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
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My blog is Fred Owens

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Fred Owens
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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
7922 Santa Ana Rd
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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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.”