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
cell: 360-739-0214

My blog is Fred Owens

send mail to:

Fred Owens
7922 Santa Ana Rd
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!

Friday, November 07, 2014


I am trying to paste in a photo of the Greyhound Bus Station in Cleveland. This bus station,, constructed in 1948, is a masterpiece. But I am unable to use the paste function on this stupid iPad.

If  I really, really wanted to put in that photo, I would have to crank up my laptop, but that takes too long.

So please look it up on Google and you will agree that it is a fine building.

I know this because I was in this very building in 1996. I was on a cross country bus tour, from
Boston to Seattle and back ...... That is much too long for a bus ride, but I wanted to take a look at the country, and you cannot be driving if you really want to be looking out the window at the passing scenery..... If you go from Boston to Seattle and back, you will see a great deal of it.

It is my country, every ever loving square inch of it, so I must sometimes go around to take a look and to maintain possession.

I brought along a paperback edition of The Brothers Karamazov. This is a very long and very intense Russian novel. Most Russian novels are very long and very intense, as you may know, but this one is the pinnacle of Long, intense Russian novels, and also the perfect companion to a very long bus ride, in our not quite as big as Russia country, but with much better roads.

So, what was it like on this bus ride. What did you see and how did you feel?

Honestly, I don't know how to explain this, except it felt like I was a character in a very long and very intense Russian novel.

The cat named Ripple

.Ripple is a very nice cat and would not hurt anything, she hangs around the house and sleeps all day, and maybe wanders around outside a little bit. But last night we had company and Ripple is shy, so she would not come in the house after dark like she usually does. Then sometime in the middle of the night the mean cat who lives next door...... probably the mean cat who lives next door, but possibly some other creature..... attacked Ripple in her own yard and there was much screeching of cats fighting, and then this morning we discovered that Ripple has a pronounced limp in her left hind leg. She is hiding under the bed now and she won't come out. But we think she has been injured from the fight.

Friday comes after Thursday every week

We watched the moon come up, the full moon, coming up over the mountains. We watched and waited and someone said the moon was late this time.

That is not possible. The moon is always on time. The tide is always on time, just like Fridsy always follows Thursday.

Today I am working for a lady on the Mesa. I work two hours and she pays me $30. She has me maintain  the shrubbery on a steep hillside, so there is much exertion involved in the going up with tools, being careful not to trip, and the going down. Then, invariably, I need to go up and down again until after two hours of this strenuous labor, I become quite tired.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

It's Hot

It's hot in Santa Barbara, 29.9 degrees centigrade, according to the kitchen thermometer, which is 86 degrees in Fahrenheit.

The heat saps my energy. I have been lying on the couch, thinking that I would like to spend the next week lying on the couch, just resting.

I need to rest. I have been working too hard, trying to get rich, trying to get ahead, trying to succeed, trying to get somewhere, trying put some simoleans into the bank, trying to save for my old age -- that last one is a joke for I am already in my own old age -- but trying, trying, and sick of trying, and sick of the heat.

There was a crust of bread in a plastic bag in the frig. I took it out and put it in the toaster -- just enough to bring it to room temperature. I smeared a light coat of mayonnaise on it. I added three thin slices of salami. This is a very good sandwich.

it was too easy

I like Jerry Brown and I am glad he was re-elected, but I  wish he had needed to work harder at getting the votes. ..... From the LATimes....

"Gov. Jerry Brown did not even make a campaign stop until nine days before the election. He did not air any commercials for his own candidacy, even as he amassed more than $20 million in campaign funds. And yet, on a night when so many Democratic incumbents came to woe, he easily defeated his Republican opponent, a businessman named Neel Kashkari, and glided into an unprecedented fourth term as governor."


The world's busiest airport is Atlanta. How did that happen? The world's 8th busiest airport is Charles  de Gaulle, some 16 miles to the northeast of Paris.

The old airport, closer to the city, is Le Bourget, but it is only used for general aviation now as well as being the site of the famed Paris Air Show.

My daughter works for Boeing and she is in Paris now attending some kind of aviation conference at Le Bourget.

I am not envious of her journey because I have the highest confidence that I will soon be there myself. In Paris.

My current travel day dreams are...... England, France, and Switzerland, perhaps next September.

I recently spent ten days in Spain, so that fired up my international rating. Then Laurie and I booked a ten day tour of  Guatemala in February.

So it seems that travel day dreams are closer to reality.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

improving my life

We should always avoid making deliberate improvements in our lives. Everyone has problems. If you solve one problem, another problem will show up in your life the very next day. It will never get  any better than it is now.

Whatever is wrong with you -- obesity, flatitude, anger, loneliness  -- just live with it. Don't try to fix it.

Dating is Dumb

Dating in 2009
I’ve been divorced five years and I’m on Match.Com. People say computer dating is dumb. It is, because dating is dumb. Computer dating is just the latest version of an old custom.

Dating is dumb. In fact, dating is the principle motivation for people getting married. Then they don’t have to date anymore.

Old dating customs linger in my age bracket. The man usually initiates contact. He journeys to a location convenient to her house for a first encounter. He does most of the talking, because she wants to check him out, asking questions in order to screen for perversion, psychosis, malignant jerk-itis, or chronic creepitude.

After that initial phase, one is supposed to achieve “chemistry” or to “feel a sense of connection” or to laugh.

I don’t get that part. Chemistry?

I have just achieved three first dates in this past month. I wasn’t hoping for chemistry, just survival. They were very nice women -- wholesome, intelligent, accomplished, good-looking, understanding, and kind of fun. That part was gratifying, knowing that women of a decent quality were interested in getting to know me.

The first date was pretty easy. She took off from work at lunchtime and we spent a pleasant half-hour on a park bench looking over the water. She brought a snack and we talked.
Then she said goodbye and it was fun, and I said I would call her, but I didn’t. I mean, I still could call her -- the ticket hasn’t expired. I thought about calling her today. I still have her number.

The second date, we met at the Honey Bear Cafe in Seattle. She was nervous. She said she wasn’t used to meeting men. So I became nervous too. Even so, I liked her, and the conversation was pleasant. But after 45 minutes, I figured that was enough talking, so I kept giving these “we’re done” signals because, being a gentleman, I wanted her to have the opportunity to say “I have to go now.”

She missed the signals. She became more nervous, and continued talking. I became silent. Her monologue went on for another 30 minutes. I finally said, “I have to go now,” but very nicely.

I still liked her. What’s wrong with being a little nervous? I suggested a couple of things we might do together some time, like go to a movie, or rent a rowboat in Lake Union. I selected those two options, because there’s not much talking involved

I don’t like talking that much, even talking about myself. After a while my jaw starts to hurt from too much flapping. I especially like being with women who do not rush to fill-in every pause. I like silent pauses. Actually, I need pauses, because I come from several generations of slow-talking men.

My third date was awesome, like a major event. I noticed her profile on She was too rich, too beautiful, and too young, so I did not contact her.

But guess what? She contacted me and said she’d like to know more about me. I was being set up nicely. I wrote back and told her about myself, but I kept thinking she’s not going to be interested in a chump like me -- this woman of high income and professional accomplishment. And she’s eight years younger than me -- a bit of a difference.

Then I said to myself -- Fred, have a little confidence in yourself. She likes you because you’re such a class act, one-in-a-million. Yeah, yeah, that’s right, I said, doing a one-man pep rally.

So I’m ready for the next step, but my expectations are rising, and I didn’t think that was good.

Beryl (an old-fashioned English name ) replied from her home in Vancouver -- “I’d like to meet you.”

Not only that, she wanted to come down to Fir Island, because I told her about the trail across the salt marsh and we could walk on the beach. My expectations continued to rise.

She drove down on Saturday afternoon. I met her at the Rexville Store. She was gorgeous, better than her photos, wearing dazzling jewelry and a pair of sunglasses that cost more than my car.

I think I’m in over my head now, but off we go on the hike. She’s asking me the usual questions -- the vetting process. Only it’s much easier because we are walking down a trail, so I get my necessary pauses.

The fragments of my life do not quite make a whole -- it often seems that way to other people. Well, too bad. My life has been about making mistakes, being in the wrong place, and saying the wrong thing.

That’s how I got to be so smart -- because I took chances.

Beryl’s life at work is very different than mine. She is in command of her enterprise and she expects the seas to part before her.

I’m very impressed by this, but I wish she hadn’t brought this attitude along on the date. I wanted to tell her -- I’m a boy, you’re a girl, we’re on a date, and we’re just supposed to be having fun.

I sensed that her life was her career and she didn’t really have time for someone like me. And I felt sympathy, in that a woman of high professional status might actually have a hard time finding a date.

But it was lovely on the beach, wading in the water and picking up driftwood.

Afterward, she emailed me and said there was no chemistry -- that word again.

I really liked her brilliant mind. She inspired me to write and that was like heaven. But I doubt that I will see her again.

So I’ll keep looking. I feel like that 12-year-old boy who liked the girl with the curly hair. He’s standing on the sidewalk in front of her house, pawing the snow with his boots, not knowing what to do or what to say.

It’s no different now, although I am much older.

dating advice

Dating advice to a female friend.

I wrote an engaging profile and a got a lot of coffee dates. After a dozen coffee dates I met a woman -- all I can say is that the next day I called her for another date, and we kept going after that and we've been together four years now...... Dating is boring and frustrating, whether high-tech or old-fashioned, but that's how we do it here in America. The alternative is an arranged marriage........ Dating is a volume business -- once you screen for creeps, which, I understand, can be a big bother for females, but once you screen for creeps, then you meet nice guys, and you either like them or you don't. It's not complicated...... You keep seeing the one you like and take it one day at a time.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Mr. Linke lived in this House


Mr. Linke Lived in This House

Mr. Linke was the janitor at St. Joseph's School where we went. His house was right across the street from Mr. Schaeffer's....... It was much smaller, a bungalow without a full second story.

They told me that the house belonged to the school and Mr. Linke got to live there with his family.

Mr. Linke was a exceptionally ugly man with tortured skin on his face like he was the last living victim of small pox. He had snarly, jagged teeth and most of them were gone anyway.

But it was hard to see him as ugly because he always had such a big smile and gave you such a nice hello. Everybody liked him.

The Mail Man

Mr. Schaeffer's house in 2014 -- it looks a bit different than it did in 1962.

The first gardening job, one of my first jobs of any kind, was working for Mr. Schaeffer, who was a mail man. He finished delivering the mail about the time I finished school -- I was a sophomore in high school at that time

Mr. Schaeffer lived two blocks down the street, in a tall white clapboard house on the corner of the block and directly across the street from the Convent of the St. Joseph's church and school.

Mr. Schaeffer was short, compact and fairly fit. He smoked a pipe. He had wiry tufts of grey hair coming out his ears, and he wore some kind of hat. He seemed to have a wife in the house somewhere but we never went in the house -- I just kinda knew she was there.

I went over to his house after school and we got in his truck and maybe over to Indian Hill, a more affluent neighborhood, where Mr. Schaeffer had lawn-mowing and gardening work.

He had me mow the lawn, or rake the leaves, while he pruned the roses and the lilacs. He had those nice clippers in a holster on his belt. He never let me do the pruning -- just the lawn-mowing.

But I told myself that someday I would be the guy with the clippers, and I would be the guy who pruned the roses and the lilacs..... That is what happened.

After the Hypnosis

The hypnosis session was very good. And who knows? It might help. I mean, nothing else works, So I'm trying this.

Kelley is a rock star -- the lady I am working with. We will meet again next Tuesday...... We did this on Skype, by the way.

I am not always a nervous wreck. I am not always lamenting my fate.

Some days it all makes sense -- hence the abundance of broccoli, which I grew in the winter garden.


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!

A Nervous Wreck

I am about to undergo a course of hypnotherapy to help me overcome a phobia -- a fear of crowds and crowded rooms.

The prospect of this therapy, done via Skype, has me in a nervous condition. For one thing, just for starters, I have never used Skype.

The therapist is someone I have known for 35 years, although I cannot say I know her well. I mean, we never hung out together or anything like that, but we did live in the same very small town -- LaConner -- for many years, and that gives me a feeling of kinship with her, plus I believe her life has not been particularly bad..... In other words, I believe her to be a genuinely caring person with good intentions.

But I'm still nervous about this. I will ask her that maybe we should just talk, this first session -- too scary, let me get a feel for this.

Bacall Loved Sculptor Henry Moore

Bacall loved Moore and his works -- That makes perfect sense to me. I have always greatly admired him myself.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Ebolar scare is Bad for African Wildlife

It's just the way people are. Rather than figure it out, they say let's just not go to Africa.

Ebola Scare.

Cardinal Blowing in the Wind

A cardinal blowing in the wind, not the bird, the prelate, a prince of the church, in a pretty classy outfit, especially the red hat.

I met this man in Madrid at the Basilica, that being the Number One church in the entire country of Spain, and this cardinal being the man in charge.

The meeting was by chance. Eva and were on a walking tour which finished in front of the royal palace. The king and queen were out for lunch, so we didn't go to the palace, but right next to the palace is this enormous, huge church -- the basilica.

Let's take a look, we decided. And inside, at the back of the all the pews, was the cardinal himself and a small crowd of nuns and other well-wishers, eager to shake his hand and kiss his ring -- that is the custom -- to kiss the ring on his hand, or merely to shake his hand.

I opted for the handshake, not being accustomed to the bending from the waist, which is required for the kissing of the ring, not being in the best of condition, vis-a-vis the church, not being in good standing, so choosing the lesser embrace.

But still it seemed like a kind of blessing, to be there with this man, who was a prince of holiness....... "Cardinal Rouco Varela was appointed by Pope John Paul II as Archbishop of Madrid in 1994."

Bobby Vilinsky

From New Jersey to Boston

Artist Bobby Vilinsky has traveled the world from New Jersey to Boston....I just wrote that because it sounds funny. Bobby is a good friend of mine and he has seen many things in many places, but it is true that he grew up in New Jersey and has spent most of his adult life in Boston.

Not Boston -- Cambridge. Local neighborhoods count quite a bit in New England. Cambridge -- anybody who lives there will tell you -- is on the other side of the Charles River from Boston and quite a different town.

Then, people in Cambridge will want to know in what part of Cambridge does one live -- certain neighborhoods have their peculiarities.

Bobby Vilinsky, depicted here, in a handsome and appealing portrait, used to live near Central Square in Cambridge, but now he lives almost midway between Harvard Square and Central Square and partakes of both, or neither.

More importantly, his apartment comes with a parking space for his Honda Civic, plus he can walk to either Harvard Square or to Central Square and descend to the Red Line subway, which will take him in to Boston if, for example, he wanted to visit the Museum of Fine Art, or go to Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox.

Bobby has had his art displayed at the Museum of Fine Art, an august circumstance which has not gone to his head. Bobby is the same old friendly fellow I have always known.

I would display a photo of his art, but it is conceptual, often three-dimensional, and does not reproduce well on this flat screen. But I think a photo of the artist himself works quite well. Bobby has a strong smile and it comes easily.


I ate a bowl of cereal for breakfast. I read the newspaper and watched the TV news. I talked with Laurie about what I am going to do today at work and after work.

At work, I intend to take a photo of Oscar and have him take a photo of me, using the i-pad. After work, I will stop at Whole Foods to buy tofu and a few other goodies.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

How to Get Infected with Ebola

You can catch Ebola by having contact with the body fluids of a person with the disease.

Here is a list of body fluids -- not complete, or medically official, but off the top of my head

1. sweat
2. saliva
3. phlegm
4. vomit
5. snot
6. tears
7. ear wax
8. urine
9. feces
10. blood
11. vaginal discharge
12. menstrual blood
13. semen
14. breast milk
15. pus

Half of health care is the management of the patient's body fluids. We normally blow our own noses, pee in the toilet, and wipe our own behinds. But when we are sick enough to require hospital care, someone else -- the nurse or nurse's aide -- does it for us -- wipes the sweat off our brows, wipes the tears off our face, cleans us all over and all around. Normally the nurse or nurse's aide wears gloves, and should wash their hands both before and after helping a patient. This prevents infection from spreading -- to the nurse herself, and to other patients.

It is the nurse, and the nurse's aide who do this hands-on work. The doctor has far less physical contact with the patient. It is the nurse who is at greatest risk from this disease.

And it is the nurse who does all this work for what you might call normally sick people -- managing all those body fluids...... They never seem to mention this part of the job on Grey's Anatomy, but it is half the work.


I dug a big hole in the backyard and then filled it back up. It was actually more complicated than that, but essentially, that's what I did -- I dug the whole and filled it again.

I did that to install a large -- 3 by 3 foot and 12 inches deep -- gopher cage, to keep those pesky critters away from my spinach.

You got that, Mr. Gopher. No more free lunch at my house.

Yes Means Yes


Speaking of big mistakes made in California, the Governor signed a law regulating sexual conduct at the university. Affirmative assent must be given, and never assumed the law states, on college campuses, although not elsewhere. This opens up the widest possible grammatical interpretations. 

Affirmative assent must be verbal, but must it also be oral?  There is a difference as you all know. 

And there is a crucial difference between “Yes you can” and “Yes you may.” Horny sophomores missing that fine point might find themselves in jail.

And No always means No, but does it mean No Not Now, or does it mean No Not Ever? This is a point of law that awaits adjudication. Bring on the lawyers.

There is a kind of progress here. We no longer have meddlesome priests dictating morality. No black-robed zealots screaming damnation. No clique of pinch-faced clerics inhibiting our natural desires. We are free of the Church, at last.

Unfortunately, that leaves the secular chieftains in charge. The poor college students – piling up massive debts while making painstaking bureaucratic distinctions at a Saturday night drinking brawl.  It will be a feast for the lawyers.

Personally, I avoid college campuses. I do not take these people seriously to any degree. 

Losing My Touch

That wasn’t even funny – what I just wrote. I’m losing my touch.

No, no, just let me try again. First, I know nothing about campus life in the year 2014, and if they say they have a problem, and if they say this is how they will deal with it, then who am I to go against them.

In other words, I have no knowledge about the nature of sexual congress among the young people. I only know they are tormented, passionate, idealistic and troubled. I only wish them the best, and I hope it can be wonderful for them.

But yes is such a word! Yes is such a big important and powerful word! Yes is a most American word. Yes is who we are and what we do. Yes is Walt Whitman and the broad expanses of Kansas. Yes is Kurt Vonnegut saying Yes in spite of everything and everybody saying No. Yes is Oprah Winfrey and her trite confessions of self-esteem, but it is Yes, still Yes. Yes is winter in Chicago. Yes is the blues in New Orleans and Yes is the rain in Oregon.

Yes means Yes, most emphatically and most completely Yes, most consciously and most deliberately Yes, and Yes forever and always Yes. 

Molly Bloom Said Yes

“I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”