Rabies Scare

Posted April 14, 2014 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

It was a bug-eyed Chihuahua tied to a post outside of the Vons supermarket in Normal Heights. I thought it looked funny and I pointed it out to my 9-year-old girl who then held out her hand for the dog to sniff. The dog yapped and snapped at her, causing her to shriek. It wasn’t more than a nick, but the bite broke her skin and I immediately thought about rabies.

In my circle of acquaintances I had never known of anyone who contracted rabies or had to be treated for it. I can’t even recall seeing a news story about anyone who had died of rabies. For all I knew it was non-existent in the domestic dog population of San Diego. But I did know that if rabies takes hold inside you and you start showing symptoms, you will die.

Any chance, however slim, that my daughter had contracted a deadly disease was something I couldn’t tolerate. The coming few days came with a series of events that left me at peace with what I did but still wondering what I was up against.

I waited outside the store and confronted the dog owner when he came out. I got his phone number and his name. He claimed his dog was current on all his shots but said he couldn’t remember the name of his veterinarian.

I called him the first time and left a message. He didn’t call back. I called him again and said if he didn’t get back to me with the vet’s name I would call county animal control. Didn’t call back. The third time I told him I had called animal control, gave them his name and number and said if I saw his goddamn dog tied up outside of Vons again I’d throw it in my car and take it to the pound.

Leaving a fear-biting dog unattended outside a store is stupid, especially if you can’t prove your dog got its shots. But was I wrong to get worked up about rabies?

The night of the dog bite I was busy googling. The CDC says that wild animals accounted for 92 percent of the known rabies cases in the U.S. in 2010. Raccoons are the most common carrier of rabies nationwide. In San Diego, bats are the most likely animals to test positive. Last year there were six bats in San Diego County found to test positive for rabies. No cats. No dogs.

My wife made an appointment for my daughter to see her pediatrician the day after the dog bite and I took her to the clinic. We had been waiting in the examining room for half an hour when the doc came in. She is a jovial Vietnamese lady, and upon learning my daughter had been bitten by a dog she said in sympathetic tones that the girl should be given an antibiotic.

“OK,” I said, “but I’m not that concerned about the cut being infected. I’m more concerned about her getting rabies.”

Dr. Dow seemed nonplussed. Rabies? You’re afraid she has rabies? Yeah. It’s a deadly disease you know.

Our spoken and unspoken dialogue made it clear to me that it wouldn’t have even occurred to her to treat my daughter for rabies after she was bitten by a Chihuahua. She said the last time she had treated a patient for rabies was when she saw a kid that was bitten by a raccoon.

Due to my concerns she did agree to administer rabies treatment, which turned out to be a shot in the arm and not in the stomach, which is what I’d feared. It’ll take three shots in total. I simply couldn’t see the downside of taking precautions.

I think there is a reason why the state requires you to give your dog rabies shots. I said as much to a co-worker whose wife is a veterinarian, and he gave me a puzzled look when I also told him I assumed all people who treat animals for a living are vaccinated against rabies. He said he wasn’t sure and it had never occurred to him to wonder whether his wife had been vaccinated.

Only about two people a year get rabies in the U.S. and my kid sure ain’t gonna be one of them.






Freakin’ Brain Injury

Posted April 9, 2014 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

I suffered a traumatic brain injury seven years ago when I was hit by a car. It stopped a lot of traffic and made the news, so a lot of people in San Diego know about it.

Dante FBI

That’s why I was asked to host one of those walks to raise money to provide shelter and services for people with brain injuries.

So, about a week ago, I was the MC for the TBI walk. I also got a free FBI hat.

A guy came up with the hat idea after he had his TBI, and he had a table at the walk. FBI stands for Freakin’ Brain Injury. Get it?

I gave them a plug over the PA system and got a hat, and I didn’t feel too corrupted. I think they were selling for 20 bucks otherwise.



When Underclass is the Norm

Posted April 4, 2014 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

I grew up in a place where people didn’t hire others to mow their lawns or cook their food or take care of their kids. Having servants was the history of the Guilded Age or the English aristocracy. Maybe some Americans had servants but only the oddball rich like the Howells on Gilligan’s Island.

But trends in the economy are making me less comfortable that America transcends class in any way. Just look at the latest job projections (below) by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Among the top ten hiring professions, only nursing pays a decent wage. The others are a collection of low-paying service jobs that you don’t aspire to but settle for. We’re turning into a nation of wealthy people and an underclass that sees to their daily needs.

The other thing that strikes me about the list is that none of the jobs seem to require a college education. Does it make sense any more to save for your kids’ college tuition payments? College may have once guaranteed entrance into the middle class, but now college grads are competing for a dwindling number of decent paying jobs because the rest of those jobs have been outsourced. We’ve been thrown into a global economy with people who have the same training and education and are happy to make half as much.

Yesterday I took my kids to have dinner at Burger Lounge, one of those burger joints that pretend to be high-end: Grass-fed beef, choice of micro-brews, you know what I mean. And I watched the young people who were waiting tables and running the cash registers. They were good-looking kids and they seemed high-spirited. But for them… was this it? Not just a stepping-stone job to something better, but one in a series of jobs that will pay the same and require no more in the way of skills? And if the latter is the case, who’s fault is it?

Our stories of the past make heroes out of people named Roosevelt who busted trusts and turned America into a place where the rich weren’t all that rich. Lyndon Johnson talked about eliminating poverty even though the good book said the poor would always be with us.

But America has changed and we need to a write a new story. Life is a gift and material wealth isn’t everything. But it’s something, and what do we do when it’s something that looks out of reach for my kids and grandkids.




Jazz & Race & Growin’ Up White

Posted March 23, 2014 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

Great Day

Jazz stars posed for a photo called  ‘A Great Day in Harlem.’ It hangs in my bedroom.

I grew up in a place so white that Italians were people of color. Today it’s hard for me to imagine anywhere in this country quite like it. When my brother first saw a black person, in Grand Forks, North Dakota, he asked her why her skin looked like that. In Grinnell, Iowa there was one black family, one Jewish family and one Mexican family in a town of 8,000.

What I knew about black people came from TV, the news media and from records.

Thing about my brother and me… we grew up in a musical family. When other kids our age listened to pop singles on the radio, we got into jazz. And we couldn’t help noticing that the greatest jazz players — nearly all of them — were black men.

I loved (still do) the excitement of jazz. The swinging rhythms and the amazing invention. Those black jazz musicians seemed like gods to me.  I was learning to play instruments and I knew how hard they were to master. Jazz artists could play with such speed and virtuosity, and not just that. They were making it up as they went along!! Somehow each note was spontaneously combusted. How did they do it?

The astounding musical improv of the jazz musicians was something I could barely even imagine. Yet I was forced to try to imagine what kind of people lived in African America, a place that I simply never saw. I knew about the history of slavery and racial bigotry and the poverty that black folks suffered over the years. But just as I wondered at the artistry of the jazz men I was puzzled by the stories of violent crime in urban black communities, the black power movement and the fights between the black and white when they started busing school kids in Boston.

What was going on? If the jazz musicians were gods were black criminals devils? The distance between them and me and the images filtered through the media made it hard to believe they could be mere human beings. Today I live in a place were black people are part of the landscape but not a part of my personal life. The barriers are lower and less visible but we have not overcome them.

My brother and I played jazz music when we were in our teens. I played drums and he played upright bass. In fact, Jim still plays bass in jazz combos where he lives in Illinois. He’s gone much further than me, being able to understand the musical invention I found so miraculous.

Years of time and miles of distance have caused my brother and me to grow apart, but we still have the common language of jazz. He sends me CD’s in the mail, like the recording I just got of sax players Johnny Griffin and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis playing live at Minton’s, wherever that is. I hadn’t heard Eddie Davis play in decades but I immediately recognized the voice of his horn. It’s quick and graceful but starts to shout when he wants to heighten the drama.

I listen to that CD on my car stereo and it takes me back to the days when I played jazz records until I wore out the grooves, hearing the amazing sounds of the black men who played it.

Dante: Leprechaun

Posted March 17, 2014 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

I’ve never read anything by Dante, though I know he wrote something concerning hell fire and I have a bust of him in my house. Maybe it’s strange to display his likeness when I know so little about him, but there is a family history behind Dante.


My wife is Irish on both sides. But one grandparent was Italian; family name, Galdieri. My wife’s great-grandfather Galdieri was an Italian immigrant who trained as a engineer but found work as a tailor and clothing designer after he crossed the Atlantic and ended up in New York. He kept a black head-and-shoulders statue of Dante in his library, and it’s the same one that sits on an old chest today in my family room in San Diego.

Like the chest, it came west in a U-Haul trailer after my wife an I visited her Grandma in northern New Jersey and brought home odd sticks of furniture and pieces of art that Grandma was willing to part with. Believe me, it wasn’t the good stuff. So we got the bust of Dante.

He must have been a serious dude because the Dante bust wears a scowl. He has a sharp chin and a beaked nose and his expression is a constant invitation to parody. That’s why we are always putting hats on him. During the Christmas season he wears a Santa hat. In the summer he wears a straw fedora that I sometimes remove and wear myself if I need protection from the sun. This week he’s a leprechaun in observance of St. Patrick’s Day.

So Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Train Trip

Posted March 16, 2014 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

I love trains. I love the sound of them and sight of them.

I loved looking across a broad valley in Eastern California and seeing a train engine in the distance pulling what must have been a mile of freight cars along a lonely desert track. I remember when I was young, being in love with a girl who lived in an apartment right next to a train track and hearing the sound of the train passing by as I lay next to her.

Amtrak Surfliner

Amtrak Surfliner

Even now I love being on a train. Last week I took the train to LA for work. The green line trolley in San Diego took me to the Old Town station, where I caught the Amtrak Surfliner to Union Station in Los Angeles, where I got the gold line trolley that took me to Pasadena. The Pasadena station was just two blocks from my hotel.

You get a big comfortable seat on the train. The ride is smooth and (on the Surfliner) you have a view of the Pacific Ocean and the setting sun. When happy hour rolls around you can walk down to the dining car and get a beer and a sandwich.

On the way back I had to wait for about 50 minutes at Union Station for my connection. The stone floors of the main terminal are a glossy mosaic. The wood ceiling looks like the inside of a church, and soft leather chairs connect in a row.

Hurtling across time zones in the cramped seats of a jet or battling freeway traffic masquerade as progress, but think about taking the train.

The Fuel of Choice

Posted March 11, 2014 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

Sometimes an offhand remark makes you realize something that never occurred to us. This happened when I was telling the mother of a 1-year-old about choosing a school for your kid. In San Diego your choices are many, and you can end up sending your kid all across town to get just the right place.

That must have a big carbon impact, she said.

Well, I suppose it does. If my 8th grade boy gets into the charter school High Tech High, and we decide to send him there, that’s a 12 mile drive… and that’s the price of choice.

When I was a kid we attended the neighborhood school. It may not have been the best school in town but it was the one you went to because that was how the system worked and we didn’t question it. But then came school busing in a lot of big-city school districts, which ended up being a lousy idea. Then they gave us school choice, with magnet schools and charter schools.  The system was jury-rigged to try to achieve some level of class and racial integration. Admission to High Tech High, for instance, is based on a lottery and your chances are best if you come from a zip code that isn’t sending a lot of applicants.

But getting back to the old carbon footprint, transporting your kid all around town to attend school takes a lot of oil and gas. So does importing French wine and taking overseas vacations. It’s odd to think of myself as the kind of father that tells stories of how tough life was when I was a kid. My life wasn’t tough because I grew up in a safe, middle class environment. But it was simpler and it was a lot more sustainable than today, from a standpoint of energy.

I walked or rode my bike to the neighborhood school. I ate Wonder Bread and Cheerios. My parents owned one car and one TV and my dad kept Budweiser in the fridge. Aside from one trip when I was an infant, I never flew in a plane until I was 17 years old.

Today we suffer the tyranny of choice: Multiple schools to choose from and an endless supply of products that are a computer click away, which, of course, they aren’t really because somebody in a warehouse in Fresno has to put the product in a truck and send it to your house.

I serve on the board of a group that was just renamed Circulate San Diego. It’s a mix of two groups that had been called Walk San Diego & Move San Diego. The goal is to make our city less dependent on car travel and to encourage people to walk, ride a bike or use public transportation. I won’t go into the whole sales pitch but hopefully you can see how this can make people healthier, reduce greenhouse emissions and make our neighborhoods safer and more sociable.

Our biggest challenge is changing American culture from one that is fully dependent on car travel. But in order to make that change, what do people have to give up? Some convenience. Some speed. Some privacy. And… some choice.

If the local school isn’t the best, that’s what you settle for. Same goes for the local grocery store. To reduce air travel, and huge carbon impact that has, maybe a road trip to Joshua Tree or a fishing trip to Minnesota takes the place of a jaunt to London. It’s a journey back to the life I led growing up in small towns in the Midwest, or the life big-city kids knew when they walked to school, played in vacant lots and hopped on a bus or a streetcar if they were feeling really adventuresome.

Americans today have grown up in a culture that says you can have anything you want. All it takes is a little dough. But this isn’t a true choice. It’s a tyranny of choice, which subverts your free will and makes choosing the right goods or services an obligation that’s more important than your physical health or peace of mind.

Call me un-American. Call me a hypocrite. But when freedom of choice is fueled by something that can bring environmental calamity, it’s time to choose something else.


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