Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Buddhist Walked into a Bar

Rick Epting walked into the LaConner Tavern one night in the late spring of 2002. He had been in town for the poetry festival. His poet friends were gathering at Nell Thorn’s pub, but Rick decided to go down market and have a Rainier on tap at the LCT as the locals called it.

Gordy Bell occupied a stool midway and he gave out a Hey to Rick, so they joined company and began to drink the beer, paunch and paunch, side by side. Gordy was a hands-on working man of a liberal persuasion. He ran LaConner’s public works crew, fixing potholes and such. There were two men on his crew, Lynn Berry, wide and squat, an expert with the weed-whacker and twice as smart as he looked, and that other younger guy Brian who looked good but wasn’t really that smart.

Anyway, Gordy had but public works aside for the day and was enjoying the view – although sitting on a bar stool all he saw was the bartender and all those bowls of lottery tickets – meaning he enjoyed the view in his mind, maybe thinking of some good day he had out on Skagit Bay on his boat, and secret places near Hope Island where he could trap the best crabs.

It was that far-away look that grabbed Rick’s attention, and the reason he grabbed a stool next to Gordy, Rick being a word guy, and Rick being a guy who had spent most of last two days listening to poets who were all gathering at Nell Thorn’s to detox from the word-fest with plenteous booze.

“So, Gordy, how does it look?” Rick asked. Gordy raised his glass in response. “I just finished the poetry festival,” Rick began, “I got all these thoughts buzzing in my brain. I got that feeling like a balloon head. I’ve been a musician, you remember Future Pastures? That was my group. Then I helped with the Ducks when they played at Rexville Grange, or you can go back all the way to the beginning of hippie world at Toad Hall in Bellingham, I was there. Then I worked at the newspaper. I interviewed various Berentsons serving in public office. I visited Bud Norris in his county commissioner some-time-Democrat, sometime-Republican office with his feet up on the desk. I convinced Norris to deny the nuclear power plants proposed for Sedro-Woolley, although I can only a take a little credit for that one – but I was part of it. And the Food Co-op, I helped get that going when all they had was 25-pound sacks of brown rice and a cup full of brewers yeast, when the broken down hippies – I mean the hippies in their broken down cars – came in from Walker Valley to spend their food stamps and one of them always needed a jump start to get back to camp. I helped that to go. And I prayed, or I should say I learned not to pray. I learned to be a Buddhist, which means I learned to be the Buddha, I learned we’re all the same inside, what do you think, Gordy?” Rick was very earnest.

Gordy smiled beatifically and said, “Let’s move over by the window, we can watch the tide come in, it’s a 12-foot tide today.”

The LaConner Tavern sits on Swinomish Channel and the back part of the tavern, past the bar and the pool tables, opened to picture windows of the ever-changing current of the channel – four movements of the water, and those four being in, out, up and down, meaning the tide comes in and then it goes out, the water rises and then descends, in a rhythm that only the stars can truly understand, those four movements joined by the sublime non-movement, slack tide, when the surface of the water takes on a mirror finish on a windless day and stillness reigns.

So Gordy steered Rick over to a table by the window and the waitress brought them two more flagons. The sunset burnished the sky over the Swinomish Reservation across the channel. “There be Indians,” Gordy intoned, pointing across the channel.

“No, I can’t see them,” Rick replied. “You can’t see them with your eyes wide open,” Gordy said.

Rick closed his eyes and began chanting, “Om, Om, Om.”

“Now, see the salmon,” Gordy said. “They come up from Padilla Bay in flocks and herds and schools, splashing and leaping, mad with sex and desire, salty and driven by wind, they come into the channel and then down the channel, and past the tavern right here, and they go around to Hole-in-the-Wall and then up the river.”

“I can’t see any fish,” Rick cried now in anguish.

“Close your eyes,” Gordy said. “Forget about now. Times goes forward and backward just like the tide. There was lots of salmon back then. Turn your head back one hundred years. Can you see the salmon now?”

“Yes,” Rick said, “I see them leaping!”

Jimmy Schermerhorn walked in to the bar, saw Gordy and Rick and came by to say Hey. Jimmy didn’t drink anymore, he just came in to use the men’s room, but he pulled up a chair for the moment. “Hey, Rick, how did you like the poetry festival?”

Rick said, “It was awesome. The poets chanted and we could see the salmon leaping.”

Later, Rick drove back to his home in Mount Vernon and Gordy went back to his bar stool. He asked the waitress, "Who was that guy I was talking to?”

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ben Munsey leaped over the fence

Ben Munsey leaped over the fence that June day in 2002. He crashed the party at the Museum of Northwest Art in LaConner, the annual fundraising auction fueled by high-ticket prices. Munsey didn’t have the money and he didn’t believe he should have paid anyway.

Docents guarded the front gates of the museum that fine summer evening, smiling at the ticket holders, but glaring at street urchins like Munsey.

“I’m too told to be an urchin, I’m past fifty years now. I teach English at Skagit Valley College, but I’ll be damned if I’ll pay $150 to eat shrimp off an ice sculpture and speak nonsense with nobodies from Seattle who come to the valley to ride their bikes past fields full of sweating Mexicans picking strawberries. I live here. I’ve been here a long time, before they built this museum. There was an apple tree right here, the tree was here for years, in a field of tall grass, before they built the museum, which I call a mausoleum, a burial place for the living art which once graced this little town, before the swells came and bought it up, and the before the docents came to keep out the riff-raff. But I am talking to myself,” Munsey said.

He spotted Singin’ Dan, who used to live on the river, a former river rat like himself, a denizen of Fishtown and Shit Creek, a slum dog drummer on Bald Island summer nights. “Dan, I thought you didn’t live here any more,” Munsey said.

“Well, I don’t live here anymore,” Singin’ Dan said, “I sort of got married and I sort of live in Olympia now.”

“Okay, so maybe we can sort of get a beer or something,” Munsey said.

And they stood there on the sidewalk, watching the patrons ensconce from polished vehicles. “Pretty soon they’ll have valet parking,” Singin’ Dan said.

Then it was like – not a plan, no, without any intention, or desire, or any voice of complaint or rebellion, but as natural as the tide rising that Munsey and Singin’ Dan drifted around to the back entrance of the museum, where the busboys unloaded the catered dishes, where the portable fence was installed to guard the premises on this special fund-raising evening -- a fence that looked like a double dare to two old hippies.

Munsey and Singin’ Dan – years later they both said “I thought it was your idea” – but it wasn’t anyone’s idea, more like the purest of action, despite being much too old for such a stunt – they leaped over the fence, Singin’ Dan easily and thinner, but Munsey with a beer-filled paunch dragging over the top rail.

It felt like robbing a bank, Munsey said later, you might spend twenty years in prison, but for a few seconds you feel more freedom than you ever felt in your life – like a vision of ecstasy, like breaking the law is even breaking the law of gravity and you’re flying.

They dashed right into the main gallery of the museum, to the fountain of ice festooned with dainty bowls of shrimp and smoked salmon and real wine glasses for the white wine, people talking in summer dresses and heels and linen sport coats, juggling napkins, and some idiot playing the guitar in the corner to give it that lah-di-dah flavor.

Munsey and Singin’ Dan filled up their dainty plates, but the matron came barreling down – it was Kathleen Willens in a stern, very stern voice who came bearing down with the brunt of the law, because she had been told by the bus boys that two old hippies had crashed the gate and leaped over the fence.

In truth, Munsey and Singin’ Dan stood out from the crowd and, besides that, Willens knew them for who they were, knew that Munsey and Singin’ Dan needed to be watched and suspected. She marched up to them and asked to see their tickets, knowing as well as the skies above that they did not have any tickets
Willens could have let them stay, if only for a hoot. How did all that art get to the musuem if it wasn’t for a hoot?

But the hoot was over, there was no more drinking sake at Fishtown. No, by the summer of 2002 it was all in the can, under lock and key at the museum, and creatures like Munsey and Singin’ Dan may as well move on down the road. If you don’t have a ticket that’s just too damn bad.

What is a Poem? I wrote this little prose poem to prove a point. For the seventh time, I was not invited to read my words at the Skagit River Poetry Festival. The nominating committee gets completely anal about their selections. They turned me down because I'm not a poet and I don't write poetry, which is pretty goddam picky if you ask me...... This obsession with classification and genre really gets pathetic..... I happen to be a writer who does not fit well into any category....Do you know how many times they wouldn't hire me at the newspaper because they thought I was a poet? The newspaper says I'm too much of a poet, go away. Then the poetry committee says I'm not a poet because I have committed acts of journalism -- excuse me for complaining. Have a great day.

the annual spring subscription drive.

Save Frog Hospital!

Actually we don't need saving and we face no crisis, but we sure could use a few checks. Subscription revenue keeps the editor from getting cranky. It makes me feel good. It helps me to point out the good things going on in our trouble world. Subscription revenue prevents the harsh tones of self-righteousness. It helps me to make my point without preaching.

So please make out a check to Fred Owens for $25 and mail it to

Fred Owens
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Ventura CA 93001

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Friday, May 11, 2012

Attachment Parenting

Frog Hospital – May 11, 2012 – Unsubscribe anytime ATTACHMENT PARENTING By Fred Owens Attachment parenting is the latest fad. The tenets of attachment parenting are as follows: 1. No strollers, carry the infant at all times. 2. No cribs, bring the baby to your own bed. 3. Keep the child on the breast for a long time, with no early weaning. When I read about this "exciting new trend in parenting" -- there was something familiar about it, something that rang a bell, and then I remembered -- attachment parenting is nothing but a re-hash of Third World poverty-induced family habits..... This is something I saw everywhere when I was in Africa -- nobody uses a stroller, they don't have the money, none of those Babys-R-Us geegaws either. In Africa, babies are carried on their mother's back, all day long, or their older sister's back, all day long. In Africa, people live all in one room and sleep on the floor, very commonly. Babies don't have cribs, they lie next to their moms and dads, or very nearby, surely not in some other room -- there is no other room. And babies are on the breast everywhere in Africa. Who has the money to buy formula? So we have this curious situation in America where relatively affluent mothers, from choice and not from necessity, are adopting the child-care practices of Third World mothers who really don't have a choice. I don't object to the practices of attachment parenting per se, but I think this connection with poor African women should be acknowledged. I only advise young mothers and fathers to trust their own judgment and trust their own instincts. Babies thrive in a relaxed atmosphere. Obama is a Lucky Man Obama is a lucky man to have Mitt Romney for an opponent, and Obama will win easily in November. But I am totally dissatisfied with Barack Obama, and I have no place to go. I have no leverage with this man. He doesn't need my help, he doesn't need my money, and when he wins a second term, he won't be working for me.....So the best thing I can do is put my efforts elsewhere, and local issues seem like the best place to go..... I wrote a story in the local paper about the condition of the sidewalks which are crumbling all over. Los Angeles is ten years behind schedule on sidewalk maintenance. Where did all the money go? Yes, sidewalk maintenance is a totally non-exciting topic but a much better use of my time than going to an Obama election rally. Alley Cruising in Venice. I have also spent more than 8 hours this week on a personally-guided tour of all the alleys in Venice, the Los Angeles neighborhood where I am staying right now. Again, this is not a glamorous topic, but it’s real. I have taken notes and photos, and discussed the alleys – their uses and abuses – with local residents. I will write another story about alleys for the local paper. I was walking down the alley – it’s quiet and bare. There’s no traffic – it’s much quieter than the street. The pavement is cracked and crumbling but not really in bad shape. I would call it serviceable. I need to find someone in a motorized or hand-propelled wheel chair and ask them if the Venice alleys are navigable – if they are usable – but they seem okay. I didn’t see any nasty garbage or fast-foot debris. No foul odors, no creepy corners -- basically folks are picking up after themselves. I saw one unleashed dog. He was a very old fellow, just limping along and no harm to anyone. The good thing is the very widespread custom of dog-owners cleaning up after their dogs – you don’t step in it very often. I saw one furtive drug transaction – maybe it was drugs – but the young woman handed something to the young man while they both looked around to see if anyone was watching. I just kept walking. Apart from that one dubious transaction, after some 8 hours of alley walking, I saw only good people going about their business - - like fixing cars and so forth. The alleys are safe. I saw nasturtiums, wild fennel, lantana, geraniums, and various weeds and wildflowers springing from cracks in the pavement. I did not see any rats, raccoons, possums, feral cats, nor coyotes, but they are surely present. There’s an old saying, which I just made up, “You may not see the coyote, but he sees you.” This is boring. Boring is good. The alleys in Venice are in good shape, so you can check that one off your list. Unfortunately Unemployed. The thing is, I’m out of work. So here’s how I spend my day – I budget 45 minutes each morning for anger, resentment and depression because I am not a fully evolved person. My current resentment is against Obama and George Clooney for sponsoring a $40,000 per plate fundraiser -- I don’t like the way this makes me feel small. But we move on. I look for gainful employment naturally, but that doesn’t take up the whole day. That’s why I come up with volunteer community-service work as a way to fill out my day in a positive manner – like my sidewalk and alley project. I strongly urge and recommend to any who is unemployed like I am right now – do not sit at home waiting for the phone to ring, stewing in your own juices. Get out of the house and do something. If you can’t find paying work, then do volunteer work. I would say more, but that would be preaching – and we never do that at Frog Hospital. Thank You. Thank you, Harriet Spanel for your subscription check. Harriet is the former state senator from Bellingham, Washington. Save Frog Hospital! Actually we don't need saving and we face no crisis, but we sure could use a few checks. Subscription revenue keeps the editor from getting cranky. It makes me feel good. It helps me to point out the good things going on in our trouble world. Subscription revenue prevents the harsh tones of self-righteousness. It helps me to make my point without preaching. So please make out a check to Fred Owens for $25 and mail it to Fred Owens 35 West Main Street, Suite B #391 Ventura CA 93001 Or, much easier, go to the Frog Hospital blog and select the PayPal button

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

BeauDee was a 20-year-old quarter horse gelding. He stood in his corral all day at the old farm where I worked and he was depressed and bored. The trouble is that he never got to out for a ride with his owners -- just standing all day in the corral with nothing to do and hanging his head, thinking about whatever horses think about when they are depressed. The owners have had BeauDee the whole twenty years of his life. They showed him and rode him and trailered him and the life was very good, but the owners got old, past seventy, and they couldn't ride him anymore and they made fewer trips to the corral to brush him out or just take him for a walk. I used to feed BeauDee every day and clean up his corral. He liked me well enough, but he didn't care for me to handle him or brush him out or take him for a walk. He just pined for his owners and he just stood there all day with his head hanging down. I would talk to him, "BeauDee, lighten up. The sun is shining. Life is good. Be a proud all horse. It's not over. Wait and see -- things will get better." But my words did not heal him. He developed arthritis from lack of movement. It was sad because he was such a beautiful horse. Then one day last spring the owners came and took him away -- to greener pastures up by Lompoc, to live in a 20-acre field with six other horses, where he could roam around and get some exercise. The owners told me that BeauDee was a lot happier up there and his arthritis went away -- holding his head up high like I told him it would be. I miss taking care of BeauDee, I used to give him a carrot every morning. Now he's gone to greener pastures. I moved off the farm myself two months ago and I wonder where my greener pastures will be.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Yard Art. I made this display of yard art when I lived on the old farm up in Ventura. The plant is a cilantro. In back of the plant is a rectangle holding the pale moon, which I painted, and both sit upon an old oak chair. In the background we see more old chairs and the outer edge of the chicken coop. This is how we make our yards beautiful – by taking stuff that is already there – that’s the key – don’t be going to the store and buying things – the key to yard art is artfully re-arranging what you already have. In fact, you can live your whole life this way.