Monday, April 29, 2019

Are You Gay?

Are you Gay?

By Fred Owens

I was thinking of questions you're not supposed to ask, so I came up with this list, not in order of importance.

Are you gay?  I was talking with a new friend and asking about his life, where he lived, what he did, and I was getting to relations, and I thought maybe he's gay. I mean, he did not mention girlfriend or wife, and some gay radar thing was buzzing, but I didn't ask.

Are you planning to have children? You don't ask people of child-bearing age this question, but you think it.

Are you planning to have more children? You thought to ask, but did not.

Congratulations, you got the job. How much are they going to pay you? How come you can't ask this question? Everyone wants to know.

How much did you pay for your house? Curiously you can ask this question. Or at least people do ask it often enough.

Where are you from? Or, to get right to the point, Are you here legally?

Asked by a white person to an African-American, may I touch your hair?

How come you're in a wheelchair?

This is not a complete list, of course. And if you were only five years old, you could get away with asking these questions. Maybe we could have an All Questions Asked and Answered Day once a year, because  you really want to know. You don't have a right to know, not in the least, but you want to ask, don't you.

Variety and Diversity.

I prefer saying variety because it pleases my ear. Diversity is the common phrase, but it sounds like division and divorce and it does not please my ear. So let me tell you of this small illustration of variety at the Wednesday lunch meeting of the Santa Barbara Kiwanis Club.

I come early and sit at one of the long tables. This allows later-arriving members to choose to sit with me. Bruce comes in. He limps and walks with a cane. His appetite is often quite poor. Three times a week he goes in for kidney dialysis and will continue doing that until he gets a new kidney -- a long story here, but I will get to the point  -- he is a Baptist preacher and a retired Navy chaplain. That's a lot different than my life. And, I suspect, but I only suspect because I have not asked, he is a conservative Republican Trump supporter. Well, we don't argue politics at Kiwanis lunch and there are many other things to talk about.

Joining me on the other side is Matt, a lawyer and former manager of the Santa Barbara Roasting Company, which serves the best coffee in town. Matt is the father of Joshua, by way of a sperm donation to a Lesbian couple. The three of them are co-parenting Joshua. It seems very complicated, but it isn't. You just love the child and you change him when his di-dies are damp.

Anyhow, that's a variety of experience, Bruce, Matt and me. I mention this because our country is not splitting apart at the seams unlike what some people say. That's variety, although you can call it diversity.

Parkinson's Disease or PD

My neurologist went to medical school in Bangkok. Her name is Dr. Mananya Satayaprasert. She's about 30, but she looks like she's 12. She is new at the Sansum Clinic where I go and nobody seems to know how to pronounce her name. I myself have been practicing the spelling and pronunciation of her name as the right thing to do. And for a practical reason, since I have PD and she is the captain of my PD Defense Squad we could be  working together for many years, we hope.

PD is random. Nobody knows who is going to catch it. It's just that one day you have it and it doesn't go away, but it usually gets worse over time. The best Dr. Satayaprasert could tell me is that when it comes to an older person -- I'm 72 -- it progresses very slowly and you can live long enough for something else to kill you -- which is not how she said it of course. What she did say is that PD can be quite manageable. So take these pills three times a day and get plenty of exercise, which I have done.Then I called my sister Katy in Denver who is surviving breast cancer. She said don't think about what might happen, just think about today. So there it is.

Nurses playing cards. I worked three years on the med-surg unit of Skagit Valley Hospital on the evening shift. I never saw any nurses playing cards. Mostly they were too busy to even visit the break room. They walked miles on their feet and they only sat down to chart and they hated charting. So it was a tough eight hours, or longer. Except, maybe once a month, maybe around 10 or 11 in the evening, all the patients would be quiet and sleeping, and then the whole staff sat down almost in a group, in great big sigh of relief, and caught a twenty minute break. Well deserved too...... but no cards.

Family party. My sister Carolyn lives in Venice Beach in Los Angeles. She will be 75 on May 2 and she is throwing a big party at her house. All her family is coming, siblings, nieces, nephews --- only one nephew, actually. Not too many children are coming. Aisha is leaving her two kids behind and Rosie is leaving her three and LIza is leaving one behind but bringing the other one. Also my daughter and her wife are bringing my grandson. Lots of fun, My sister Katy said she plans to sit, talk, eat and stroll. I like that idea.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Thursday, April 25, 2019

My Passion

By Fred Owens

A woman who lives on Whidbey Island told me I should follow my passion. Allowing myself that pleasure, I immediately thought of myself in the shade of an umbrella, next to Laurie, by a hotel swimming pool, sipping a gin and tonic and reading a book or magazine. No work. That is my passion. A hotel room isn't home, but there is nothing in it that reminds me of work. You look at the windows and you don't think they might need to be washed. Nothing needs to be fixed. No towels to be folded. Plants and flowers in  the garden are tended and watered by somebody else. And some other somebody takes out the trash. But I don't give any of that a thought, except to watch the children splash and play in the pool. I might notice the ice melting in my glass of gin and tonic. I might have some vague yearning for a sandwich or a snack at some time. I could lean further back in the lounge chair and rest my eyes. With my eyes closed, I might more easily hear the sounds of children and the song of birds, and the hum of traffic in the distance, all sounds harmonized in the daily symphony of people doing things. Except me, I'm not doing anything. Not today. That is my passion.

Sweeping the Sidewalk. I have three very good gardening customers. They have beautiful gardens and they treat me well. But things are getting a bit routine. Like every week I go to Keith's house and sweep the debris off the sidewalk  -- that part of the sidewalk underneath the jacaranda tree which is always shedding something. So I sweep it. Every week. I am reminded of Keith's instructions. "Do not sweep the debris in the street. That is  the responsibility of the city crew." Except the city crew never comes and the debris piles up and it's a bit unsightly. But I don't touch it. I just sweep the sidewalk, according to his instructions, every week. Why doesn't the wind blow all the leaves away into someone else's yard? Then I would not have to sweep. I would get to weed instead, on my hands and knees. I did that for two hours last week. A heroic effort if you ask me. After two hours of weeding I filled the green recycle bin with green detritus which is my signal that I have done enough for that week.

This is getting kind of boring. I could use a challenge, a horticultural challenge, something to stir the energy, some project where I could make enough money to stay in that hotel mentioned above, the follow-my-passion swimming pool, which comes after I complete the horticultural-passion segment.

Sage Ends. Now for the writing-passion segment. I got 5,000 words into a story about "Sage, the woman who did what she wanted." The story takes place in 1969 and I found it fully absorbing, going back to a time when I was much younger. I had thought to make a novel of this story and go to 40,000 words and take several months to complete. But that longer effort is not possible at this time. I already have two novels and three memoirs written and unpublished. So why would I write a third novel about "Sage, the woman who did what she wanted." Because it is not my passion to write something that will not get published. There is some personal therapeutic value in this, but the labor is large and the reward is slight. So we have to bid Sage a fond farewell.  The actually real person who inspired this story  --  she is 76 years old and, we hope, living well, unrepentant, possibly in Santa Cruz near the beach.

Cancelling Student Debt. The only issue --  many of them are very important -- but the only issue to get me fired up is this one that we hear from Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. Student dept is a huge burden to younger folk. The terms of a debt can be re-negotiated. You can lower the interest rate, you can stretch out the payments, you stay in touch with the bank, but basically they will settle for ten cents on the dollar if that is all they can get. But I will remind the younger folks with this burden of debt that Warren is not going to do this for you. YOU will do it. You will organize your fellow debtors and come up with a plan. Warren and others will simply stand out of your way and cheer you on.

To Impeach or not to Impeach. I think this is up to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. If she says to impeach, if she sees that path, then I'm with her.

Last minute addition. Joe Biden is in the race. Go Joe! There are now 18 candidates at last count for the Democratic nomination. One candidate will emerge as the leader and 17 candidates will take second place. My purpose in this process is to ensure that the 17 losers unite in support of the winner, because if we fall apart into bitter factions we will lose to Trump in 2020. But if we stay together as a team we can win. Go Joe! Go Team! Beat Trump!

Happy Days to one and all,


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Saturday, April 20, 2019

It will take a hundred years

FROG HOSPITAL --  April 20, 2019

By Fred Owens

The Middle Ages was part of how we got here. That age set the tone and the direction. I see a direct connection from rose-colored windows and flying buttresses to the invention of airplanes and space travel. We are connected to those olden times. We are what they dreamed of becoming, in part. As for the roof catching fire, well, it lasted 850 years and that in itself is quite impressive. The cathedral will be rebuilt, it will not be exactly the same as it was. It will take much longer than the five years promised by Macron. In fact, to get into the spirit of cathedral construction, let us begin by assuming that the work will not be completed in our lifetimes, or the lifetimes of our children. Think long-term. That is the great virtue of the Catholic/Christian tradition. (along with the numerous vices).

It will take more than five years. It will take a hundred years.

Sage did what she wanted.

A brief episode. Sage and I take the day off and head for the beach. We get to know each other.

The two would-be lovers approach their private sandy acre on Stinson Beach in September of 1969. The gods of the Zodiac will smile down on Sage and Fred. The wise old men will choose the right Hexagram in the I Ching.  Baba Ram Dass will hum mantras. Timothy Leary will call long distance and Eldridge Cleaver will start selling girl scout cookies door-to-door.  Anything can happen.
We spread the blanket on the sand and stretched out. It was a beautiful day, just warm enough for sunbathing.  I took off my shirt, lay on my back and watched the sky, all blue with clouds and small breezes. The waves were small and hushed. 
I looked over at Sage. She was taking off her shirt too. She said, “I can’t stand it. You can take your shirt off, but not me. Well, I will.”
“That’s fine with me, “ I said. I looked at her breasts, pale and soft. Then I looked at the sky again. We had the beach to ourselves. 
Not wanting to think about this too much, I took off my pants, to be naked. Then she did the same and there we were, getting to know each other that way. We could hear birds chirping in the bushes near the top of the sand.
I rolled over and embraced her. We began to make love. Then I stopped.  “You know, I’m not really up to this,” I said.
“I noticed.”
“Well, it’s just being out here in the air and all. It’s nothing but being a little bashful I guess.”
“But tonight, when we get home……”
“It won’t be a problem.”
With that we became quiet and held each other softly. Closing our eyes, we drifted away on day dreams. It was a special day. There was no one but us. All of nature was for us, for nurture and protection.  Time passed without reckoning.
Later, we drove – but floating – across the Golden Gate Bridge, back through San Francisco, and then back to Berkeley.
Sage told me she didn’t like listening to the AM radio in the truck. “All you can get are those awful Top Forty shows full of ads. “ So, it was radio silence for us, but I thought we could talk.
“Let’s talk,” I said.
“About what? “ she said.
“Tell me something about yourself.”
“The whole deal?”
“Yes, all of it.”
We became lovers and that lasted for two years.

Happy Easter and Happy Passover. I need to tell a story about how Pam Fleetman and her husband invited me to my first seder in 1993. I was living in Cambridge at the time. The seder was at the Workmen's Circle in Brookline, a Boston suburb. I avoided snacking before this big festive dinner. I showed up hungry. That was a big mistake. We sat down at the table, but we didn't eat for almost two hours. All this reading and talking, while I'm going blind from hunger. I didn't know.
The next year I was invited to a seder and I made sure to eat a substantial snack before I got there. That's how to do it.

Our Family. Laurie and I had a great time in Seattle for six days, visiting Eva and Lara and my grandson Walter Finnegan who will be two on July 29. Walter has almost learned how to talk. He actually is talking but it's kind of hard to understand. He says No a lot. No is a powerful word and a good way to begin. His other favorite word is Uh-Oh, which describes the human condition.
We spent one day in LaConner and visited the tulip fields, although it was cold and muddy out there and we scarcely got out of our car. We spent the night at the cottage that Janet Saunders has for guests. The cottage was built by Jeff Langlow about 20 years ago. Jim Smith had a desk and an old Macintosh computer for writing his weekly column in the cottage.  The desk is still there, but Jim has gone to a better place. Or you might say Jim made the place better when he got  there. Clyde is there and Avocado Richard is there. Robert Sund ...... I could go on... Jimmy Schermerhorn.......
The Fire at Notre Dame. This is a life-changing event. I am astonished beyond words. Am I wrong to say that this tragedy, as sad as it is, fills me with hope?
take care,

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Joe Biden is my hero

By Fred Owens

Joe Biden is my hero this week. He is being bombarded by idiots. This is not good for the Democratic party. In order to win in 2020 the candidate needs to be selected in a spirit of harmony. Joe Biden, and the millions of moderate middle of the road voters who think like Joe, is a part of this necessary harmony. This togetherness will lead us to victory. With Trump defeated, the Green New Deal can be fruitfully discussed. With Trump victorious, The Green New Deal is only a joke.

A random survey of people who live with me went like this: If you had to vote today, who would you vote for? Elizabeth Warren was the unanimous choice (sample size --2). I chose Warren because she is kind-hearted and not looking for a fight. She is an agreeable woman but not one to be pushed around. I am considering temperament as the chief deciding qualification for the next president. Our current president does not have a good temperament -- and that's putting it mildly. Warren's stand on the issues are reasonable and worth discussion. Yes -- we can work something out!

Going to Seattle and LaConner. Laurie and I are flying to Seattle this Wed., April 10. We fly Alaskan Airlines nonstop from Santa Barbara to SeaTac  -- $200 round trip. Laurie knows how to find these great deals. And flying direct from Santa Barbara is so cool. The Santa Barbara airport is like a country club -- quiet and serene  -- traveling like it used to be. We get into SeaTac and take the light rail downtown. Then we catch an Uber to Eva's house in Ballard. Eva, my daughter, and her wife Lara, have a nearly 2-year-old boy and they are expecting another bundle of joy in mid-August. What a beautiful family they are making.

Laurie and I will spend at least a day in LaConner while we are there. We might be staying in Janet Saunder's guest cabin. The tulip traffic might be awful -- but we can figure that out when we get there.

Part Five of "Sage, she did what she wanted." In this brief episode Sage tells Fred how she makes a living. Then she gives him a ride in her truck for a trip to the sands of Stinson Beach in Marin County. Will it be a picnic, or a tryst?

Excuse me, I’m getting things out of order. Nick, the astrologer, will propound on the meaning of the Sun Signs as they apply to Sage and me after we became a couple. She was Gemini,  I was Cancer.
But not this evening, in my first day in the house, when Sage and I and John and Nick gathered in the living room after dinner to smoke a bowl of hashish from Afghanistan.
The children were safely tucked away in their beds, Eric 7 and Sean 2. I had not really met them yet, but I was fascinated by their very existence.  I had just finished five years of college and never saw a baby or a toddler or a boy at play or a winsome girl humming a tune that whole time, and here I was in a hippie home in California – with children. That made it so powerful. Like real life. I was finished with school and beginning my life, in this house, with these people, in September, 1969.  That sounded so trite, and I laughed at myself.
Now the children were asleep, or  at least not making any noise. We settled in the living room and had our smoke. We smiled at each other and discussed what record to play after Cat Setevens. How about John Coltrane on the tenor saxophone, a Love Supreme? That was John’s suggestion. Sage wanted Joni Mitchell. “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
 I don’t remember. I put me feet up on the couch and time slipped away.
It seemed like the next day, but it was more likely a week later that Sage offered me a ride to the Berkeley campus. “We can ride in my truck,” she said. Sage had a truck, a 1955 gun metal grey International pickup with a utility bed and a covered wagon roof.  It was the most beautiful organic vehicle on all the highways of the world. I never had a truck before. I never dreamed of a truck before, but I had one now.  Well, it was her truck, not mine, but priority of ownership never came up. It was her truck, my truck, our truck, the truckiest truck of all trucks. I was living in a Grateful Dead day dream.
 God gave me a truck. No, no, Sage gave me a truck.  You can live in a truck, it’s a home on wheels. You can haul stuff and carry tools. Keep a foam pad and blankets. Keep a two burner Coleman stove and food supplies in the compartments.  
We dropped Sean off at his day care, and then dropped Eric off at his private free school, and we approached the Berkeley campus.
“I have work on campus today,” Sage said. “I’m a figure model in the art department. I can hold a pose and stand still in the nude for 45 minutes while they sketch me. …..”
Long pause. I nodded.
“I’m in demand as  a figure model because of my classic proportions, you know, square shoulders, firm breasts, and broad hips. Like the Venus de Milo. I look like a Greek goddess.”
I was a little astonished, a Greek goddess, with a truck.. Well, nothing wrong with that. That was the thing about Sage. She didn’t like wearing clothes very much. For a figure model , she could shuck off her garments and feel free. She was good at that. I wasn’t. But I didn’t compare myself to her anyway.
“Say I have a better idea. If you can hang out on the campus for a couple of hours while I do my modelling work, then we can head over to Stinson Beach in the afternoon. It could be fun. Have you ever been there?
I had not ever been there. It was in Marin County, across the Golden Gate Bridge, a good hour’s drive from the Berkeley campus.  So I said sure, let’s go.
I hung out on Telegraph Avenue, right off the campus, and she finished at eleven and we drove to Stinson Beach.
“I’ve never been to Stinson Beach,” I said.
“You’ll like it. I know a really private cove. No one will be there.”
The End of Part Five
Part Five ends here. The two would-be lovers approach their private sandy acre on Stinson Beach.  The gods of the Zodiac will smile down on Sage and Fred. The wise old men will choose the right Hexagram in the I Ching.  Baba Ram Dass will hum mantras. Timothy Leary will call long distance and Eldridge Cleaver will start selling girl scout cookies door-to-door.  Anything can happen as the two would-be lovers approach their private destiny on the sands of Stinson Beach, or is the whole world watching?
Frog Hospital will return in two weeks. Writing about a love affair fifty years ago can be emotionally draining. I need some time off. I do enjoy visiting the world of 1969 and seeing the younger version of myself in that world, but the going back and forth from 1969 to the present reality  ---- Whoah, I've wracked up some mental/emotional miles. My brother Thomas Joseph told me that what I did in 1969 is how I got to be where I am today. True. I also remind readers that this story is a work of fiction and not a memoir. Sure I draw on the past, but then I make stuff up. I just hope this tale is of some value to the readers. Your attention is greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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