Wednesday, December 31, 2014

You Almost Made It, Frankie


I got this story from a friend who works as a nursing aide at the hospital here in Santa Barbara..... slightly edited, but his words.

By Philip Deutsch

You Almost Made It, Frankie

I’m telling this story to get it off my mind. Patients don’t usually stay with me. I put my heart into the work when I’m on the unit, but I forget the whole thing by the time I get to the parking lot when I’m going home at 11 p.m.

It’s a good rhythm. You go home, read a book, have a glass of wine, and sleep without troubles. The next day you do it again

But Frankie stayed with me. He was 78, in assisted living. His wife had just died and he was in pain from hip surgery. He overdosed on his pain medication and the medics found him on the floor with seven Fentanyl patches pressed to his skin.

Fentanyl is a powerful narcotic and widely used in the form of dermal patches to relieve pain. The patch releases the medication in a careful slow way and -- sometimes with unpleasant side effects -- it works.

But seven patches all at once will send you through the door, down the river and on your way to the next life. Such a patient will not be left alone in the hospital, lest they try to harm themselves again. Standard procedure. Suicide watch.

Frankie was deeply asleep when I got there at 4:30 in the afternoon. Comatose? I don’t know the medical term. But past danger, I think.
Kelly was the nurse. She’s one of the angels. They make you feel good just walking in the room. I don’t know about the patients, but I know I feel good when Kelly is around.

Frankie had a heart monitor, just in case. These are four wire leads pressed to the chest, connected to a monitor room where someone could watch his pulse and breathing rate. The monitor, besides being watched by a live person, is set with ding-ding-dings if the patient’s heart rate exceeds the parameters. They have ding-ding-dings all over the hospital. You can’t relax for a minute.

So there’s Frankie, on his back, sleeping peacefully, with thick white hair closely cropped, a trim spade beard, round face, and good skin color. He looked healthy, if you asked me, and he was resting well. I was sitting beside the bed and I turned on the TV to watch the baseball game -- kept the volume low. It makes good background noise -- the sound of a murmuring crowd. No ding-ding-dings at the baseball game.

Maybe that’s what’s bothering me. How can anybody get any rest at this hospital? It’s a process of continuous interruption.

Kelly floats in and out of the room. She gives Frankie a bladder catheter. He barely wakes during the procedure. The urine bag fills up promptly. He needed a good pee, but he was too out of it to use the urinal, and the narcotic relaxed his muscles over much, so he wouldn’t just go without help.
If there’s one thing that matters around here, it’s urination. They get really worried if you’re not peeing, and they get happy if you do. It’s all about moving the fluids -- things you’ve been managing by yourself since you were two-years-old, but when you’re sick you need help.

Kelly leaves. Frankie sleeps, I watch the game -- Dodgers and Phillies. That’s it. Six hours and I go home. Only this time, when I get to the parking lot, I keep seeing Frankie’s peaceful face. I keep thinking -- Frankie, you almost made it.

Depression and Suicide. (making no claim to any expertise on this subject) Everybody gets the blues now and then. But real depression is much worse than having a bad day -- real depression is staying in bed all day, being unable to leave the house, no appetite, insomnia, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts. One of the things I do at the hospital is suicide watch. Obviously, I don’t see those who have made a successful effort to end their lives. But I see the attempts and the failures. These are some mighty unhappy people -- everything’s going so wrong and they can’t even kill themselves.

Usually it’s an overdose -- a cocktail of legal and illegal drugs. The doctors would sure like to know just what it is you took when you get to ER -- perhaps if you pinned a note to your shirt before you passed out.

Either way, when you get to the ER, they give you the charcoal syrup which soaks up the poison. The charcoal looks awful, but it has no taste.

Don’t try suicide with Tylenol. A sufficient amount of Tylenol will kill you, but a less than sufficient amount will merely damage your liver, resulting in prolonged hospitalization and enormous medical expense. The opiates are actually better, because recovery can be fairly quick after a less than fatal dose. Wrist slashing requires determination, and a failed attempt will leave scars that might embarrass you later in life.

As I said, I deal with the failures, and my medical knowledge is strictly anecdotal -- I only see the patients after they have been medically cleared -- when they just need to be watched.

The patients are almost always quite young, 20 to 35, and two thirds female. They are very withdrawn. They seem to be terribly embarrassed. They just lie in bed and I make no attempt at conversation.

I don’t think they want to die.

I don’t have much faith in therapy and social work, but that’s what happens after the attempt. You have to talk to somebody. This somebody comes into the patient’s room and an earnest conversation ensues -- as in, let’s find out what’s going on, and let’s see what we can do about it. This is just my bias, but I don’t see the point of “doing anything” about it. I’m quite glad to be alive myself, and I would recommend that status to anyone who asked.

But it’s your life, not mine. The social compact requires us to live until we die, so I would not help you if you wanted to kill yourself. Having said that, I think the highest respect and kindness for someone is to let them be the way they are. Are you depressed? Yes, that happens. Do you want my help? Ask for it. Do you want my attention? Then do or say something that interests me.

I just don’t want to treat a patient as if they were pathetic. I stay in the room with them and we’re going to get through the day together. I can promise that -- we’ll get through the day. And we’ll see about tomorrow.

Now Frankie was different than the others, in my own limited experience. He was much older, for one. And he made a fairly serious attempt to die, taking seven Fentanyl patches. As I said, he almost made it. If they hadn’t checked his room for another hour, he would have been gone for good.

So what happened to him after I left him at the hospital? I don’t know. I suspect they won’t let him have his own supply of Fentanyl anymore, but will give it to him one dose at a time. He’ll get counseling, but I hope it comes with respect.

There’s a time when you might tell a younger person that she’s a fool and that she’s throwing her life away. That can be a good thing to say.
But the old folks -- you really shouldn’t tell them anything. They are way past the rest of us. A doctor or a nurse, no matter how experienced or how well trained, will have no idea what it takes to be 78 until they get there themselves.

FACTS ABOUT FENTANYL (Wikipedia is the source) The opioid Fentanyl was first synthesized in 1960 by Dr. Paul Janssen. Its chemical formula is C22H28N2O. It is approximately 100 times more potent than morphine. It is used as an intravenous anesthetic.
In the mid 1990s, the Duragesic dermal patch was introduced, and the patch is now used for long-term pain management.
Fentanyl can be abused as a substitute for heroin. For that reason it is a Schedule II drug according to the Controlled Substances Act.
A Schedule I drug has no approved medical use. Schedule II drugs have approved medical uses, but are also illegally manufactured and abused.
Fentanyl, Duragesic, and their generic equivalents are often the first choice to control pain in cancer patients.
Fentanyl has side effects in 10 percent of patients -- diarrhea, nausea, constipation, dry mouth, sweating, and confusion.
Fentanyl and Duragesic are trademarks of Johnson + Johnson, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical corporations. Sales of Fentanyl and Duragesic exceed $1.3 billion worldwide.

Editor's Note. I drew this diagram of Fentanyl over morning coffee.

WHAT WOULD WE DO WITHOUT THE LAWYERS? An Internet search, in pursuit of information regarding a drug or medical procedure, will easily produce the website of a law firm which makes a living suing those same purveyors of drugs and medical procedures.

I found this website, (a real website, I’m not making this up) which hypes the diligent adversarial talents of Saiontz and Kirk, a law firm in Baltimore, because, if you have a problem, it must be someone’s fault and they should be sued.

Take our fictional patient Frankie. It wasn’t his fault. He was depressed because his wife died. Surely the doctor knew that. Did Frankie have a history of suicidal thoughts and attempts? Did the doctor ask him?

And what about the pain management? Was Frankie carefully instructed in the use of his Fentanyl patches? Was he warned of the danger of an overdose and that it could kill him? Or maybe he was told about the danger of an overdose, and that’s what gave Frankie the idea of putting on seven patches all at once.

Has the law firm of Saiontz and Kirk sent one of their attorneys to lurk about the lobby of the hospital where I work, to press his or her business card upon weeping relatives? “Aye, I will take up your battle, I will smite the physician and pursue the drug company, I will obtain damages. We will fight and fight until justice comes.”

Saiontz and Kirk is eager to help, dear citizen, if you have had any problems with your Duragesic patch. Call them today. You can find their number plastered on the side of the nearest Metro Bus.

But what has money got to do with it? The lawyers can get you money all right, but what is Frankie's life worth at age 78. In cold blooded dollars his life is not worth a penny -- a good man, a man who is loved, but not productive in any economic sense, an expense actually.

ADOPTION. Now, I’ve finished writing about Frankie. I will send it to the Frog Hospital audience and then I get closure. But I’m afraid not. I’ve done patient care for five years -- at a hospital, a psychiatric hospital, and a nursing home -- five years..

In those five years, I have adopted about 12 patients. It just happens. These are the ones that get into my psyche, make themselves at home and just stay. That’s why I call it adoption. I see their faces, and I mean going back  years and I still see their faces. It looks like Frankie has joined the roster, along with Rachel, James, Eddie, and the others.

Twelve patients are enough. You don’t want to encourage this adoption. You want to shake them off by the time you get to the parking lot, but it happens anyway.

Editor. So that's Philip's account and I hope you found it worthwhile. Happy New Year to all ! ! !

Monday, December 22, 2014

Naming Names

Naming Names

By Fred Owens
I got a message from Gewertz. He said that's my name don't wear it out.... You see, there is a real Gewertz and I borrowed his name to make a story last week Gewertz is such a good sturdy name and it sounds a little like Herzog, and if my character sounds like Herzog, maybe I can sound a little like Saul Bellow.
I walk in the shadow of Saul Bellow. O Divine Muse, if you might pour a little of that honey on my words too.

Imitation. I was imitating Bellow last week. I am a strong believer in imitation. That's how the Jesuits taught me to write in high school. We learned composition by imitating the style and structure of masterpieces, words from Steinbeck, Hemingway and others. Those were easy. Then we had Stephen Crane and the Red Badge of Courage which made no sense to me at all. And Walt Whitman and Mark Twain, but it was the Steinbeck and Hemingway I remember because they were easy.

Imitation is a good exercise in learning how to write. It is no different than how little babies learn how to speak -- by imitation,.

Do not be sidetracked by this silly talk of discovering originality and developing your own authentic voice. You already are who you are and nothing can change that. You can be better at who you are if you struggle a bit, but you can never be anybody else. Teenagers struggle with identity, grown men do not.
You Must Be Fred. This such an odd greeting. People say it upon meeting me for the first time. I take this literally. Yes, I must be Fred. I will always be Fred. Thanks for reminding me...... That's my identity and that's my name, Fred. Don't wear it out.
Fact and Fiction. The distinction between fact and fiction has become quite faint. This is a concern. People might worry. But I can assure you this is not a big problem. When you write factually, you must tell the truth. When you write fiction you must tell the truth. That's all you need to know. Just tell the truth. If you write less than the truth, you have written badly.
But I miss facts. We don't have as many as we used to have. We have data. We're drowning in data, but not so many facts. Facts take work. You need to make phone calls. You need to get confirmation. You need to double check. You need to clear your mind of conceit and prejudice. You need to rise above your circumstances. Facts are the homage we pay to truth. Facts are a dim approximation of truth. If you have not seen a fact lately, a good place to start is the obituary section of the newspaper.

You don't read newspapers and you're too young to look at obituaries, but take a look at the names. Scan the names quickly. Every name is spelled correctly. Just so. Because these are facts. An obituary is someone's life story, and because they are short and because they are so highly treasured by a small group of people, mistakes are uncommon.
The phone book is facts too. Burt you don't even have a phonebook. Neither do I.
So we don't have as many facts as we used to have, but we have more data than we can use. We'll survive. I like my laptop and my cell phone. I just don't trust these devices.
Absent facts, people are beginning to trust the camera on their smart phone. They take selfies to prove their existence. But the camera lies. It's easy to lie with a camera. I've done it. You've done it too. Let's be honest -- cameras lie. I mean they can lie, or they can tell the truth.
But truth and lies are not the same as fact and fiction, not at all. Here's an example -- Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien -- a more honest book was never written by a man walking this earth. Tolkien told the truth, to the best of his ability and that's why it's such a good story. He had talent and  energy and discipline and he told the truth. You cannot do any better.

Naming Names. I don't have much imagination, so when I write a story I need to start with a name, and I might borrow one. You take the name of a real person and de-factualize it, then turn it loose in the arena. See what happens. Often the new character dies a quick and pathetic death. Or should have. But sometimes they make it to the bell-ringing and shout for life, and more life, and more life, and then the character is beyond your control and gone round the world.
Here are some names of real people. Let's see what we can do with them. I mean, the names, not the people.

Ted Pietras. Ted is a strong name. One syllable. Three letters. You cannot move this name. You cannot spin it. You cannot color it. It is a mountain. And his last name is Pietras. What kind of name is that, Spanish, Italian, Greek? Something like a an olive tree. An olive tree that grows on the stony slope of a mountain, amid the rosemary and the ambling goats. You can run with a name like Ted Pietras if you're writing a story.

Harvey Blume.   Harvey Blume. Three syllables. Accent on the third syllable. Rolls off the tongue. Easy to say. Easy to remember. You meet Harvey Blume and it's like you already know him and you like him. The trouble will come later. The trouble always comes later -- and you're the writer.
Harvey had a small part in the Third Man, the Orson Wells movie. He just had a few lines. It was after they came out of the cafe, walking down the deserted street. He was an agent, but working for who? and with no possibility of moral clarity. You can't tell if Harvey is a good guy or a bad guy,
Bobby Vilinsky. You have to learn this name. You might need to practice saying it. Bobby doesn't go with Vilinsky. Lots of people, their first name clashes with their last name.  Bobby, what's your story? Tell us what happened, you know, that time when you .........It gets complicated, opaque......A dark cloud gathers and the music stops .... Bobby, what's wrong?  Images begin spinning in your mind -- a coffee shop in Somerville, an abandoned drive-in movie screen in Waltham, a pale horse in the Berkshire hills, the lower basement of a large office building, streetlights gleaming in the snow,  the beach in Revere strewn with empty  beer cans...... Thus the tale of Bobby Vilinsky begins.....Rhona looking more beautiful than ever..... Rhona screaming at Bobby, " me again...." and pulling at her hair and sobbing, out of breath.....
Bobby's story just takes off from here, all I have to do is type it.

Power in a Name. Adam and Eve named all the creatures of the earth and so gained dominion. Mothers and fathers name their children, searing their souls like a hot iron brand. Oppressed people take back their own names and change their lives. Names are powerful, and terrible in the wrong hands.
That's Enough for Now.
Merry Christmas,
Fred. That's my name. Don't wear it out.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital

send mail to:

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

It's Just a Tree


By Fred Owens
You don't need to know about old neighborhoods in the Bronx, and you are unlikely to ever go there. Why would anyone go the the Bronx, when they could fly to Hawaii or Morocco? Even people who are from there don't go there.

The Bronx. The first European settler was a Swedish man named Bronck. He built a cabin and had a family. If you went to see them, you said you were going to the Broncks, or now the Bronx.......I always wondered about that, but I only found out today.
People from the Bronx. Why do I know a half dozen people from the Bronx and they are all Jews? They live in Los Angeles. I see them at the coffee shop in Venice. I sit and talk with them. One time they got tribal on me talking about where to get a good Reuben, otherwise it's give and take. They call me Farmer Fred because of my horticultural habits. Eric is one of the Bronx Jews at the coffee shop. He goes there every day. Big Mike also lives in Venice and he is also an old Jew from the Bronx. Big Mike doesn't go to Eric's coffee shop, or if he does go he won't visit or talk with Eric, for reasons which neither man will share with me. Basically one is not encouraged to bear tells from Eric to Big Mike, or from Big Mike to Eric.

I once tried to settle differences like this, but now I accept it. They are too stubborn.

I could tell you a lot about Eric -- what he looks like, how he dresses, what he likes to eat, his love life, his business, his family, but he would not like that. I know his health and his medical problems. I know his politics and which sports he follows. I know who his friends are. I know a lot about Eric, but he's a private man. I will not write about him because he would not like that. No, not so private, but determined to control his own message. Eric says what he wants to say to people he wants to talk to.

I can only say that Eric is in real estate, he is allergic to eggs, and he is my very good and worthy friend.
The story of Big Mike is shorter. He has fruit trees. He lives on the other side of Lincoln Blvd. where the streets are wider and the back yards are bigger. Big Mike has peach trees and plum trees. He has bragging rights to his orchard and garden. He will tell you all about it and with pleasure.
Jews and Christmas
Jews fall into three groups at Christmas. The smallest group enjoys it. They love the music, the decorations and the spirit of it. It's not complicated to them. Bobby V. always came to my house on Christmas Eve to enjoy egg nog with rum. Irving Berlin loved the holidays. He wrote White Christmas and made a fortune. What good cheer!
The second group, larger, experiences anguish at Christmas. They wince at the first sound of carols at the mall. They avoid certain places and times. And there's nothing you can do about it. It won't kill them and it ends after a few weeks. I forget his first name, but Gewertz was unwittingly roped into playing one of the Three Kings at his grade school Christmas  pageant -- and marked for life because of that embarrassment. What can you do?

The majority of Jews are indifferent to the holidays. They are aware of it but they tune it out. Not their party.
Some Jews make a big deal of Hannukah. Why? It's a small feast, and may it remain so. Jews have it all over Christians when it comes to Pesach. It's a better feast than Easter, in my opinion. All you get at Easter is chocolate bunnies and jelly beans. No comparison.
And the High Holidays can be truly awesome.
Light a Candle

May every one have their holiday.
May we all enjoy peace and prosperity.
May the light cause our understanding to grow.
And what we don't understand, can we let it go?
More On Gewertz.  What I wrote about the Bronx is all true except the part about Gewertz. Here's is what really happened. This was twenty years ago in Boston when I knew him and we had coffee at Harvard Square. Gewertz was a handsome man of 30, tall, lean, with black curly hair and clear black eyes under thick glasses. He dressed well and he smelled like winter smells in Boston, when winter smells good, which happens in December when the first snow falls. Picture him in early December coming in from the cold to the Au Bon Pain for coffee and Danish, to sit at one of those rickety small tables with the Boston Globe tucked under his arm, which he wrote for, but on a freelance basis.
Gewertz was a film critic. He was the Number Two film critic in Boston and Boston can only support one film critic, so his position was precarious despite his abundant talent, his deep knowledge and his solid work ethic.
Gewertz was a little anxious, about what? Just anxious. With his good looks he should have gotten laid like a banjo, but he just seemed to have trouble with women who came into his life briefly and left a long, cold trail. He spent more time talking with me about these women than he actually spent dating them. Why was it so complicated? But I enjoyed listening because it helped him. Everyone wanted to help Gewertz.
In early December he had anxiety about Christmas. It bothered me, because it made me feel like a bruising Catholic oaf, representing a billion people who were all intent on making him suffer.. I felt guilty. Later I turned the table on him, although not in so many words. I wanted to say, Your people invented guilt and now I feel bad because you feel bad when it's Christmas? No way. Feel as bad as you want. And blame me. I don't care.
Only I never said that because I'm a sweet guy, and Gewertz was never imposing. It was me who sought out his company, who called him and said Hey....
What happened was that his parents were Jewish  but did not go to temple or do anything Jewish and at Christmas they bought a tree and put up decorations and had presents. Gewertz, little anxious Gewertz, got all the toys he wished for.
"But it was confusing," he said. "Dad, we're Jewish, aren't we? That's what I told him. Why did they do that to me? I loved the toys and I loved Santa Claus to sit on his knee, but I was seven years old and I knew it wasn't right. It wasn't wrong either. That's what my Dad said. Don't worry about it, he said. We're just having fun. It's just a tree........ I grew up, I didn't even know I was a Jew. I mean, I knew I was a Jew, but weren't we supposed to do something about it?"
To my credit, I offered no advice and made no comment. There was a pause, a rustling of cups and spoons, looking around the cafe. I ventured -- this was the Au Bon Pain Cafe in Harvard Square in 1994 -- a change of topic. "Have you noticed that all the counter help are African immigrants?"
Gewertzian Solutions
I began to think about Gewertz's identity dilemma.I came up with several solutions and I made a list.
1. He could become a Unitarian.
2. He could become a Buddhist.
3. He could become devoutly secular and dedicate his life to a cause such as climate change or the preservation of wolves.
These options were plausible.
4. He could migrate to Israel.
5. He could become Hasidic.
These choices were not remotely possible, but still, when you make a list, you need something to cross off.

6. He might -- this is intriguing -- borrow money from his parents in New Jersey and make a long overdue trip home for that purpose. This would make them very happy. "He's going to start making a living after all," they said to each other, and to him said, "We knew you had it in you, and look, don't even think of paying us's a gift."
Gewertz would use the money to go to graduate school and get his MBA and work at an investment bank or management consulting firm. He could make himself do that and forsake his creative duty as a film critic.
At age 30 the path was clear for him. With the MBA he makes a bundle, he buys a good car and a black leather jacket --- remember that Gewertz is tall and good-looking in an athletic way and with a snazzy car and a leather jacket he would simply be looking the part and not be posing, not at all.
Thus attired, he would get the girl. She would ignore his anxiety, which never went away, and smother him with kisses. With his substantial income, and hers, they could buy a house on Monument Street in Concord, with leafy lawns, stone walls and horse-riding neighbors reeking of old money.
The Gewerztes would endow the Reform temple in Concord with a six-figure gift. They would have two children and stage magnificent bar mitzvahs.
Gewertz would no longer doubt, except privately. "I get along with the old money in Concord because I know they will never accept me. So once a year Tom and Charity have us over for drinks. We go, we talk, we laugh, but we don't invite them to our house -- it's better to leave it that way."
Would Gewertz Really Move to the Suburbs ?
The last choice is my favorite.

7. Boston's Number One film critic dies or moves on. Gewertz rises to the top of his profession. He wields power judiciously. He is vindicated.

I never showed him this list. I mean, what do you think I am? I don't meddle. Gewertz likely made is own list anyway. It's his life, and it's just a tree.
Thank you, have a good holiday,

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital

send mail to:

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

Sunday, December 07, 2014

dead people


Dead People on My Mailing List
It's an end of the year project, I am sure this is familiar to you, to clean out the cupboard and throw out the unpaired socks, and delete names from your mailing list because people move one, even loved ones move on, or they merely lose interest in your Internet connection.
Marty Federman
I try not to send Frog Hospital to people who are not especially interested in receiving it. But there are exceptions, called the Marty Federman Rule.
What happened is that Marty, whom I have not seen in over 20 years, said, in the kindest way, that since he hardly reads Frog Hospital, would I please delete his name from the list.....
This request was reasonable, but I could not comply. I even refused to comply. I wrote to Marty and told him that I needed to know he was there, even if he did not read it. I needed to know he was there because he is one of the people I am writing for.
Thus was born the status of Legacy Reader. And you might be one of them. That means that your request to unsubscribe might not be honored.

Dead People
However, we have a new problem -- what if you are dead? A good friend of mine, her name was Hunter, and she lived in Altadena, with her dog and four cats, and I was a frequent visitor, and often stayed in her spare bedroom for several weeks at a time (paying her $100 per week).
She died.  Of course it was not entirely unexpected. She did have health problems, and she had become concerned about living alone. Last year she had a fainting spell and collapsed on the floor. That left her helpless for several hours because she could not reach her cell phone.
So, treasuring her solitude, she still preferred my company for practical reasons, plus I was a good guest.
They had a memorial in her honor at the Ale House, where she was known, attending the wine tasting sessions there. Why do they call it wine tasting? You go to a restaurant, are you food tasting? Anyway, those were her people, having been 86'd from the Coffee Gallery.
This was incredible. No one gets kicked out of the Coffee Gallery, except maybe some crazy, homeless drunk or Jesus preacher.... but Hunter, in her outspoken-ness, in her ranting, managed to alienate the entire round table at the front of the house. This is a solid left-liberal group, matching her politics and religion or lack thereof. It wasn't politics. It's that she would not stop talking. And a woman at that. A highly intelligent and very articulate woman.
No, it was not her being a woman. I can cite examples of men at other coffee shops who were evicted for similar offenses.
But for Hunter, it was a kind of status, being the first woman ever kicked out of the Coffee Gallery.
I grieved for her dying, but I never get over to Altadena these days, so she was fading from my life anyway.
Then I come to her name on the mailing list. I was not prepared for this -- just to push a button and delete her name. I can't do that.
I give up. I can't delete anybody.

Marty, you are a great guy and I am glad you're still with me.

Hunter, I hope your dog and your four cats have found other homes because I know that would matter a lot to you.
All the rest of you, be well and I will write to you again soon enough.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My gardening blog is  Fred Owens
My writing blog is Frog Hospital

send mail to:

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

I am the Garden

I don't get too popular writing poems in Hebrew, but that does not matter. Is it a good poem?

Trapped in a Thomas Hardy Novel

Bathsheba Beckons

By Fred Owens

A red-tailed hawk flew over a field somewhere in Ventura County and saw a man standing there, holding a shovel with one hand and scratching his grey-haired head with the other. He wore rumpled clothes and a puzzled expression on his face. The hawk noticed the man without caring and flew on.

Tom Blethen was facing two 50-foot rows of potatoes. He looked up at the December sky. It had rained, the field was all muddy, and it was going to rain again.

Bessie Blume came out from the house. “You had better get those spuds all dug up now or they will rot in the ground,” she said and walked back to the house, to have coffee with Helen.

Blethen muttered mild curses under his breath, but Bessie was the boss, and he was the farmhand and potatoes don’t dig themselves.

Spuds, I hate that name, why don’t they just call them potatoes, he thought as he wrestled with the spade. This is just like one of those Thomas Hardy novels, Far From the Madding Crowd. Why did I end up in that book, out in the goddam “moors” digging “beetroots” in the rain? Geez, I gotta stop talking to myself.

He pulled out his cell phone and dialed up Charlie Bones in Seattle. Charlie Bones was an artist and not gainfully employed, someone you could call at any time and he might be free. “It’s me, Tom Blethen, down in California, standing in a field, working in the rain.”

“I thought it didn’t rain in California. You could have stayed up here if you wanted rain,” Charlie said.

“I’m standing out here in this muddy field in Oxnard,” Tom said, “and I’m calling you because I’m desperate to talk with someone who has a grain of intelligence.”

“Unlike you,” Charlie replied. “If you had a grain of intelligence you wouldn’t be working in a muddy field.”

“You got that right. I’m too old for this. I moved down to California to get out of the rain and to get out of doing farm work.”

“But you brought it all with you,” Charlie said. “There’s no escape.”

“Okay, thanks for the advice.” Tom said and hung up. He should have told Charlie about being trapped in a Thomas Hardy novel. You read books to find out who you are and then you find out you’re somebody else. Wow, that’s too spacey. I gotta calm my mind. You read books for the images -- my life is like a Thomas Hardy novel. That’s better.

He began digging again. He started with the red potatoes because he liked red potatoes better than white ones. Let’s see, he thought, in fifty feet I might get fifty pounds or better. He worked slowly. That’s what he used to tell the crew when he had a crew, to work slowly. The slower you work, the more you get done. You see those Mexicans over there – barely moving, but they don’t stop, they just keep going. That’s what he used to tell his crew.

“So now I’m a professional Mexican and my life’s ambition has come true,” he said out loud. “I must know something.”

Tom was thinking he was smarter than Bessie. He called Charlie again and Charlie straightened him out. “Tom, you’re working on her farm. If you were so smart, Bessie would be working on your farm.”

“Well, if I was so smart I would be living in a condo in Santa Monica. I’d be buying gold-finger aerobiotic organic potatoes at Whole Foods for $5 a pound – by God.”

“Give it up Tom, you like the farm.”

“I hate it when people say that. You get hit by a car and they don’t say it was meant to be. You end up in the hospital and they don’t say it was what you really wanted all along.”

“So, quit,” Charlie said.

“Remember when we worked in the fields together up there in the Skagit? That was twenty years ago, we were regular peasants back then, doing it for the glory. I was stuck in a different novel then, Tolstoy, Anna Karenina.

“Remember that scene where Count Levin goes out to work the wheat harvest with his own serfs, and he gets his hands dirty and he feels like the salt of the earth? My whole life changed after I read that book. I blame this on Tolstoy, he was such a phony. He talked a good game about the wholesome peasant life but he stayed in his castle, or whatever it was. Not me, I went whole hog and moved right into the book. I took up farm work for real. God, I wish I hadn’t.”

“You’re breaking my heart,” Charlie said.

“Look, I don’t want to seem too self-absorbed. Have you sold any paintings? “Tom asked, changing the subject.

They talked a little longer. Tom could have called Kevin Sunrise or Jim Smith or Rebecca Love. At least he had friends to call. It was lonely out in the field. He kept digging. It was like a treasure hunt because you never knew how many potatoes you would find or how big they might be, and this looked like a big crop. The wheelbarrow started to fill up. “A fucking harvest bonanza is unfolding before my eyes. As God is my witness I’ll never go hungry again,” Tom said and he shook his hand at the sky.

Bessie came back out of the house after Helen drove out. “Nice looking spuds,” she said, which was a lot of motivational speaking for her. She owned 15 acres and rented out most of that to a neighboring farmer, raising her own small crops on a few acres near the house, herbs mainly, to sell, and the potatoes and other vegetables for her table. That and a few chickens.

She was short and wiry. She had strong features and weather-worn skin. Her hair stood out, stiff as a brillo pad and wired like electricity.

“You really got a lot of hair,” Tom told her once. “That’s a sign of vitality.”

Bessie did not care for flattery.

“But you’re awful skinny. You know, if I were you, I would stop drinking coffee all day and make yourself a big chocolate milk shake, fatten up a little bit,” Tom had told her.

“You want to keep your job?” she said.

He did want to keep his job. He liked Bessie, but he was careful about that. Tom lived in a trailer in back of the barn. It was an old Airstream with real wood paneling, kind of warm and cozy. He kept his poems and manuscripts and paintings and photos inside, some small collections of half-finished unadmired work, files of old letters, back when people wrote letters, a lifetime of fits and starts.

Fucking farm job, he thought. The only book they ever wrote about farm work was Of Mice and Men – two tramps going from ranch to ranch. What a bunch of losers, the salt of the earth. I get to live on the far side of the barn, and I can go outside at night and take a piss under the stars.

Bessie had her farm house, and it was nice. She had married well and divorced even better. Her children were grown up and gone. She spent a lot of time on the phone, Tom noticed, and she wrote letters, regular mail letters -- she didn’t like the computer or the email.

And she’s lonely in there and I’m lonely out here, Tom thought. So I’ll make a move on her, like in Lady Chatterly’s Lover, and I’ll be her pet hound dog.

But I don’t know, it’s not a good idea to get up close and personal with the landlady. I could end up going down the road again. And seriously, am I getting any signals from Bessie?

It was nine p.m., the stars were out, the wind was gentle and the fields were quiet. Bessie was in the big house by the light of a warm yellow lamp. She sat on the floor on the old rug in front of the television.

It wasn’t too late to put together a load of laundry and bring it to the house. Tom got his basket ready and walked over. I don’t care what happens, he thought, I’m just going in there. I’m gonna die, probably not for a long time, but I’m gonna die, and what else can I be sure of? And why sleep alone?

Tom put the laundry in the machine and came over to the living room, standing up, looking at the television, Bessie stretched out on the floor, on her side, her head on a pillow.

“What are you watching?” he said. He didn’t care what she was watching and she ignored the question. “What are those little colored flags over the mantel?” he asked.

Bessie stirred slowly. “They’re Buddhist prayer flags. I’m a Buddhist.”

“You’re Jewish. How can you be a Buddhist?”

“I’m a Jewish Buddhist.”

“Fine, I’m a Catholic pagan.”

“Would you like some popcorn? I’ll make some.”

That was Bessie’s idea of a treat, a warm gesture on a December night, but austere, with no butter, and no butter expected. Tom sat in the maroon easy chair by the fireplace. Bessie had lots of books, old hippie texts and arts illustrated, photos of baby children, paper mache sculptures crudely finished, scraps of crepe paper taped to the ceiling from a party long ago, a Japanese screen holding off the dining room, a Chickering upright piano gathering dust, and a broad picture window looking out on the field with no curtains.

Women always have curtains, Tom thought. But not Bessie, she was a little too Zen, like a Rye Krisp cracker without any hummus.

She brought out the popcorn in a very large, very old wooden bowl and set it down on a small table next to the maroon easy chair, taking her own place on the rug, with her stocking feet tucked under her hips, sitting closer than Tom had expected.

“What’s on your mind?” she asked looking up, her face in a halo of wiry hair, her thick eyebrows arched, her gaunt nose unmoved.

“I’ve been on this farm for six months now…” Tom began.

“You don’t want a raise?” she asked.

“No, no, we can talk about that another time.”

“It’s about you,” he said.

“I’ve got all night,” she said and she stretched and began to seem as if she might be enjoying the attention. That made Tom nervous. If I hesitate now, she’ll kill me, he thought.

“How did you end up out here?” he asked, and grabbed a handful of popcorn, still steaming hot, with just enough salt and some of Bessie’s herb mix.

“I’ll say this slowly. It was back to nature for me, just like a lot of people. I grew up on the Lower East Side, I went to City College, I dropped out, I hitched out West, I wanted to be a California sunshine girl. I met Frankie. He wrote poetry and we smoked pot together. His family had money. We got married and had children and his folks bought us this farm. I planted strawberries and worked 12 hours a day. Frankie spent more and more time in Los Angeles. He began using hard drugs. I kicked him out. I raised the children by myself. Now I’m free, but I love my home more than anything, so here I sit.”

“That’s the short version, I guess,” Tom said.

“You wanted to know.”

“What happens now?”

“The wind blows. Om, Om, Om. The wind blows and no one knows.”

“Did you read that book about Bathsheba? She owned a farm, it was in a Thomas Hardy novel.


“Well, she was young and pretty and kind of stuck up and she owned a farm. Her name was Bathsheba Everdene, and one day Gabriel Oak came to work for her. He was a shepherd and a kind man. She put him to work, but she snubbed him, then she married the rich man who lived next door, but she was very unhappy. All kinds of bad things happened to her, except all that time Gabriel was her faithful friend, and she finally realized that and then they came together. It was a pretty story. Do you read books like that?”

“I do. I would like to read that book, the way you tell it,” Bessie said.

The television was still on, keeping them company, like a third person in the room. That was safer, buying time. Tom had thoughts. Thoughts aren’t good. Om, Om, Om. Peace is good, not thoughts.

But this is the earth and the body of desire dwells on Bessie’s farm with Tom attending. And the fruit of the soil comes from desire because we are not angels.

Bessie switched off the television and walked over to the stairs. She began ascending, and turning back, said to Tom, “Are you coming?”

Fred Owens
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My blog is Fred Owens

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Fred Owens
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Ventura CA 93001

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What we were doing when the Berlin Wall came down

What we were doing when the Berlin Wall came down

Rebecca -- Sunday, November 27, 1989

A day at the Farm and an evening at Barkley’s Pub, rather ordinary -- as the world turns, and things happening in Eastern Europe are changing our lives in more ways than anything that has happened here lately.

I worked all morning on the farm, cutting and splitting wood, pulling weeds, raking up debris and re-planting daffodil bulbs. Martin had the hardest work, he was crawling underneath the house to put insulation on the plumbing and did not come up for hours. Paul slept until 11:30, by permission. When he got up he stacked all the new wood on the front porch.
I was going to cut the wood with the handsaw when I got up that morning because we do not yet have a chainsaw. But caution and past experience was guiding me and telling me to approach this arduous task very slowly.
As I approached the pile of 6-foot limbs which we had snaked out of the woods, a man drove into the yard with a pickup truck. His name was Kelly; he lives in Avon. He asked me about the old boat in the barn, and he said that a friend of his wanted to buy it, to plant in his front yard, filled with flowers.
The boat had been in the front yard for two years. It was 17-feet long, built of wood, with a stout keel and mounting for an inboard engine. It had been recovered with fiberglass and was painted red. The boat had been stored in a shed at Fishtown for many years. Bo Miller was the nominal owner. During the Fishtown Woods Massacre, we decided to have a fundraising auction, so Bo and Jack Hubbard somehow manhandled the old boat on to a truck and brought it over to the farm.
The auction fizzled out due to a lack of planning and interest and there the boat sat. Six months later I moved off the farm into an office-cum-lodging facility in LaConner -- but I was rudely evicted from that spot when the landlord sold the building to a new owner who simple didn’t want me around. After a three-moth odyssey of temporary quarters, I moved back to the farm, which is at 3325 Martin Road in Mount Vernon, under the auspices of Friendship House. The boat was still there.
And Kelly wanted to buy, but I didn’t really want to sell it -- I like old boats. I was planning to drag it out of the barn someday and turn it upside down on blocks and just let it set there for decades, so I could admire its beautiful lines.
So I said “$50”, hoping to discourage him. Then he said he really didn’t want it, that it was for a friend, it wasn’t really worth much...
Obviously he preferred to pay nothing, and I began to think that he was lying, that he wanted the boat for himself, because he told me he was a fisherman and had three other boats. His little lie did not disturb me because I felt that if he really wanted the boat, he might give it a good home.
I was thinking this as I stood by the woodpile with my handsaw trying to avoid brute labor. Then I got a flash, I asked “Do you have a chainsaw?” Kelly said yes, he was cutting cords of wood for spare money at the time. “How about if you cut up this wood, and help us cut up some more wood in the forest by the road, and we’ll give you the boat?”
And I thought, thanks, Dad, for sending me to college -- so I can use my brain because my back is not that brawny.
The wood was cut, the boat was hauled out of the barn and on to Kelly’s truck, and we have not seen him since.
Later in the day, about 3 o’clock, Paul and I took a walk around the farm. The farm is 40 acres -- about 15 acres of overgrown unfenced pasture, and 25 acres of woods. It lies on top of a hill just to the north of Skagit Valley College. On the south and east sides of the farm, it is abutted by new housing developments, but the north side joins other farmland, and the eastside is just up the hill from Barney Lake, where the trumpeter swans line in the winter. Rainwater from the farm drains into the Nookachamps River. And although our farm is located with the city limits of Mount Vernon, we consider ourselves to be Nookachampions just lie the folks in Big Lake and Clear Lake.
The farm forest is primarily alder interspersed with towering cottonwood trees, vine maple, wild cherry, and here and there a heavenly-scented grove of young cedar trees. A small herd of deer inhabit the woods and have left well-marked trails.
Paul and I call our walks “surveying the property.” We found a lovely fern garden, and I discovered red berries growing on a small tree, of a kind which I have never seen before. We picked small branches of the red berries plus some ferns to put in the cookie jar (we use it as a vase) on the dining room table. Martin got the cookie jar at the Salvation Army thrift store where he works. It looks like a pig sitting up on his hind legs and wearing overalls and a straw hat -- we call him Farmer Pig.
The Friendship House Farm is probably the last low-rent old farmhouse in the valley. The property is owned by a logging company which owns extensive acreage throughout the area. The owners plan to log off the woods and then sell the property to a developer who will build more housing. In the meantime it has been offered for our use free of charge. The house needs a lot of work, especially the plumbing and insulation. So we make improvements in lieu of rent. The farm is ideally suited for additional housing because of its flat hill top location. We don’t object to the plan, but only hope that some of the trees are spared, especially the cedar groves. We also hope that the farmhouse and barn plus a few acres around it could be sold to Friendship House at a reasonable price -- we have plans to do some serious gardening and chicken-raising.
Oh, we also have a cat with two tails.
Oh, we also have a cat with two tails. Her name is Twig, she’s a calico, about five months old. It’s really a split tail, about four inches long; one part has the bone and it doesn’t move, the other part has the muscle and it wiggles around.
At four o’clock I took a bath; I was very tired. I put on nice clothes and went to visit Susan and the kids. The kids were playing upstairs. Susan had laryngitis and was talking in a whisper. She had made a beautiful quilted wall-hanging with warm, rich winter colors. She invited me to dinner and heated up some turkey, gravy and dressing.
At Barkley’s Pub
I left Susan’s house, got into the car and didn’t want to go back to the farm. I tried to think of anyplace to go besides Barkley’s Pub in LaConner. I had not been to Barkley’s for a week because I had drunk too many brandies on the Saturday night previous and felt stupid about that.
But I went there and had only one. I sat with Rebecca and artist Richard Gilkey of Fir Island. I sat with them in the booth and listened mostly because I was too tired to talk. Steve was sitting on a barstool with his back to us. He turned and asked Rebecca if Amy had come back for Thanksgiving. Amy is Rebecca’s daughter. She is a freshman at Smith College in Massachusetts.
“No, she’s not,” Rebecca answered, and she said that Amy had been a bit homesick, but she has a boyfriend now. The boyfriend drove Amy down to Baltimore to stay with friends for the holiday and then continued on to South Carolina.
Steve remarked that it had been snowing back East. Steve is from Massachusetts and travels frequently on business, going from one big city to the next, although he rarely has time or energy to look around these distant places -- just the airport and the hotel. He lives with Sue Dental in Bonnie McDade’s old house on Snee Oosh Road.
Steve has a round head and face. A rim of black hair surrounds his evenly bald head and is balanced by a neatly trimmed beard of the same proportions. He is both cheerful and quiet.
He mentioned that he had a frequent flier discount coupon good for a roundtrip to the east coast for only $175 and offered it to Rebecca, who said she was interested.
Then Rebecca began talking about what she calls “mama drama” and she as able to embarrass her 18-year-old daughter at a distance of 3,000 miles. Amy had been calling home more frequently in the past week because she was homesick. So Rebecca wrote a note to the senior student in Amy’s dormitory, telling her that it would soon be Amy’s birthday and asking her to give Amy a birthday hug from Rebecca. Apparently the senior student made a big production of this at dinnertime in front of all the other students.
Rebecca and Amy are a two-person family. They moved here to LaConner from Mukilteo about seven years ago. Rebecca works as a waitress at the Lighthouse Inn and has rented several house and apartments in LaConner since then. She does not like waitress work although she has no complaints about her employers at the Lighthouse, who provide Scandinavian security and stability to their employees, who, in return, do not leave to work elsewhere. Both mother and daughter are gifted with a fine intelligence and a yearning to do and be more than what they are.
Richard Gilkey, the artist, sat across the both from Becky and me. He is over sixty. He has short, grey hair, rugged wrinkles and dark, sparkling eyes. He was wearing a logger’s hickory shirt and drinking Cutty Sark and water. He had a car accident about five year’s ago which messed up his shoulder. It has pained him ever since. Two months ago he had an operation which repaired the rotator cuff and “cleaned up the debris”, as he put it. The operation had been successful and Richard praised the doctors. But he talked about how awful it was for him to be running down to Seattle for treatment. Truck drivers splashed mud on his car as they passed him.
Rebecca agreed that truck drivers drove much too fast, were string out on amphetamines -- how they tail-gated at 65 mph, etc. This was said without any animosity, but more to continue the conversation which seemed to want another topic altogether. I supplied one. I mentioned that Lloyd Trafton commuted down that same freeway everyday to his job in downtown Seattle.
That reminded Richard that he and Lloyd had been high school classmates years ago at Ballard High School. Lloyd is in middle management at IBM and has a 25-year pin. “I don’t know how he does it,” Richard said. Lloyd frequents Barkley’s and provides an interface between the corporate world and the rest of us.
Rebecca sat next to me in the booth with her knees up, relaxed as if she had her shoes off. She told me two times, first when I entered, and second when I left, how much she liked my red shirt. I replied, “Yes, I took a bath”, and she laughed.
What I meant was that I looked good because I felt good, and I felt good because I had done some good outdoor work and got cleaned and got dressed afterwards. But I was tired and I could only manage that short phrase. I would also have said that I bought the shirt one day when I was feeling low. I had driven over to Clear Lake to visit Helen Farias. She was wearing a red dress which I found very cheerful. She and talked about how different colors create different moods. I left Helen’s house and drove directly to J.C. Penney’s where I bought the reddest flannel shirt I could find for $30. It does tend to cheer people up.
No one else was in the bar except Ben, the cook, who fills in as bartender on Sunday night. Ben was wearing his special paisley vest which everyone admires. He has a long and rather interesting story about how he acquired it in exchange for a painting. I have offered to rent the vest from him by the week, but he declines. He lives in Burlington and is devoted to his work at Barkley’s and to his employer, Michael Hood.
Michael came in just then, stood behind me and talked to Richard. Michael and I do not get along well. We ought to get along well, but we don’t.
He talked to Richard about the opening of the Kaleidos Gallery on December 1. Susan, the owner of the gallery, had mailed out over 2,000 invitations to God-knows-who. Michael was wondering how many people would actually show up, since he was catering the event. Richard said, “Put out a lot of peanuts”.
Richard talked about Janet Huston’s gallery. She is Richard’s dear friend and show his paintings. She has been collecting names for her mailing list for 15 years, he said. She is very sharp and professional about this. The artists approve of Janet because she shows many of them and brings in buyers with big bucks.
Michael has been a bit short lately, not his usual gracious, humorous self -- most likely because he lost the election for town council to Jerry Hedbom by only three votes. Ben had turned the radio to KPLU in order to hear the jazz and blues program which starts at 7 p.m. and which everyone likes. The problem is that it was only 6:45, so we were listening to “Car Talk” with Click and Clack from Massachusetts -- two guys bantering about mechanical problems and fielding call from the listeners. Michael wanted the station changed. Ben registered a mildly strained expression on his face and then switched to classical music for the remaining 15 minutes.
During a lull in the conversation between Rebecca and Richard, I decided to talk about recent events in Czechoslovakia. I said that I enjoyed watching the huge crowds on television -- so full of life and hope. They both nodded with approval and looked like they were ready for me to continue on that subject and all the big changes in eastern Europe, but I was too tired to elaborate.
The conversation drifted on, but slowly my mind came into focus, and I said, “Can you imagine the conversations and the people talking about things they never could talk about before, and people talking to complete strangers, pouring their hearts out -- endless exciting talk?”
Again they nodded with genuine sympathy. And I wanted to say more, even loudly something like this, Look, I read the newspapers every day and often watch the TV news. Every little story they cover, they smother, they frame it up tight and interpret it; they make it clear that this little bit of news has been “brought to you by CBS” and Dan Rather is spoonfeeding this little slice of life to you from the network government.
But what is happening in Eastern Europe is so alive and incredible that the media cannot interpret or filter or “present” this torrent of life and awakening. The wall has been torn down, the East Germans are flooding across, real life is cascading through the airwaves and into our newspapers and living rooms -- real life, direct, live, unedited. It’s wonderful.
But I didn’t say it, I was happy just to sit and listen. I left after one brandy and drove back to the farm. I stopped at Safeway to buy cornflakes, milk and sugar, which Paul had earnestly requested. I also bought ten Medjool dates at $2.98 per pound and three golden delicious apples.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

I am so excited. I tried over and over again to post this photo into my blog. This is the Greyhound Bus Station in Cleveland. It was built in 1948. I changed buses here in 1996 and I noticed what a fine building it was.

Amanda the Panda

Amanda was the lady who had weeds in her yard. She felt singled out in this status, unaware that other people, almost all people, have weeds in their yards.

She lives down the road from our house, down the road and then up the hill. I sometimes imagine getting to her house on the skateboard, sliding down the hill at our house, and then speeding across the gulley and then coasting up the hill on the other side, to arrive at Amanda's house for the weeding.

That would work, arriving by skateboard, except Amanda keeps no garden tools, not even a rake. 
I am too old to skateboard anyway. Perhaps if I could put wheels on a toboggan, and then glide down the hill on our side, and then coast up the hill on Amanda's, and I could bring a long some tools for the work.....  A rake, a broom, a shovel, pair of pruners, a pair of loppers, and a trowel. That would about do it.

( Okay, I am getting to the Panda part of this story, but I must to stop to make breakfast. We are having BALTs, which are bacon, avocado, lettuce and tomato sandwiches. )

Saturday, November 08, 2014


Amanda is a private person, but I do not betray her confidence here because I only say her first name and I do not say where she lives...... I have done some small gardening jobs for her, a few hours here and a few hours there. Amanda seems to think that if I weed her yard, front and back, that we have reached a final and complete solution and the problem of weeds has been eternally banished.

But the weeds always grow back and she has a look on her face like it is my fault.

Here is the truth. The weeds always grow back. There are things you can do like adding generous amounts of mulch, and that will slow down the weeds, or use herbicides, which also work...... But the weeds always come a gardener I look on it as job security...... But Amanda wants to blame me.

I drove by her house this morning. I see she has gotten some work done on her star jasmine hedge. She must have hired another gardener instead of me. 


The polar vortex has brought cold winter weather to the east coast and the Midwest, but it has also brought hot and dry weather to Southern California. I am sitting on the couch right now, immobilized by the heat.

I did a small gardening job this morning. I watered the succulents, and that was easy. But next I had to weed underneath three citrus trees in the back yard. It was hot work. There had been a small breeze in the front yard, but the black yard is protected by a high wood fence which effectively blocked all air movement...... Hot and hot it was and me on my hands and knees grubbing with the trowel.

Well, I managed to get it all done by quarter to twelve.


I work in two organic gardens. I get paid $10 per hour. It's hard work. I can't say that I really like this kind of work very much.

If I was a successful writer, I would not be doing this hard labor.

If I was a successful writer, I would have a modest income from that work, from the sale of my books, and from my weekly column in a national publication.

I would do some gardening work, but only as a volunteer, only for my own pleasure and good health, not for money. Oh, that would be wonderful.

If I was a successful writer, I would have an office or study dedicated to writing -- with a desk and chair and good lamp, with an ample shelf of books, with a semi-easy chair for reading. A place to work. A place that was mine. And that would be wonderful too.

If I was a successful writer, I would be going to Los Angeles every month -- to have lunch with my editor, or to give a reading at some club or college.

It seems like no more than an idle day dream, and that I must toil in the garden and earn my living by the sweat of my brow all the days of my life. Such longing and lamentations!