Friday, June 30, 2017

The Quotidian continued

Joe La Suza lives in Carpintaria which is twelve miles down the 101 from Santa Barbara. They have a great beach in Carpintaria, smooth sand, no rocks, no seaweed and no tar. Everybody goes there in the summer. I don’t mind crowds at the beach. Everybody is happy and relaxed, they don’t bother me. Teenagers used to blast their boom boxes at the beach, but no more, they have ear buds and smart phones, lying on their towels, as quiet as clams. They don’t bother me.
A good beach day, we bring big towels, two Tommy Bahama folding beach chairs, and one large Tommy Bahama umbrella with a screw-into-the-sand pole.  Almost everybody around here buys Tommy Bahama chairs and umbrellas. We are part of that crowd.
Except if you go up to Coal Oil Point where the college kids go – they just bring towels, they don’t being chairs or umbrellas, for whatever reason – to be different? It’s just something I have noticed.
We bring books, one for her and one for me. Sometimes I bring a rolled up magazine, like the Economist or the New Yorker. Laurie might bring a section of the newspaper, but that seems too hard to deal with at the beach with the wind and sand. Mainly I just bring a book, and, as you already know, this year it’s My Struggle by Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard.
Sunblock lotion, SPF 30. Chapstick, SPF 30.  Don’t forget to protect your lips. A thermos of ice water. If we think we’re going to stay a long time, we bring sandwiches. Here at the beach you don’t want anything too messy. I favor peanut butter and jelly sliced into halves, one sandwich for her and one for me.  Or to be more ambitious, for a longer beach flop, bring the small ice box with a shoulder strap to carry, put in Persian cucumbers and hummus, and sliced apples in a small plastic bag plus the sandwiches.
This is where experience and team work pays off. Bananas and citrus are messy and might even be sticky. Apples slices are neat and can be very tasty.
Finally, a flannel shirt for me and some long-sleeved cover for her – when the sun gets to be too much, or when the wind begins to blow late in the afternoon.
Lately, we have left the boogie boards and wetsuits in the garage. Those days might be over for us.  Now I skip the boogie board and skip the body surfing, and just paddle out a bit further and swim back and forth, up the beach, then down the beach. Good exercise beyond the crashing waves. Loving salt water, feeling it seep into my bones.
Except for Jaws – you know – sharks! I’m not going into the whole shark question here, but there are more of them out there these past few years. Too many if you ask me. Better that we eat them, not them to eat us. Resume shark fishing is my solution.
I love to merge into the salt water. Laurie, being a California native, is more fastidious. She goes in the water only late in the summer when it is good and properly warm. Her beach history is different than mine. My yearnings, coming from the Midwest, are not the same as hers, yet we have met and stayed together these past six years and spent many happy hours at the beach together.
Joe La Suza is a retired contractor. His voice used to be gruff, now it has a velvet tone, smoother, less bellowing, no more barking orders. He smiles underneath his broad white mustache and greets me with pleasure at the Mesa Harmony Garden where we both volunteer.
Joe drives the twelve miles from Carpintaria to the Mesa Harmony Garden. You wonder why he couldn’t find a volunteer garden job closer to home, but I guess he doesn’t mind.
Joe has dedicated himself to installing an efficient drip irrigation system in our 100-tree fruit orchard. He has the plastic pipes laid out in four sections, each with its own timer. Each fruit tree has two driplines to plunge the dripping water six inches below the ground.
You don’t drip out the water on the surface, less evaporation steal it. You bury the dripline outlet six inches down and you put all that water to work. Then you put in two driplines, one on each side of the tree for balance, because the tree sends out roots to where the water comes in.
And you have to maintain the system by walking the lines at least once a week. Hoses break, connections slip, water gushes out and gets wasted.
Once a volunteer left the hose running and we didn’t find out until two days later, and $50 worth of water got wasted.
Joes maintains it all. He has been faithfully coming to the garden every Saturday for months. On his hands and knees, pushing his blue foam kneeling pad from one tree to the next, under peach and plum, under apple, pear, fig and citrus, each tree gets two driplines, and if they get plugged up with dirt, Joe unplugs it.
But he’s doing all the work lately, and no one is helping him. He wants help or he wants to quit. I think he should stop working and take a rest. That’s what I’m doing. I noticed two things – that he was tired of doing all the work himself, and that I am darn sure I don’t want to do that work either, so we should take a rest.
Let nature take its course. Our fruit trees have deep roots and many inches of mulch for ground cover. They are strong. They will keep growing. But Joe and I need a rest. I told him – lemonade in the shade for you and for me, maybe a small bag of Kettle potato chips to pass back and forth, talk about grandchildren, watch the trees grow. Just watch. You find out things when you watch. Time to rest. Time to watch. Joe, don’t get mad, just put down your trowel and pull up a chair under the pine tree.

Randy Stark is not so easy to talk about. He is difficult. I have needed to defend his behavior, saying oh he’s not so bad.
He became very angry when he discovered that the Fund for Santa Barbara had donated money to the Mesa Harmony Garden. This was filthy money in his opinion. The Fund for Santa Barbara had also donated money to Planned Parenthood  -- baby killers! The garden should not accept money from that fund.
Other board members found that view extreme, as did I. Randy is a very conservative Catholic, and this is how it gets sticky:
The Mesa Harmony Garden is a community garden sited on a piece one-acre of land that belongs to the Catholic Church. We are a formally organized non-profit with no affiliation to the Church, yet our one hundred fruit trees are planted on Church property. In other words, the orchard belongs to Pope Francis and we’re just passing through.
Remember Joe, out there on his knees, using the blue foam rubber knee pad, going from apple tree to peach tree to hook up the drip emitters. Joe could give a flying fuck about the Catholic Church and its sacrosanct dogma, its ancient ritual and its perverted priesthood. Yet Joe toils on Church land and you must pay the piper.
And the piper’s name is Randy. Randy is the deacon for Sacred Heart parish, not quite a priest, he was a wife and a daughter in college. He has a remodeling contracting business and makes a decent living when he isn’t in church assisting at daily Mass, at funerals, weddings, and baptisms.
The old priest, Father Louis, speaks with a slight accent. He is from Belgium and he longs to return to his homeland next year when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 75. He is content to let Randy do the heavy lifting.
Randy is fifty-something, a native of Santa Barbara with a beer gut, a buzz cut on his over-large round head and a voice to match his buzz cut, loud and rasping.
His devotion to serving God is sincere. His face twitches when he tries to focus. He represents everything that is wrong with the Catholic Church – what some people say is wrong. Or maybe he is just a pain in the ass.
We can’t get rid of Randy, I have explained that to the other board members, but Randy can get rid of us. He drops broad hints of influence – talks about a recent phone conversation with the bishop, talks about old Father Louis not being up to much and leaving the major non-sacerdotal chores to Randy.
What can we do? Pack up our fruit trees and leave? We are stuck with Randy and this makes him happy. I am an observant Catholic myself. That is, I work in the community garden and I observe other Catholics going in the church for Mass, but I never go myself, except some days, during the week, I come in the church and light a candle at the side altar. Close enough. But I went to Catholic school all the way through – Saint Joseph grade school with Franciscan nuns, Loyola Academy for high school with the Jesuits, and St. Michael’s College in Toronto,  run by a French order known as the Basilians – they are priests who enjoy a good glass of wine and know the difference.
So, even though I am lapsed, I can trump Randy on Catholic trivia, or hold my own, and he needs a friend.This is where my adopt-a-stray-dog personality comes in. Because Randy is not a very likeable man and he knows it. He talks loudly, adamantly. He can’t help it. But he serves at Sacred Heart parish, he does the yeoman chores and sees to it that someone keeps the parking lot swept, sees to it that Father Louis does not allow too many homeless people to sleep in their vans in the parking lot, sees to it that the Mexican families don’t make too much noise at the parish center when the wedding or quinceanera comes around.
He does all that because he wants somebody out there to like him. Me, I have plenty of friends and I know how lucky I am to have all these friends, close friends, medium-range friends, long-distance friends, every day friends, now and then friends, every kind you can imagine, in abundance. So why don’t I be a pal to Randy?
The other board members at Mesa Harmony Garden accept him with difficulty. Two Jews serve on the board, Larry Saltzman and Josh Kane.  They are quietly aghast at Randy’s tirades, and cringe at his friendly smile that often conceals a tirade about to commence. Our board president has a particular angst. Hugh Kelly is of British descent, his pleasant accent pleases our ears. He is a devout and formal atheist. What an exquisite punishment for him, because it has been Hugh’s life dream to plant and maintain a fruit orchard using the most advance organic methods. To do it right!
And we do it right at Mesa Harmony Garden, but we do it on church property, within sight of the rectory where Father Louis nods his nap, within sight of the parish center where the Mexican familiar have their feuds and parties, within sight of the Sacred Heart church itself, where at least one candle burns night and day.
Where else will they tolerate two Jews, one atheist, and one lapsed Catholic to operate a fruit orchard whose fruit is donated to the Food Bank? We all get along with each other and with Randy. We have to get along. It’s our middle name. Mesa Harmony Garden. Harmony.
We gathered for a board meeting of the garden, sitting around a square picnic table underneath a huge pine tree. The orchard is surrounded by a cyclone fence on all four sides. We have planted table grapes and dragon fruit along the cyclone fence. We have planted rosa mutabilis roses outside the fence for beauty. We have done a tremendous amount of work over the past seven years.
I told the board members, because Randy wasn’t there that time, “Supposing we kick him out  -- which we can’t do because he’s the deacon – but just supposing we do kick him out. He’ll just go and join another group and be a pain in the neck to them. Is that fair? I say Randy is our problem, and it wouldn’t be fair to the next guy to send him down the road. He’s never going to leave anyway. We’re never going to leave. That’s it. Plus he does a lot of work.”
Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord Amen.
Try forgetting that prayer. We only said it every night at dinner for as long as I can remember when we were kids. The same exact prayer with the same exact words.  Everybody said it back then. Everybody meaning Catholics. Us. Protestants had to make up prayers on the spot, but why? We had one memorized and ready to go. And Jews, who knew what the Jews did?  Mom said the Jews were as good as us but they were clannish.
I was ten-years-old when I heard her say that and I almost choked. Clannish? Mom, we’re clannish. We visit with our  relatives and people from the parish. Period. Us. As in everybody who says grace before dinner just like we do. We don’t visit with other kinds of people. We’re not in the international friendship market.
My Dad liked Jews. He did business with them and they were his friends. Mom and Dad often had dinner with Art Shapiro and his wife. Shapiro was a fishing tackle wholesaler in Chicago. The business was called Faber Brothers after the previous owners. There were a lot of Jews in the fishing tackle business. They didn’t fish, but they bought and sold and my Dad liked them.
The Suns lived on the corner of Forest Avenue and 17th Street, on the block where I grew up. It was a dark and lovely red brick house. As a child I found it very pleasing, and so quiet. They only had one kid, Billy. They had so much room. I walked by their house every day on the way to school.  I knocked on their door a few times to see if Billy could come out on play, but he was younger than me and seemed to be very sheltered.  They were the Jews. The rest of the block was all Protestant except for the Giambalvos. I knew that because if they didn’t go to school or church with us, they couldn’t be Catholic. I don’t remember the nuns saying anything  bad about the Jews or the Protestants. They were good people. Too bad they were going to hell when they died. The nuns didn’t dwell on that unfortunate fact. They kind of glided past it. My life was not full of glaring contradictions, so I could live with that one.
I walked away from the Church when I was 18. When I left for college I stopped going to Mass. Didn’t say anything to anybody or get mad, I  just stopped going. That’s how it has always been. It would be too much effort to take up some other religion. Why would I want to be a Methodist or Buddhist or whatever? Or formally renounce my tradition like it was some kind of debate and I needed to choose the right side? I would rather stick with the teaching I grew up with. Stick it in my pocket, or hide it in the garage under a used tire. I didn’t raise my kids Catholic.
Why do I bother thinking about these things? Memories are a curse. Bad memories remind me of my stupidity. Good memories make me wish I was younger which is also stupid. Better to forget and be here now…… but O God that is vapid hippie logic! Be present? Well, you cannot really be anyplace else, except the present is such a narrow, tiny space, and the past is huge, the past is bigger than a cathedral with echoing marble halls, the years marching by gloriously.
I slept poorly last night, I began to think about the time we camped on Illabot Creek in the late summer of 1978. Susan was pregnant with Eva. Eugene was one-year-old. My stepson Tommy was seven, and  we weren’t really camping, it was more like we were homeless and had no place to go.
We didn’t even have a tent, and the other people wanted us to leave. But I was a defiant. Steve and Katy Philbrick said the camp was full and there was no more room for other people, but I said, “I don’t have to ask you if we can stay here. This land belongs to Gordy Campbell and a long time ago he said we were welcome to live here, and we will live here unless he says no.”
Gordy was an Upper Skagit Indian and a dead drunk. But it was true. In 1971 when my house burned down and we needed a place to go he told us about his small property on Illabot Creek and we were welcome there.
I had that right, at least as far as Steve and Katy Philbrick were concerned and they became quiet – and barely friendly.
Where else could we go? We slept by the creek. I borrowed tools and split cedar planks and made a lean-to. We had a cast iron kettle – made oatmeal for breakfast and beans for dinner. Eugene slept in a suit case. Susan and Tommy and I slept on the ground.
Illabot Creek runs right off the high mountain snow banks in the Cascades. The water came gushing down the foothills and spread out to flow smoothly over gravel beds. It was purely delicious water. Even one cup full was worth a million dollars, worth a mother’s smile and a father’s heartbeat. This pure water was our salvation. The wind blew through the shivering alder trees over our head. We stayed there all through August and then found a cabin to rent in Marblemount for $40 a month.
But why remember that? Today is Thursday, almost the end of June and many years later. Illabot Creek is still rushing by in cascades of  pure water, but I will never see it again.
Now I live in Santa Barbara and the creeks are dry most of the year. Mission Creek flows from the foothills past the Mission, through the downtown area and into the ocean, but this time of year all you see are rocks and sunshine filtering through sycamore trees. We are going to the Mission this afternoon. We go every Thursday in the evening, to the Mission rose garden to do some pruning and dead heading. The garden has over 800 roses of many varieties. Laurie and I are assigned as volunteers to one plot of four roses – The four varieties are A Touch of Class, Duet, Sweet Surrender and Falling in Love.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Quotidian

By Fred Owens

This week’s issue of Frog Hospital is a little different. It is long for one thing, and it is inspired by the writing of Karl Ove Knausgaard and his six-volume novel, My Struggle.

It was Harvey Blume of central Cambridge who encouraged me to read My Struggle. Agent Blume, as I call him, thought I might learn something from this renowned Norwegian writer. Yes, I am inspired by the work and this week’s issue shows the influence of Knausgaard.

I am a chameleon when it comes to writing. I tend to absorb the last author I read and certain styles carry over subconsciously. I read Hemingway, then I write like Hemingway, or Nabakov or Bellow, but not just quality writers, I am influenced by the dreariest and most common place of authors. It can’t be helped. I run an open shop.

This week it’s Knausgaard

The Quotidian

Monday morning. I got up. I put on the coffee. I went out to the driveway and picked up the newspaper. I noticed the air was a bit foggy and cool. I went back in the house and cleared the cat litter box, then I turned on the TV for the morning news. I kept the volume down low because we have a new housemate and the sound of the TV might disturb him.
I emptied the dishwasher. I try not to clatter the plates when I do this first thing in the morning. By now the coffee was ready. I took the rubber band off the furled newspaper and stuck the rubber band in a plastic bag in the tool drawer.
I glanced at the front page of the newspaper. I decided to skip that part and go to the sports section to read about the US Open. The golf story was interesting. I checked last night's scores for the Dodgers and the Angels, then I skipped over to Dear Abby and the funnies.
By now the coffee was ready. I poured a cup. I like it black.
I looked at Facebook on my iPad. Mitch Friedman was posting photos of his roots journey. He -- and I assume his wife -- has been to Athens where they stayed in a hotel with a view of the Acropolis. He posted a selfie with the ruins in the background and my first reaction was -- how heavy the stones!
My years of gardening in New England have altered my perception. In New England I wrestled with large and small granite stones and rebuilt the old stone walls. Stone upon stone, and so often I thought of the ancient ruins --- the castles,  temples and pyramids -- huge stone-works built by massive manual labor.
If I spent a day or a week moving stones then I appreciated how much work it was for ancient men, toiling up the hill with marble slabs to build the Acropolis so that we, the heirs, might pose for selfies in 2017.
There was Mitch Friedman, at the Acropolis, among the Greeks.
Mitch Friedman is scarce of hair on the top of his head, so he shaves it proudly bald and smiles lightly. I know Mitch from his old days in Earth First!. The year was 1988. The month was January, when we resisted the loggers at Fishtown Woods. Mitch and his Earth First! cohorts -- I always resented their interference in what had been a moderate and local protest. But why didn't I say something at the time?
And why say anything now, 29 years later? Mitch and his group coordinated the protest and mass arrest at Fishtown in 1988. Later he lived in Bellingham and made a good living as a promoter of wilderness preservation.
Now I see him on Facebook, howling with wolves or catching a Seahawks game in Seattle.
Or in Athens, on the balcony of his hotel room with a view of the Acropolis.
The thing is, when I saw his photo standing proudly in front of the ancient stones, I was happy for him. I was glad that he made this life journey, even though I might not ever get there myself.
I am so commonly envious of other people. Why did Mitch Friedman become  a successful and well-known environmental activist? He saved the wilderness in eastern Washington. He spearheaded the introduction of wolves to that area. He went to court and won. He organized hundreds of donors. He led petition drives. He left the notoriety of Earth First! And put those radical days behind him. “I’m being reasonable now. I accept moderation and gradual change.” He re-shaped his image in that way.
I envied his success. If people ask, but nobody asks, what have you done to save nature? When I hear that I start to voice a rasping scream, an inarticulate wordless moan, a string of obscenities. Even now as I write this, my breathing gets heavy.
I did as much as Mitch Friedman ever did. I know it, but I can’t prove it….  I guess I am over that now, almost over that anyway, because when I saw the photo of Mitch in front of the Acropolis I smiled and I was happy for him. He deserves that pleasure.
I remembered my Greek teacher in high school. His name was Father Ryan, a young man, barely thirty, not tall, of a slight torso, neither clumsy nor athletic.  He was our Greek teacher for two years. He only had wisps of grey hair on his head, and except for those wisps, he was totally bald. It was cancer of some kind and chemotherapy for treatment, but they never told us what it was and we never asked. Sometimes Father Ryan would lay his head down on the lectern in the middle of his lecture – just lay his head down for a few moments and gather his strength and then carry on. This was 1963 and 1964. We didn’t ask questions about his health, but we learned the Greek and we read Homer out loud, words as ancient as the stones on the Acropolis.
I still have the Greek books. I guess I didn’t need to make the trip to Athens. I carry it in my soul.
I’m sitting in the living room waiting for lunch. I told Laurie I would eat at one p.m. so I have 15 minutes to go. The big window is open and so is the front door, the breeze is easy. It is not as hot as they predicted --- meaning here in Santa Barbara. For some cruel reason I am monitoring the temperature in Phoenix. You can do that on the Internet. Just type in “Phoenix temperature” in the Google search box. It says 113 degrees at noon. And you worry about power failures when it gets that hot, and some old woman living in a small cottage and the power goes out and the AC shuts down and she suffers through the heat of the day – 113 degrees at noon means even hotter by 3 p.m.
I am sitting on the couch and the laptop is on the coffee table. Laurie is in the far back of the yard picking plums, little hard purple plums. I pruned the suckers off that tree two years ago, but I haven’t gone back there lately. I volunteer for garden projects when I can think of easy jobs that will make her happy. Like hedging the Indian hawthorn by the driveway – that hardly took 20 minutes.
For lunch I will fix myself an open-face liverwurst sandwich, hold the mayo – just bread and sausage. I have been enjoying liverwurst on bread since I was a small child. My mother sometimes took me to the butcher shop on Central Street in Evanston, back in Illinois.  You had to drive down Prairie Avenues to get there from our house in Wilmette. Drive down Prairie Avenue right past Uncle Ted’s stucco bungalow. Only we never stopped to visit Uncle Ted. I just knew he lived there with Aunt Bee and their three children who were much, much older than me -- so much older than me that I classified them as adults and not fun.
We drove down Prairie Avenue to the butcher shop on Central Street. The butcher would give me a small slice of liverwurst as a treat. Usinger's Braunschweiger -- that was the brand name. I always like it. I still do.
I will fix the open-faced sandwich for lunch today and that will finish the 8-ounce package that I bought last week. With that sandwich I might eat a small fresh tomato on the side.
This is where Laurie and I differ. She would carefully slice the tomato and put it in the sandwich. I don’t do that. It gets too messy. You get a fresh juicy slice of tomato in your sandwich and you hoist it up to your mouth – and then the juice squirts on your shirt. It’s not worth the risk. Better to have the tomato on the side and cut wedges and spear them with a fork -- and be sure to lean over the plate when you hoist it to your mouth. This is a way to keep spots off your shirt, something I learned recently, the part about leaning over the plate, rather than leaning back in the chair.
Eat the sandwich and the tomato wedges, but then think about eating one or two small, juicy almost-overripe peaches. White-fleshed peaches from Hugh Kelly’s back yard garden.
Hugh has gone to England for a month to visit his family and I water his plants for the one month he is away. And I may was well pick all the peaches when I come to water – either me or the squirrels.
Hugh pays me $50 for the vacation watering service. I do gardening work for about a dozen customers near our house. It sounds peachy doing garden work for friends and making a little cash to boot, but I don’t like doing the work very much. I’ve done too much gardening and farm work and yard work over the years. I’m not too old for the work. That isn’t it, but I’m getting bored with it. Losing interest. I love my customers – they are the best people ever, but I would quit tomorrow if I could find another source of income. I imagine myself taking all the hand garden tools out of the trunk of my car – shovels, rakes, pruners, loppers, hand saws, trowels, tarps – all that stuff. I imagine taking it all away and putting it into some storage locker somewhere. And I don’t pull weeds anymore. Maybe never again or maybe not for a long time, like a year or so.  I imagine myself taking long walks across fields and forest, hand in hand with Laurie, looking at birds, only there is no work, just the walking.
And then maybe I will tell people what I am thinking.

Cataracts. They want to fix the one in my right eye. Didn’t say anything about the left eye. I do have two eyes. Pre-op consultation should clear that up. Dr Katsev wields the knife. A strange man is going to poke a knife in my eye and they call it routine surgery. Katsev takes a casual air. I said you must be good at it. He said I do about 20 a week. The clinic website says he has worked there for more than 25 years and he is chairman of ophthalmology. Technically, intellectually, this is all above board. Everybody does it.
Why don’t I do it, but next year, not this year?  I can’t drive at night, so what!
Laurie says why not do it now, this month. Get it over with.  
I filled out the pre-op form. Did I ever get hepatitis? (among a hundred other questions) Yes, hepatitis A in 1973, from drinking bad water in Nuevo Leon in northern Mexico. I remember the well, in the back yard of a peasant home, the well and the home a hundred yards off the highway that went from Laredo to Monterey. We pulled off the road and asked the residents if we might spend the night. They said fine and we drew buckets of water from the well.
Something about that well wasn’t right. Too shallow, to close to the house. The air was fetid. Tortilla Tom  said it was okay, but he said everything was okay. Eva said we are as good as the people who live here and if they drink this water so can we. Tucson wondered where he could bum a smoke. Fat Tom went off in search of beer.
We drew the water, started a fire, put on a pot of beans and just sat around or stood around. It was getting dark. Mexico wasn’t as pretty as we expected.
Later Fat Tom came riding back to our camp in the back of a pickup truck – two federales coming to check us out. Pulling the truck up too close to the fire, getting out slowly.
We didn’t move. They said Hi, where are you going?  -- They spoke a little English. We’re going to Oaxaca. We’re cooking beans for dinner. You want some? The cops looked around and nobody moved. They started to smile. They walked back to the truck, threw off the burlap sack covering a rack of cold Modelo beer, enough for everybody.
Fat Tom had a big smile now. I love Mexico, he said. Hey, Maria, how do you say that in Spanish? Mexico me encanta! she cried out, and she began to sing. The night passed sleeping under the stars.
But the water from the well was not good. Too natural, to use a term. I got the hepatitis A from that well water. Ended up in a hospital in Mexico City one month later. I liked that hospital. They fed me well and let me rest. A clean bed, a TV, a pretty nurse.
But I had resources. The same privileged resources I have had all my life, right up to today, getting cataract surgery at Sansum Clinic in Santa Barbara. My regular doctor is a good-looking young man -- Dr. Bryce Holderness got his degree from the University of Southern California medical school.
I filled out the rest of the pre-op form. No other surgeries, or broken bones,  no strokes, angina, endocrine disorders, blood pressure  -- actually blood pressure is not so good and I take a pill for that every morning. The pill must be good, because it only costs $9 a month. My health insurance does not cover prescriptions. So for $9 a month it keeps the blood pressure within range.
Cholesterol? Nature blessed me. Basically I have a license to eat mayonnaise.
Anxiety? Yes, I take half a pill PRN. I can get nervous. I can get nervous at times when I used to get angry. Only I am too old to get angry, so I get nervous instead and take the pill.
This goes back to the garden work and the field work. It can be very boring and hot and sweaty and it takes no mental skill for field work.  But when I was younger and I was working out in a field, you start to get angry and you’re out in the middle of the field  -- there is nobody to get angry at. They aren’t there – the people you’re mad at, except for Pedro working 20-feet from you nearby, only you’re not mad at him.
You get mad at the field itself? Mad at the soil and stones? Kick the stones, the stones don’t care……. No, the stones do care, but they say to be calm.
Now I am older, the field is too far away. I work in the garden. It doesn’t make me angry or nervous, just bored.

After breakfast I went out to the driveway to wash my car. My car is parked these past few days in Julia’s spot under the pepper tree. There is a hierarchy of parking places here. Laurie gets the cement paved driveway. The two renters get the off-street space, but graveled, not paved – Julia is under the pepper tree and Ryan is under the jacaranda.
I park on the street uphill from the mailbox. Mariah parks on the street downhill from the pepper tree. Gavin, who is here temporarily, parks wherever he can.
It all works out. But I am in Julia’s spot today because she is gone to house sit for her brother who lives across town.  So I pulled into Julia’s spot because it is flat and off the street and I can damp-wash my vehicle.
I drive a black 2004 Nissan Sentra  -- bought it five years ago for $5,800 – never a problem, but it has one of those lousy Japanese paint jobs, all mottled and disparaged. I hired an artist to paint acrylic flowers over the discolored parts, so my car is like a moving mural. I can send you a photo. People tell me all the time how much they like it. Well, I run a gardening business,  painting flowers on my car is a way to advertise. Not my name or phone number – just the flowers.
Being that the flowers are only painted on with acrylic and beginning to flake off, I can’t run my vehicle through the car wash under those big scrubbers, so it just kept getting dirtier, until I realized I could damp wash it in the driveway. Three gallons of water, three clean rags, 30 minutes. Just wipe it down and wipe it off and wring out the dirtiest rag. Then get a second bucket full of water and use the second rag for finer work, and then the third for the final touchup.
Easy, peasy, Japanesy – that’s what the librarian said in the Shawshank Redepemption. I hate it when a phrase like that gets stuck in my head. I did not choose to remember that phrase. I would like to get rid of it, but it is probably lodged in there forever.
Like the names of my grade school teachers. I can recite them Kindergarten through 8th grade. But in that case I am glad to remember those names and I even wrote them down for the archives.
But the memory is scarred with trauma – horrible burning events that get buried deeper and deeper but can never be --- there is no verb – can never be erased, eliminated, deleted expunged – there is no verb because it is not possible.
You can force the memory down deeper in your subconscious. Bury it. That’s why they ancient Egyptians built the great pyramids  --- huge piles of hewn stone symmetrically arranged. The purpose of these pyramids is to bury something  -- we cannot say what. Some terrible, scarring memory is buried under the pyramids and will never come to light.
Nothing is ever forgotten. It is all stuck in your brain somewhere, in the lower drawer, under the cobwebs, in the basement.
People say I have a good memory. I recall details of events that happened long ago. I dwell on the past. I love the past – that’s where all the good stories are. I love the history of all people. I brood over my own life. Often I wake up at 5 a.m. when it’s still dark. I emerge from a deep sleep and my mind begins to stir. I will my mind to stop working. I tell myself, “Don’t start thinking. There is nothing to think about. Go back to sleep.”
But I start remembering older years, very often 1993, when I had the corporate driving job for Boston Coach and Fidelity Investments. I drove a spanking new black Buick Park Avenue. I took business executives to and from the Boston Airport. I spent hours crawling through rush hour traffic, but I was getting paid by the hour, so I didn’t care.
But what bugs me in the memory, the part I wish I could forget, is the cheap, black polyester pants I wore every day. Why didn’t  I spend another ten dollars for good pants and get all –cotton which is far more comfortable?  Instead I was itchy in polyester and it was my own fault. All day driving in itchy pants.
My life would be different if I had bought more comfortable pants. That small memory haunts me, and a million other memories that I will bury under a pyramid in the back yard as soon as I collect enough stones.

thank you,


Sunday, June 18, 2017

On Parenthood

 By Fred Owens
On Parenthood

My daughter Eva and her wife Lara are having a baby, sometime in July, a boy or a girl. Eva said they had names picked out but it was a secret for now. I said fine, but if it's a boy why not call it Little Freddy. Just a thought, although Lara said Frederick isn't such a bad name. For a girl I thought to call her Bonnie or Evangeline. 
Laurie and I were actually invited to suggest baby names, so we have.
But with the baby coming in a few weeks, it's time for the honorable custom of unsolicited advice, when the parents-to-be are approached by relatives and total strangers with valuable input. It's so easy to share your wisdom when you don't have to do any of the work. Eva takes the bus to work every day so people at the bus stop tell her how to take care of small babies and what to expect in the delivery room.
I just keep giving her the same advice -- relax, let nature take its course, don't be stressful, you'll do just fine.

Eva and Lara live in Seattle in the Ballard neighborhood in a house they bought last year. Lara works for Amazon. Eva works for SEIU. They have a golden retriever named Odie.
Laurie and I will be going up there in September.

It's Hot
It's hot here in Santa Barbara and that saps my energy. I can barely move my fingers to type this newsletter.
"Hot" in Santa Barbara means over 80 degrees. We're terribly spoiled. You folks in Texas or Ohio or New England know about really hot weather and high humidity. And mosquitoes.
Once I spent a summer in South Texas  -- I survived that but I don't want to talk about it.
I think the worst place in the entire world for awful hot is St. Louis in August - air as thick as wool. But Chicago is pretty bad, and Boston too.
Some people would give the prize to Houston for the combination of heat and moisture.
And don't tell me about Phoenix and say it's okay because it's dry heat. It's still hot, 108 degrees as of right now at 3 p.m.
Agent Blume from Cambridge
I call him Agent Blume behind his back. To his face I call him Harvey. He plays chess at Harvard Square, or he used to, but they tore down the public chess tables, which was an urban atrocity. Let the old men play chess, I say.
Volume Two
I have started Volume Two of My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard. John Stark in Bellingham wants to know if this book is a slog, like Proust and the Remembrance of Things Past.
Fortunately I have never read Proust, should I?  But, no, My Struggle is not a slog. It is easy to read, but very long  -- five volumes, 3,500 pages. This will last me all summer and that makes me happy.
Plus it is current fiction. My daughter said I read too much 19th century literature, so I said okay, I will get current and read novels written in this century.
Trump is 71, the same age as me. Except I am not twenty pounds overweight. I get 8 hours of sleep every night. I get outdoor exercise almost every day. Trump would do us all a big favor by taking better care of himself... He may beat the odds with his careless habits, but would you make that bet?
Also, the older I get the less angry I am. This is true of a lot of people -- old people being calmer, except for the baseball shooter who was 66 years old when he went on his rampage at the ball field.
I tried to imagine myself being so mad that I would shoot a Congressman. Nope, not even close. My idea of really getting mad at someone in Congress is hoping a bird craps on his windshield -- but no madder than that. I wouldn't allow it. Besides that, it tires me out. I had an argument with my girlfriend three years ago. But it's no fun fighting with her, so we stopped. Why doesn't Trump be like me? Is he too old to change?
Maybe I am too old to change and maybe Trump is too old to change, but he sure gets angry a lot. Every day he gets angry and gets all worked up. It does him no good and it leads to bad decisions.
Local Folksinger Turns Conservative

Dave Morrison in Altadena is a folksinger I know who went right wing. Folksingers are all left wing and country singers are all right wing  -- supposedly. It's a strong pattern anyway. It started with Woody Guthrie going left and it stayed that way, but Dave Morrison changed that and went right and his old compatriots despise him for deserting the cause. That's too bad. I say if he wants to have a romance with Rush Limbaugh, let him.
Note: Altadena is an unincorporated village in Los Angeles, right next to Pasadena.
The Quotidian
It was Agent Blume who wanted me to read My Struggle. This five-volume novel is a wealth of details about daily life in Norway. I just read 30 pages about a child's birthday party. Knausgaard has a way of making things like that interesting and he keeps a good pace too.
Agent Blume suggested this novel especially for me as if I might learn something from it, as if Knausgaard was a writer who might show me a thing or two.
Yes, I am learning something. I often imitate authors I admire. I let their style rub off on me. I make no effort to be original.
Originality is no goal. You always end up being yourself anyway. How can you not be yourself? I never say that to other people -- "just be yourself" -- because it's like saying nothing. What I say to people is be kind, be helpful, be strong and be honest.  That's saying something. That's the push I want to give my friend if he turns to me for help.
Have a good Fathers Day,

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Sunday, June 11, 2017

My Struggle

 By Fred Owens
My Struggle

I'm reading My Struggle, a five-volume autobiographical novel by Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard. I am on page 297 of the first volume. I'm not saying I will read all  3,500 pages in five volumes.
That's not a good way to think about any book  -- Oh, it will take too long to read. You either like it or you don't.
What I like about Knausgaard is that he has no style, no writing style. Most writers have a distinctive style and you can tell who wrote it. Like Hemingway or Dickens -- they have strong styles, easy to identify.
But the very best writer, Tolstoy, has no style at all. He's not even  there. He's not in the way. It's all story and nothing else.
Knausgaard is like that. No style. All story.
But this is too dreary. This discussion, not the book.
I need to think of something that's more fun. It's a sunny day in Santa Barbara, a Sunday afternoon. We plan to take a semi-vigorous walk up the hill and around the Douglas Preserve and then down the stairs to the beach, and then down the beach back to the parking lot. Takes an hour or so. Laurie's doctor told her to get  more cardiovascular action -- climb a hill, ride a bike.
As it is, she puts in major time gardening, but the doctor wants something slightly strenuous.
She enlisted me in the project. I said my doctor didn't tell me anything. Didn't tell me what to do or not do, what to eat or not eat, no lecture, no hint, just a free pass, like you're getting older and then you'll die, but there's not much you can do about that.
Maybe women are willing to listen to medical instructions, so they get more of them. Doesn't mean they will act on the instruction, only means they will listen, or act like they are listening.
The male patient will have this look like nobody tells me what to do, so the doctor doesn't tell him what to do.
But that is a generalization -- that women act in a certain way and men act differently -- something I avoid writing about, because it encourages correction.
Like this friend of mine, an old classmate from the University of Toronto, will say, yes, some women are like that but not all, and some men are like that but not all.
You're supposed to qualify all your broad statements. You're not supposed to say Italians like to eat pasta, you supposed to say some or even most Italians like pasta but surely not all.
Then you get nervous and stop making any kind of broad statement. Santa Barbara is a wonderful place to live -- no, too broad, in fact some people around here are quite miserable.
Then you start splitting hairs and pretty soon you have said a lot of words that go nowhere.
Ethnic slurs. I get by fairly well without using any ethnics slurs -- only a dash of profanity here and there. Bitch is a common word, but I never say it. Hardly ever. Although saying heck or darn seems to be too much the boy scout.
I remember the only time I heard farmer Dave Hedlin lose his temper. This is a man who always smiles and never cusses, until that one day when he just let it fly. Goddam this and goddam that, and worse, It was over the cabbage seed crop and the contractor who was buying the cabbage seed changed his mind about the hybridization of various strains and so Dave had to change all the male plants to female plants -- we're talking acres here and many thousands of sweet little cabbage plants with blue stickers, if they were male, and pink stickers if they were female. But Dave and his crew had to switch them all per the contractor's instructions. Hence the profanity.
When you learn about seed crops, you get into the sex life of plants  -- how certain boy plants and certain female plants -- but I blush. Then the boy plants can turn into female plants and things start getting very progressive.
Eros. The life principle. Sex and Death.
Theresa May Be or Theresa May Be NotEngland, an entire country that cannot make up its mind. We should give them plenty of space and time. They seem like such nice people. Sometimes it's better to just wait and see, and things will fall into place and the right path will be chosen. My interest in English life is partly escapist. I cannot stand Trump.
He is a disgusting man. I have lost all detachment and perspective. Are you Republicans happy now? If your goal was to make half the country nauseous, you have succeeded.
Give me England.
that's all,

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Thursday, June 01, 2017

We Called Him Billy

 By Fred Owens

The Bill Murray interview is not going to work. Murray is famous for not responding by email or phone. I have his P.O. address so I could send him a letter. As it is I emailed his older brother Ed. Ed responded with updated information about the Murray family, and actually that's what I want to write about -- the Murray kids -- Ed, Brian, Nancy and Bill, and the neighborhood in Wilmette, and the Catholic school we all went to -- so I don't actually need to interview Bill -- I do have a lot of question for Ed -- only if he is interested in working with me.

But when I see Bill Murray give that dead pan look in a movie, I know where it came from -- St. Joe's, that was our school. I saw that look on a lot of guys -- Tommy O'Rourke, Richie Bleser, Johnny Temple, Tony Viti --  the boys on the Ridge, acting like they were tough and everybody knew they weren't tough at all. These were the leafy suburbs for crying out loud. The toughest kids were like buttermilk pancakes. But they all had that dead pan look.

And Bill Murray had the same look only he took it to a higher plane. A much higher level, a cosmic, even metaphysical level. He took that deadpan look higher, but his feet were always on the ground in the old neighborhood -- St. Joe's. Anybody who was there will tell you that and we're all really proud of what Bill did with it.
In the next issue, we'll talk about the Caddy Shack -- the real caddy shack where us kids worked  --  they made the movie on this.
And we called him Billy.

"The most useless thing I can think of"
I wrote this email letter to Frederick Thulin III  -- we went to high school together

Dear Frederick,
I looked you up in the 1964 Yearbook  -- in the back of the book where they list all your activities. You had none. Horst Metz had a long list of honors -- four years in the Torch Club, home room president, feature editor of the school newspaper, etc.Horst was his first name but everybody called him Joe --  Joe was good at physics and he got accepted to MIT which was kind of impressive at the time.
You, on the other hand, judging by evidence left in the school yearbook, had no activities. The bell rang, you slammed your locker door and left campus. So where did you go after school? Did you hang out with friends? Did you build model railroads in your garage? You were a teenager, so you might have had all kinds of trouble. Maybe your parents didn't like your attitude.
I did not know you too well at school, but you seemed to be a good fellow and friendly enough.
But there's one thing I remember about you on our last days of senior year. You had been accepted to Michigan State University. Nothing unusual about that, but then you announced you were going to study Arabic.I asked why. And you answered, "I'm going to study Arabic because it is the most useless thing I can think of."
Did you study Arabic? and was that useless?
I would be glad to hear the story of your life since high school and tell you my story as well, but first I want to clear up the Arabic question.
all my best,
Fred Owens
Thulin has not responded to this message.

We called him Joe, but his real name was Horst.
Horst Metz, Another Friend from High School, is retired and lives in Sanibel, Florida

Dear Joe,
We were in the AP classes together. You were a friendly classmate although we did not pal around together.

You excelled at physics. You mastered the course and even looked for greater challenges. You saw the beauty of science . I admired your focus and sense of purpose. You were accepted at MIT and you may have done well in some STEM career.
I, like probably half the student body, had no clue as to where I was going or what I was going to do with my life. But I did face life with a sense of wonder and I have somehow managed to end up in Santa Barbara, which is an undeserved pleasure.
What follows is a questionnaire, the first of several. It is daunting. I invite you to look at it and respond.
I am sending this questionnaire to various classmates. These are sincere questions. I actually want to know what you think and how you feel about these things.
It's Academic

I'm calling this project It's Academic in memory of the old quiz show. Life is a series of tests, right?
1.Our Lady of Angels School Fire, Dec. 1, 1958
"A total of 92 pupils and 3 nuns ultimately died when smoke, heat, fire, and toxic gasses cut off their normal means of escape through corridors and stairways."
We were in the seventh grade. These students were no different than us. Nuns like our nuns. The newspaper were full of burn stories day after day. We learned about third degree and second degree burns -- multiple surgeries and skin grafts. Do you remember?
Not a year later, we were in the 8th grade and a Chicago team finally won the pennant. Nellie Fox at 2nd base. Louis Aparicio at shortstop. We beat the Yankees, finally...... Were you a Cubs fan or a White Sox fan?

When President Kennedy was killed, my friend Mary McGrory said to Pat Moynihan, "We'll never laugh again." And Moynihan, who later became a U.S. senator, replied, "Mary, we'll laugh again, but we'll never be young again."    ---- Art Buchwald
You could write 50 words or 5,000 words about that day. The announcement came over the loudspeaker while we were in the classroom. What priest made that announcement? Was it Fr. Reinke?
4. The Beatles make their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, Feb. 9, 1964
"On February 9th, 1964, The Beatles, with their Edwardian suits and mop top haircuts, made their first American television appearance—LIVE—on The Ed Sullivan Show."
Not three months after Kennedy was killed, the Beatles sang their first songs in America. The tragedy of Kennedy and the joy of the Beatles -- when did you realize that something had begun, something we later called The Sixties?

5. Protests at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, August 1968. "The violence between police and anti-Vietnam war protesters in the streets and parks of Chicago gave the city a black-eye from which it has yet to completely recover."
Where were you when this happened? Were you in the crowd on the street? Did you watch it on TV at home? What did you think about this? What did your parents think about this?
6. Migration. Twenty of our classmates now live in California. Others moved to Florida or Texas. Did you leave the Chicago area? Why? Or did you stay in Chicago? Why did you stay?
7. Your Choice. What event marked your life  -- marked it with joy or bitterness?

all my best,
Joe responded to this message. He prefers to be called Horst. He said going by Joe was simply a high school experiment. He answered the questions in a thoughtful and vigorous manner. It was really interesting to hear what he had to say.

Frog Hospital Subscription Drive. The spring subscription drive took in $225, which is disappointing. We had hoped for over $500, but we are undismayed and will devise a new promotion shortly.

Push the Bus. This short novel is about a gang of hippie-hooligans barnstorming through south Texas in 1973. For a cost of $25 I can mail you a spiral-bound printed manuscript  -- it's 120 pages of enjoyable reading.
Tutoring and Writing Coach. I am offering my service as a tutor and writing coach in the Santa Barbara area. I have not yet gotten my first customer, but someone with experience in this field encouraged me. She said the first student is the hardest one to find.
Gardening work. The tutoring work is supposed to gradually supplant my gardening income, but until it does I am out there on most week days pulling weeds and pruning roses. I have a half dozen steady customers.
Desalination Plant Opens in Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara will now receive over 30% of its potable water from a desalination plant that became operational this week.

Politics. Let's finish with politics. I read the morning news on the Internet but it doesn't make sense. My children and my girlfriend encourage me to not write about politics, so, unless there is some overwhelming demand from the readership, I will leave it at that.
be well,

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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