Violence in America

Posted September 30, 2014 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

It was a typical conversion in a 21st-century newsroom. The morning news meeting was taking place and a person brought up the subject of sexual assault among members of the military, of which there had been some stories lately. The person said, in disapproving tones, the military brass aren’t even trying to stop it. There were sounds of agreement, then a sarcastic comment. “Yea. Next thing you know they’ll be killing people.”

It was cheap shot but it wasn’t wrong. How do you tell people whose job it is to kill people that they shouldn’t commit rape?

Let’s change the subject a little  bit. What about players in the National Football League? The three televisions I see in my newsroom all day at work are tuned to CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. I saw virtually non-stop coverage of the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice incident in which he punched his wife, seen in a grainy security video, and then she lay unconscious on the floor of an elevator.

We saw the video over and over. And I saw endless commentary from talking heads on the subject. We always keep the sound turned down so we can continue to work so I didn’t know exactly what they were saying. But I’m sure my guess was good enough.

The NFL is irresponsible for letting a man like this play! He should be kicked out of the league! Hey… he’s already been sanctioned so why should he be punished again just because the video went viral?!!

They go on and on saying the same stuff.

The problem with the NFL is the same as in the military. Here’s a game that celebrates violence and the strength to withstand it. A sportswriter put it well when he said, “The problem with football is football.”

Historically, there have been customs meant to keep the violence of war to a minimum and channel it toward soldiers, not civilians… at armed men, not women and children. Those customs have been imperfect at best as the violence of war has always spilled over.

A book about the American-English war, the War of 1812, shows a fascinating contrast between the old customs and the new kind of war that was on it’s way. Called “Through the Perilous Fight,” the book describes the siege and destruction of Washington D.C. and the unsuccessful attack by the British on Baltimore, all of which happen precisely 200 years ago.

The officers with the British Army considered themselves gentlemen. They treated POW’s kindly, especially the ones they also considered to be gentlemen. And, according to this account, the mistreatment of women and children was uncommon. But the assault on Chesapeake Bay by Admiral George Cockburn showed glimpses of total war. Villages were burned and sacked in order to terrorize the local population and show them any resistance or aid to the enemy would lead to pain and punishment.

Not long after that, Civil War Union General Sherman would destroy everything in his path in his march to the sea and, not long after that, World War II would bring us the brutality of death camps, enslavement and murder of civilians and bombing campaigns that killed tens of thousands of men, women and children.

Now we know that war is no gentleman’s affair. Yet we want modern soldiers and marines to behave like gentlemen to the women who are now part of the military. Yet we want linemen and running backs in the NFL to be gentlemen in the way they treat their wives and girlfriends.

No, that’s not too much to ask. But I wonder if there is anything we can do about the violent urges that are part of our DNA. Can we create a life that’s so safe, fair and prosperous that violence becomes irrelevant and we can uproot it from our very souls?

I keep chickens on my property in San Diego, and a couple of weeks ago I bought a couple of 3-month-old pullets to add to my flock of hens. One day I came home and saw that the backside of one of the pullets was covered in blood. The grown hens had cornered her in the run and attacked her. Even the other white pullet, which had been her partner and likely her sibling, was pecking her bloody ass.

I don’t know why the chickens attacked her. Maybe she seemed different in some way. Maybe she seemed weak. Do six stupid birds even need a reason? Then it occurred to me the only reason they needed was the fact that violence is part of their nature. It was handed down to them over the ages by evolution. I don’t know if we humans are much different.














Loving Rain

Posted September 20, 2014 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

A rare September cloudburst in San Diego. Photo by John Gastaldo.

A rare September cloudburst in San Diego. Photo by John Gastaldo.

There’s a famous, quotable line in the movie Lawrence of Arabia that is spoken by Prince Feisal after hearing that T.E. Lawrence loves the desert.

“No Arab loves the desert. We love water and green trees. There is nothing in the desert and no man needs nothing.”

I love rain. I love the way it makes the pavement shine at night with the reflections of street and car lights. I love downpours and the way the water rushes downhill in the gutters.

Two days ago a storm cell wandered across San Diego County and I got caught in the middle of it when I went to pick up my daughter at her grandparents’ home. By the time I got to their condo complex it was starting to pour. Sophie was trembling with excitement.

We ran up to the highest landing of the building’s outdoor staircase. There we could see the grey scrim made from billions of raindrops, shifting with the wind, against the backdrop of trees and buildings.  After we got in the car and started the drive home we found the traffic was stopped on the tangle of 4-laners and freeway entrances in the valley below my parents’ hilltop development.  The heavy winds threw the rain diagonally and I felt the car shudder from it.

Lightning flashed in the distance and we heard the thunder in its wake. I later learned that trees fell across roads and onto cars. Maybe this was the remnants of the hurricane that traveled up the Gulf of Cortez and still had a little punch left when it reached the American border. I don’t know. But what hit us was an isolated storm. As I traveled east, to eventually reach my house, the rain tapered and the streets of my neighborhood were nearly dry.

California has been in a drought for two-plus years. I grew up in a place where rain was plentiful and since moving west my view of it has changed. Rain is always good news. Please rain on my parade! I’ve become like the Arabs in Lawrence. I love water and green trees. My heart longs for the next time water, the blood of creation, the proof of God, falls from the sky.

Getting Home from School

Posted September 17, 2014 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

My son goes to a private Catholic high school and he takes the bus home. It’s that or I have to spend an hour in the middle of the afternoon, away from work, to go pick him up. You’d think other parents would be in the same situation.

But then I took the bus home with him one day to show him where to get on and where to get off. Once we were aboard I noticed not one other student from St. Augustine was on the bus. It’s a school of more than 700 kids. They wear uniforms so you know them when you see them. Wouldn’t you imagine a clump of them waiting at the bus stop right after school gets out, and then sitting in the back and making trouble once they got on?

My son’s first day alone on the bus, I called his cell phone to see how it was going. He answered and said where he was and it took me a minute to picture the coordinates. As I was thinking, he gave his phone to the bus driver — actually she may have snatched it out of his hand. She was a loud, cheerful woman who told me she had small ones too and she was going to make sure my little guy was headed the right way. Nicholas is 14 and not really that small.

I heard her get off the bus and lead Nicholas onto the sidewalk and over to the stop where he could transfer to another line. She hollered at some people who wanted to get on her bus, which was at its terminal stop, and told them to wait right there and have a cigarette because she had something to do. After she left him alone, Nicholas told me that she didn’t really have to tell him all that stuff. I’m sorry he wasn’t amused because I thought it was pretty funny.

I guess the other kids who go to Saints get picked up by moms or other relations, or maybe they are old enough and drove their own car. Shouldn’t be surprised. In San Diego, it doesn’t occur to most people who own a car not to use it in every situation, regardless of how inconvenient it might be. Nicholas and Sophie took the bus home occasionally from their elementary school last year, and it as if there was something wrong when other parents would see them waiting at the bus stop. “We can take them home. It’s really no problem!” they would say in their calls to us.

But I want my kids to learn some self reliance. And maybe I don’t want them to insist on having their own car as soon as they’re licensed drivers. Maybe I don’t want to live in a place that’s nothing but asphalt.

My parents are getting too old to drive and they live in a condo development on a hill above a tangle of four-lane streets and freeway entrances that are full of traffic that’s moving very fast when it’s not absolutely stopped. They’ve waded into that whirlpool for years but now their reactions are too slow.

The metal suit of a car is dress code for navigating the a city. But I hope for change, and there is hope. It turns out young people are much more likely than baby boomers take public transit. Take a look at Who’s On Board, a new survey from the Transit Center.

Watching my Parents Get Old

Posted September 5, 2014 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

My phone rings.


Hi Tom.

It’s my father. He’s at home now after spending the day at the rehab center with my mother. He calls all the time. Whenever the phone rings I expect to hear his voice coming out over it. It’s a baritone a lot like mine. But he sounds like an old man and phone calls take a long time. He’s always rambled. But now it also takes him a long time to get stuff.

Yeah, dad. I know. If you need a ride, call Uber. Do you have your iPhone? Just push the button and a car comes. Have you figured out how to check your voicemail? I left you a message. Didn’t you listen to it?

My mother fell and hit her head on the pavement while she and dad were washing their car about a month ago. She ended up in the trauma ward with a brain injury and then in a Hillcrest rehab center. Early on, she’d lie in bed for a long time, not wanting to get out. She looked tired.

If my parents’ old age was a movie, this was the wrong screenplay. Mom was the one who was supposed to be healthy and with it. She was supposed to outlive my father and we’d eventually have to find some assisted-living place for her. No rush though. Irene will do just fine for the time being. But what if she isn’t the stronger one? What if dad isn’t the first to go?

The rehab center was clean. Four stories tall with dark wood floors, lots of light and a friendly Philippino nursing staff. There were days my mother seemed her old self. Other times she had that defeated look of a woman in a nursing home.

Dad was at her bedside every day. He made her get up and sit in a chair and not just lie in bed. He made her eat, spoon-feeding her when he had to. Sometimes I would go over there to watch the Padres game on TV.

A few days ago, my mother finally went home. Suddenly she was able to get around by herself. She had a walker but she abandoned it in less than 24 hours. This wasn’t what I expected. In fact it was a little weird, as if the whole hospitalization thing had been some kind of drama she had been putting on.

Is she back to her old self? When people get old, things never really get back to normal because age continues to wear away the person you know. It’s not a matter of whether they’ll become infirm but how soon.

On a recent night my wife and I were on the sidewalk in front of our house, seeing off some friends who came for dinner. My kids chased their car as they drove away, and as they were running down the street a neighbor came up to us and told us he had bad news. The son of a couple who live on the street had died. He was in his 20s and was their only child.

When old people die it’s natural and expected. When kids die it’s a tragedy. All you can do is pray for the first and not the second.









Cash Gone in City Heights

Posted August 25, 2014 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

Sometimes you lose stuff and it’s like you weren’t even there. I was at the City Heights Farmers Market and one minute my wallet was in my pocket and the next minute it wasn’t. I retraced my steps and searched though the box of eggplant the Vietnamese sell. I checked the tables covered with chard where I bought two bunches from the Africans and then, of course, the watermelons at the Mexican stand.

City Heights Farmers Market

City Heights Farmers Market. Photo by Sam Hodgson

I made a scene. By the end of it everyone knew I was looking for my wallet and the vendors asked me if I’d found it as I walked by them the third or fourth time. The pretty African girl I see at their stand every week — maybe she’s not African; talks like she goes to Hoover High — told me to talk to the market manager. Maybe it’ll turn up.

I had already picked out some stuff from the Mexican stand and couldn’t pay for it, but they told me to just take it home and pay them next week. I come by pretty much every week and they figure I’m good for it.

I left my name and phone number with the manager and, as I was headed home, I got a call on my cell. They found it. I returned, and saw all of the credit cards and ID’s were still there but the cash was gone. It was close to a hundred bucks. Still, I was grateful the thief didn’t make my life more complicated than he could have.

“Well, they probably needed the money,” some lady said to me.

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean they were entitled to it,” I said to her.

It was an expensive trip to the farmer’s market and I still owe the Mexicans twelve dollars. But the strawberries were good, as usual. The green beans look real fresh and I think the watermelon will be sweet.

As usual.



A Story about Robin Williams

Posted August 12, 2014 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

We just heard that the great comic Robin Williams died, likely by his own hand in the hands of depression. Lots has been said about him. Here’s my story.

A former co-worker of mine was a hobby cyclist who went to France one year to take in the Tour de France. He was there with a number of friends, and one of them was a buddy of Robin Williams, who hooked up with the group as they took their own bike rides into the countryside after the Tour had passed by. These were serious cyclists who set a fast pace, and on at least one ride Williams joined them.

One of the guys was asked to fall back if Robin, who was older and not as fit, couldn’t keep up. This did happen, and designated cyclist reduced his speed so Robin would have at least one person to bike with.

What followed, as they peddled along the road, was a non-stop comedy routine by Williams for an audience of one. He made fun of the French. He told jokes about the Tour and the absurdity of climbing hills with two wheels and no engine. You name it.

We can all play amateur psychiatrist and guess at what really caused Robin to end his life. But prior to his death, he was a guy who lived to make people laugh, even when he was pumping up a hill in the presence of nothing but grass, maybe some sheep and one other guy on a bike.

When you know you’re just one of the herd

Posted August 11, 2014 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

About a month ago I finally got glasses. Not just reading glasses to correct my middle-age vision but glasses you wear all the time. I got glasses with black frames, just like the ones everyone else wears.

Of course I didn’t realize then that everyone else wore them. That occurred to me later, when I walked through my workplace and noticed how many people had black-framed glasses… both women and men. I also noticed this at the convalescent clinic where my mom is staying after her bad fall. She even pointed it out, telling a male nurse, “You have the same kind of glasses my son has!”

My new glasses.

But it wasn’t just him. It seemed like all of the nurses who wore glasses had black frames.

About four years ago my wife and I were shopping for a car, and we were seriously considering a Subaru Outback. I soon took a walk in my neighborhood and was surprised to see an awful lot of Subaru Outbacks. I shouldn’t have been surprised. And I shouldn’t have been surprised a few months after my son was born, when I took him to the pediatrician. A nurse came into the lobby and said the doctor was ready to see “Nicholas,” and three sets parents with babies or toddlers — including me — stood up in response. She finally gave the last name and most of us sat down again.

There are things that are important to me that I do differently from other people. But when it comes to most things, I now realize that I’m just a part of the herd.



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