defiance is going for Obama. Nope. You need to read the story to find out why this factory town might go for Romney. Romney grew up in Michigan, near by, and his Dad ran a car company, American Motors, so he is no stranger to this industry.

Xenia, Ohio In April of 1974, 34 people were killed by a tornado in Xenia, Ohio. Xenia, a small city near Dayton, and they surely have not forgotten this tragedy. More than 300 people were killed in neighboring states by a multitude of violent storms that same day.

I was in Charlottesville, Virginia, in Sept. of 1974, hitchhiking. We were picked up -- me and Gabriel and Selma, all three of us -- by some hippies in a school bus, going to Yellow Springs, Ohio, the home of Antioch College, and very near to Xenia. We did drive through Xenia at that time and saw the wreckage -- this was six months after the storm.

We stayed in Yellow Springs for a few days, then got on a freight train for Missouri, and then hitched a ride to Oklahoma and on to southern California --- but I had forgotten all about this -- it seems that I have been to Ohio more times than I can remember.

The Price of Gas in Ohio. The average price for a gallon of regular gas in the Ohio was $3.37 in last week's survey from the AAA.

Gas in California is almost a dollar higher than Ohio.

Toledo. Why is Toledo called Toledo? After the city in Spain? A cursory search on the Internet yields no answer. So I reach back in the memory bank -- yes, Rick Hayward, a college classmate of mine, he was from Toledo, and I have his email address -- so I just sent him a quick note. But will he reply? Rick and I attended St. Michael's College at the University of Toronto. Rick married his college sweetheart and continued to work and live in Toronto -- I haven't heard from him lately, but he has been a good friend..... And he knows all about Toledo.

Toledo native Rick Hayward responded quickly. Yes, Toledo, Ohio is named after Toledo, Spain, but he does not know why.

Contemplating Cleveland. The Greyhound Bus Station in Cleveland was built in 1948 -- it's a classic. The bus station is downtown and right near Lake Erie. In 1996 I was living in Boston. That summer I bought a round-trip bus ticket to Seattle -- because I wanted to see the country. It took three days and three nights -- I loved the landscape, this big and beautiful country -- so I enjoyed the view mile after mile.
But the people on the bus -- eeeeehw! It was a homeless shelter on wheels. I will never take the bus again.

I brought a paperback edition of The Brothers Karamazov to read on my cross-country trip. It was a wonderful book -- 700 pages of sustained intensity like only the Russians can do. And fittingly, it was right to read it on a continental journey because Russian novels are vast indeed.

Anyway, we stopped in Cleveland for about an hour. I ate lunch in the terminal and walked a few blocks around the city. Cleveland is not so easy to describe. It is not pretty like Cincinnati. It is not awesome like Chicago. Cleveland is like a lot of places you've seen, only more so.

The New World. The best thing about Cleveland -- this wonderful music. The New World Symphony, composed by Anton Dvorak, and performed by the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra, conducted by George Szell in 1960.

So, listen that sublime music, and be grateful that we all have a vote in this new world.


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Friday, October 19, 2012

The Rise of Franklinton, Ohio

This is really stupid. Nobody cares about Franklinton. Ten thousand journalists are swarming over Ohio in search of a juicy Obama story, but nobody ever goes to Franklinton. It's the oldest neighborhood in Columbus, by the banks of the Scioto River, and it had been prone to flooding.

I was there in October of 2004, when I worked for the John Kerry campaign. Back then Franklinton was known as The Bottoms, a very old inner-city neighborhood with the stench of squalor like a Charles Dickens novel. The Kerry campaign couldn't get anybody to work The Bottoms, so of course they sent me. "This way we can get rid of Owens," they whispered.

I walked those streets for six weeks. I was often nervous -- junked cars, boarded up houses -- but I met some nice people too. They said "The politicians ignore us. The city won't come and fix the streets. The people on the north side of town have a much nicer library, so why should we bother to vote?"

I refuted that argument. "If you don't vote, you don't count. The politicians know you don't vote, so they don't care."

But this is a stupid story. Franklinton isn't cool, although, eight years later, it still matters to me, and I even wish I was there for the campaign -- anyway, I'll pass on my notes, rather than write an actual story.

Words. "The working man" or "the common man" -- of course we would never use that kind of language, although we might secretly indulge ourselves by watching a black and white Gary Cooper movie from the 1940s.

The PC terms are "common people" and "working families."

"Power couples" -- He's an architect, she's a management consultant. They live in the suburbs and increasingly they vote Democratic. Then we have an equal or larger number of powerless couples. She works full-time at Wal-Mart. He works part-time at JiffyLube. If this powerless couple is white, they will probably vote Republican. If they are black, it's a guaranteed vote for Obama. If this couple is Hispanic, it will probably go D, but maybe not.

The Obamas and the Romneys are power couples -- they have that famous "choice" as to whether she does or does not have a job. Powerless couples have choices too, between Taco Bell and Burger King.

There are two kinds of people, the one percent and the middle class -- at least to hear Romney and Obama say it. They must have said "middle class" a hundred times in the debate on Tuesday. So what do you call people who are not one-percenters or middle class?

The power couples and the powerless couples will both strongly proclaim themselves as middle class -- but they do not know each other, they have so little in common.

Names. I challenged myself to quickly name all Big Ten schools from memory. Before reading any further, see if you can do the same. The correct answer is, going west to east -- Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Northwestern, Indiana, Purdue, Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State. New teams added to the Big Ten do NOT count.

Ohio is an Iroquois name meaning Great River. It was admitted to the Union in 1803. Ohio is the most beautiful state name. Eleven million people live there, with three great cities, all beginning with the letter C -- Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus, plus generous farmland, pleasant forests, and meandering rivers. The airplane was invented in Ohio -- because Ohioans are innovative, energetic, and persevering.

Real Estate. I interviewed Rick Brunton, a Franklinton real estate agent -- houses are incredibly cheap I noticed, Detroit prices -- and I asked "What is the reason that houses are so cheap?" Because it's a dead-end neighborhood basically, he said, using much nicer language -- but a good bargain if you can afford to wait a few years.

This house on 266 South Cypress Avenue is a really good deal. A small one-bedroom with a full basement, priced at $22,000 -- but with an expansive front yard, ideal for urban garden and homesteading. No garage. But only $22,000 ! !

Spirit. I talked with Brian Hamilton, who answered the phone at the parish office of Holy Family Catholic Church on Broad Street in the heart of Franklinton. He declined to be interviewed, but from the parish bulletin I saw that they had a very large soup kitchen program going on about one-block from the church -- that's good news and bad news -- good that so many people are being fed, bad because so many people need to be fed.

Holy Family offers Sunday and weekly Masses in the Tridentine rite -- that is, in Latin, with the priest facing the altar instead of facing the people. This indicates that Holy Family is a fairly conservative parish.

Politics. I interviewed Joe Garrity, legislative aide to State Rep Michael Stinziano of the 25th district which includes Franklinton. He said Franklinton is an improving neighborhood -- in other words, the yuppies are coming. He could not discuss Stinziano's re-election campaign because I called him at the office and he was on government time. He said if I called him after 5 p.m. on his cell phone, then he could talk about the campaign.

Franklinton is low income -- not middle class and not one-percent. It is 60-70 percent white, 30 percent black, and 10 per-cent you name it. Franklinton reliably votes Democratic but has a history of very low turnout -- signs of despair and cynicism.

The Future. Eight years ago, they called it the Bottoms, but now they call it Franklinton, and there is evidence of civic improvement -- clear signs of yuppy occupation efforts such as the Franklinton Cycleworks and what else? A community garden, Franklinton Gardens.

Nobody cares about Ohio. After the election the media people all leave town in a big hurry and it will be November and the weather gets colder and the trees are bare, and there's only one thing to look forward to -- something that matters very much to the people of Ohio -- but I won't tell you what that is, not yet.

These are my notes. I intend to follow the election campaign as it plays out in Franklinton.

Also it's time for a baseball story. I wrote this in 1992, with an update in 2004. The first part is about the game, the second part is about the friends who sat in the bleachers together and had dinner after -- it is not too sentimental. Some people with no interest in baseball have told me they like it.


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“God Must Hate Me”

It seems a long time ago, but there is no time in baseball, and there are no new stories.

In 1986, the Boston Red Sox lost the World Series to the New York Mets. In the dramatic sixth game, the Red Sox were one out away from becoming world champion, but they choked, and blew the game. It was the most incredible choke in sports history. I almost died.

I didn’t die, but my whole life changed after that game. I mean, it’s only a game, but I really got wrapped up in it.

In 1992, when this story took place, the memory of 1986 was raw and the pain was still real. I was still a Red Sox fan, but I could barely stand the torture of it.

In 2004, the Red Sox finally won the World Series, but I no longer cared -- I had moved on.

BOSTON, MASS., 1992. Pete Rose is not a part of this story, but that doesn’t matter, because I have to say this: I always hated Pete Rose, right from the beginning back in the early seventies. I used to watch the World Series, and when they showed him on third base I would start screaming and gnashing my teeth. I always hated him. When he got caught for gambling the whole world of sports condemned his moral depravity. But that didn’t matter to me. You don’t hate someone for a reason, you just do.............So let me start with the story.

It was July 30, an overcast day and so not too hot, when this gang of underemployed lawyers, real estate developers and civil servants came up from New York on the shuttle to watch the Red Sox play the Texas Rangers. They were out for a good time. Some of the guys made phone calls between innings but that was just for effect and out of habit --

“Anything going on at the office?”

“No, nothing going on here.”

“Fine, well, I’ll get back to you later.”

I know Jim Gardella really well. Jim and his cadre of cronies got ousted in a political coup last year when Mayor Dinkins took over the city government. He still occupies his office at Brooklyn City Hall, but he fills his melancholy days doing crossword puzzles and waiting for the phone to ring. It never does. He eats lunch in empty restaurants. “Where did everybody go?” he says to the maitre’d, who smiles back at him politely.

But at least he has time for baseball. Jim told me that the group was coming up to Boston for the game, and he mailed me a ticket so I could meet him at the Park. We had seats in the centerfield bleachers. It was an afternoon game on a Tuesday, and the house was packed --children, idlers, the unemployed, and the usual riffraff.

The Red Sox were a disaster in July, they were in fourth place, nine games behind Toronto. I was very pessimistic.

I hated Jack Clark, he was the new Designated Hitter. He had 89 strikeouts so far this year. The pitcher threw the ball -- I looked, Jack Clark looked -- only I couldn’t swing because I didn’t have a bat. But I thought, reasonably enough, that since Jack Clark did have a bat, his job required more than mere observation. The bum! I wanted to take his gold chain and choke him.

I sat next to Jim at the game and he introduced me to his friends. Shelley, the lawyer, had arranged to buy the tickets, so everybody was giving him a hard time about being in the bleachers. They said, “Next year let’s make it a rule that we get seats in the same city that they’re playing the game in.”

But the women in the group liked the bleacher seats because it gave them a view of nine sets of powerful athletic buns. On a serious note, the bleacher seats are good because it’s like being on the field, being a part of the defense. It gives a wide view of the whole field, not the details, but the sweep of the play. And it gives the pleasure of being a common man, no better or worse than his fellows. Privilege is exhilarating, but the humbler seats can be more relaxing.

Ed Burke came in during the third inning. He said the seats were lousy but so were the Red Sox and they weren’t worth more than $6 to see anyway. Ed’s a funny guy -- he was wearing a white cap, and he had a gum massager sticking out of his shirt pocket. Ed’s a State Senator; he’s been representing Framingham for twenty years. Then he did his political thing, updating his file by asking Jim and me about our families, children, schools, wives, etc. He left a few innings later. Jim asked me how come Ed doesn’t have any clout? How come he couldn’t get us better seats?

The Red Sox won the game 11 to 6. They sent 14 batters to the plate in the third inning and scored 10 runs. Six of those runs were from the hot bat of Carlos Quintana, my favorite player. He got a grand slam for four runs, and a double for two. That’s my man. Carlos is a different kind of guy than Jack Clark. The proper psychology with a guy like Clark is to heap abuse on him when he’s playing badly. He likes the attention and it gets him mad. Eventually he will take out his aggression on the ball and hit it over the fence, which happened the very next day.

But the “Q” is a gentler soul, a man who responds better to approval and kindness. Later in the season, he began to play badly because he had been treated badly by Joe Morgan, the Red Sox manager. Carlos’ feelings were hurt. He had been playing first base well and hitting over .300 when Mo Vaughan got called up from Pawtucket. Mo was the new hero that everybody was excited about. They made T-shirts about him, they splashed him all over the sports page. He was black and would be a credit to his race in Boston. (They hadn’t advanced much further than this in the Old Towne.)

Morgan put Vaughan on first base and sent Quintana to right field. Quintana immediately went into a hitting slump and made careless errors in the field. It was Morgan’s mistake, not mine.

“God Must Hate Me”

Before leaving the game and joining the New York gang for dinner, we need to talk about Oil Can Boyd. He was pitching for the Rangers. You know a lot of these guys up from New York are Mets fans -- may they all burn in hell. Mets fans are the worst people in the world. They have no class whatever.

You remember 1986 as well as I do, when Oil Can was pitching for the Red Sox and they lost the Series to the Mets. You remember where you were that day like you remember Kennedy’s assassination.

The Can is one of the games truly existential players, a man with a mind as well as a heart, a human being of tragic proportions. He’s the “Natural”, the one they wrote the book about.

Michael Madden, Boston Globe reporter, wrote about Boyd’s loss to the Sox on the day we were there in the bleachers:

Other men might have lied and said it was just another day. Just another game. Other men might have tried to put the best face, the phony face, on a bad situation gone worse. But not the Can, because the Can knows how to speak only from his heart:

“For me to be traded to the Rangers, and for me to pitch my first two games against the Boston Red Sox means that God must hate me.

“It’s the worst game I ever pitched in my life. And for a lot of reasons. First of all, I never wanted to pitch in Fenway Park again.....I’ve never walked the bases full before, and I’ve never given up a grand slam homer, and it all happened in one day, shit, it all happened in one inning. I just look at it and say it was meant to be.

“I don’t have anything to cherish about Boston. You talk about the ‘86 World Series, but I don’t care about any of that. That year a lot of things happened to me that probably will go to the grave with me, and still don’t let me get no peace of mind. So I don’t have anything to feel good about at all and especially today. Today just poured gas on it. Just made the flame bigger.”

We stayed until the end of the game because it was nice in the Park. Many of the New Yorkers had never seen Fenway Park before. It was a treat for them, and they could even make charitable comments about it.

We piled into three taxis and headed for Anthony’s Pier Four Restaurant. There was a lot of hoo-hooing in our car about going to Anthony’s. Shelley said, “They fill that place with old ladies on tour buses, why don’t we go to a real restaurant?” Shelley lived in Boston once, on Beacon Street -- he showed us the apartment when we drove by. He made some cryptic remarks about Boston being a cold town, a mean town. He didn’t say what kind of trouble he had, but I bet it was some kind of bad luck with a woman.

Anthony Athanas owns Pier Four and the surrounding 36 acres of very valuable waterfront property. He’s Albanian. He’s an old man and very well connected. He had just sold the property surrounding the restaurant to the federal government for a fabulous profit. The feds will build a courthouse on the land. The guys in our group would have killed to get in on this deal, but they don’t really know anybody. I could tell that, because they were with me. It’s like Grouch Marx’s rule about clubs, the ones he wouldn’t join if they were willing to accept him as a member. Power brokers don’t have dinner with me unless they’re on the skids.

Still we were a merry crew. They gave us a table for twelve outside on the deck, and we made a lot of noise. Now I was bluffing just like the rest of these guys do on a real estate deal. I had twenty dollars in my pocket and an overdrawn checking account. Naturally I flourished a ten spot and paid for the cab ride when we got there. That didn’t leave me with money for dinner, but I was hoping for the Greater Fool -- that one of these guys was so desperate to put on a show and he would pick up the tab -- and I could get off with pretending I wanted to pay.

I hedged my bets -- I ordered way down the menu, choosing the striped bass special for $9.95. Jim Gardella ordered it too, mainly because he’s a cheapskate. The others guys were going for the gold -- three pound lobsters, steamer clams for appetizers, nice wine from the list and Grand Marnier after dinner. The wine was good. Jim -- the other Jim, the one who looks like the Great Gatsby -- ordered the wine. He wore his blazer and tie all through the meal and never unbuttoned his collar. Then he had this sophisticated conversation with the wine steward, and, for God’s sakes, the rest of the table took him seriously. They say New Yorkers are street smart, but they fell for this game.

Jim -- the real Jim -- was making a complete fool of himself over Amy, the 30-year-old beauty who was making her first trip with this group. He kept hitting on her and wanted to sit next to her at dinner. She asked me if I would please sit between Jim and her, which I did. Jim was being no worse than usual. You have to remember that his friends go with him to out of town ball games because they know they won’t be seen.

The bill came to $600 including tip, to be divided up 12 ways. I guess my bluff didn’t work because nobody wanted to make a $600 impression and pick up the tab. I was forced to ask Jim for a loan of fifty to pay my share, and I wrote him a hot check to cover it.

Boy, it was a lot of fun. Now the sun was going down, and some of us walked to the railing and looked at the water and the boats going by. Jim and I talked quietly for a little bit. Jim’s a good guy, and I really like him. These New Yorkers have a sense of humor and style. Boston is a good town, but it can get a little too serious here without some outside help.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My blog is Fred Owens

send mail to:

Fred Owens
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Ventura CA 93001

Monday, October 08, 2012

Ch. 19 The End of Fishtown

By Fred Owens

It was September, 1989, seven years later. “We never did find Lisa,” Jimmy said. He put his arm aound Joy Helen and gave her a squeeze. Jimmy and Joy were sitting around their living room on South Fourth Street in LaConner and catching up with an old friend.

“We went out there to Ika Island and climbed around all day, but there was nothing there, no cave. After a while it just seemed kind of stupid, so we got back in Robert’s boat and rowed back to the Sand Spit.”

“So you never found Lisa?”

“Nope. Either Atclew killed her and put her body somewhere or maybe she just left and went someplace else. Lisa’s parents contacted Allan Olson. He’s the tribal attorney. I don’t know why they picked him, but being a lawyer he won’t say anything about what he knows, so you’re guess is as good as mine.”

“Maybe there was no Lisa.”

“All I can say is we saw a woman with long black hair hanging around Atclew’s barge out on Shit Creek. But I never met her, I never went there. Atclew was the weirdest dude ever lived on the river, and I didn’t want to have nothing to do with him. I figured if the chick was crazy enough to be with Atclew, then it wasn’t going to be my problem.”

“But Keith…”

“Keith Brown was always a brick short of a load. Anyplace else but Fishtown they would have sent him away to Western State Hospital. But he was normal-crazy until Atclew started coming around. I mean he wasn’t scaring people until Atclew got to him.”

“How did Atclew get to him?”

“I don’t know. All I can say is when Atclew started living on the river, then Keith Brown started going round the bend in a major way.”

“They say Atclew was a magician.”

“That’s a load of crap. He was an illusionist -- that’s a word. He could let you think he had some kind of magic act if you were dumb enough to believe him. Mostly he had this really strange look in his eyes, really creepy. I think he got Keith Brown to brew up some kind of beverage made with battery acid or something poisonous, told him it would make him invisible, said he could get a real girl friend or have money, and you know how Keith liked tinkering with things.”

“Keith Brown had a good soul.”

“He did. He still does. Anyway he drank the Kool-Aid and that’s when he started saying he got messages from the anti-Christ and the CIA and got all paranoid. He started scaring people in town with all this talk about finding Lisa, and Lisa was captured by the CIA and there was a secret prison underneath the Lighthouse Inn. That’s when he made the bomb and came into town and that’s when I talked him into giving up and then they put him away for good.”

“You believed him? I mean about Lisa?”

“Keith Brown was always half-crazy, but he was my friend and I owed it to him. So we came out the next day to Ika Island and looked around to see if Lisa was there.”

“Nobody ever goes to Ika Island.”

“I only been there twice in my life. I could see it every day when I lived on the Sand Spit, but you just don’t go there. It’s not a sacred place and it’s not a haunted place either. The tribe never said anything about that. I figure Ika is special because it’s so ancient. It was there before all the spirits came to live here and there. It’s just that nobody goes there. Anyway we didn’t find her.”

“What about Atclew?”

“I don’t know and I don’t care. But he left pretty soon after that. Left his barge and all his junk piled on it. Had a fifty-horse Johnson motor on it. Somebody stole that right away, but the barge just sat there in the cattails for years, getting covered with leaves and getting less ugly, but nobody ever went near it, except for maybe some kids looking to steal something. It’s probably sunk by now.”

The End of Fishtown

They tore down Fishtown in the spring of 1989. But it started the year before when the Chamberlains logged off the Fishtown Woods. It happened just like Atclew said it would when he talked with Joy Helen that day on the float in front of Keith Brown’s cabin. Atclew was no magician, but he picked a good hunch – he said Fishtown would all be gone in a few years and the woods all cut down. He just said that to Joy Helen because it was a really bad thing to say and he got lucky because that’s just what happened.

The Chamberlain Family had owned the property since before statehood. They didn’t live there anymore but leased the farm land to Ken Staffanson, and the 70-acres of woods next to the dike was their property, running up to the boundary with Margaret Lee’s place on the hill. Fishtown itself was on the river side of the dike, built up on pilings and connected by a casual boardwalk that curved between small willow trees, over mud banks that flooded with the high tides.

The trees in the Fishtown Woods had been logged about 100 years ago, but not clear-cut, so by 1988 there were some fairly big firs and maples, ripe for the taking and the family decided to log it and hired Bill Welch to do the job.

The Fishtowners walked a soft path through these woods for many years, with an informal easement, across Staffanson’s fields and across the woods, and these were well-loved trees and the biggest patch of forest in the area, a sentimental remnant of the old growth, with a heron rookery on the one side, and an eagle’s nest piled high in a tree -- not in the area to be logged off but near to it -- and the shell middens from old Indian camps, and even a pocket wetland for salmon fry to spend a week or two in, before they hit saltwater two miles away.

“In other words we can stop ‘em,” Art Jorgensen said. “We got issues and we can sue ‘em.” Art lived in one of the Fishtown cabins and he gave $600 in cash – about the most money he ever accumulated in his life – to a friend in town. “Hire and lawyer and sue the Chamberlains.”

“But they’ll run you off, it’s their land.”

“I don’t care if they run me off. Not One Tree. You hear me. Not One Tree.”


That’s what happened All the Fishtown hippies joined in to protest the logging, and they held a campfire vigil out by Dodge Valley Road where Bill Welch was coming off the property with truckloads of logs. They sat down in the road one windy day in January, 1988 and refused to move until they were all arrested and carted off to the Skagit County Jail.

A lot of people objected to the logging and raised funds for the lawyer and to bail out the hippies, but a lot of other people said No. It’s private property. It’s nobody’s business. I don’t want the government to tell me I can’t cut a tree down on my own land.

Besides, what’s wrong with logging? They’ll plant new trees and pretty soon it all grows back. It just part of nature’s cycle.

The judge that heard the lawsuit was very sympathetic to the hippies and their cause, but Jeff Bode, the lawyer, whispered, “They generally act nice when they’re going to rule against you – kind of let you down easy.” So the tree huggers lost.

The hippies were really mad about this. They called it the Fishtown Woods Massacre, but it was done. And they made a bitter joke about when Art Jorgenson cried out “Not One Tree.” It turned into “Not One Tree Left.”

Right down to the stumps.

Then for spite, or just to get rid of the troublemakers, the Chamberlains evicted everybody in Fishtown. This took another court case because they only owned the land up to the dike, and the cabins were on the river side.

But the Chamberlains had the hippies outsmarted years ago by having them sign $10 a year leases for the cabin. So the judge made a ruling, “you don’t have title, but you have superior possession and the eviction stands.”

That was in April, 1989. Everybody moved out. Then one of Staffanson’s men came out with a tractor and a steel cable, wrapped the cable around each cabin, and pulled them down one after another into a splintered pile of logs and boards.

Pushed over all the pilings on the boardwalk. A month of high tides floated all the old boards away and by late summer that year you didn’t know Fishtown had ever been there.

Fishtown is Forever

But it’s kind of like the Lone Ranger and Tonto, they just ride on forever in the sky and wherever rivers meet the sea, in every land, and in every time, there is a clutch of cabins and shanties with nets drying and old men telling lies about the fishing while they watch the tide coming in.

-- the End --


Here we do a little catching up on the lives of the many characters in this story, starting in 1982 and leading up to the present.

Leila, the Turkish terror, she and her husband Beau Diller had their place on the river, but she protested when they logged off the woods and then they were evicted from Fishtown and their cabin was torn into a pile of splintered wood. They moved into town, but it was a rocky road and they separated.

Leila found Beau with a new girl friend and she laid into his Honda, parked on the curb in downtown LaConner, took a large rock and bashed in his windshield -- she had a bit of a hot temper.

She herself hooked up with drugstore cowboy from Texas, a rich man who came swaggering into LaConner wearing alligator boots. She went and married the cowboy only to find out he was really from Arkansas and he wasn’t rich at all.

Well, too bad. She finally settled in Bellingham, trying various schemes and making a living somehow. “My needs are modest. I choose to live close to the earth,” she said, “but I like to wear expensive shoes. I don’t apologize for that.”

Charlie Krafft stayed in Seattle, had a studio in Chinatown, had a modest success as a painter, developed a strange interest in Nazi memorabilia and spouted what he called a “genteel anti-Semitism.” The soft-headed arts crowd in Seattle tolerated this madness.

Aurora Jellybean moved back to Seattle and tried to become a real person again, telling everybody her real name was Elizabeth Holtzman, and that was, in fact, her real name. Only she found out that Elizabeth Holtzman was also the name of a feminist Congresswoman from Brooklyn. “I just give up,” she said. “I will never understand what is real and what is not. Things will just happen and that’s that.”

Amy Hahn left her job at the LaConner library. She shaved her head and became a Buddhist monk, and went down to Dallas, Texas, of all places. “You wouldn’t think they have Buddhists in Texas,” she said. “But they do.” After a few years, she came back to LaConner and married Kevin Sunrise -- still being a Buddhist nun, but they worked that one out.

Robert Sund turned 62 in 1991 and became eligible for social security. Getting that small monthly check was the best thing happening to him in years. No more mooching the friendly fiver, he could pay his own way now, or some of it. With renewed confidence he took his poems and manuscripts and moved to Anacortes. To hell with LaConner.

He died of lung cancer in 2001. He was dying in the hospital when the planes struck the World Trade Center on September 11, and one of his friends said thank goodness Robert didn’t live to see that. A memorial trust was formed after his passing and some of his best poems finally got published.

Fred Martin stayed on at the LaConner Drugstore. He started the business in 1956 and stood behind the counter every day for fifty years, finally retiring in 2006, always a steady fellow and a friend to mankind.

Larry Yonnally got tired of being chief of the LaConner Police force – to many Barney Fife moments for him, squabbling with the mayor and the town council over his tiny budget, buried in paper work, when all he wanted to be is just a cop, so he left and got hired as a Skagit County Sheriff’s deputy, got his own Crown Vic, driving the highways and enforcing the law. That suited him fine and the pay was much better too.

Mr. Grobschmidt sold the Frog Hospital to Kirby Johnson. Kirby was a crafty old farmer (and a graduate of Stanford University). He tore down 90 percent of the Quonset hut, leaving just enough of the shell to qualify as a re-model and then built a much larger edifice around it – to become an antique mall.

Charlie Berg and his wife Beth moved out of his house on South First Street and built a new home on some land on Pull and Be Damned Road. The house was entirely home-made in Charlie’s unique style. He – standard euphemisms do not apply – “left this earth a few years later.” In Charlie’s case, people wondered was he ever really here in the first place? Of all the characters in this story, real and imagined, Charlie was the fully Transcendent One, with no plot and no happy ending – beyond this author’s ken for sure.

Keith Brown remained at Steilacoom, in a protected environment for the criminally insane – thirty years now, it’s become his real home. Jim Smith gets a phone call from Keith now and then, and sometimes a letter. “Keith is fixated on what happened in 1982,” Jim said. “Keith still talks about Lisa and the anti-Christ and the CIA plot against him and wants to settle things with the people who put him away. I’m afraid they can’t let him out until he gets over some dangerous illusions. But he’s got a good home down there, so leave it be.”

Jimmy Kuipers and Joy Helen Sykafoos got married in 1984 and took over Charlie Berg’s house on South First Street and then bought the place a few years later when Jimmy’s parents sold the farm and gave him the down payment money. Jimmy worked at Michael Graham’s wood-working shop over by Sam Cram’s barn. And he turned the old chicken coop into an artist studio for making his watercolor bird paintings. Joy Helen worked at a sailmaking shop. Joy had a daughter, Heather, who had been living in Marysville at her grandmother’s but she came up to LaConner to be with Jimmy and Joy Helen. They were a happy family so there is not much to say about that.

Hitch remained leader of the Clan of Men Who Walk Slowly into Town. He came by Jimmy’s place from time to time, but Jimmy’s drinking days were over. “I love every day I spent on the Sand Spit, but that’s not my life anymore.” Then Hitch would stick around for dinner. “That’s what you need, Hitch, you wouldn’t be so hang-dog skinny if you ate some food every day.”

“I’m twice as wide as you. You’re so skinny I could mail you like a letter.”

“And you ought to get rid of that Fu Manchu mustache, we only want respectable Indians coming around here.”

“I’ve read more books than you could fill up your living room. I got a Ph.D in fishing, psychology, ancient customs, and air traffic control. You don’t know the half of me…”

“You still like fried chicken?

Clyde Sanborn, although he was never in this story, may have created the space for it by his absence, because he was gone that summer of 1982, up to a cabin in Big Lake with his girlfriend Linda, not drinking and working a steady job, which he hated.

He soon shucked off his town clothes and kissed Linda goodbye, and came back to the river and his drinking ways. He set up a simple camp on Brown Lily Hill and managed to scrounge enough money in town every day for drinking wine. Everybody liked Clyde. He wrote poems on cocktail napkins – little zen sayings that meant nothing.

Clyde was rowing his boat one day in April 1996, and somehow, after a thousand years on the river, and drunk most of the time, but that one night he slipped over the side and the Skagit River took him home. They found his body washed ashore out by Hole in the Wall. More than 300 people came to his funeral.

That leaves Crazy Peter, still living out on Barge Island all these years. Maybe we shouldn’t call him Crazy anymore. He’s been out there so long he’s Old Man River now.


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Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My blog is Fred Owens

send mail to:

Fred Owens
7922 Santa Ana Rd
Ventura CA 93001

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Ch 18. Fishtown Must Be Destroyed

Jimmy & Hitch, Chapter 18,

Fishtown Must Be Destroyed

Leila followed at a distance. I know where Jimmy and Hitch are going, she thought. They are fools hoping for miracles and they may even succeed. I come from an ancient country, so I have no trust in the future. I am not white. I am not Christian. My Turkish ancestors rode wild horses on the steppes of Asia. They came sweeping down on Baghdad and burned it to the ground. They left behind a mountain of bleeding human skulls, and they rode on and laid siege to Constantinople, pounding the massive walls of the ancient city with fantastic huge cannons while the last Byzantine Emperor cowered in his palace. My ancestors were the Turks and we destroyed that city, but for the Hagia Sophia. With all the power given to us by our God Allah and our prophet Mohammed, we still bowed to the Mother Wisdom at this holiest church. So we did not destroy it.

And Natalie Wood – she is my most serious inspiration – the most beautiful and intelligent of all American women acting in movies. I live for every word and movie she makes. She was in the Wild Bunch with William Holden and Ernest Borgnine, she was a senorita -- I think so. Because I am coming to America for ten years now and you see it all in the movies. The Wild Bunch – wild and free. It is the best movie, they ride across the Rio Grande River, then they all get shot, and Natalie Wood comes to their graves in a lace mantilla. I myself look beautiful in a black lace mantilla.

Now I am following after Jimmy and Hitch. They are facing more danger than they can handle. They have the courage of fools. But I am different, I don’t trust anyone. I don’t even trust myself.

Jimmy and Hitch were still sleeping under the cedar tree in the Fishtown Woods. It was about 8 a.m. on a warm and sunny day in July.

Speak of the devil, she thought. I’m getting a big red light message – either deal with this creep right now, fair and square, or run home and hide under the bed.

Joy Helen scrambled down the small hill and walked up to the float. She hailed him, “Good morning, Atclew, fine day, how‘s it going?”

She said it too fast. Atclew gave her a small smile. He finished tying up the barge.

“Keith Brown isn’t here anymore,” Joy said. “He got arrested yesterday. He tried to set fire to the Lighthouse Inn and I think he will be going to prison for that.”

Atclew stood up and made a small step to the side, not going toward Joy, but not going away either – just a slight movement.

“Keith was going crazy talking about Lisa, saying Lisa’s a prisoner and they’re trying to kill Lisa and all that. Did you ever hear him talk like that?”

Atclew smiled lightly and said, “Fishtown must be destroyed.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Joy said.

“Fishtown must be destroyed.”

“You’re really crazy.”

“Fishtown must be destroyed. I said it three times, that’s enough.”

“Like you have some power.”

“I have no power.”

“But you want to destroy Fishtown.”

“I don’t want anything.”

“Then why did you say that.”

“I won’t ever say it again. I don’t need to. It doesn’t matter what I think or what I want. Someday soon Fishtown will be gone, the cabins will be pushed into the river and all the trees will be cut down. It’s coming. You can’t stop it. What will happen is what must happen.”

“You claim to know the future.”

“I know nothing.”

“Where’s Lisa?”

“There is no Lisa.”

“Did you come up here to get something from Keith Brown’s cabin?”

“Yes. I gave him something, but he won’t need it anymore. I came up here to take it back. You know, almost anybody could walk right into Keith’s cabin.”

“But he has nothing worth stealing.”

“True, what I gave him is worthless. It is only a piece of a deer’s antler. I hoped it would bring him better luck, but now he’s going to prison.”

“You made it worse for him. Take it back, what you gave him.”

“I’ll go in to get it.”

Atclew went into Keith Brown’s cabin. There was a small windmill on the roof where Keith’s little wind engine developed tiny amounts of electricity for his low-watt diodes and scientific gimcracks. On the float, Keith had left various glass jars, 15 & 20 gallons full of manure, stoppered and sealed, producing methane. “You can light it with a match,” Keith would say and cackle. “Here, I’ll show you. It’s fart power.”

Atclew rummaged in the cabin looking for his deer’s bone, found it near an empty can of Spam on the counter, brought it out, showed it to Joy, the base of the antler sown in green velvet, above that leather laces woven in a pattern, above that fine copper wire shining and wrapped tightly going up the bone to the first branch.

“So you make some kind of magic with that?” Joy said.

“This antler? It’s nothing. I make these decorations to pass the time. Keith is my friend. There is no magic. My life is dull these days. I watch the tide come in, it goes out, why am I alive? I was in Monroe prison for five years for manslaughter. I was in a gang fight. I turned state’s evidence against the guys who killed him. I served the whole five years in protective custody with all the homos and rats. That’s when I learned about real freedom. During those five years I learned that nothing matters. My life is nothing. I don’t care if I die. I can do whatever I want. A criminal is the only free man. “

“Where is Lisa?”

“It doesn’t matter where she is.”

“If you hurt her we’ll call the police, you’ll go back to prison.”

“I don’t care.”

“We’re going to find her.”

“Come with me. I’ll show you where she is.”

“No, I’m staying right here.”

Atclew boarded the barge, untied the line, pushed into the current, started the outboard motor, opened it up to full throttle and rushed downstream.

Joy was disturbed about many things that Atclew said, and she wondered if it was worth any effort to argue with him, but she had to say one thing, even though he wouldn’t hear it as his vessel sped downstream. She called out to him, “Atclew, you’re wrong about the end of Fishtown. – Fishtown is forever.”

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Yom Tov.
Kol Nidre is coming tonight. It is a powerful and wonderful experience. I was reading the fine print this morning about Kol Nidre. If you make a promise with a clear understanding of what that promise entails, then you are not released. But if you make a promise in a moment of panic, then you are released. For instance, you're on a ship in a violent storm and you fear for your life. You make a vow that, if you survive the storm, you will give all your money to charity. That promise was made under duress and your are released..... So my girl friend said, what if you are making love and you make a promise in the heat of passion? Such a good question I told her. The scholars love question like this, they would argue about it for days and days.

The New Media Tyrants.
You guys are all too old-fashioned, you hate Wal-Mart, Monsanto and Mitt Romney. That is like yesterday's bad news. Your foes are dinosaurs. They don't actually run things anymore.....My enemies are Mark Zuckerberg and Ariana Huffington and whoever runs Apple and Google and Amazon. How can you trust people with that much power? I don't trust them. I fear them and I resist them. And they all love to see you tilting against the Old Guard. Your smart phone owns you -- wake up!

Facebook. Facebook is about relationships and emotional well being or the lack thereof. That is the dominant note. You can easily find strong political statements on Facebook, but it is rare to find any back and forth, any debate, or any argument.

If your friend posts a certain political comment, would you feel free to comment underneath taking an opposite view? No, at least I don't ever do that.

In my experiment, which was going against the grain on Facebook, I made statements and welcomed disagreement, but after a couple of months of trying this, I still felt that I was drowning in a pool of cute kittens and cotton candy.

Even worse, I have been putting effort into posts that were interesting and entertaining to other people, that in doing so I was making money for Mark Zuckerberg and making no money for myself --- this is the horror of the Internet age.

Facebook is the descendent of the lifestyle section, what had been once called the women's section of the newspaper -- weddings, recipes, advice columns, entertainment -- what they call "soft news" -- nothing wrong with that.

I was good at soft news when I worked as a journalist, and I got paid for it. In the print model, the publisher made ninety percent of the money and the reporters got the other ten percent -- but we had all the fun, so it was OK.

In the Internet model, Mark Zuckerberg and Ariana Huffington make 100% of the money and we get nothing.

That's not good.

I would love to post cute photos of kittens on Facebook -- if I got paid for it.

I don't have a solution.

Except my Frog Hospital newsletter does generate income, $400 so far this year from subscriptions at $25 each. The income is sufficient to keep me from getting too cranky. I send it out on Google's gmail. Google makes money and so do I -- I can live with that. But I am unable to monetize Facebook.

Tattoos. Young people get tattoos because they give a sense of permanence and security. You can't lose it, it can't be stolen. If you lose faith in the strength of all social institutions -- church, family, govt., business and so forth, then you get a tattoo. You can lose your job, your house, your girl friend, and all your money, but you can keep your ink --- I believe this is the subconscious motive.

Jimmy & Hitch. No story this week. As we left off last issue, Jimmy & Hitch were sleeping under a tree in the Fishtown Woods. Joy Helen was climbing the small hill above Fishtown when she spotted Atclew motoring up to Fishtown in his barge. Big trouble coming. Stay tuned.


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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Chapter 17, Lost in the Fishtown Woods

Jimmy Kuipers walked alongside his pal Hitch from the Swinomish village. Joy Helen trailed behind in a dawn dream. “I wish to be known as a Float Shack Floozie. No, that’s trashy, not good enough . Queen of the Sand Spit….No, I am not a queen, not a princess, not the fairy godmother, nor handmaiden of the Lord. I may become a mermaid some day – that would suit me, tending the barnacles, wearing diaphanous gowns. My fair skin would become light green. My breasts would suckle sea otter pups. I would weave the kelp gardens. And my moon would raise the tide. Yes, the moon!”

Sunrise 5:30 a.m., July 21, 1982 The stars are gone, Joy observed. The sun is coming up. The New Moon is hidden up there somewhere. It keeps going around. It floats pale blue in the sky, and the Old Man in the Moon is taking a snooze now. Will the moon ever come down? Will it stop going around? That’s what Jimmy is wondering about. One of his dumb questions. Does he ever think about me? Yes, because I am the moon and the river, and he always thinks about me. The morning becomes electric…..I have funny feet. I look down at my toes and I see they point in different ways, curling up and down, growing longer on Thursdays, growing smaller on Fridays. I will stab the cattails with my pointiest toe. I’m trying to remember which foot is left and which foot is right. It doesn’t seem to matter. We are still here in the field. This is Dodge Valley. I see Jimmy and Hitch walking ahead. We are walking beside the ditch in Staffanson’s field. All the water in the ditch comes from clouds way up in the mountains. The water comes down like rain and goes into streams of icy cold water, flowing to the ocean. The waters pass through Dodge Valley, and then old man Staffanson straightened things out with a tractor and made this straight-long ditch full of frogs, and then he plowed right to the edge of the field, and we’re walking across the bare ground, soft with clods of moist soil, and our toes stab the earth each step, on our way to the Fishtown Woods. But we should be going the other way, this is not good. The Fishtown Woods -- something is a-foot. I have this intuition -- Jimmy and Hitch are clods -- they barge ahead blindly, they do not feel the earth, it is a bad day going through the woods.

“We should be going around,” Joy cried out to them, like she had a vote. “We don’t need to go through the woods.”

They gave no response -- Jimmy was stalwart in purpose and Hitch was indifferent.

Men have big dicks and no brains, Joy thought. I will bury them and weep over their graves someday…. But if we had children, Jimmy and I, if we could have babies, then we could live on a boat. People do that in Asia. They cook rice over charcoal fires, squatting on tightly woven grass mats on sampans floating in tropical seas and the children run around naked. Jimmy and I could go to Asia with our babies. Then he wouldn’t die. I think he’s going to die -- we need to stay out of the woods. The owls roost in there, wise wonderful owls, but some days, when you hear them fluttering across the field just at sunrise, when they come home to a perch after the night’s hunt – some days they can hurt you or even kill a man, though I don’t know why they would do that, but I still feel this danger – we should go the other way. Ghosts of old trees in these woods, cedar stumps six-feet across, trees two-thousand-years-old chopped down and murdered! They logged off these forest gods and a hundred-year curse came down on us children of pioneers. But the ferns make it lovely. Tall maples hold branches with moss and dripping dew falls on mushrooms. Mice scamper in the leaf mold on the ground. I like these woods, but not today. The rain doesn’t fall in the Fishtown Woods – it floats in diamonds. Squishy slugs are barefoot blessings, and spiders spin veils for my lovely sisters. But we are not safe.

“I think we’re not safe here,” Joy said, but Jimmy and Hitch did not turn aside.

It got warmer and the troop tired from a long night’s journey. They might rest under a cedar tree where the ground was dry and the needles were soft. “Oh poppies, poppies,” Joy sang. Jimmy and Hitch didn’t get the joke. “Well, men, looks like we can circle the wagons here,” Joy said. They didn’t get that joke either.

“I’m tired,” Jimmy said. “Let’s rest for a while.” Hitch lay down on his back and tipped his hat over his eyes. Jimmy had longer legs and a sinuous spine. You couldn’t exactly tell if he was standing, sitting or sleeping -- it all flowed together. “We might sleep a little,” he said and he laid down.

Joy flounced her skirt and looked over her shoulder, down to the skirt’s hem at mid-calf. This skirt is too long and it’s too short, she thought. And it’s blue and I don’t look good in blue and I shouldn’t be concerned about how I look because of some fucking man who might pay attention to me. I could have been …. I don’t know what I could have been, instead of lying under a cedar tree next to two drunken useless men. They’re sleeping now and they smell bad.

Joy watched them sleeping and quietly left the sheltering cedar. The path through the Fishtown Woods led in a valley between two small hills. She looked up the one hill, but there was no path, only tangled vine maples. She picked her way over and under small branches and reached the top quickly. She saw broken clam shells peaking through the damp earth. Somebody carried those clam shells up here, she thought, and somebody broke the shells and ate the clams and it was either people or crows. Either way, someone has been here before I got here -- another one of my brilliant observations about nature. Mountains rise from the earth and crumble slowly back into the sea. Fish swim up the river and die. Everybody knows that. So what do I know? I mean anything special.

She fingered her turquoise necklace, Indian joo-joo by way of the Navajos and how they said the first people came from a cave on the side of a hill that was on the back of giant turtle. It didn’t make sense, but it was better than the Bible when God breathed Adam and Eve alive from red clay in the garden of Eden. Or something like that.

I read the story of Ruth when I was a teenager. They didn’t make me read it. I just found it one day. I never believed the Bible, but I liked that story about Ruth, how she gathered her wild grains and tender roots in a basket but then she went away to be with the man she loved. Across the Jordan. Always a river to cross. Her man beckoned and Ruth followed -- she just went with him.

But I ain’t going with Jimmy and he hasn’t even asked. To hell with him. I could go with Zappa. No. They’re all losers. But Jimmy isn’t so bad. He means well. The thing I like about him best is he isn’t whining. I can’t stand a sorry dog. Jimmy doesn’t drain me, doesn’t come by crying. When it’s bad it’s bad and so fucking what. Then it gets better. And maybe you can figure it out and maybe you can’t. That’s the way Jimmy is and that’s why I like him.

She peaked out from the summit of the small hill, and there was Fishtown and the river at her feet.

She could see Keith Brown’s cabin below – Atclew was there tying up his barge.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Jimmy and Hitch, Chapter 16. Fresh Figs from Samaria

“Joy, there was something I wanted to tell you,” Jimmy said.

There was no moon. The stars wheeled around Polaris. The wind was a whisper. It was the quietest hour before the first show of morning light.

“It’s funny, I’m not tired at all. I hardly had anything to drink either,” he said.

“Did you have some of the punch?” Joy asked. “It’s kind of special.”

“Yeah, I see people moving around that aren’t here.”

“No, they’re here. That’s Tom and Bathsheba over there. Some other folks came out from town. There’s Black Dog and Crazy Peter. People have been coming all night. Nobody saying a word, like ghosts, but they’re really here.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Jimmy, what are you thinking?”

“How come the river keeps going? It never runs out of water. I can get up in the middle of the night and I go outside the cabin. The river is still there full of water. It just keeps going.”

“Old Man River, that Old Man River” Joy sang.

“Well, it could dry up, or stop or go backwards.”

“And dragons will fly out of caves high in the mountains.”

“I like dragons, I would like to keep one.”

“Or a dragon might like to keep you.”

“Like Odysseus in the cave,” Hitch said, coming over and barging in. “Let me tell you the story. This happened a long time ago in ancient Greece…..Calypso was a Terrible Beauty, a nymph on an island. Odysseus went away to the Trojan War and when he came back after the war his ship got wrecked so he ended up on Calypsos' island. She clung to him in her sea-hollowed caves and wouldn't allow him to go home. She was the daughter of Atlas, the giant who holds up the sky, and she lived on the island of Ogygia. She held him captive on that island for seven years. And even though Calypso loved him, he couldn’t forget his own country, the rocky island of Ithaca and his faithful wife Penelope. After a meeting by the council of the gods, especially the goddess of wisdom Athena, Calypso finally let Odysseus go home.”

“Hitch, how do you know that story?”

“I know all kinds of things. Do I have to spell it out? This sea-faring man was held captive in a cave for seven years. The nymph Calypso held him, fed him well and she loved him, but he was not free. It’s a Met-A-Phor. We got islands here in Skagit Bay -- Hope Island, Dead Man’s Island, Ika Island – you could get captured, Jimmy, watch out.”

“I’ve been to Hope Island lots of times. It’s sweet. You can row over and camp out. There’s a small beach and you can dig clams. I like to row over the shallow places and look at the anemones waving under the water and see the star fish,” Jimmy said and paused. “I never been to Dead Man’s Island, too many ghosts.”

“What about Ika? You been there?”

“I been to Ika only once in my life. It’s funny -- there it is right across the river from Dunlap Bay. I see it every day when I go down to the dock. But I only went there one time. Nobody goes there. You ever been there, Joy?”


Jimmy leaned back a little. He said, “You can see Ika from all over – see it from the fields on Fir Island, see it from Dodge Valley Road, see it from Fishtown, see it when you’re leaving LaConner on a boat, but nobody ever goes there. There’s something deep there. It rises out of the water and there’s no beach, except for a small stretch on the south side. I tied up there that one time -- ten-feet of beach and then a straight-up cliff. You can’t get any place without scrambling like a goat. No trail. I pulled myself up to the top of the island and looked around. Nobody ever goes there, not white men, not Indians in the old days. It’s not like forbidden or haunted – not like that. Ika is just…..waiting. Ika is waiting.”

“I saw Atclew’s barge tied up there a while ago,” Joy said.

“Now that’s creepy,” Jimmy said.

“He was out there by the island,” Joy said. “He had his barge beached on the mudflat, it was a low tide. Maybe he went on to the island, you couldn’t tell, maybe he just got stuck, but he was there for a few hours until the tide came back in and he floated away,”

“I can explain it. This is just like in the book. Atclew has Lisa a prisoner in a cave on Ika Island, sure as I’m standing here,” Hitch said.

“But you’re sitting on this log, so you’re lying,” Jimmy said. “That’s just a story anyway. Things don’t happen like that.”

“Old stories is how you know anything that’s true. Ika is waiting,“ Hitch said. “That’s where Lisa is, Atclew probably got her drugged up and she thinks she’s in heaven. Or she’s tied to a tree.”

“Why would he do that?”

“Because she trusted him. That’s why he hates her.

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“I’m just trying to give some mythological underpinnings to this dubious adventure. Atclew is a bad spirit, the twisted son of an Egyptian goddess, casting immortal visions from Samaria to Fishtown. It doesn’t have to make any sense to you,” Hitch said.

“You know, I’m starting to get kind of pissed off,” Jimmy said. “I’m getting mad. I’m tired of people talking to me like they know something. Things just don’t seem that easy to me, like you understand it and I don’t. I understand plenty of things. But I know we have to find her.”

“Why, Jimmy?” Joy asked.

“Don’t be the problem, Joy. You come to me like you want me to feel good. I don’t know how to talk with you. We have to find Lisa because that’s what people do. I think she’s out there.”

“She’s just some hippie chick lost her mind. Lisa is dead, and it will look like she drowned.”

“But we should fight evil! To the Rescue! March!”

“Fight, with what? You gotta a machine gun? Atclew is well armed.”

“How do you know he has guns?”

“Well, he might have guns and we don’t even have shoes.”

“We kill him!”

“Jimmy, why are you so angry?” Joy jumped up and looked at him really hard. “I never seen you get like this.”

“I gotta bad temper, you didn’t know? I live on the Sand Spit. It’s nice and soft out there and I don’t get mad. There’s too many things I want to do. I have these ideas, but people laugh at me. I was going to carve a dolphin and a mermaid, really big, out of cedar, like a dream but they stole my carving tools. Just some assholes come out to the cabin and the one thing I own, they stole it. God hates me.” He picked up a handful of small stones and threw them hard and away.

“Pray or get drunk, that’s what I say. My folks taught me to pray but I would rather get drunk. Either way the world is crazy and it isn’t my fault and I can’t fix it. I just get mad so I drink, and if I keep drinking I don’t remember why I was mad. You seen how Keith Brown went nuts – he was thinking too much. He was trying to fix it, get the universe re-wired, run the machines on solar power and harness the wind. It’s all energy he used to say. Everything that moves is energy – wind and current. Everything alive is fuel – trees, stones, dandelions, our own bodies, just a mix of carbon chemicals – it’s fuel, it’s energy. But they locked him up now. He tried to change the order of things -- that’s far more dangerous than being a communist."

“So we should just let Lisa be. It’s not our problem.”

“It is our problem. I’ve talked enough. Let’s go.” And Jimmy stood up without a sound, like a mountain rising out of the sea. He brushed back his stringy blond hair and hitched his pants. Joy started to laugh, “John Wayne, go team, we’re a winner!”

Jimmy said, “Hitch, it’s you and me and Joy that does this. Jellybean has Zappa trapped in a corner. Charlie Krafft is off in the bushes sniffing glue.”

“So we should get Robert Sund to come with us.”

“No poets, we’re moving too fast for that.”

“And no Indians.”

“Hitch, I didn’t say that.”

“That’s right because I have the map to the cave on Ika Island. It’s in Book Seven of the Odyssey, you follow the clues to Calypso’s cave. I know where it is.”


“Well, white man, you can take a wild ass guess yourself, or you can follow me when I’m on the trail.”

“It’s rosy-fingered dawn, the sky is light from the foothills, the farmers are rising in the dairy dell. We’re off to the Fishtown Woods,” Joy said.

Jimmy, Hitch and Joy Helen Sykafoos left the Butterfly Ball.

Leila the Turkish Terror was nursing her own wild dreams and she took a quiet glance over at the three departing desperadoes. “They don’t know trouble like I do. I might have to help them.”

She followed them at a distance.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

The Butterfly Ball

Chapter 15

First you accept reality, then you beat it to death with a hammer -- Charlie Krafft

Charlie Krafft and Leila the Turkish Terror were the first at the ball. Marty Chamberlain had given the use of his small cabin in the field but he skipped the party – gone to see some babe up at Birdsview, he said. Charlie parked his Karma Ghia in the last not-yet-dried up mud whole on the farm. He had the knack for finding the lowest spot in any field. “Lovely Leila, come into my arms,” he said. He tipped his plaid Tam O’Shanter at a jaunty angle and tripped over a mullein weed, falling to his knees and, turning to the mullein with good speech, said, “Who called you a weed, sweet mullein? Your leaves are soft as a baby’s butt, your green is the color of cows softly mooing in the hours before dawn. Your pale yellow flowers sweeten the home of honey bees from near and far. I kneel to you as to an altar of forgiveness. “

“And Leila, “Charlie said, turning around and rising to his feet. “How are you? Do you like my Tam O’Shanter? Does plaid work for me?”

Leila turned slowly away from him to show him her back. She said, “I am in a frenzy of preparation for the ball. I have anointed my Levantine body with finest cinnamon-scented sesame oil. You perhaps may assist me with the small area of my lower back, which I could not reach. Please sprinkle the glitter upon me.”

The Bar-B-Q was ready for grilled oysters, king salmon steaks, skewered plum tomatoes and zucchini wedges. Platters of tidbits served with crackers and edible flowers covered the top of a trestle table. A large glass punch bowl with a special beverage served as a centerpiece.

“In Turkey we focus on death, but in the New World in America we have the Sun Dance of summer heat and people hope to live forever,” Leila said.

“It is like Sketches in Spain,” Charlie answered. “At the Butterfly Ball, you come as you are, in a state of truth so blinding that time is stopped dead. There are no lies told here tonight or the poets will wish they were dentists.”

A rising tide at 2 a.m., July 21, 1982 -- so Joy Helen Sykafoos reckoned by candle light in her cabin out on the Sand Spit. She peered at her pocket tide guide. It was not a strong tide, but it would ease the effort for rowing up to Fishtown.

Yes, it will be easy to get there. I will borrow Robert Sund’s boat, she thought. I remember what he said about rowing on the river.

Out on the river you know you are in the midst of a great creation. You see the old work and the new work side by side; the ancient migration routes of all the birds, and the slow building of silt and soil in the estuary; a small grassy island, for instance, that wasn’t there last year and that, in a few seasons, will grow new willow for the blackbirds and the beavers.

Joy went out to the dock, to Robert’s red skiff. “Robert called his boat by some Swedish name, the Viking Vendetta or something like that. He leaves it here on my dock, and goes off to town to drink beer for two weeks and then he expects me to keep it bailed out. Like I should do his handy-work and he would give me a poem in return. But I will borrow his boat tonight -- that old bastard.”

Joy began to row, going up Steamboat Slough, past Brown Lily Hill, around Bald Island where the current was strongest and she had to dig in the with oars to get around it, then past Shit Creek.

“I’m not going to look,” she said, but she did look, turning quickly to her left, to see Atclew’s barge tied up deep in the cattails at Shit Creek, lit by a small Coleman battery lantern hanging from a pole. No sign of Atclew himself. “God, I hope he doesn’t come.”

It was only a little further to the inlet by Black Dog Allen’s cabin – not quite all the way to Fishtown proper – but she snuck into this inlet, and it was hard to find on a moonless night. Then she poled with the oar up to the dike, scrambling to the shore with abundant blackberry scratches, and the admiration of pale pink wild roses with blossoms visible on a dim-starred night. They scratched her too, but she scrambled up the bank of the dike, with the painter in one hand, and her day pack -- loaded with “fruit juice”—slung over her shoulder, to stand on top of the dike, astride and barefooted, one foot on the land side, one foot on the river side. “You can see it plainly -- this land is on loan from the river. It is a fine place to grow Iris and tulips in the muck. I will go ambling across the field, and I don’t care if I ever get there.”

But Zappa was in a very different place at that late hour, at Crane’s Truck Stop & CafĂ© on the south side of Mount Vernon and hard by the concrete drone of Interstate Five. “It was the Grateful Dead, who sometimes said, you can’t just live on Cocaine and Reds…….Hey that rhymes….. I will not die, if I eat some pie.”

Zappa dug in to a four-inch-high wedge of lemon meringue pie. “It’s got lemons and that’s fruit, so this is good for me.”

Deetka, Zappa’s sometime girlfriend, had kicked him out, so Zappa could either sleep in the back of his van or sit up in a booth at Crane’s Truck Stop – drink coffee, eat pie, smoke Marlboros, play the juke box – time flies when you’re having fun at the only all-night bistro in the Skagit Valley.

“Or I could go to the Butterfly Ball. Joy Helen will be there.”

In Dodge Valley, the Asparagus Moonlight Brigade reached the old hillside quarry where the road turned sharply to the left. The towers of Fishtown rose directly across the field to the south, and there the North Fork of the Skagit River flowed.

“Robert, Fishtown doesn’t have any towers,” Jimmy said. “It’s just some old boards.”

“Jimmy, Fishtown is a finely crafted bamboo temple. I say towers because that is a Met-A-Phor.”

“Jimmy knows what you mean. He ain’t stupid,” Hitch declared.

“We’re going to the party anyway,” Jimmy said, looking to Marty’s cabin in the field, with Bald Island in the background.

Then Jimmy just stood there and looked at his hands, shiny with dirt. He looked at his long bony fingers with chewed fingernails. I wonder if Joy is coming, he thought. She’s kind of pretty. I could spend time with her if she didn’t get any ideas. I don’t like people telling me what to do … My brother is married, twice now, so he bugs me to grab a hold of something, get more solid, he says, go to ground, you’re not an eagle….. But I’ve seen the eagle up in the top of the cottonwood tree when I was living over on Fir Island. The cottonwood tree was in the back yard, not too far from the house, and the eagle perched up there – didn’t care if he saw us coming or going from the house – just perched up there in the winter time, being the king of all creation….Now I’m remembering and I want to tell Joy things like this…. I’ll tell Joy about the eagle, being noble and strong, like everyone was watching him. But then I thought it a little further. It’s cold and windy at the top of the tree. On Fir Island in the winter the wind comes whipping across Skagit Bay and blows all night and all day. If I was a bird I would perch lower down in the branches, get away from the edge, move in closer to the trunk, get a little shelter from the wind, but not the eagle -- he’s just up there on top where it’s cold and lonely, and the other thing is he doesn’t care about you or me or the price of beans. All he cares about is dinner. He’s looking for food, and he’s cruel. Nothing fair about it all. He watches the flocks of snow geese, looking for a bird with a crippled wing. No sport to it, no giving someone a fighting chance. Nope, that crippled bird is as good as dead. That’s what the eagle is looking for. And if the eagle doesn’t kill the bird, there’s a coyote watching too. Survival of the fittest. Eagle up in the cottonwood tree – you can’t eat the wind…..I wish I could say that to Joy….”

“Hitch, did you bring that eagle feather?” Jimmy suddenly asked.

“The eagle feather is sacred,” Hitch said.

“No it isn’t. Eagles are birds, that’s all.”

“So why they put eagles on a dollar bill?”

They all walked across the field and got to the party. Aurora Jellybean gave Charlie Krafft a meaningful glance. Charlie began doing his imitation of Rodney Dangerfield-as-Buddha. Leila wore four-inch heels and all the glitter. Hitch and Robert went straight for the punch bowl. Jimmy looked up and saw Joy coming.

“I’m glad to see you,” Jimmy said. Joy reached out and grabbed his hand for a light squeeze. “Let’s sit somewhere,” she said.

Jimmy began, “Sometimes I wish I was dead – no, I don’t mean that. I mean sometimes I wonder what’s keeping me alive. Do you ever listen to your heartbeat, like when you’re in bed and you can hear it beating? Why does it keep going? I can wave my hands around and jump up and down, but I can’t make my heart beat, it just goes by itself – so I couldn’t be in charge.”

Joy loved hearing this. She reached out and held his hand again. “This log over here, let’s sit. I’ll get you some punch.” She wanted to lean her head on his chest, but held back. “Jimmy, you’re heart beats from the time you are born until the moment you die. It’s destiny – a soul number, the number of heart beats God gave you -- you can’t change that.”

“Yeah right, when you’re number is up….”

“Then your heart stops and your soul flies away.”

“I don’t want to fly away. I like it here.”

“But it could happen anytime. Do you ever get a feeling like that?”

“Not me. All I know is my heart keeps beating, but I’m not in charge of keeping it wound up and running. Otherwise, I ain’t going anyplace.”

“You want to stay here, sure, you could go to ground….Talk to Cow Shit Michael. He’s got that woodworking shop in Sam Cram’s barn, him and Curt and Mike Parker. You could fit in over there.”

The wrong thing to say the second she said it. Scared him, she thought, he’s going to start looking at his shoes again.

But he looked her right in the eye and said, “I might do that some day. Cow Shit Michael ain’t such a bad guy, but we’re one a mission tonight – we’re going out to Fishtown later, to check out Keith Brown’s cabin – do you think Lisa’s out there someplace? I seen that woman on Atclew’s barge, but she’s gone now. I think that’s Lisa – what Keith has been trying to tell us.“

“Atclew and Solartron are two of the weirdest people I ever met. They’re hippie predators. I’ve seen it before. You remember the STP family down in Arizona,” Joy began.

“I never went there.”

“The STP Family -- they had Chipper, Bear and Filthy Fill – violent people, should be in prison or dead by now. And Jesse. You didn’t meet Jesse? He was a dwarf with a twisted spine. He wore leather pants and a crushed cowboy hat. Jesse was always drunk or hopped up on something, and he could hardly walk without a crutch for his twisted legs, but he would get raging drunk and start ragging on guys, like he wanted to fight, only they wouldn’t fight him because he was a dwarf, but Jesse would keep ragging on them until they came over to kick him, then he would pull out his knife quick as lightning and cut the dude up. That was Jesse’s game. Cut the guy up and cops would never touch him because it looked like self-defense…..Really bad dudes, the STP Family, hanging around hippie camps down by Nogales. We don’t have them here, but Atclew has his barge out there at Shit Creek and I know he’s bad.”

Jimmy halted, “Joy, there was something I wanted to tell you.”

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