Thursday, January 23, 2020

Tom Robbins Impeaches Tibetan Peaches

By Fred Owens

Peaches don't grow well in LaConner, in the lush, green, moist Skagit Valley north of Seattle. Peaches like summer sun and frosty winter days. So there has been talk of impeaching them, pits and all, to LaConner, where author Tom Robbins has lived for many years. But let's talk about peanuts, which also don't grow in LaConner. When I worked for the Wilson County News in Floresville, Texas, I did a feature story about peanut monuments around peanut country, which stretches from Jimmy Carter's farm in Plains, Georgia, all the way across the red dirt country to Oklahoma and Texas.

Here's what I found. The most beautiful peanut monument was carved from native limestone and perched on the courthouse lawn in Durant, Oklahoma, six feet across. A bigger ten-foot peanut graces the courthouse lawn in Floresville, Texas, made of painted fiberglass. A much smaller peanut is displayed in Dilley, Texas, which has a sign that says World's Biggest Peanut. That's Texas bragging. You say you're the biggest and let someone prove you wrong. But the biggest peanut of all, made of painted sheet metal and kind of ugly, stands somewhere in Georgia, 30-feet tall. The biggest. These are what we call roadside attractions. You find them all over the country, corny as heck, like giant green dinosaurs sculpted by Gomer Pyle.

So Tom Robbins wrote a book about this on the highway leading to the mummified body of Jesus Christ on display, on view for a small contribution. His book says Jesus never rose from the dead, but they spirited his body away right after Easter, carried his saintly body down to Egypt to be preserved and hidden for centuries. You can believe that or not.

That was Tom's first book, Another Roadside Attraction, published in 1971 and still in print. I was on that road myself and saw the monuments. It's what we do for fun in our American highway--obsessed world, going down the forever road to the last standing statues of Sasquatch and Paul Bunyan.

“The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious." This is the opening passage  of another of Tom's novels, Jitterbug Perfume. Beets! I know from beets. I spent an entire week  riding behind a tractor planting beet seedlings in a field near LaConner, where they grow beets for seeds. Seed Beets, to sell to other farmers. During that week of beet immersion I thought about this wonderful vegetable, but could not quite put it into good words, like Tom can do. He's an amazing fellow. He makes a good living writing novels. Nobody makes ten cents writing novels, but he does. Well, good on you, Tom.

Reading Tibetan Peaches, the autobio of Tom Robbins. Quite a life. Born in 1932 so 88 years old. Easy to find in LaConner, he's the guy wearing sun glasses. Can't say I really know him well, just to say hello at the post office. A good writer, he works pretty hard at making it look like he's not working at all. An honest man, whether fact or fiction, he tells the truth.

I write Frog Hospital and today I wonder if it's like the stuff Tom Robbins writes. Tom and I lived in the same small town for 25 years, breathing the same air. I am currently reading his autobio called Tibetan Peach Pie. What I admire about him is his hidden strength. Sure he is funny, very funny and he is fantastical and magical...... But so grounded. He is an agent of change, but not dangerous. Where I feel the common thread is his feelings about vegetables.
Tom was born in rural Virginia in 1932. Both his grandfathers were Baptist preachers and they tried to reach him and they tried to preach him, but to no avail. You know, the Baptists are not that stupid. What they saw in Tom was "he ain't never gonna be one of us, so let him go." And they let him go! He went to college and became a news writer and arts critic. He enlisted to serve four years in the Air Force. This was in the 1950s when young men signed up for four-years in the Air Force or Navy in order to avoid being drafted for two years in the Army.

The Air Force sent Tom to Korea where he developed a life-long interest in kim chee, the national cabbage dish, and Asian culture in general. Then they sent him for two years to Omaha in Nebraska, which did not kill his spirit, but made him a bit thicker. He is actually a solid fellow and that comes from his Omaha days. He came out West after that and settled in Seattle and then LaConner, where he resides to this day, although I have been gone from that town for almost ten years so I have no recent contact or news. I know he did get old, being 88, which is surprising to many people, but it does happen to almost everybody.

But back when I lived there I used to spend many hours and days working in the garden across from his house. And there was his front door, and right across the street was the Methodist Church, so when Tom goes out his front door every day, he faces God, or the Methodist version. I don't think that bothers him. Like I said, the Baptists let him go, and if the Baptists ever did anything right it was to let Tom Robbins go, let him go away and become the writer he became. We are all enriched by his efforts.

Sciatica. What a lovely, sweet name, you could name your new kitten Sciatica. Aw, she's so cute. Well, it is a nice name, but it is also a nasty painful condition. I have it now. and I have discovered that so many other people have it that I won't relay the symptoms except to say that it hurts and I cannot do any garden work. I am out of work and stuck here on the couch writing this newsletter and watching the impeachment trial on TV. I don't like being retired, it's like being unemployed forever. But I am getting too old for garden work. I need to find something less strenuous, like teaching other people to do garden work. For instance, just last night at the Kiwanis club social, three members -- Lauren, Jordan, and Anita -- asked my advice on their garden projects, like I knew something. Anita sings my praises high and low because I pruned her table grapes last spring and she brought in a good crop. In all humility, it wasn't my pruning that brought in a good crop, it was the abundant rain that came in last winter. You can't beat a good rain for making a garden flourish. But I accepted the praise that Anita gave me -- took a bow.

Thank you,

Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

My Cousins in Wisconsin Cheer for the Packers

My Cousins in Wisconsin Cheer for the Packers

By Fred Owens

But first, some election news ....

My patented Election Predictomatic says that Bernie will win the nomination and then lose to Trump. That is the most likely outcome --- according to the Predictomatic. The second, slightly less likely outcome is that Biden wins the nomination and then goes on to beat Trump by a hair.
My own preference is for Amy Klobuchar. She will make a good President and I hope she wins, but her chances are slim at this point, according to the Predictomatic. In other words, it is unlikely she could get the nomination, but if she did become the nominee she could beat Trump.

Back to the Story

I have 12 cousins on my mother's side. Uncle Ted and Aunt Bee had 4 kids, Donald, Dick, Rosemary and Jerry. Uncle Chuck and Aunt Ceil had 6 children, Kathleen, Dennis, Timmy, Patricia, Eileen and Terry. Uncle Jerry and Aunt Grace had 2 children, Mary Alice and Peggy. They all lived in Chicagoland growing up. They all attended Catholic schools.

Dick, the second child of Ted and Bee married Florence.  I remember their wedding, in 1952 or thereabouts, when I was six years old. It was the first wedding I had ever seen. Florence looked so beautiful in her white gown and Dick looked so handsome.  But we hardly ever saw them -- they moved to Wisconsin and had six kids, all named Cuny because that was the family name.

But let's start at the beginning with the Begats as I call them. It goes back to a little farming village in Switzerland near the border with France. Roschenz was the little village and it is still there if you care to look it up. Here are the Begats ...

Heinrich Cueni married Marie Anne Weber in 1813 and they had 12 children. Ambrose Cueni was born to them in 1833 being their 10th child. He grew up in the little village and they were very poor. The farm was descended on the oldest child Peter, the first born, and he was a sour old man -- I know that because I have a photograph of him when he was much older.

Ambrose did not want to spend his life working on the farm for Uncle Peter so he lit out for America, floated down the Rhine on a raft, and made his way to LeHavre for a journey across the great water and never to return, although he did write letters to Roschenz, and they wrote back. I have some of those old letters in a storage box, written in Swiss German in very tiny letters. I cannot read them.

Ambrose sailed to America at the age of 20, in the year of 1853, going all the way to Davenport, Iowa, where he eventually met Carolyn Reidy, an immigrant from Alsace in France, near the border with Switzerland. I believe she spoke German at home and French at school. At age 10, in the year 1850 her father migrated to America bringing along her older brother George and her step-mother.

Jean Reidy, the father, died on the ocean journey. Can you imagine how awful that was for a ten-year-old girl, who had never left her little village in the French countryside --- to be on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, crossing over to a new land she knew nothing about, and the one person who cared for her, her father, died on the journey and was buried at sea.Her step-mother had no means to support young Carolyn so she was left with a family in Davenport, Iowa. Her older brother George was left on a farm somewhere in Missouri and she never saw him again. But life in Davenport was not too harsh for young Carolyn. She was not quite adopted by her family, but somewhat more that just a maid. They gave her some schooling. Still, she must had a lot of pluck and endurance.

Her lucky day -- his lucky day for sure -- was when Ambrose and Carolyn first met. They fell in love and were married in 1857. He was 24, she was 17. They moved to Kentucky where they saw slavery. Ambrose joined the militia and fought in the cavalry on the Union side. He escaped death and injury. I have a copy of his service record -- many minor skirmishes, although not so minor if you are in them.

Ambrose and Carolyn moved to Chicago where George Henry, their first child, was born in 1864. And they had changed the spelling of their last name from Cueni to Cuny, as many immigrants did in those days.

They opened a dry goods store and made a good living and had 5 more children, Albert, Edward, Lena, Frances and Frank. But moving along, George Henry, the oldest, married Theresa Hartl in 1898 and their first child was born soon after. His name was Ambrose, but he did not like that name, so everyone called him Ted, my Uncle Ted, father of Dick Cuny who married Florence on or about 1952

Dick and Florence raised their six children and he died, leaving Florence a widow, but with a nice home in Green Bay, Wisconsin, near Lambeau Field where the Packers played the Seattle Seahawks last Sunday in 24 degree weather, which is not cold for Green Bay in January.

Florence says she lives close enough to the stadium to hear the roar of the crowd, but not close enough that people will pay her to park in her front yard on game day. That is her sense of humor. She is nearly ninety and I thought of her happy days because the Packers won on Sunday. I was cheering for Seattle, but they lost and the Packers won, so three cheers for my cousins in Wisconsin. Cheeseheads Rule!

Those are my Wisconsin cousins. They cheer for the Packers. My Chicago cousins cheer for the Bears  -- I will tell you about them some time.

The Quotidian.

The Quotidian, at 17,000 words, was by far the longest email ever attempted at Frog Hospital. There were a few readers who got all the way through to the end and they told me it was good and they even told me it wasn't really long enough. So I am gratified and I will put in longer pieces from time to time. And why not? If I give the readers fair warning, they can make their own decision to read it or not. No harm done.

The Election. We most ardently and most seriously need a new President in 2020. I will do what I can to make this happen.

The Debate in Iowa on Tuesday.  Six candidates took the stage  -- Tom, Joe, Bernie, Elizabeth, Pete and Amy. I am repeating their first names because I got the feeling that they all kind of like each other, with no hint of bitterness or grudges. This bodes well for the election to come -- if these six very good people can work together, then our country will be well-served.

Ambrose and Carolyn. I admit the telling of the Begats was a bit dull with lots of names and dates, but you gotta get the rhythm of it, the tumbling down of generations, from Heinrich Cueni and Mary Weber two hundred years ago, down through the years to something as ordinary as a Packers football game last Sunday. It's the story of our family, a family that is not outstanding in accomplishment or talent or wealth, but just folks.

Although, let me walk that back a little bit. The Cunys, descended from French and Swiss sources, always thought they were a bit better than the average, a kind of undeserved superiority. I have that quality. I can be a bit of a snob at times. Well, nobody's perfect.

St. Boniface. Ambrose and Carolyn are buried side by side in St. Boniface Cemetery on the north side of Chicago. I visited their grave in 1997.
Ambrose died in 1931 at the age of 98, being the last living member of his cavalry regiment. Carolyn preceded him in death. She died in 1922 at the age of 82. Carolyn was a happy woman and proud of her family, but even into her later years she would sometimes look out the window and start to cry, wondering what happened to her brother George. They left him on a farm in Missouri and never saw him again. Her only brother, and they never saw him again. The immigrants have often paid a heavy price.

Growth. Frog Hospital can grow, from 200 readers to 200,000 readers. I just don't know how to do that.

Contributions and Subscriptions. We accept contributions and subscriptions, by check or by PayPal. I will send you the details on request.

Thank you,


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

The Quotidian

The Quotidian, as promised

By Fred Owens

This is by far the longest email I have ever sent, so you might sit down and make yourself a cup of tea. The story has been vetted by three astute and longtime Frog Hospital readers -- Virginia Smith in Toronto, Harvey Blume in Cambridge, Mass. and Alan Archibald in North Carolina.  I was thinking of posting some sharp political commentary about the fires in Australia and the coming war in Iran, which we hope will not come. But I put that political rant on my FB page, if you are interested.

What is the Quotidian about, you might ask. I don't know what it is about, I just write these things. That's all I know how to do. Write and Rake the Leaves. My limited skills. Anyway, here it is. I hope you like it. It is very long and if you make it to the end, you will become enshrined as a Frog Hospital Hero.

The Quotidian by Fred Owens

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.

June 26, 2017
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 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 the archbishop in Los Angeles 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 Holy Cross 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  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.

Part Three 6,516, July 1, 2017

One of those damn flies is buzzing around my head. They fly near your ears and make a horrible sound. I hate them.
It was foggy this morning. We went for an early walk on the Douglas Preserve. This is an ocean front park on the Mesa in Santa Barbara. The actor Kirk Douglas and his family donated the money to buy the preserve and keep it natural so they get their name on it. Good people. We parked at Hendry’s Beach. We took the winding path through the forest and up  to the Mesa – a bit of heavy breathing on that climb. At the top we walked across grassland on dusty paths.
Everybody is out walking their dog in the morning. “The morning dog walkers are different than the evening dog walkers. I think I like them better,” I told Laurie.
She said, “Maybe you just feel more friendly in the morning.”
I  have stopped wearing my broad-brim straw hat on these walks. For some reason it makes dogs get mad at me. How is that fair? I said to her, “I have the right to wear the hat I choose. I can send a note to every dog owner in Santa Barbara and tell them to tell their dogs to act friendly to me and my hat. I can win this argument. It wouldn’t be my fault if a dog started barking in my face because of my hat… But I give up. I’m going to wear my baseball hat and the dogs will like me better.”
Then I felt grateful and squeezed her hand, thinking my biggest problem is I’m wearing the wrong hat. I should be so lucky.
We came to the edge of the cliff overlooking the ocean, where the giant Monterey Cypress fell over.
“It got old and it died,” I said. “Maybe it was the drought that killed it.”
We climbed up on the dead branches of the old tree and sat down on a bare limb to look out over the broad expanse of ocean. It was not windy – we usually go in the afternoon and that’s when the wind blows, but mornings are calm.
“…. It’s too foggy. You can’t see San Miguel,” I said.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Look over there at those humps.” She pointed to the horizon to the right of Santa Rosa Island.
“You can’t see any humps. You just know it is there, so you just think you can see it.”
“No, I can see the low humps. It’s San Miguel.”
My own theory is that they tow the islands much further out in the ocean on foggy days, so you can’t see them because they aren’t there. And they tow them back in later, back to where you usually see them.
Laurie has never seen a floating island, but I have seen them. In northern Wisconsin, on the Chippewa Flowage where we used to go on vacation when we were kids. You get floating logs and debris and they last so long in the lake water that seeds sprout and trees begin to grow. 
The trees begin to grow on the floating debris, ten and fifteen feet tall,  then the wind catches them and you have this rare sight of drifting half-acre islands covered with small trees, drifting across the lake.
I have told Laurie about this. I am with her six years now. I am running out of new stories to tell her. We’re getting into repeats. I don’t know what to do about that. She’s heard all my jokes.  But old age is on our side. Pretty soon we’ll be forgetting the stories as fast as we tell them. Endless reruns.
We sat on the branches of the huge old dead Monterey Cypress and looked at the waves and then began walking again along the path which borders the cliff, underneath towering eucalyptus tree and pine trees. We came to the edge of the Douglas Preserve and then walked through the neighborhood for several blocks, past the little garden where we could easily steal strawberries, past the over grown yard that hasn’t been pruned or tended in thirty years, past the expensive landscape-designed front garden with carefully chosen granite stones, past the old yellow boat parked in the driveway on a trailer.
You don’t see yellow boats too often. Boats tends to be blue or green.
“But the Taxi Dancer is yellow,” Laurie said. The Taxi Dancer is the queen of the sailing fleet in Santa Barbara Harbor. The fastest and biggest sail boat. It’s yellow. So there you have it.
We came to the Mesa Lane stairs going back down to the beach, a thousand steps, twenty flights, down and down, holding the railing, watching one foot after another, down to the sand and the lowering tide.
The waves come easy on Mesa Lane Beach, washing up on the sand.  Surging around the rocks, the molten rocks thrown from the cliff top by a giant baby having a tantrum, scattered here and there. We saw two surfers and one seal bobbing its seal head just past the surf line.
The tide was low so the beach was wide. On a high tide there is no beach here to speak of  -- just a narrow sandy strip between the cliff and the ocean. It kind of makes me nervous to sit right under the cliff.
“You never know when the giant baby is going to throw another rock,” I said. “It could be anytime in the next hundred years, or in a second from now.”
“Do you think we would hear a warning sound – a creaking and cracking?”
Maybe. Better to keep walking and look out over the ocean. You see birds, seagulls going here and there, wheeling and diving. You see black cormorants racing – they fly fast. And the World War II bombers come rumbling in. I mean the pelicans. Stately, serene, lords of the ocean.
“I think they’re just showing off the way they skim so low over the waves,” I said. “Have you ever seen one catch a wing and crash into a wave?”
“I never have seen that, but I’m still looking.”
Pelicans are the biggest, cormorants are the fastest, and seagulls are the smartest. But not the nicest. Seagulls are not kind to each other. You throw out a piece of bread on the sand and they come dashing and fighting and stealing from each other.
Why don’t the seagulls share the food? Why don’t they take turns? Or give to the oldest and weakest. No, it’s just the seagull bullies who chase everybody else away and hog all the food.
“I’m going to teach the seagulls to share. It’s the kind of a thing people do in California,” I said.
“Maybe," she said.
“We could ask the Governor to charter a commission, Teaching Seagulls to Share.”
It’s a good half-mile from the Mesa Lane steps back to Hendry’s beach where the creek flows in and makes a small lagoon. They have a popular seafood restaurant right there, a place to dip your ceviche and watch the waves crash. We have never eaten there – too expensive.
They turned the water off on the outdoor public showers  -- a water conservation measure because of the drought.
“I don’t like that. They shouldn’t turn the water off. It’s bad for morale. Moms take their little kids to the beach and the toddlers play for hours. There is nobody happier than a small kid at a beach in California. But when you take them home you need to wash off the sand. You need the shower. That’s what I think.”
“But it saves water,” Laurie said.
“Better to stop watering the lawn instead. But leave the showers running. In California we need to feel good. Suffering is bad. Getting sand in your car is bad.”
We sat for a while on the benches in front of the restaurant, to watch the surfers and the birds.
“I want to come down here late at night sometime. I think they turn the waves off at night when no one is looking, and then turn them on again in the morning. Why waste a wave if no one is looking and no one is surfing,” I said to Laurie.
“Maybe,” she replied.

July 11, 2017 -- the Quotidian continued, part IV, 7,918 words

Tuesday afternoon. I was resting in the living room in the recliner underneath the picture window. The fan was on high. Laurie was resting on the couch flipping through her iPad.
I was sleepy but I managed to get through a dozen pages of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s six-volume novel titled My Struggle. I am in the first part of Volume Three, subtitled Boyhood.  Karl plays in the forest as a child and he lives in fear of his Father who is very strict and mean. His family lives on a beautiful island off the coast of Norway and young Karl rambles and roams for many happy hours with his friend Geir, just as long as his Father doesn’t find out that he stole a box of matches and almost set the woods on fire.
I was reading that in the recliner. It’s not engrossing, not in a compelling way, more like enjoyable and involving. Naturally, going into the third volume, I have become invested in the characters, but I can put it down and do something else.
This morning I worked at the Italian garden. The owner is a professor of medieval history at the University of California in Santa Barbara. She makes an annual summer journey to Italy for research purposes – studies on the Italian Renaissance, hours spent in libraries poring over musty documents. She said she was writing about college life in Bologna in the 14th century. I said I bet it was all about parties and beer back then. Is it so different from now?  She said some things never change.
I call it the Italian garden because it is laid out formally with a clipped boxwood hedge that borders a small fountain. The hedge also rounds off a stately collection of tree roses, and one enjoys this garden while walking on a path of pea gravel.
It is my pleasure to maintain this garden. Pleasure – that’s a guarded term. I have spent days and days complaining about the boredom of my work, hating the trowel and the rake. If I never see a stinkin’ garden again! I have been doing this kind of work for years and I do not love plants that much. After a while it all gets to be just dirt -- dirt with roots and dead leaves and nasty little bugs.
I do not fear the insects and crawly things. They exist in large numbers everywhere on the earth. I once read a book about ants and took some interest in their complicated lives. It was a famous biologist who wrote the book about ants -- E.O. Wilson. And he was a happy man. So I figure if I studied the ant world I would be happy too.
And that reminded me of when I lived in Texas and worked as a reporter for the Wilson County News. It was a weekly paper of 10,000 circulation and I was one of three reporters on the staff. I covered the farm and ranch news and wrote all kind of stories about cattle auctions and the price of hay. But one time, for the general amusement of readers and staff, I hit upon a weekly contest called Name That Bug.
Each week I would find a photo of a bug, one that was common in Texas, but not too common. Then the readers were challenged to identify the bug, and the first person to call into the newspaper with the correct name would win a free Wilson County News coffee mug and get their picture taken for next week’s edition of the paper.
There was a quite an interest in this little contest. That surprised me, but actually bugs – when they don’t bite or destroy your roses – are kind of fun.
That was eleven years ago when I managed the bug contest. Now I am in Santa Barbara, no longer working as a journalist, but scraping by on what I can earn as a gardener. I’ve been complaining a lot. I don’t make enough money in this occupation. Gardening is a lowly occupation.
This reminds me of the time I lived in Africa and met the Garden Boy. He was a lowly and humble man. All garden boys are humble. I am a garden boy and perhaps I should accept my status with a natural pride. That is what I do and what people pay me to do and there is no shame in it.
The Garden Boy in Africa was named Ernest. He wore blue overalls and black rubber boots. He tended the corn patch at a home on Airport Road in Bulawayo in Zimbabwe -- at the home where I stayed for a week or so -- stayed with Precious Mataka, the African woman I should not have married.
Whether we got married or not was no concern for Ernest the Garden Boy. He seemed hopeless. He was paid very little and he worked very slowly if at all. He was not a jovial man, nor somber, more neutral. He did not stand up straight and swing his hoe. He merely held it lightly and he seemed slightly puzzled as he squinted in to the sun.
I have his photo in my photo collection. That was in 1997. Ernest is very likely still tending the corn patch on Airport Road today.
Gardening is a lowly occupation. Ernest confirmed that. Garden boy. That’s what they call him in Africa. In all Africa it is a crime to call a man a boy. Not since the colonial British were thrown out. You cannot call a man a boy, or say Hey, Boy, come here, chop chop. No you cannot say that or you will get arrested or attacked,
Except the fellow who lives in the shed in the back of your plot. You call him a Garden Boy. He has not yet been elevated.
I remember these things, bugs and garden boys.
I worked at the Italian garden this morning, to trim the boxwood hedge. That needs to be done twice a year, clipped nice and square. I do not object to the task, but it pains me to spend several hours bent over the hedge. I like a hedge that is waist high, but a low hedge that is knee high means you bend over to trim it and I am getting too old for that.
So I asked Gavin to help me. He lives in his van, which is parked on the street in front of our house. We can’t seem to get rid of him, but I have found him garden work to do, and he is willing to work, so he is not a bum  -- although close to being a bum and I keep an eye on him for that – I don’t care for too much idle hippie drifting.
But he was eager to come with me and see the Italian garden, and he took a great interest in being chosen to shape and trim the boxwood hedge. Gavin is 28 and the world is still young.  So I brought him with me. The professor came out from her study and she was glad to see me and glad to meet Gavin. We had a team! We would whip that hedge in several hours. Gavin would run the electric hedger over the rows and I would rake up the trimmings.
We did it in less than three hours. The professor wrote Gavin a check for $50. She will pay me later. I enjoyed it. At least I didn’t hate it. Gavin can be the new Garden Boy. I will dig out the photo of Ernest, the African man, and share it with Gavin. This is our fraternity.

Saturday, July 15, 2017  -- 9,212 words
“Take off your shirt and put on this gown with the back side open.”
“Okay, but I’m going to be cold.”
“I’ll be bringing you a heated blanket in just a minute.”
Sharon brought in the heated blanket after she got me settled in the bed.
“Which arm do you prefer for the IV?”
I had to think about that.
“Which arm did they use the last time they drew blood?”
“I don’t remember which arm, but they said I had good veins, so you pick the arm that works best for you.” I thought I was being gracious to the nurse, to make it easy for her to find the best vein. I had no preference. It’s an art to install the IV needle with the smallest poke and some people have devilish tough and a hard-to-find veins, but I am one of the easy ones. She  got me stuck and connected to the drip in no time.
Meanwhile she was wondering out loud what happened to the nice Hawaiian music on the radio overhead. She called out past the curtain to the hall and said, “I liked that Hawaiian music. Who turned it off?”
Then she told me about the time she was a single mom with four kids living out in the country and one of her kids got a fish hook in his nose, so she used a wire cutters to cut off the barb and then pushed the hook on through. That had to hurt. “But that’s what you do when you’re out in the country on your own,” she said.
I really didn’t want to hear that little story. She had light-blonde hair cut across evenly around the back of her neck and straight cut bangs in the front. Her complexion made her look experienced. I noticed her feet, in clean white sneakers and guessed her feet didn’t hurt, not yet. It was 8 a.m. figuring Sharon got there at 6 a.m. and her feet didn’t start to hurt until after lunch, if at all.
That’s why she was still working, and ten years older than any other nurse on the staff. Good bones and good posture will save the day if you’re on your feet all day at the day surgery center.
She got the heated blanket and put it over me. Then for good measure brought in another blanket on top of  that. I was going into zen mode, into the pre-anaesthetic meditation state of mind. They were going to hook me up with the happy juice for the procedure, but I figured I would start going there already.
The way you do that is close your eyes and leave your body. I can do that easily because I have such an active imagination and powerful memory. Retreating into my own head is like entering into one of  world’s great libraries – places I have been, people I have met, recordings of long discussions and arguments that I have never actually had, but imagine having. Like what Harry Truman and I were talking about one day when we were out for a walk together.
That was in Kansas City, Missouri, in the late summer of 1954. President Truman was two years retired from the White House at that point, and he continued his habit of an early morning walk in the neighborhood. One day I waited on the sidewalk in front of his house and asked to join him.
He came out striding briskly, well suited, clean-shaven, undaunted, “Mr. President can I join you?”
“Certainly,” he said without breaking stride. I had to jump to keep up with him. We discussed Dean Acheson, and the United Nations and the Soviet menace. Truman was an outspoken man in every respect, but he took his retirement seriously. It was no longer up to him to call the shots. Let Ike do it, he said in so many words.
I was remembering this conversation with Harry Truman as they wheeled me into the operating room. I was about to bring up the career of John Foster Dulles, but I was interrupted by the smiling face of Dr. Hussein, the anesthesiologist.  “I am Dr. Hussein, your anesthesiologist.” He was less than forty years old, slight build, of a South Asian complexion, strong teeth, heavy beard, friendly smile. “I want to be sure you are comfortable. I will put some medication in the IV and it will feel like one or two margaritas. You will be awake, but you won’t care.”
Fine with me. That’s the power of trust. They draped me around the right eye to prepare removing the cataract. They call it routine surgery. I see nothing routine about it. Just because everybody in the room has done this same procedure a thousand times  doesn’t make it routine to me.
This is the most important medical event in the year 2017. This is my life. The entire surgical center, the entire worldwide medical establishment, all depend on the successful completion of this “minor” operation on me, That’s how I see it.
The happy juice takes effect. Dr. Ketchup, the ophthalmologist, arrives. I don’t know how he spells his name. I don’t care how he spells it. He doesn’t care either. Dr. Ketchup doesn’t do the bedside manner. He is not the voice of re-assurance. He is the voice of how are the Dodgers doing today and the pros and cons of investing in real estate in the small town of Lompoc where he owns some investment property…. All the while doing stuff to my eyeball. I don’t care what he talks about because I can feel his hands working and his hands feel good. He’s having a good day, and that is to my benefit. Let the man work, I say. In five minutes he was done.
They pushed me into the recovery room. Waited a while. Gave me post-operative instructions and then called Laurie to come pick me up.
Meanwhile I took off the hospital gown and put my shirt back on. I was done.

Notes. His real name is Douglas Katzev, M.D., chairman of ophthalmology at Sansum Clinic in Santa Barbara…… The Santa Barbara Surgery Center is located on DeLaVina Street right next to Trader Joe’s. They ask you to sign a release to resuscitate, to transfuse blood, to transport you to the big hospital, to allow assistants to help the doctor, and to allow observation.
The basic procedure was covered by Medicare and my supplemental insurance from Blue Cross/Anthem. I chose a slight upgrade on lenses at a cost of $800. They gave me prescriptions for three kinds of eye drops that would cost $600. I balked at that expense.
It was Aurora, the surgery coordinator, who told me about the cost of eye drops. I said “I can’t pay that. My insurance doesn’t cover prescriptions. We’ll have to postpone the procedure.”
“Not to worry,” Aurora said. “I have a solution.”
She opened her desk drawer and took out a handful of samples. “Here’s what you need.”
So, Fred wins and big Pharma loses.

July 21, 2017 – 10,400 words

I had cataract surgery three days ago. Getting used to new eyes is kind of weird. I don't wear glasses now. It's like losing my two oldest and best friends -- first thing I reach for every morning, the last thing I take off every night, my glasses. They framed my world. Now they are put in a drawer -- useless. It feels ungrateful to just lay them aside. Maybe I can mount them on a plaque and hang them on the wall someplace in the bedroom. It's what used to be.
Changes. Seeing the world with new eyes. It seems a little fuzzy around the edges and awfully bright in  the middle.
Being in the Present. I wrote this story about Illabot Creek and incidents that took place in 1971 when I went there to camp, and in 1978 when I returned to that same place.
More than forty years ago -- Why dwell on the past? Then I realized -- the story isn't about me or Young Dave or any of the others. We're just dust in the wind. The real story is the creek.
Illabot Creek is alive this moment, and has been and will be, flowing from a glacier mountain into the upper reaches of the Skagit River. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. And the water! The water is so fresh and pure, so cold and clear, you can just scoop your hand in it and drink like a deer, and the creek never stops flowing. Right now, this very moment, water is tumbling down the mountain over boulders and coming to the gravel flats where the salmon spawn.
That's where we camped. You have herd me tell stories about Fishtown, where the Skagit River flows in to the Salish Sea. But up river, up that same river, a drop of water melts from a glacier in summer heat and begins to flow downhill and down stream, all the way to the ocean, and it goes on forever.
This story is about Illabot Creek.

I was in Marblemount, Washington, in 70 and 71. By 1972 I was living in Manhattan and selling balloons in Central Park. Then I worked at a mental hospital for teenage children outside of New York -- I did that for nine months, then I hitched down to Texas and partied in Austin for the spring of 1973, then I got in with a gang of hippies wandering around Mexico in an old school bus.
I came back to Marblemount in 1978 with a pregnant wife and two kids. I did not have any fun at that time in my life, but I am glad that I had the children.
By 1979, I realized I could never make a living up river so we moved to LaConner. .... I should write a book ---- oh, I have written a book.
That was the email I sent to Young Dave. He lives somewhere in Oregon and I get a nice greeting from him every New Years with news of his family.
We called him Young Dave because he was only 16 or so during the Commune Days…. when we all lived in a heap up in Marblemount, way up in the Cascades, pitching tents in the forest, cooking over a fire, not bothering to clean up. What I remember about cooperative living is nobody wanted to clean up. The garbage piled up in plastic bags, but there was no take it to the dump committee. And old cars that barely made it up from Seattle came to die on the very end of Clark Road where the commune settled.
The commune started with the best of intentions in late 1969 when a van load of hippies, following a star, came upon a fairly nice log cabin at the end of Clark Road in Marblemount. Someone --- I know who, but there is no reason to tell here – someone had money from a family fortune and the cabin was bought and occupied.
First thing they did was tear out the plumbing and electricity – they were gonna live off the grid, and that first winter it was fine. People stayed warm and well-fed and played guitars and danced with tambourines. Glenn and Sheri had their baby born naturally by candle light, and fifteen people shared the upstairs sleeping places.
By spring time word got out and people flooded in. Everybody from Los Angeles to Seattle who wanted to live in a commune got on a vehicle of some kind and rode up to Clark Road and by the dawn of July 12, there were easily a hundred hippies camped there – July 12 being a memorable day, the day of Henry David Thoreau’s birthday.
Thoreau, if he had been alive to see one hundred hippies crammed into ten acres of second-growth cedar and alder forest, playing with nature, and pretending to live for free – if he had seen it, he would have fled all the way back to Walden Pond.
But as it was, that day was the high-water mark for the Marblemount Commune. Randy Oliver – more or less the leader – filled a large pipe with an ounce of marijuana and passed it around the one-hundred strong circle. It all went up in smoke.
It was just too crowded. The outhouse overflowed and nobody washed the dishes. Once the food stamps ran out, the lightweights hitched a ride back to Seattle and left their debris and sodden sleeping bags piled in heaps.
But a few of us were more serious and that included Young Dave and myself and Larry D’Arienzo, Steve Philbrick and one or two dozen steady hands who actually wanted to make a life of it, and not just a game.
The woods caught on fire that summer and we all got hired for fire crews. Kindy Creek was ablaze and Jordan Creek was a blaze, and both fires were close to the commune. Back then you didn’t get trained for fire crew. If you showed up at the fire camp, sober and wearing a decent pair of boots, then they gave you a shovel or a pick and sent you down the trail, earning good wages, fighting fire 12-14 hours a day. With those fires and several others, we made enough money to get through the winter.
My girlfriend and I did not pitch a tent at the commune like so many others did. We rented a house because we were high-class hippies, with hot running water and a roof that did not leak. We lived in the house that first winter, until January of 1971 when it caught fire and burned to the ground due to the idiotic unskilled attendance of – actually it was my fault – for letting damp kindling dry out too close to the wood stove and then leaving the house to visit some friends.
I remember hearing Mike Stafflin chant a Buddhist prayer as we all held our bowls of rice over at the commune – while he chanted I heard the fire sirens calling the volunteers. Someone’s house was on fire I thought and I wondered who could that be, and I found out soon enough it was my rented house. I never did meet the owner. I paid the $50 month rent to Ernie Green who owned the Log Cabin Restaurant.
After the house burned, not Ernie nor anyone else gave me a hard time or asked how it happened. It did happen and that was that.
So we pitched a tent somewhere, but we pitched it in a wrong place and a heavy rain sent  a gravel stream into our teepee living room. Then we moved down the valley to the Old Day Creek Road Commune which was more solidly structured in that they didn’t let just anybody live there,
We lasted two months at Old Day Creek Road, but my girlfriend didn’t like it there, so we got another teepee and pitched it by Diobsud Creek on property owned by a dentist from Bellingham. We should have asked his permission, but we thought he wouldn’t mind. He did mind and he asked us to leave.
Now we were stuck. We never thought to ask Gordy Campbell  for help. Gordy was a friendly Upper Skagit Indian and he was always drunk. He would take a quart of whiskey and just drain it until he keeled over and passed out. You might find him passed out asleep somewhere with a sweet smile on his face.
We liked him. Everybody did. But we didn’t know that his family owned twenty acres of land on Illabot Creek.
“You can live on our property if you want to, “Gordy said, like a miracle. 
So my girl friend and I cut a path through the bush to the property on the creek, followed by at least fifty other hippies who wanted to camp there too -- leaving all the junked cars that piled up on the end of Clark Road, leaving all the soggy sleeping bags and heaps of garbage and going to Illabot Creek which may have never been occupied by any person on earth – known all the time to the Upper Skagit Indians, but they had other places to live.
That’s a speculation anyway. We pitched our camp there and hoped more fires would start in the woods somewhere so that we could work and make money.
But there were only one or two small fires in the summer of 1971 and we made little money and I broke up with my girlfriend. I was so unhappy about that that I left Illabot Creek and rode all the way down to Taos, New Mexico. I didn’t stay there long. I kept going.
Seven years later I was married to a woman from Oklahoma. She was pregnant, we had a one-year-old boy and we had her son, my stepson, who was 8 years old -- the full catastrophe.
We had been living in a school bus parked in the back yard of my sister’s house in Venice Beach, California. I had a full-time job as a shipping clerk, and when I earned enough money to rent an apartment, we went looking and ran into “no pets and no children.” To this day, because my sister still lives on California Street in Venice Beach, I can walk by the modest bungalow that we might have rented except the landlord said too many children, sorry, no deal. I walk by that bungalow and think how my life would have been different if that landlord had taken my money and let us live there.
But I got mad at this and we headed back to Marblemount – which was an over-reaction to that problem. We went up to Marblemount in June of 1978 and decided to go back to live on Illabot Creek. At least until we could find a place to rent. The other hippies living there didn’t want any newcomers pitching tents. “I can understand that,” I said to them. “But I have never left a junk car at the end of the road. I have never left a pile of beer cans and garbage or soggy wet sleeping bags. I have never stolen from other camps. In short, I have never been the kind of trouble you don’t want. In fact, I don’t want those kind of people either. “
They weren’t quite ready to take my word for it, or my pledge of good conduct, and they said they would think about it and maybe I could live there and maybe not.
“It’s not your property,” I said, “and it’s not for you to say if we can live here. Seven years ago Gordy Campbell said I could come and live on Illabot Creek any time I chose to and until he comes by and says no, I’m planning to camp here.”
Which is what we did. 

To be continued

I’m not saying when I will continue this story. I don’t like to spend too much time thinking about the past. It was only hearing from Young Dave that got me started.
It would take me about 500 pages and a hundred thousand words to tell the whole story and bring in all the people in Marblemount in those days -- Glenn Mazen, Ralph Dexter, Plunker Barry, Chuck and Annie , Pete Cuthbert and so many more people.
Maybe if I just wrote about Glenn Mazen….. The last time I saw Glenn Mazen was maybe twenty years later, maybe in 1998. It was down in Seattle. I went to the Central Tavern on Pioneer Square and had a beer. I heard this guy pounding the pin ball machine, shaking it and cursing. Not cursing hard, but cursing methodically, like what you do if you’ve been playing the pinball machine all day, and the day before and the day before that.
It was Glenn Mazen! And I realized it was him and I decided to leave him be because he never looked up and did not know I was watching him. Even if he had looked up, he would scarcely have recognized me after twenty years….. I don’t know ….. I just had this feeling that he would not care to talk with me…. So I left the moment pass…. And that was the last time I saw him.
Glenn died five years later, in 2003.

July 26, 2017  -- 12,645 words
Tree Blessings

Enjoying a long neck Budweiser, sitting on the couch, watching the news, and watching Gary Cooper in High Noon on my laptop at the same time. Gary Cooper rides off into the sunset with Grace Kelly. That is so cool.
We’re going to have tacos for dinner – got the fixins – got fresh cilantro, avocado, salsa, corn tortillas and a left over piece of pork loin. All is well in Santa Barbara.
I have a title for this week’s story. Tree Blessings.  That sounds about right. First I write down those two words, then I discover what I meant. Do we bless the tree? Or does the tree bless us?
I immediately veer to Catholic school guilt. Going around blessing trees is a religious scam. A way to avoid the necessary work of planting, watering and pruning. To be really honest with my own motives, I thought of blessing the trees as a non-strenuous exercise, a way to avoid honest labor. I could start an earth religion. There’s a lot of money in religion. I could publish a book of tree blessings. I could establish rituals and sell tree ornaments, …. Now I have ruined a perfectly good impulse. Why not just love the tree and let the tree love me back?
Tree blessings. Just love the trees. Jesus loved the trees. There must be something in the Bible about how Jesus loves the trees.
Tree Blessings and Garden Vigils. Prayers, songs, chants and dances. Things to do in your garden besides work. Garden work is highly over-rated. Get out of the way and let the plants grow.
Garden Vigils. Healing, Watching. Sitting. Reading. Napping. Walking. Visiting. Eating. Talking. Hard work in the spring – sure. But not now in late summer. Let it be.  Time for a vigil, all night watching in the pale moonlight. Night critters coming out of their burrows to say hello. Late at night in the garden – when the gophers party, and coyotes come to catch gophers. Late at night in the garden when the dainty skunks sashay across the street, and walk  so pretty through the hole in the fence and find some juicy insects and sprouts to dine on.
Spring is for hard work in the garden. Not late summer. Let the ripe fruit fall on the garden. Pick the grapes, but let some of them fall on the ground. Be generous. Be lazy. Don’t pick all the fruit. Let it fall. Breathe. Look at the sky. Sit and watch the garden. You can’t see things unless you stop working.
Last week I wrote about Illabot Creek and people liked the story. And I said I would continue the story….. but that would be too hard.
Illabot Creek – the most beautiful place I have ever camped, and I was so unhappy. It was just bad timing. That’s when I broke up with Gail Murphy in the summer of 1971. I was camping at the creek, in the beautiful sunshine and I was utterly broken-hearted.  The pure sparkling water. The fresh breezes. The long northern twilight.  And me suffering. The irony was too painful.
Why couldn’t I find a campground that maybe wasn’t quite so pretty, but where I could be a little happy?
Not possible. So I bought a saxophone. A Selmer tenor saxophone, a beautiful soul-ful instrument. I taught myself to play it and I played it very well. Howling, screaming, moaning. You can’t beat the tenor sax for emotional complexity. Picture me sitting on a very large maroon bean-bag pillow, sitting next to the stream, playing my heart out. And loud. But away from the other camps. Maybe one hundred yards upstream.
That saxophone got me out of Illabot creek. You just don’t do wilderness with a sax. You do city. I needed to get out of this camp and go to town. So I went to LaConner, all 600 people living there, and no jazz musicians to play with, but more urban than Illabot creek.  I slept in Charlie Berg’s chicken coop and worked in the boatyard sanding vessels, and got the money I needed to buy a car. I bought a pristine green four-door 1951 Chevrolet  for $125.  I loved that car. I needed it too, because you just can’t hitchhike with a backpack and a tenor sax  -- too odd. Either go to the woods or go downtown.
I left Gail Murphy at Illabot Creek, bought a tenor sax and a 1951 Chevrolet and drove to Taos, New Mexico, far enough way to forget her and the creek.
I could not forget her. I forgot nothing. Taos was no help. This is not a happy story which is why I don’t want to tell it. I don’t want to remember it, all the details, the way she looked …. No.
Better to be Gary Cooper riding off into the sunset with Grace Kelly.
Charlie Berg and Beth Hailey did not yet live in the house on Fourth Street with the large chicken coop where I slept while I worked to make enough money to buy the car and leave. At the time of this story in late summer of 1971, the chief tenants were a couple known as Truman and Mary. They were an odd pair. Truman played the Violin. Mary was a Ditz. Forgive my movie metaphors, but picture Katherine Hepburn playing a ditz in Bringing Up Baby. That was Mary. She didn’t have a clue, but I liked her. A lot of men liked her. She was friendly in that way. I think that’s why Truman always had such a sour look on his face. He had two negative choices. Either pay closer attention to Mary and endure her ditz-itude. Or let her be free to share her favors with the gang.
One day Truman changed the flat tire on Mary’s truck. When he was done Mary and I hopped in for a journey up to the Old Day Creek Road commune outside of Sedro-Woolley.
We got as far as Clear Lake when a loud clunk and clatter banged around the truck. The left front wheel had fallen off. The brake drum hit the pavement and threw up a shower of sparks.  The old truck came shuddering to a stop and the errant wheel rolled into a ditch.
The wheel fell off because Truman had not fully tightened the lug nuts when he changed the tire.  He forgot to tighten the lug nuts? I didn’t want to go there. It seemed I was getting between Truman and Mary and maybe I should not be in that place. I don’t know what happened to them, but I expect they did not stay together very long.
Meanwhile me and a dozen hippies were sleeping in the large chicken coop next to their rented house. The house where Charlier Berg and Beth Hailey came to live for so many years before they moved out to Pull and Be Damned Road on the Swinomish Reservation.
New people moved into that old house after Charlie and Beth left. They strung up aluminum foil all over the attic in an attempt to grow marijuana with grow lights. There hare-brained wiring system and grow lights caught fire and the place burned down.
So the owners bull-dozed the wreckage and installed a double-wide trailer. Life goes on.
But I only brought up the story about Truman and Mary as a diversion. I was miserable, unhappy, depressed, and broken-hearted because Gail Murphy didn’t want me back. This is overlooking the fact that it was my idea to break up, a decision I regretted after only a few weeks, but a decision that she embraced as final and conclusive….. making it my fault, or at least not making it her fault.
Who cares about all this stuff? People are no smarter now than they were in 1971. I did not get any smarter, I just got older. And Illabot Creek still flows. It’s flowing right now, not older or younger, or smarter or dumber, but melting glacier water in the summer sun and flowing down to soft gravel beds where the salmon spawn.
The humpies spawn in odd-numbered years. Thousands of humpies spawned on Illabot Creek in 1971. This year of 2017 is odd-numbered so they should still be there, to love and die and feed the eagles. It’s an awesome natural drama, to sit by the stream and watch the now dark and tattered fish go for their last dance, waving fins over gravel beds, spreading eggs and milt. Tree blessings. Salmon blessings. It goes on forever.

She wasn’t pretty, but she had a voice like silver bells.

Quisiera llorar, quisiera morir de sentimiento
--- words from a Mexican folk song. “I am like a leaf on the wind, I want to cry, I want to die, because of my feelings.”

It was sad for me but good things happened for other people at Illabot Creek. In 1971 Katy came to the creek wearing nothing but a guitar, striding into view like a goddess. She liked Steve Philbrick and they camped together. They camped seven years at the creek. Saved money, bought land, built a house, had four kids, raised them all and now in sweet elder years they have grandchildren running around all over. They had it good, God bless ‘em.

August 10, 2017 ----- 14,208 words

I am learning to write in a new style that I picked up from the Norwegian author, Karl Ove Knausgaard. He wrote a six-volume autobiographical novel called My Struggle. I am reading Volume Four which is about his youth. He has just turned 18 and left home for the first time to take a teaching job in a remote northern village.
It’s not that his life is so special or different. This is not a man who flies to the moon and jousts with dragons. This is an ordinary man who writes about his life and he makes it interesting.
That’s the trick. Make it interesting. I mean, I already knew that, but I needed some re-enforcement for my writing. Everything is interesting. The four remote controls on the coffee table in front of me are interesting. The stack of firewood that has been sitting next to the fireplace for several years -- there’s a story.
There’s a story everywhere. Maybe I should finish the story about how I broke up with Gail Murphy and how that led me to marrying Susan Simple. What I do with deep stories like this, painful and embarrassing episodes, is to write them a little at a time. One piece of it today. Another piece of it next week.
I can’t tell it all at once. It’s too difficult.
My life is full of embarrassing episodes. It is a huge mass of regret, unhappiness, anger, disappointment, loneliness and confusion.
But that final breakup with Gail was a milestone. You could say, to sum it all up, that I was a happy child. I played and enjoyed life until I finished the eighth grade at St. Joseph’s school in Wilmette, Illinois. Then I went to high school and had my first taste of failure – the feeling that I got it wrong, the feeling that I had some internal wrong quality. I didn’t just do wrong. I was wrong.
That lasted four years. I got out just in time and went to college. In college I was happy again, because I was free and I had so many friends. Nobody told me I was wrong. And I began to believe that I was a credit to the human race.
All through college I was happy, and the two years I spent with Gail were happy. Then I became unhappy and that lasted for the next forty years.  Basically from 1971 to 2011 I was unhappy. Forty years. In 2011 I met Laurie and I started feeling good again.
Not completely unhappy for forty years, because there were highlights, especially my two wonderful children. But basically things didn’t work out the way I had hoped. My marriage to Susan was difficult and stormy. Twelve years of crazy times and huge arguments. And work sucked. One lousy job after another. I worked. I quit. I worked. I quit….. I was no good at working.
Can you imagine how important it is for a man to succeed at work – to have some small degree of satisfaction? It never happened to me. Dishwasher and ditch digger. Minimum wage. No bright lights. And who was to blame besides my own sorry self?
So that’s my treasure. Forty years of disappointment. At least there is a lot to write about.

I can’t even brag about how bad it was. I never went to prison, or fought in a war, or battled a disease, or overcame an addiction. I just screwed up on a small scale and I felt lousy. I remember talking to Dr. Berkowitz about this in 1993 at his clinic in Somerville right outside of Boston.
Dr. Berkowitz was a small younger man with a tight black beard like the Smith Brothers on the cough drop package. He made a good living as a general practitioner, but he could have made three times as much if he had taken up a specialty in cardiology. As it was he owned a nice home in the leafy suburb of Newton.
But he worked in Somerville and served the food stamp clientele that needed walk-in service with family aches and pains, and he liked talking with people.
I went to Dr. Berkowitz and my kids went there. I went there more than I needed to because I enjoyed the conversation. He read some of my writing and said it was good but too idiosyncratic – too right he was about that. I had to accept his honest judgment.
So it was the winter of 1993-1994 and the winter was dragging on with frozen piles of dirty snow in parking lots and sidewalks. By March half of Boston was suicidal and I was one of them not, not suicidal, but in a very blue funk. Plus I was lonely since I broke up with Louise – which is another story, a long pathetic, embarrassing story – but I broke up with her and money was short and winter lasted too long. I thought maybe to get a medical solution to this.
I said to Dr. Berkowitz, I’m depressed. He took a deep breath, looked me right in the eye and almost laughed. “You’re not depressed. You know I have patients who are actually depressed. They sleep 16 hours a day. They don’t leave their apartment for weeks at a time. They are afraid to even say hello to the mailman. They don’t bathe. But they drink and find pills to take, and they don’t get those pills from me, but they get them. These are people who are clinically depressed, if I might use a clinical expression, and I treat them as best I can, although some of them need extensive psychiatric oversight and perhaps sheltered housing and sheltered workplaces.
But these people are depressed. You, on the other hand, are not depressed. You got the blahs, you got the blues, you need a good fuck and if you can’t get that you need a good kick in the pants. Get out of here and come back when you have a real problem.”
I was taken aback by Dr. Berkowitz’s unusual vehemence, but I had to admit it was a healing experience, because what he said in so many words was that I did not have a problem, not in his experience. I was okay. Maybe all I needed was a week on the beach in Florida, failing that I might go see the afternoon showing of the Marx Brothers film at the revival house in Harvard Square….. This was in 1993 when they had revival theaters in places like Harvard Square -- and film buffs who memorized every line of Ingmar Bergman’s dialog of death and doom and destruction and despair and disappointment.
Bergman was Swedish and those people understand depression. The masters. But Dr. Berkowitz was Jewish and those people understand laughter. “You’re suffering? You’re dying? And I’m laughing my ass off.”
I walked out of the good doctor’s clinic. It cost me $45 to find out I wasn’t really depressed. And he’s laughing all the way to the bank for ten minutes of work. Except he didn’t have to work in Somerville with his food stamp patients. He could have been a specialist with a tony office in Back Bay. He really did like us better than the uptown folks.
But I am not supposed to dwell on the past, but to just go to the past, find something there and bring it back. Today I found Dr. Berkowitz, and this being the present tense in August of 2017, while Confederate statues are being smashed with ball peen hammers like they were peanuts or pumpkins  -- I looked him up on Google.
Guess what! – he is still there, now 80 years old  and I said he appeared younger than me but he was only smaller and shorter than me – but today, this year, after 54 years practicing medicine he is still doing that, still dividing the truly depressed from those who just need a fast you-know-what and a kick in the pants.
I should write him a letter. He might remember me. I will say one thing about myself – that part about being idiosyncratic – which is distinctive. People want to put me on a shelf and file me away in some forgotten drawer, but I don’t fit in any drawer, I stick out somehow, and for that reason they tend to remember me. So I will write Dr. Berkowitz and show him this story. He might like it.

August 21, 2017 – 15,906 words

The Quotidian continued, October 21, 2017

Sending Manuscripts to the Editor

I mailed a check to the new editor. Then I will send her several manuscripts, short ones and long ones. She will read what I send her and then we will have a discussion as to their worth and ultimate destiny....... this could be fun..... One manuscript is a memoir of 30,000 words called the Falcon Journal. I wrote this in 2005 in two weeks at a campsite in Falcon State Park, located in Starr County, Texas, on the banks of the Rio Grande River.... My girlfriend Laurie read the Falcon Journal and said she liked it a lot........ Another manuscript is a novel of 41,000 words called Push the Bus which I wrote in 2007 but did not complete until last year. The novel takes place in the same campground where I wrote the Falcon Journal, so we have a connection -- a short novel and a short memoir, both set on the banks of the Rio Grande River in Texas.

Mabel, the old woman who lives across the street, likes to read every thing I send her. I print out a manuscript and walk across the street and give it to her and she reads it. She likes me, but she doesn't like me that much, so her opinion has a degree of detachment..... Well she liked Push the Bus quite a bit and she told me so two times. I had been concerned that she would be offended by the salty language. There is one character in the novel who is named Tucson and he cusses a blue streak from morning until night. You get used to it after a while.

Mabel grew up on a ranch on Montana and she said she had heard that kind of language before, so it was no account to her.

Talking with Stuart Welch, former owner of the Rexville Store near LaConner

Stuart Welch, my good friend, is an expert on everything. The words "I don't know" never pass his lips. If I ask him a question, he will have a ready answer and he is often right. We discussed the upcoming World Series. In a previous conversation, more than one month ago, Stuart stated that the World Series would be between the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers. He has not yet been proven right on this.

Stuart and I discussed the World Series because it is "normal." Normal is getting to be important because the world is getting very weird -- fires and hurricanes and the fury of potential wars. The weirdest thing of all is that man in the White House. You can say a lot of things about Donald Trump, but nobody thinks he's normal.

I miss normal. I need normal. I'm a Democrat but I wish Dwight Eisenhower was President. He wasn't the greatest President of all time, but he was normal and he had a good smile.

Some of the world is still normal, like the Santa Barbara Kiwanis Club. The Santa Barbara Kiwanis Club has been meeting every week for lunch since 1922. It used to be all men, now it's about half women. The club has evolved over the years, but it is quite normal. I belong to the club and all the members are more normal than me and I like that.

And my girlfriend Laurie is having new vinyl windows installed in her home. Six new windows and two sliding doors. Getting the whole house done. Using a local contractor. Installing new vinyl windows is a good thing and very normal.

So maybe the world isn't going crazy, although Ireland got struck by a hurricane and the woods are on fire in Santa Rosa in northern California....... Santa Barbara is safe so far, and has been spared the wildfires, but it is bad luck to even say that, so erase that thought.

You can drive only two miles from Laurie's house and see the charred black scars on the old palm trees where the Painted Cave wildfire leapt the freeway in the high winds and destroyed 427 buildings. That was in 1990, but you don't forget something like that.

And we are not lucky in Santa Barbara because the fire could strike anytime and everywhere you look  it is dry and combustible.

Unfortunately, wild fires in October are normal, although many people would dispute that and declare a connection with increased drought as a result of climate change. I'm not getting into that discussion.

To repeat:

The World Series is normal.

The Santa Barbara Kiwanis Club is normal.

Wildfires in  October in California are normal.

Donald Trump is not normal. Definitely not normal.

Blowing Hot and Cold

I'm blowing hot and cold on this manuscript. It's a memoir I wrote in 2005 called the Falcon Journal, because I wrote it at Falcon Dam on the Rio Grande River in South Texas. I had a winter camp site right on the banks of the river. I could see Mexico on the other side of the water. I could see the twinkling lights of the little village in Mexico.

I wrote about the birds, because South Texas is a big winter attraction for birdwatching folk. The tropical birds come this far north. The northern birds come this far south. There are more species of birds in South Texas than any other place in the country, and the birds congregate along the banks of the river.

I didn't even have binoculars or a guide book. I just liked camping there under the acacia tree. I left out crackers for the road runners.

I wrote the journal -- about my second grade teacher, Sister Virgina. I had a crush on her. I wrote about the Roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius. I wrote about my girl friend Gail Murphy and the trip we took to Mexico in 1970.

The journal is spare and strong and rooted in a place -- Falcon Dam -- that made me whole. That's why Laurie and Mabel liked  reading it.

I said I was blowing hot and cold on this manuscript while I am reviewing it. I always feel that way. Why would anybody want to read it? I ask myself that question.

I prefer the living room

I sit on the couch in the living room with my laptop. I keep it plugged in because my battery is iffy. I set the laptop down on the coffee table when I need to stand up and do something. The coffee table was custom made by Laurie's grandfather, made from maple or ash -- she's not sure about that -- but it is a very sturdy coffee table and not cluttered with magazines and old fishing reels and ceramic what-nots. A very uncluttered coffee table, I would say. A very tranquil, un-busy coffee table.

I have imagined writing in a proper writer's study, with a desk and a lamp and a bookshelf lined with treasured volumes. A window to look out of, or an aquarium. A radio. An easy chair. A door that closes and shuts out the world so that I might focus on my writing.

But the truth is that I don't really like to work in a quiet, austere environment. I prefer the living room, which has a front door, so I can leave. I prefer the living room because my three housemates are coming and going and I might say hello and have a brief chat. I prefer the living room because it has the TV and the radio. And it's near the kitchen where there is food and coffee.

I like the sound of traffic, so I keep the front door open. I can hear the crows cawing this time of year, they are busy feeding on the pecan tree in the back yard.

In short I prefer working in a sea of distractions. I had ADD before it was cool. I have the attention span of a gnat in heat.

thank you for reading this,


Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

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