The Day I Almost Fell for a Big Scam

Posted June 2, 2021 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

It started with my downstairs toilet not working. I’d always solved those problems with a plunger but this time I couldn’t get it going.

Soon my son took a shower upstairs and the drain backup got ugly. Water filled with shit rose in the bathroom shower and in the toilet.

My plumber, Dave Shelton, recommended Baird Drain Service, or some name like that. I found a company with that name on Google. But one thing Dave told me that didn’t register was the man who ran the company was George Baird. There was no George Baird associated with the Baird Drain Service I contacted.

A man named Jerry Garcia showed up. He joked about his name. Same as the star of the Grateful Dead. I later wondered if that was really his name. Maybe something he made up as a joke to disarm baby boomers he was trying to take for a ride.

Garcia took a short look at the pipes under the house, which he said were leaking, and they’d have to replace all the pipes and it would cost $4800. I was shocked at the price but said to myself, “Well, Dave recommended them so this must be legit.”

My dark secret. Nothing wrong with these pipes.

I don’t think I’m an overly trusting person. I don’t believe strangers who call me or send me letters saying I’ve just been chosen for an amazing deal or that I’ve just won a huge cash prize. Of course not. The reason I decided to trust these guys is this was a problem I’d never had before, so didn’t know my way around it, and I thought they were a company they were not.

I called Dave again the evening after I got the estimate to see if he could vouch for these guys one more time. But I couldn’t reach him and told Baird Drain Service to move ahead.

I finally heard from Dave the following morning. By that time the Baird crew had already shown up in a big white van and were suiting up for the work. He said something was very wrong.

“How do they know the pipes were bad? Did they camera them?” No, I said, they didn’t snake a camera into the pipes to check them from the inside.

I finally asked Deadhead Jerry to show me, one more time, the place where he said the pipes were leaking and broken. I went under the house with a flashlight and I saw no moisture stain on the ground and nothing leaking.  Finally, I sent the crew home and said they weren’t going to do the job.

I think that happy, normal people do, when in doubt, trust people. When you encounter someone, you think they’re are going to be considerate toward you and they’re going to tell you the truth. The only other option you have is to always walk around with an attitude. You know. You’re always ready for a fight and ready to suspect people of lying.

Most of us aren’t like that, and when someone is threatening to us, acting like an asshole or is telling brazen lies we’re taken aback and we may have a hard time believing what we’re seeing.

Baird Drain Service had already gotten away with my 10 percent down payment, and I called the company saying I wanted the $480 back.

The woman on the line (didn’t get her name) acted in a hostile way, claiming I didn’t hold up my end of the deal, caused tremendous inconvenience to the crew and she’d send me another bill for that, and if I didn’t pay it they would put a lien on my house.

You always think of the best thing to say later, right?

I should have told her if she wanted to take this case in front of a judge, I’d be happy to play along since I had a terrific story to tell. I never did get that bill and the case never went before a judge. I decided I didn’t want to take it to a small claims court.

I eventually hired a guy to clean out my sewer connection, which was all that was needed. In fact, the real George Baird showed up at my door. I had contacted his company at some point through a Yelp list of service providers.

George was a tall, skinny man around 70 years old with long hair. He gave me his business card and we talked for about ten minutes. He said this other “Baird” company was causing a problem for his business and ripping people off, but they’d never been officially called on it.

There’s a lot of money in plumbing. So much that it attracts a lot of predators.  I ultimately I had to get my sewer connection cleaned out a second time, and I called George Baird’s company to do it. It only cost me $80, and that included a $20 tip for the guy who did the job. I’ll remember them.

The moral of the story? I don’t think there is one. I guess you have to trust people, most of the time, and sometimes you get ripped off. Thankfully I was only ripped off for $480, not ten times that much.

Christopher Plummer. My Favorite Actor

Posted March 7, 2021 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

I wanted to be an actor when I was a kid though I quickly realized that whatever my talents, I wasn’t lucky or crazy enough to try to make it in that business. But my love of performing is why I became a broadcast journalist, and it’s why I continued to admire good acting in movies and in plays. My favorite actor was Christopher Plummer, who died last month when he was 91 years old.

I surfed youtube to see what TV obits had made of his career. I was disappointed, of course, to see that every “look back” showed him as Captain Von Trapp in the Sound of Music, a movie he came to hate for being sentimental nonsense. Though I’ve seen him in many movies, I am lucky to be a person who remembers him on stage.

I saw him twice on stage in Minneapolis. The second time I went with my wife to see his touring production of Barrymore, in which he played the Actor John Barrymore in what felt like a one-man show. There was another actor in it, but he was no more than an off-stage voice. Plummer was the only one you saw.

He won a Tony award for Barrymore so it’s funny that I was less impressed by that performance than by the one he did in the first play I saw him in. That was Othello, in which he played Iago to James Earl Jones’ Othello. Mind you, Iago is a scene-stealing role, but I still remark at how Plummer played it so well he swept all other actors off the stage, Jones included.

I remember how, alone on the stage, he spoke the line, “I hate the moor!” He turned toward the audience as he said it in a cold measured tone, which made it so very clear how that hatred had consumed his thoughts, his actions and his very soul. I have never felt a more powerful moment in a theater.

He chose good movies to be in, though some were better than others, and he was always, I mean always good. Being born a Canadian he could convincingly play an American or a Brit. He grew up in Quebec and therefore spoke fluent French. I wonder if he ever was in a French play or film…

His last movie was a good film comedy (those are rare, incidentally) called Knives Out. At the age of 89 he played an old man, in that movie, who died in the end. Death would come for him in real life, shortly thereafter.

I have grown up as Christopher Plummer’s acting career has taken shape. I was 5 years old when he was Captain Von Trapp in the Sound of Music. I’m biased, I’m sure, but I think he was the greatest living actor before he went off to that great proscenium in the sky. And I got to share some space with him, as he reached out beyond the lights to an audience like few actors ever have.

The Susquehanna 

Posted March 4, 2021 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

In Pennsylvania I follow the river

On Highway 15. The Susquehanna.

It gets water from swamps and hillsides to make a barrier

And a place where boys can float on innertubes, 

Cast fishing lines and dive off tall trees on the riverbank. 

My dad used to call this Pennsyltucky, home of the 

Pennsylvania hillbillies, when he grew up in New York State

Where my grandpa, who I never met, used to stride over roots and

Streams when he and my dad went to the Chemung River to go fishing. 

We leave the Susquehanna in Williamsport, which is up on a bluff,

As the highway takes us to the Finger Lakes and my cousin Julie in Rochester.

If my grandpa lived longer I could have followed him to the Chemung.

I’d struggle to put a worm on a hook and put it into the river,

That wide band of water and of dreams from the travelers on its banks.

Knocking Down Qualcomm Stadium

Posted January 4, 2021 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

Memories of a place depend on a lot of things. They depend on how and whereabouts you lived in that place. They depend on when you got there. And when I got to San Diego we had Qualcomm Stadium. In fact, I lived in Normal Heights and if I walked just a few blocks from my house I could stand on top of the ridge, overlooking Mission Valley, and I could see it just below me.

It was a huge concrete bowl with a green field in the middle, surrounded by an ocean of parking lot. Some say it was the biggest parking lot west of the Mississippi, though I couldn’t vouch for that. Old duffers who knew it by its old name, Jack Murphy Stadium, hated the corporate name. But I’d never known it as anything but Qualcomm. The Q, for short.

Qualcomm demolishing

By January 1, crews had begun demolishing the east end of Qualcomm stadium as they tore up the stadium’s huge parking lot and graded the land.

But now Qualcomm Stadium is being demolished. If you are a San Diegan and you don’t live in a cave, you probably know the story.

The San Diego Padres left when the city agreed to build them Petco Park downtown. Say what you want about the way Petco was built and whose money paid for it, but it’s a better baseball park than Qualcomm.

And what about the San Diego Chargers? They nagged taxpayers for a fancy new football stadium for years… something that would have ultimately cost in the neighborhood of $1 billion. The day came when a stadium referendum finally went on the ballot and San Diego voters (God bless em) said ‘not a chance.’

The Chargers moved to LA, where a revitalized Rams franchise already had plans to play and where the Chargers had literally dozens of fans.

I know. My sarcasm may show a bad attitude. But I was never angry about San Diego’s loss of the Chargers or the money-grubbing NFL they belong to.  What’s happening in Mission Valley–the creation of a satellite campus for San Diego State and a new collegiate-sized football stadium for the SDSU Aztecs– is clearly for the best. But while I don’t mourn the Chargers I do mourn the Q.

I watched Padres games at Qualcomm Stadium. I watched my first and only live NFL football game there with my dad. It was the Chargers versus the Saints… long before Drew Brees had any connection with either team. I saw light shows and fireworks displays at Qualcomm, some of them with Nicholas and Sophie when they were little.

I remember a guy I met asking me if I planned to watch the KGB Light show at the stadium. This was soon after I moved here and I’d never heard of such a thing. It was a time, in fact, when I still thought that KGB was a Soviet spy agency, not a San Diego rock & roll station.

Any structure or anything else that takes up a big part of your brain when you think about a place where you’ve lived, and where you’ve been happy, is something you’ll miss when it’s gone.

In the meantime, I’ll look forward to seeing games in the new college football stadium when it’s built. One problem with the Q is it was too damn big. Even a good-sized college crowd of 30,000 fans seemed small and silent when scattered around an NFL stadium meant for 70,000 people. I’ll also look forward to giving San Diego State some room to grow.

Yes, knocking down Qualcomm Stadium is for the best. All I’m saying is I’ll remember the place, and part of me will miss it when it’s all gone.

Christmas 2020 and Two Trees

Posted January 1, 2021 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

The night before Christmas Eve I finally wrapped the presents I bought for my family. I was tired because I worked all that week. Like most men I just barely know how to wrap presents and I couldn’t find stuff.

I got the wrapping paper out of the garage. Do we have any of those bows you can stick on the top once it’s wrapped? No but I’ll manage. Where’s the Scotch tape? I had a pair of scissors… Where did I put the fucking scissors!

Fade Xmas tree

My first fake Christmas tree

Most of the time being a divorced man is not like being a single dad. My ex-wife is still in town and still helps with the kids. But she’s not here, and having a partner in the house means sharing tasks, like getting a Christmas tree, buying presents and wrapping presents. Having to do all that stuff yourself really sucks.

This year I bought a fake tree for the first time. I went to Lowe’s about a week before Christmas. I was first told that they had none remaining but was later told that they not only had one left – the gal gestured to a box on the floor – but it was small enough to fit in my living room. It had also been marked down to $70 and if I applied for a Lowe’s credit card I could get it for $20.

My son and I left the store with a $20 tree, which wasn’t the fullest and most lifelike fake tree I’d ever seen. But it came with lights already hung on the branches, and a remote control that would turn the lights white, colored, flashing or undulating from white to colored and with some options I’m sure I forget.

My mom’s Christmas gift to me was another tree.

It was a Tipu tree to replace the 80-year-old Pittosporum I had to remove just west of the house. I chose a Tipu because I planted one about six years ago that grew with such speed and vigor that it was sure to be the kind of tree that would soon replace the shade and beauty I was missing where the old tree used to be.

Ted picked it out at an Escondido nursery where I had earlier bought a Jacaranda, which he cursed because he didn’t pick that one or plant it. He was going to plant this one.

Ted is an arborist who I’ve known since moving to California, and in his 70’s he’s gotten more angry at the world. He arrived with two guys who dug a hole as Ted would hawk and spit and tell me how important it was to not bury the root crown. He told me (again) that this nursery (mentioned above) had to hire crews to replace trees they’d already put in because they planted them too deep or otherwise screwed it up.

Ted loves Tipus. Some people call em Tipuanas. They grow like weeds. They love the spare San Diego soil and bring orange flowers in the spring. The Tipu was finally planted and upright and Ted headed off to another client with my check in hand.

Planting tree

Ted and assistant ready to plant the Tipu

What else did I get for Christmas? Obama’s new book. A gym bag from my daughter that I could put my tennis stuff in and a cool plant – an aloe – from my son to also put in the garden.

It’s New Year’s Eve. The lights on the fake Christmas tree, and the ones we had time to set up outside, will glow tonight for probably the last time. We’re about to start a new year and get back to business. Planting a tree is a good way to start 2021. The fake tree will go back in a box and return, evergreen, when the season reappears.

The Summer of A Crazy Year

Posted September 20, 2020 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

The sun sets in a cloud of smoke in California. But this picture of a filtered sun in San Diego is mild compared to the bizarre sunsets in the north of the state where wildfire has generated smoke that has has consumed whole cities.

It’s a very human thing to imagine the world’s end. When I was a kid it was nuclear armageddon. Now it’s global warming and that apocalypse is looking more and more familiar as we feel the rising heat and witness its many expressions on earth.

Not just California of course. Fires are burning up and down the west coast. The Seattle Mariners baseball team had to move their home games to San Diego because the smoke made the air quality so bad in Seattle. I got to see a funny thing. Seattle was playing in Petco Park, San Diego’s ballpark, and they were batting last in the inning.

It was technically a home game for the Mariners so, even though they were playing in San Diego, they were batting last, not first. Surely the end of the world is near when the rules of baseball are so messed up.

American adults grew up in a world where it seemed everything would be okay. That is still my hope. Donald Trump, that scourge on our democracy, will lose the election. The coronavirus will be tamed and people will try to create a promising future for my kids and grandkids.

I’ll stop thinking of doom. We’ll look back on this year and we’ll all have a good laugh.

Poem for Kevin Wilson

Posted July 28, 2020 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

I was walking a block of my neighborhood when I noticed for the first time a telephone pole covered with poems and tributes and the photo of a man. It was a picture of our mailman who was killed while riding his bike. I thought I should write something too and tack it to the pole with the others. I did. And here’s a Poem for Kevin Wilson.

 

I finished the ride for you Kevin

You were riding your bike on Dehesa Road

When death came in the steel skin of a car.

Saturday I cycled that same road into Harbison Canyon

Then struggled up Mountain View Road to Crest

Thankful for the pain that showed me I was alive.

I’m older than you were then, and likely not so fit

But fortune is a bitch that fears not God nor justice

The priest says to believe in the life of the soul

But is that like believing in ghosts?

I will try to see your spirit walking to my house to bring the mail

And I’ll try to see your spirit where foolish men like you and me

Travel highways only on the power of our breakable bodies.

Maybe I’ll see you best when I am struggling to climb

And not knowing when I’ll arrive at the top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dogs and Life

Posted July 20, 2020 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

Cooper, the day after we brought him home.

Dogs have been a part of my life nearly all of my life. And two weeks ago I got a puppy.

It was a Brittany Spaniel. I was ready to adopt a dog and the Brittany had become my dream dog. But I’d briefly given up trying to find one since they weren’t that popular around here. But then I found some breeders in Arizona, and on July 4th, Nicholas and Sophie and I drove to Coolidge, AZ to pick up an 8-week old puppy we decided to name Cooper.

I thought Coolidge was going to be a tidy bedroom suburb of Phoenix. But it turned out to be a country town, if you could even call it a town, on a flat patch of desert that was quite a ways south of the metropolis. A dirt road took us over an irrigation ditch to the breeder’s rural house where she had a kennel of Brittanies out back. We paid $1300 for Cooper, who the breeder was clearly sorry to part with, then we put him in our car and drove away. The temperature was approaching 110 degrees.

Maybe the dogs in my life were evidence of my middle class existence. A family portrait from the mid-sixties shows my dad in a suit, my brother and me as little kids wearing jackets and ties, my mother looking beautiful in a red dress and, seated at her feet, our fox terrier Freddy.

In fact the presence of a dog at home became a cliche of family bliss. Right? A man’s got it made when he’s got a house, a wife, two kids and a dog. So it’s funny that I’m getting a dog as my marriage is falling apart. In my family picture the wife is a missing puzzle piece. But at least I’ve got a dog.

Cooper is orange and white, with a white stripe descending from the top of his head that broadens over his muzzle. The white stripe bisects the orange fur that surrounds his eyes and covers his ears. They’re the signature markings of a Brittany Spaniel. One reason I fell for Brittanies is they’re so damn handsome. And even though I’ve never hunted, I love gun dogs. Maybe their instinct to bond with a hunter makes it natural for them to bond with a family.

When you walk around the neighborhood with a puppy you attract attention. The same guy drove past us on two separate occasions as other people were admiring Cooper. The second time he stopped to tell me that I had become the most popular guy in the neighborhood. If you’re a single man, a puppy is the ultimate chick magnet. But they’re a magnet for pretty much anyone. It helps that Cooper seems to like anyone, dog or human.

I remember reading John Steinbeck’s book, Travels with Charley, about the time he toured the country in a camper with a standard poodle named Charley. He said he brought Charley with him for several reasons. The first was companionship. Also, he was going to be camping in a lot of dark, lonely places and standard poodles are good watch dogs. The other reason: Being with a dog is a great way to get people to talk to you.

The ice-breaking nature of a dog lets us connect with people, even those with opposing political views, and these days that’s saying a lot. The attitude of gratitude and the non-judging nature of a dog is something we can all agree to love. Even in my own home, Cooper has brought me and my two kids together.

I’m taking a couple weeks off from work. It’s been a summer vacation like I used to know, when school was out and you spent the summer around the house in idleness. The laptops and smartphones are still there, seeking our attention, but now there’s something else to we can do. We can watch Cooper’s antics and tell stories about him. We can wrestle with him and complain about him as he tries to nip our hands. We’ve focused our attention on the puppy, and he’s united us in that extraordinary way that a dog can do.

Moved to the Head of the Line

Posted May 26, 2020 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

During the great sickness we stand in line at grocery stores, especially Trader Joe’s where there is rarely not a line. They fear if we’re too crammed into their space we’ll give each other Covid-19.

I was in line one day shortly before 9 a.m. but it seemed strange because the store was clearly open and the line was not moving. People would come out of the store and none in line would be let in.

The sign I must have missed

Then a woman approached me and said, ‘Are you in the senior line?’ It was a funny question since the other people in line were clearly NOT seniors. In fact, I didn’t know what she was talking about.

The woman went up to the Trader Joe’s maitre d’ who was standing outside the entry door. He nodded his head and sent her inside. I decided to make an inquiry and I learned that seniors had carte blanche on the place from 8 to 9.

‘You can go in,’ he said. That kind of pissed me off. How does he know I’m a senior?

What’s a senior? I asked, then learned that it was anyone 60 or older. I barely qualified, but I did qualify. I wondered why they didn’t card people. You card people if you think they’re too young to buy alcohol. How did he know I wasn’t actually 58 and was just lying so I could get in ahead of everyone in line?

He knew because people who are getting on in life don’t want to claim they’re older or pretend that they’re older. People who are young do want to claim the’re older, not just so they can buy booze but so they can enjoy greater status and respect. By the time you’re my age being older is something you dread, not desire.

But I took the chit and went in to gather bread and wine with the other old folks as the young and waited outside.

 

 

 

Gotcha

Posted May 22, 2020 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

I work at a radio-TV station located on a college campus. It’s got a big staff and there are two people I’m thinking of. One is a man that’s an editor who’s been in journalism for a long time. The other is a female student employee. They both say Gotcha.

You know what I’m talking about. I tell them what I think about something, and they say Gotcha.

I’m not saying they give me a big exclamatory “Gotcha!!” They both say it in a sober, serious manner to tell me they get me. But Gotcha is a funny thing to say. Kind of old-fashioned, like something you’d hear from some colorful old codger. But the gal who says it to me is 21 years old.

The one thing I know these two people have in common is they’re from Kansas. He’s from Kansas City and she’s from a little town in the north-central part of the state. I thought maybe this could explain it. But then I was listening to a podcast of the show RadioLab, which is produced in New York.

The host was listening to the response of a guest on the show. The guest was done making her point. Gotcha, he said.

I actually looked up the guy’s bio on the show’s website, and he wasn’t from Kansas. It says he grew up mostly in Tennessee, and maybe that’s kind of like Kansas.

When I lived in Minnesota they’d answer in the affirmative by saying, You Betcha. You could compound the term by saying ‘Yah sure, you betcha’ or ‘You betcha, by golly.’

Maybe it’s just a part of the American language to take the word ‘you’ and turn it into ‘cha’ when the previous word ends with a T. And I guess we should make the most of it.

I heard that big dog bitcha. I knew he was gonna gitcha.

You should stay away from dogs like that.

Gotcha.