Time to Walk the Chicken

Posted April 19, 2015 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

Retail markets are based on cultural assumptions. And you assume a person walking into a pet store probably has a dog or a cat. If it’s a dog you take it for walks.

Chicken HalterBut what are pet stores supposed to make of the urban chicken movement? People in urban areas these days are keeping chickens for the eggs and the meat. Or so I thought. Is it possible these urban hens are not livestock but pets, just like the dog and the cat.

A co-worker of mine was in a pet store and spotted a product I’d never heard of. They were called chicken harnesses and, knowing I kept hens, she sent me a photo, thinking I might be interested. I was, though not because I wanted to buy one.

Let’s say you had one of these chicken harnesses. You put a chicken in it and fastened a leash to it, as shown in the promotional picture. What would you do next?

There’s no point in putting a hen in a harness if you just keep it in the coop. The chicken wire already prevents escape. So they must suppose you would take the chicken out on the sidewalk and walk it, like a dog.

I’ve always thought the mainline pet store retailers would eventually take aim at the urban chicken market. But I thought they would do it by selling, you know, chicken food. Instead, they’re selling something you can use to take your chicken for a walk.

Suburbia has always been a mix of rural life and city life. It’s city life in a professional sense but it’s rural in the amount of land it takes up. Until now, that land has been dominated by a monoculture of grass, mown by dad. But that is slowly starting to change as chickens and edible landscapes take hold.

Pet stores will get it. But it’ll take some time.

Environmental Puritanism Revisited

Posted April 6, 2015 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

I was reminded of something this week that I observed a few years ago, which is the kindred connection between modern environmentalists and old fashioned Puritans. I wrote about that in this blog back in 2009. In the April 6th edition of the New Yorker, Jonathan Franzen mentions it in an article called Carbon Capture.

Cotton Mather

He describes the connection between environmentalism and New England Puritanism by saying:

Both belief systems are haunted by the feeling that simply to be human is to be guilty….And now climate change has given us an eschatology for reckoning with our guilt: coming soon, some hellishly overheated tomorrow, is Judgement Day. Unless we repent and mend our ways, we’ll all be sinners in the hands of an angry Earth. 

I had to look up eschatology. But you see where he’s going. Whether it’s the killing off of megafauna in the new world, deforestation or global warming, it’s all our fault. But put the “guilty human” argument to your average world citizen he says he’s just trying to live a decent life. Don’t we have that right?

Economists see human life as a business of taking the greatest advantage of goods and resources that exist. Capitalism convinces us that satisfying our wants is the meaning of life. But consider the possibility that materialism is killing our environment and our happiness.

Environmentalists can’t give in to Puritanism. It’s a fringe way of thinking that leads to hypocrisy and cold heartedness. The only route is to promote happiness. Being happy means living in God’s grace. It means being healthy. Being happy means not having a long, nerve-wracking commute. Moderation is a virtue. When it’s hot, slow down.

The Puritans are right that we’re all sinners, but to be human also means to accept forgiveness. We can also look at our lives and know that things can change, and maybe we’ll be happier if they do.



A Guilty Verdict & What I Told the Police

Posted February 9, 2015 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

It was more than ten years ago, when I was still the member of a karate dojo in Clairemont, San Diego. Bilji was a member too, but he had been arrested.

“Was there anything else you heard?”

The homicide detective asked me that question, not long after the arrest. He had called me on the phone to ask about a meeting we had at the dojo. I talked with him for a while and I thought we were done. But there was one more thing.

“Did you hear someone say that Bilji said he felt like he could kill that guy?”

Bilji was a big man. About six feet tall and built like a football player. His skin was dark. He had a bookish manner, a deep soft voice and wire-rimmed glasses.

He was married to an American woman and they had a little boy. As time passed it became clear the boy had some  problems. I can’t remember what it was but he was maybe autistic. Mentally challenged somehow.

Bilji and his wife broke up. Bilge kept training at karate. He also took Japanese sword classes, called Bato Do. Bilji’s wife started seeing a man who lived in Del Cerro. The man turned up dead. Bilji was arrested for murder.

Like I said, our sensei called us into the dojo to talk about what had happened. The meeting ended up being a bad idea. As we talked about it there was one guy. He was a black Englishman. I can’t remember his name. He was sitting near the back of the room and he said something.

“What did he say?” I asked someone who sat closer to me.

“He said Bilji once told him he felt like he could kill that guy.”

I said to the people in the group that we should stop talking about this because we all might have to talk to the police.

“Hey. I don’t say nothin’ to the man!” said Larry, a guy from Detroit who got the tense room to calm down with laughter.

But after about three months the man had me on the phone. Oh sure, I said, our karate instructor asked us to come to the dojo and he told us Bilji was arrested. He told us he went to see him in jail and Bilji tried to make a joke about it, avoiding the topic.

“Was there anything else you heard?”

I think it was true that I didn’t hear the incriminating statement he asked about. But someone told it to me and it was not contradicted by the guy who said it. Should I have just told the detective what he wanted to hear without him dragging it out of me? It was the truth and I knew it would come up.

Maybe it’s natural to not trust the police and not to want to tell them everything you know, even when you believe in the rule of law and you don’t think murderers should be allowed to get away with it.

Bilji was convicted. He stabbed the man, his wife was seeing, to death in his house. Word had it that he did it with his Bato Do sword. I don’t know what has happened to Bilji in the past ten years. Maybe he appealed the conviction and got off somehow. But my guess is that he’s still in some California prison, with a long way — maybe life — to go.

I remember the stuff Bilji used to tell me. He was a member of an Indian family but spent most of his childhood in Nigeria, where he learned to be streetwise.

He told me he meditated, which I did too. So now I try to picture him on the floor of a prison cell, sitting Japanese-style with legs folded beneath him, his eyes closed and his hands resting on his thighs. You empty your mind of thoughts to find some spiritual peace. For Bilji, it could give him a moment to stop thinking about his son, his past life and the things he has done.






Why I Curse the Compass Card

Posted February 5, 2015 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

Taking the bus should be easy. But it’s not in San Diego.

I’m not complaining about there not being enough buses, so if you miss your bus you have to wait 20 minutes for the next one. I’m not talking about the buses getting stuck in traffic and running late.  Just paying for a trip is a huge pain.

If you want to take the bus you have to dig for change.

Not much point using Compass Card unless you use it every day.

Doesn’t pay to have this card unless it has stored value.

But even that only works if you have exactly two dollars and 25 cents for a one-way ticket. I’m sure a scientific survey would reveal that absolutely nobody has exactly $2.25 in their pocket or purse.

The Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) needs to find a way to make it easy to use their products. They need to make stored value a function of the Compass Card. It’s like when you use a Starbuck’s Card. You get 20 bucks on a Starbuck’s Card. Every time you use it, it deducts the cost of your beverage from the card and leaves you with the balance.

That’s stored value.

It’s only worthwhile to buy a Compass Card if you are willing to pay $72 a month for use of bus and trolley. And that is only worthwhile if you commute to work on public transit. If any of the rest of us buy a Compass Card, we pay for a bunch of rides we’re never going to use.

If you had stored value on a Compass Card, it would be just like Starbucks. The cost of your trip that day is deducted and the balance remains, until the next time you want to use transit. You don’t pay for trips you don’t want or need. It’s a great idea! In fact, MTS agrees with me. Read the following.

In the future, a stored value option will be available on the Compass Card. When a Compass Card loaded with stored value is tapped, the price of a day pass appropriate for the service will be deducted from the balance of the card. Stored value will be used on all bus and rail service within the San Diego region.

That’s from the MTS website. Well it’s the future, people! Why isn’t stored value available yet?

Getting people to choose public transportation rather than a car is good for the environment and good for the life of the city. But you can’t get people to choose a bus or a trolley, rather than their car, when you have to dig for change or buy a bunch of transit rides you’re never going to use.


Snow in December

Posted January 9, 2015 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

Driving east on Interstate 8 you look at the tops of the mountains until you see a white dusting. In the back of the car we’ve got tire chains and layers of warm clothes.

Snow Shot

The snow started to appear at about 3,500 feet. We pulled onto the Sunrise Highway, I put the chains on the front tires, and we rolled slowly uphill until the snow was 6-8 inches deep. If it’s raining and cold in San Diego in December it will be snowing in the mountains.

A new layer of powdery snow is magic no matter where you are. Even in Minneapolis is was sweet to get up in the morning and walk down to the banks of the Mississippi River after a white carpet had fallen overnight and the whole world was so clean, pretty and so quiet.

But when you live in Southern California your love for snow is still greater. I’m lucky to live an hour’s drive from mountains that are more than a mile high, where you can enter that world of winter. Nicholas and Sophie love it best of all.


They complain about living in a place where they see snow so little. Maybe they’ll one day live in a place where it gets down 15 below zero and we’ll see how well they like it. But on New Year’s Eve of 2014 there was no whining and no “you don’t know how good you have” its. We just played in the snow like all the others who came to Laguna Mountain, some shoveling snow into their truck beds so they could bring it into town to show their friends.

The next winter rain we’ll head for higher ground again.

Goodbye Alfa Romeo. Goodbye to my Youth.

Posted December 21, 2014 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized


The Alfa was a dream of my wife, who saw them in dealerships in Switzerland when she lived there for a year in high school. We bought our car about ten years after that, in Minneapolis in 1995.

It was a 1992 Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce. Still is. But now it’s bound for a future that we can only imagine. After years of malfunctions, failing to pass the California smog test, and some mysterious electrical problem that prevented the car from holding a charge, we gave up. We donated the Alfa this month by calling KPBS-CAR, which comes to retrieve any junker you care to get rid of.

I work at KPBS and I once asked, “Who buys these beaters?”

“Anyone who buys cars,” was the answer.

The Alfa Spider was beautiful. Like a true sports car it was built low, with a wedge in front to cut the wind and a streamlined body that ended perfectly in back. The headlights looked like bedroom eyes and when the convertible top was down the windshield added a graceful geometry that turned auto into art.

Some sports cars look flashy and whorish. Even today, I think the Alfa Spider’s Pininfarina design is peerless for its classy shape.

When we lived in Minnesota I would pamper my prima donna by storing it in a barn at the Minnesota State Fair grounds during the five months of freezing winter temperatures that made it impractical to drive an Italian convertible. After we moved to California driving it year ’round was no sweat, but soon after that the car began its mechanical downward spiral.

To my wife and me, the Alfa has become a metaphor for our youth. It was cool and sexy and buying it was a pure act of emotion. Though I wasn’t a kid when we got it I was still young enough to take it on the freeway and floor it, to see how fast it would go.

Alfa Tow

Since then the Alfa has gotten old and so have we, enduring the routines and responsibilities of middle age, raising kids and holding jobs we feel like we’ve worked at too long. I needed a fanciful love to keep that car going. I looked inside myself and simply couldn’t see it.

“Anyone who buys cars.”

I assume our Alfa will be sold and I’ll get a document with the sale price that I can write off my 2014 taxes. I can hope that it is sold to someone who has that love for a car that I ultimately lacked. I owned the Alfa for 19 years. At least my wife and I will be able to look back on those years of our youth that were wrapped up in an Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce.




Pets and Death

Posted December 1, 2014 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

Maya & Mickey.

Maya & Mickey.

Pets are a part of the family and they are a source of many memories. Our cat, Mickey, was a birthday gift for my son Nicholas when he was seven or eight. Nicholas got up in the morning on his birthday, not knowing that my wife and I had gone out and gotten him the gift. Before he saw Mickey he heard him meow. Nicholas thought it was Sophie and he scolded his little sister for pretending to be a cat.

We once had three cats. But Molly disappeared one night and never came back. About two weeks ago Mickey also went out and didn’t come back. So now we’re down to one cat, Maya. Was Mickey killed by a coyote? Maybe, but you can never be sure.

Here’s another memory of Mickey. When we got him we wanted a kitten for our son but didn’t realize it wasn’t “kitten season.” Apparently, female cats all go into heat at the same time of year and give birth around the same time. So Karen and I traveled all over the metro area looking for a kitten and we finally found a black one named “Ben” at a shelter in Rancho Santa Fe. The problem was… the shelter wouldn’t let us take him home because we told them we would let him go outside.

After that, I asked my parents to go get him. They gave the shelter staff all the right answers (We’ll never let him out. Of course not!) They took Ben away, gave him to us and we renamed him.

The shelter didn’t want us to adopt Mickey for the very reason we saw this month. When cats are let outside they can be killed by predators, hit by cars or succumb to a deadly virus they wouldn’t have gotten, confined to the house.

Mickey lived a good seven years. Would he have preferred living twice as long and dying in a vet’s office after being injected with deadly chemicals? Would he have been perfectly happy not chasing mice and butterflies or exploring the canyon with Maya during his lifetime? I don’t know because I can’t read a cat’s mind. Humans can only guess what kind of lives our animals want to lead.

But I have never known a cat that didn’t seem to want to explore the out-of-doors. And once they have been outdoors they never seem to be satisfied being indoor cats. Maya was a Kansas farm cat who was born outside the house and spent her first several weeks out in the environment. When we brought her to San Diego she lived outdoors most of the time. She became pregnant and gave birth to five kittens. We know she’s a grandmother now, if not a great-grandmother.

The value we put on life — and what we consider to be a meaningful life — always leads to controversy. Do people, who are kept alive for decades on life support with no ability to reason or even react, live meaningful lives that should be protected as long as we have the technology to do it? Let’s say protecting animal life and extending it was all that mattered. Then cats should be kept inside and wild animals should be kept in zoos.

I have been fond of cats ever since I was a kid. I grew up in a family that had two dogs over the course of my childhood. One was a high-strung terrier that would bite me good and hard, the other was a Dachshund that growled whenever I approached him. But then we got Floyd, a part-Siamese cat. I finally had a pet who seemed to like being held and petted by me and who like to play games with me.

Today, our remaining cat Maya is a lot like Floyd, friendly and affectionate. Her only bites are gentle ones used during play or maybe to send a subtle message. She also loves being outdoors, where she sometimes hunts mice and rats. In fact she typically only wants to come indoors to be fed. Should I start to keep her inside to make sure she doesn’t meet the same fate as Mickey? For that, I just haven’t got the heart.









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