Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Strengthen The Core

 A New Year’s Wish

Rather than allowing those who choose 

the extreme fringes of our political spectrum 

to pull us further apart by highlighting our differences, 

let us use civil debate and compromise 

to identify and strengthen the core 

of our common goals and concerns.

Rather than doing battle 

from the outer edges of our conflicts 

to conquer the middle, let us begin our dialogs 

from the place where values are shared by all 

so that we may strengthen the core 

of those beliefs and devalue our differences.

Rather than dividing ourselves 

into smaller and smaller factions while demanding 

the focus be on our uniqueness, 

let us strengthen the core of the ideals 

that reach across all of humanity 

that they may bind us together. 

We laugh, we cry, 

we love, we mourn. 

Start there. 

Quiet reflection

     harvests bountiful blessings,

till the new year's field.

-New Years 2021 - 2022

Ken Owen
Van Niddy Press  

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

In Search of Inspiration

(The Quietest Room in the House)

After a protracted period 

of reading uninspiring books which 

could not seem to spark any fires 

in my smoldering imagination 

I was excited to see a new book 

from a famous author who

I had been told long ago 

had a style of writing that I seemed to mirror

though I remember having to admit 

I had never heard of the man

and would only realize much later 

the great honor in the comparison.

Rushing home with his new book, 

I went directly to the quietest room in the house

where I knew I could quickly absorb his first few chapters 

while flushing away all recently uninspiring poetry.

And so it began:

a beautiful cover, a touching dedication,

and a poem by the author as prolog; an interesting concept,

but the poem was two stanzas 

about eating his morning’s breakfast 

while staring out the kitchen window,

and it seemed undeserving 

of its special page numbering 

in lower case Roman numerals

and I thought

“Why would you start your book with something 

that will disappoint everyone

before you get to the real numbers?”

Without an answer, 

I continued.

First poem - 

on pages starting with modern numbers 

so as to stem the confusion and declare the real beginning - 

was about his old dog


and I thought

“Well now, here’s something I can relate to”,

yet all he could muster was a nice simile 

about his old dog’s snout being as white as a marshmallow


and even that felt like a cheap hit 

slapped into right field on a pitch that years ago 

would have been turned into a majestic home run 

from one of the deadliest hitters in the game.

Overwhelmed with the realization 

that the student would no longer find 

inspiration from the teacher,

I left the quietest room in the house

and tried to disarm my disappointment 

by remembering how his wonderful past works 

had taught me the possibilities of the craft,

but I could not shake the image 

that my hero had joined the rest of us 

and become just another dazed poet

staggering to the breakfast table

in search of inspiration.

-sadly inspired by a former U. S. Poet Laureate

Ken Owen    December 2021
Van Niddy Press

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Too Much Time in Chinatown: The Video

In May 2014 my friend Katie Guthorn enlisted myself, John Seabury, and Alex Baum as actors in an independent film.  Katie, who was playing the role of a singer in a nightclub, was asked by the producers if she could recommend any local musicians that "looked like sleazy old jazz guys." We were excited to be recommended (but perhaps a little less when we gave it a bit more thought as to why we got the part).

The film crew had turned the basement of a restaurant in San Francisco's Chinatown into a speakeasy night club. We set up our equipment, only then to be told we would be playing along to a recorded track and not making any live music. Though our expectations were dwindling away - "stand there and look questionable" - it seemed we were the right men for the job. 

Over the three days of being 'on set', we quickly realized that most of our time would be spent waiting to be called for a scene. After a while, we went from waiting on the stage, to waiting outside the restaurant on the sidewalk, to me giving my cell phone number to a stage hand and telling him to text me when they needed us; I had found the band a remote office around the corner where we could spend our time: Lei Po's Lounge.

While we waited between takes, we watched the ball game, talked with actors and stage hands (they quickly took to my 'remote office' idea), we ate wonderful chinese food for lunch, and I wrote a few poems. The one that documented our experience was called "Too Much Time in Chinatown."

I recently watched the final season of the series Goliath on HBO which was set in San Francisco with many scenes shot in Chinatown. It quickly reminded me of our experience there and the poem I wrote about it, so I decided to try my hand at producing a spoken word recital of the poem with a soundtrack of drums and effects. My initial attempts came out fine for the percussion loop and sound effects, but I learned in a one take that my voice was as far away from sounding like James Earl Jones as humanly possible. Luckily, I was able to enlist a dear old friend who is a professional voice-over actor to recite the poem, and his performance sounds magnificent. The final touch was to tie all the pieces together with an attempt at some visuals. The video is called 'Too Much Time in Chinatown'. I hope you enjoy it.

Update, 12/27: I created a new version of the video by removing the drum loops and replacing them with an acoustic bass performance by Alex Baum. 

YouTube Link: Too Much Time in Chinatown; Jazz Coffee House Version

YouTube Link:  Too Much Time in Chinatown: version 1

For Katie, Alex, and John.

-Ken Owen     Van Niddy Press
Winter 2021

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

True Colors: My Team Wears Orange and Black

A sports jersey for your favorite professional sports team can now cost you some serious money depending on the material used and how closely you want to be associated with your obsession: $75 for an ‘authentic replica’ or $150 for a ‘genuine game jersey.’ So go easy on that guy wearing his best San Jose Sharks jersey anywhere besides a Sharks game at HP Pavilion; his outfit probably cost more than yours. 

The marketing of sport team apparel is big bucks, and it seems there is a huge audience of folks willing to pay for it. As soon the 49ers started losing the glorious luster created by Emperor Bill Walsh and Sir Eddie of ‘Shut Up and Write the Check’, the new owners got religion and started changing the teams logo, ever so slightly, as well as the uniform colors (hard to tell the subtle difference between shades of the old red and new crimson from section 56 in centerfield of Candlestick Park, but it’s there), thereby creating a way for the loyal minions to pony up their fair share of the new quarterbacks weekly paycheck via updated jerseys, and proving you don’t need to be official shareholders to pay for the expenses of your team. Yes Virginia, you helped pay for Alex Smith‘s contract when you bought that new Frank Gore jersey that you now wear while booing your quarterback lustily from section 56.

The San Francisco Giants are my baseball team, and their colors are orange and black. They have been that way for a long time, and I like that. The fact that it has a sort of spooky Halloween motif is not lost on the fans of my team. Spooky is good, as in “Let’s intimidate the other guy with whatever BS we can muster.” After all, there was fear in “Fear the Beard“, and it worked. Announcer Mike Krukow once encouraged the fans to wear all black during a playoff game, his logic being that the other team “would hear us but not see us and that will freak them out! “ It’s not the point that his strategy made no logical sense; the fans all wore black, and if memory serves, we won that game.

The San Francisco Giants have a large list of special promotion games honoring the diversity of their fans including a green logo on St. Patrick’s Day, an orange and yellow logo on Mexican/American Day, a tie-dye logo on Remember Jerry Garcia Day (my personal left field favorite), and a rainbow flag colored logo on LGBT Day at The Ballpark, for when it comes to baseball, all are welcome in The City By The Bay. But in the end, my team wears orange and black. And like life and the dreaded New York Yankee pinstripes, sometimes it’s just that simple. 

Ken Owen   February 2011

Van Niddy Press

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

He Was My King



A generation of kings

assumed their role 

promoted past their proper measure

barely equipped to 

encourage fresh minds

and never expected 

to develop young hearts

as they could not offer to others

what had never been shown to them.

They ruled

not with great edicts or fanfare

but by silent force of sheer presence 

and a stern look through piercing eyes 

that confirmed your fall from grace 

into the valley of their disappointments

as only on rare occasions

might they produce

a slight nod and quick grin

acknowledging achievement 

in someone performing 

exactly as expected.


Each king took a queen

who did her best 

to offer solace and comfort

to those who roamed the castle halls

yet all the while suffering in silence 

as days slowed to a crawl

to steal her beauty in a place 

where romance had left 

without saying good-bye

and the promise of 

happy ever after

was replaced by a life 

of hidden secrets.


Those who lived 

under the king’s rule

would eventually leave the castle 

and spend many years on crusades 

to experience 

the joyous victories 

of love and birth 

and the sadness of death 

that would fire their mettle 

and return them home 

fully formed

carrying offerings 

of tribute to his legacy 

that they might find a new place 

in the heart of the king.

Yet those who returned 

found that after many years

behind walls of stone

their king had lost his taste for battle

and could smile more easily now

in the presence of his growing dynasty

and his impending fate

while his heart would simply rejoice 

in the joy of his blessings.


And so his loyal subjects 

made silent vows

to carry the legacy of their king forward

by emulating the strength of his character 

while being twice the opposite 

of the way he once ruled

and when asked 

after years of his harsh failings

why their loyalty never waned

they would simply reply

“He was my king.”

Dedicated to fathers and mothers of eras past.

Ken Owen    August 2021

Van Niddy Press

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Sips and Snacks at 30,000 Feet


All cocktail napkins

using the same small poem—

we can do better:

Sipping and snacking,

     remembering your masking—

Modern air travel.

Between sips and snacks

while at 30,000 feet,

the mask must go back.

Please return your mask

to its upright position

between sips and snacks.

San Francisco to Dallas, July 2021


Texas heat

washed clean—

Summer storm.

A thousand conversations

all at once—


Beacon guiding home

all drunken Texas cowboys—

Town water towers.

Dallas to San Francisco, July 2021

Ken Owen   Van Niddy Press

Friday, March 26, 2021

Domestication Amongst The Doom: Nesting During a Pandemic

In March of 2020 the Corona-19 virus was declared a deadly global pandemic with the potential to infect hundreds of thousands of people world-wide. In order to protect ourselves and others from spreading the virus, we were required to stay home and adopt new safety procedures that would alter our daily lives in ways we had never experienced: working exclusively from home offices, wearing medical masks in public places while social distancing six feet or greater, no indoor gatherings with anyone outside of our immediate family, controlled numbers of shoppers at grocery stores, and constantly washing our hands. 

Though it seemed the experts were changing their safety recommendations weekly - masks, no masks, double masks - we were reminded that they are part of a select group who are encouraged to alter their thesis after reviewing new evidence. Thankfully, the requirement of diligently washing your store-bought produce fell quickly by the wayside as it garnered first prize in the Pandemic Retrospection Awards for the category of ‘I Can’t Believe We Did That’ (‘Hoarding Toilet Paper’ was a runaway winner in the ‘Herd Madness’ category). However, it quickly became evident that some people were basing their disregard for safety protocols on information from the same fringe organizations who were claiming that a cabal of Satanic cannibalistic child pornographers had stolen the 2020 election. The distinction between science, science fiction, and lunatic conspiracies was never more evident, yet great numbers of people continued to make bad choices and put everyone at risk.

When things started to ease a bit, people would assume the worst was over and rush to public gatherings which would then cause a spike of new infections. This added ‘super spreader event’ to our new lexicon while sending us bouncing between color coded levels (and sub-levels) of lockdown that were different between counties, states, and countries. And every four weeks or so, we looked anxiously for news that the worst was over, but it never came.

It would be more than a year before big pharmaceutical companies had developed, tested, and received fast-track approval for vaccines to inoculate the world from Covid-19.  As people hurried out of their nests to get their vaccination shots, I found myself at the back-of-the-line in terms of the color-coded chart for vaccine eligibility (under 70 with no underlying health conditions). Destined to a few more months of sitting on the couch looking glassy-eyed and wondering how I could have possibly exhausted all the interesting content on Netflix and HBO, I instead began looking back on some of the things that have changed, for me and with me, in my year of trying to turn our apartment into the perfect nest.


I have painted every room in the apartment except my girlfriend’s bathroom and closet, because there are some places that you just shouldn’t mess with for any reason.

We have cleaned out every closet, cabinet, cupboard, nook, and cranny of content that no longer serves its intended fit or function and, using the new popular mantras of decluttering, made sure to bow respectfully and chant “thank for your service” to anything we deemed we would “not bring forward into our future.”  Note: The ‘fit’ criteria as applied to my wardrobe has been a moving target since April 2020 and still requires review on those rare occasions when an outfit of more than sweat pants and a tee-shirt is required.

I have been in search of the perfect dish rack. With the money I have spent on racks of various sizes, materials, and designs, I could have hired someone to wash and dry the dishes while I sat on the couch watching Netflix and HBO. The search for a dish rack and interesting streaming content continues, yet I refuse to watch The Home Shopping Network knowing full well that the perfect dish rack is probably sold there (with plenty of operators standing by).

Since we could no longer just pop into our favorite restaurant and have someone bring us an over-priced steak and a chilled martini, home cooking proficiency received a new priority while the dinner menu became the de facto challenge of the day; this became clear when I noticed the “what should we do for dinner tonight?” topic started being discussed shortly after the second cup of morning coffee. I have been sifting through a ton of chicken breast recipes on the internet and working on developing a successful breading technique, but I have yet to find a recipe that I am happy with. However, based on a similar amount of research,  I have found that I am a fan of the ‘reverse searing’ method for cooking steak. You would not believe how many websites and blogs are devoted to the intricate art of cooking steak (probably more than are devoted to chicken breast recipes, and that’s saying something).

I am now able to identify 9”, 11”, and 13” frying pans by sight. Though I have not found the “perfect fry pan” yet, we now have enough cookware to warrant one of those slide-out cabinet trays to manage them. However, I now realize that I have been putting off this project because making a great metallic crashing noise while reaching for the right pot or pan gives me something to curse loudly about, which always feels therapeutic. 

Though we have very limited storage space in our apartment, I now find that I can not resist supermarket deals like ‘buy one, get one free.’ I currently have 6 boxes of Tricuits in the cabinet as result of a recent sale, and enough bottles of ranch dressing to open my own restaurant (at whatever the currently required color-coded level of limited capacity, of course). Note: if I open a restaurant, I am now very confident in my steak preparations, but I had better get serious and decide on a chicken recipe.

I have been talking to the plants in my balcony garden and asking them if there is anything else I can bring them while assessing their level of health and happiness. As such, I am fairly certain the folks who live directly below us think I have lost it (in this concern, they might be right). I now become ridiculously excited when small birds rest on a swinging perch I bought for $6.95 and placed near the bird feeder. I have identified the small birds that feed at our feeder - Juncos - and what months of the year to expect them. Though I am sad when they stop coming, and I now know that means hummingbirds will soon be here. Seems I have created a seasonal bird vacation getaway on the balcony of apartment #D708.

I have spent a large sum of money on wi-fi enabled light bulbs so my computer can turn on my lights with various multi-color scenes at scheduled times, but since this process is computer-driven, it never works quite right and I am constantly fucking with it. One of the only times it has worked properly was when we weren’t home: we came back late one day from double-masked grocery shopping to find the TV and living room lights on; a bit disconcerting. Note: I have not enabled those voice-control sisters Siri or Alexa, but we have a sneaking suspicion they are somehow listening anyway. 

Baseball season came during the pandemic, and the powers that be decided to not have fans in the stadiums (good), but instead sold fans cardboard cutouts of themselves which the teams placed in their stadium seats (ridiculous). Excited as I was to have baseball to watch while being sequestered, seeing cardboard people in the stands and hearing piped-in pre-recorded crowd noise did nothing to lessen my “what the hell is going on out there!” fatigue.


Though cases finally seem to be on the decline in most places and holding steady in others, scientists are saying we shouldn’t let our guard down now that people are being vaccinated because there are many new mutated versions of the virus making their way around the globe. But you can see it in the news and feel it in the air if you go out; people are rushing to leave their nests and experience life like it was before all this happened. Only thing is, life is not, and may never be again, like it was.

The last time I went out on a Saturday, I seemed to notice an extra bit of a general grumpiness amongst the drivers on the road and the shoppers in the store. That’s when it hit me: after a year of staying home alone or with our loved ones, re-learning how to safely and civilly re-enter society is going to take some effort (and I’m not convinced we were all that good at this before the pandemic). To this end, once I get my shots, I look forward to practicing my social skills by having a lengthy discussion with the sales person at The Container Store about high quality dish racks…..from six feet away….while wearing a mask.

I can’t wait.

Ken Owen

March 2021     Van Niddy Press

Monday, March 1, 2021

Phases of Retirement: Part 1

Seize The Day

Phase I: 

As each day 

presents itself 

inside a small cloud 

of unidentifiable mystery

we begin

by creating an extensive list of 

chores, errands, and goals 

that need attention

knowing that 

upon completion

we will have deserved 

a nice nap at 3:00pm

which will ready us 

for the 5:00pm cocktail hour

when we will gloat over our 

vanquished tasks.

Phase II: 

Realizing that solving the riddle of 

“What day is it?”

no longer has any bearing 

on the day’s possibilities

we begin 

by identifying the lone objective 

that promises the greatest odds of completion 

based on today’s energy and outlook

which is then scheduled 

so as not to interfere with 

the afternoon nap 

around which all things are now adjusted

while entrusted with the power 

that the ceremonial anointing of 

the cocktail hour can now commence 

whenever we deem it necessary.

Ken Owen   March 2021

Van Niddy Press

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Television Night in America, circa 1965

I was a small boy, not more than seven or eight years old, walking through the front room of our house when I heard a voice from the television say:

     ”Yes, but back then, there was probably a Jesus on every street corner in Jerusalem!”

     Cable broadcasting, with its hundreds of channels, had not made its way to our 10 year old suburb yet, but we were perfectly content with the 6 channels we were offered: 4, 5, and 7 which carried NBC, CBS, and ABC respectively, along with three local stations that broadcast from Oakland, San Jose, and a PBS station from San Francisco. I’m sure that my father must have been watching the PBS station when I heard the commentary debating the probability of a historical Jesus. No other station would have had any reason to broadcast such a program, and my father would have been the only one in our small family of four that would have been interested in such a topic.

     It would seem that was the night the seed of my religious doubt was sown. I do not remember my exact reaction after I heard that comment, but it made quite an impact on me and probably figured into my decision some years later to take the good sisters of our local Catholic school up on their offer and repeated insistence during our 7th grade confirmation classes that “If you don’t want to be here, you should just go home now.” I remember looking at my best friend, quickly nodding our heads in the affirmative, and leaving post haste. It was an easy decision when we made it, but it made for a long, slow walk home. As I imagined, Mom was less than pleased, Dad was apathetic, and I could hear the wrath my best friend was experiencing from across the street with all the doors and windows closed. I’ve always wondered what would have happened if I had not heard the commentator offer the ‘Jesus on every street corner’ argument, which, even to a small boy, seemed reasonably valid and worthy of consideration. It would make a lifelong imprint on me and play a foundational part in developing my practice for questioning any knowledge held as sacrosanct. 

     Our house was small, approximately 1,000 square feet, and when you entered and closed the front door behind you, you were in the front room; no grand entry way, no place to hang your coat or muddy shoes. Shut the door and take a seat anywhere except my father’s chair that faced the television set. The house was a collection of seven small box-like rooms connected to each other: 3 bedrooms,  one bathroom, a kitchen, a garage, and of course, the front room with its display of bowling trophies during the year and a fake Christmas tree with tinfoil branches illuminated by a rotating four-color wheel with a whining motor every December. This room would be where, like most American families, we would watch pivotal moments in our nation’s history such as news coverage of elections, assassinations, riots, moon landings, and British rock and roll invading New York City, as well as weekly serials of war (Combat), westerns (The Rifleman, Bonanza), and most importantly to me, crime fighting super heroes (Batman). This room would get a makeover in the early 1970s with fake wood paneling and modular shelves to hold my father’s prized new component stereo equipment. It was the talk of our block.


    Sometimes my grandmother and great-aunt would pick me up on a Friday night and take me for the weekend. We’d go to their house which was, it seemed to me at the time, at the top of the largest hill in all of San Francisco. I would be in the back seat of my grandmother’s huge black car, no seat belt, trying not to slide across the smooth back seat when we went around corners. I was frightened while we drove through all the dense fog up such a steep hill, but once we got to their house, I remember being very excited to be there.

     Compared to our small home in the suburbs, their house was like a grand castle: a stair case leading up to the second floor living room, kitchen, bedrooms and bath, with a fascinating walk-in closet under the stair case where my grandmother kept her collection of every shopping bag, gift box, ribbon, bow, and piece of string she ever brought home from shopping excursions, with all of these things neatly filed away in their respective sections. It's a safe guess that this closet was where my ‘everything in its place’ organizational neurosis was born.

     Upon arriving at my grandmother’s house, we’d turn on the television to watch Friday Night All-Star Wrestling which was broadcast from the Oakland station’s studios. I knew the names of all the wrestlers, heroes and villains, and I remember the three of us cheering and booing heartily. Thinking back, I wasn’t just placed in front of the television set, they watched this program with me. I remember feeling the joy of sharing one of my favorite programs with two adults who loved it as much as I did.

    On Saturday they would dress me up in my finest clothes, and we’d go to dinner at The House of Prime Rib - probably around 4:30pm - so they could show me off as their little prince of visiting royalty. Two elderly ladies of San Francisco in white gloves, head scarves, heavy coats, clunky black shoes, hand bags, with me on their arm. When we’d get home, it was my bath time (Saturday night!), and then television, but not just any program; it was the bullfights from Mexico being re-broadcast on the television station from San Jose. It was an incredible spectacle to watch, though I can’t imagine they would ever admit to my parents what we watched on Saturday nights. 

     During the bull fights, the bull handlers would watch from behind an inner-circle fence between the bull ring and the grand stands, ready to assist the matador if needed. The high point of the evening for us was when the bulls, frustrated and very angry, would jump the inner-circle fence, and all the bull handlers would jump over the fence into the ring to escape the angry bull. The bull would eventually make his way back over the fence and into the ring again, and the handlers would all jump back over the fence to safety. I remember us giving loud cheers when the bulls made their great leaps that sent men running for their lives. I imagine at that moment those Mexican bull handlers would have made very strong arguments in favor of the historical Jesus of Jerusalem, and who knows; if I had ever become a bullfighter, I might have taken the whole Jesus proposition much more seriously. 


     When my grandmother and great-aunt brought me home late Sunday afternoon, they would stay for Sunday dinner. We had no formal dining room, so we would all eat at the kitchen table with its formica top and hollow aluminum tube legs. It was during these meals that I realized the table made for a fantastic sounding drum. There were many a time when my mother would bring a plate of dishes to the table with one hand and smack me on the back of the head with her free hand and yell, “Enough!”

    After dinner my older sister would play the local rock and roll radio station and try to teach my grandmother the latest dance crazes while they did the dinner dishes, and my great-aunt would go straight to the front room to have an after dinner cigarette. The high point for our Sunday night, as it was for all of America back then, was to be ready for ‘Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color’ at 6:00pm. When it was over, my grandmother and great-aunt would leave for their trip back home, and though I was never tired, it was my bedtime. I remember being told to say my prayers and go to bed, but no matter how hard I prayed to Jesus on those Sunday nights, school was always waiting for me on Monday morning. Wrong Jesus, wrong street corner, I guess.

Ken Owen   January 2021
Van Niddy Press