Marbles RIP.

Posted October 21, 2016 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

Pets teach us about death.

Death was once so common from contagious illnesses and the takings of war. But medicine has made disease a weak master and technology has made war such a dreaded master it can’t be our companion.

So in my life death has become something that seems to trouble only the very old and people with terrible luck. No one close to my children or me has died. But we’ve lost pets.

This week we buried the ashes of our small dog Marbles next to a one-foot wall that he used to walk on. He’d trot the length of it, looking at the patio below and our garden next to the wall. It seemed like a peaceful exercise for him and I can look outside and imagine his spirit doing it now.

I won’t say how Marbles died, but it was unexpected and terrible and I blame myself for what happened. We don’t know how old Marbles was because we got him from a Shih Tzu rescue agency, and they didn’t know either. But we do know — maybe it’s ironic — that he got two extra chances at life.

Before we adopted him we were told he had a huge bladder stone that was life-threatening and the rescue group gave him surgery to remove it. We had had him for about two years when the same thing happened again. We didn’t know how to prevent it so we didn’t see it coming.

We were prepared to put him down, given how expensive the surgery would be, but we called the rescue group and they said no… they would find a vet to do it cheaply. They did. He recovered. And we got to keep him. We learned how to regulate his diet and prevent it from happening again soon. He seemed to be doing fine for a while. But then he died.

We keep chickens and I remember one time we had two baby chicks. Sophie and a friend (they were little girls then) decided they should give them a bath, but by doing it they drowned them. That night we took them out to the garden for a burial as Sophie and Nicholas wept.

We had a young cat named Molly who was one of our cat Maya’s kittens. One night she got out and never returned. Nicholas insisted we print up fliers with our phone number and photo of Molly and post them on telephone poles around the neighborhood. We did, but I’d seen those kinds of fliers before. There are coyotes in the area and the fliers usually meant someone’s cat had become their prey.

We must embrace death as part of life. Today in California we have right-to-die laws that are supposed to make death more pleasant. People whose lives are full of choices think it’s only logical they should also be allowed to choose how they’ll die. Though I must embrace death I fear it and I hate it an I will not choose it. I only pray that death comes to me before it comes to my children.





Beggar’s Camp

Posted July 10, 2016 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

The median strip at a traffic light is the favorite place for panhandlers. It’s an island in the road where cars have to stop until the light changes. I was at College and Montezuma about a mile from my home where I saw two median islands and each had been claimed.

They set up little campsites with their backpacks and bottles of water and they hold their signs, explaining that they’re short on luck. Some claim to be homeless vets. Some say they’ll work for food, though I doubt that work or food is really what they want. I think they want a cash handout.

Beggars camp

College & Montezuma

My wife is a library manager and that has given her a great knowledge of the homeless and people who panhandle. She was in Pacific Beach a couple of days ago and went to a liquor store to buy a bottle of Tanqueray.

All the big bottles were locked up in cabinets behind the cash register. But right out in front of the register were open bins that were full of small vodka bottles, the kind you get if you order a drink on an airplane. To her practiced eye the message was clear: Go out and panhandle for a couple of hours until you get five bucks then come in here and buy a couple of small ones.

Panhandle is a funny work. I guess it came from a day when beggars would ask for money and hold out a pan, hoping you’d put something in there. But I’ve never seen anyone hold out a pan when they wanted money so I wonder why we say it. Maybe beggar is too impolite.


California Girls

Posted June 19, 2016 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

The stereotype of California being a blond state is enduring. My daughter’s consumption of pop culture caused her to wonder why people think the typical California girl is a blond, when in reality that didn’t seem to be the case.

I explained as best I could, saying that during the 1930’s and 40’s lots of people from the Midwest migrated to California to flee bad times on the farm or to look for jobs in wartime factories. A lot of them came from German and Scandinavian backgrounds and they had lots of blond kids, so in the ’50s and ’60s I guess California must have looked like a very blond state.


Since then there’s been a new migration, which maybe wasn’t a migration at all because it was people from the Pacific rim retaking a place that used to be theirs. A guy I knew called it the Reconquista because a lot of those moving back were Latinos, but there were also East Asians and Filipinos… more and more of them as the blonds got fewer and fewer.

California seems destined to be a brown state and while the California girl is still an icon I we need a slightly different picture of her. Here’s one that I like.

Dizzy’s Jazz Club

Posted June 16, 2016 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

I’d never been to Dizzy’s, a jazz club in San Diego. And when I finally went it wasn’t what I expected. I went Sunday to hear a concert. Do they perform concerts in jazz clubs? Maybe not. But it featured a percussionist and a harpist who happened to be Tasha.

Dizzy's in San Diego

Dizzy’s in San Diego

I thought jazz clubs were dark places on a first floor or a basement, with a bandstand at the front, a bar on the side, round tables and chairs in the middle. But when I looked up Dizzy’s on the web it looked like a car dealership on Mission Bay. I thought, ‘This can’t be right.’ I basically refused to believe it until I got there.

It was not a car dealership. It was, by day, a U-haul dealer and a place that rented jet skis. It had floor-to-ceiling windows with a parking lot out front, with big letters painted on the windows that advertised the aquatic motor toys. Tasha later told me she also spotted a Donald Trump sign in front of the business.

A Donald Trump sign!? Jazz clubs are supposed to be places for the hip. The cognoscenti. They were supposed to be the ultimate anti-Donald Trump kind of place.

I knew that Dizzy’s never used to be a jazz club in the sense that I knew because it didn’t have a bar and didn’t serve alcohol. It was an all-ages place, maybe harkening back to the New York coffee clubs of beatnik times. Dizzy’s used to have a nice performing space in downtown San Diego but lost its lease and ended up in jet-ski land.

But I attended the club, paid the cover charge and my daughter Sophie and I enjoyed the music, which was harp and percussion music drawn from indigenous cultures of the Americas. I know that sounds a little too CalArts but it was actually good music. The acoustics were good, I was comfortable and eventually the strange setting and jet-ski ads fell away and I thought, ‘Why not?’ Art happens wherever there’s a space for it.

As we drove home, Sophie (who’s 11) told me she wanted to start a jazz club and we talked about what to call it. She might go into business with her friend Stella so we thought it could be the Stella Star or Stella’s Spot. Then we thought it could be in Kensington because that neighborhood had lots of potential for coming up with cool names.

In the meantime, I hope Dizzy’s can find a different place. Truthfully, we hipsters can only put up with it for so long.




My old Mittenwald Cello

Posted June 5, 2016 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized



My childhood is a faraway place I know through memories that become smaller as time moves on. I thought of this as my parents moved out of their condo and into an old folks home, and I got some of the things that had followed them but they no longer could keep. Like their photos. And the cello I played as a kid.

I hadn’t played it for 35 years. Nearly that entire time the cello lay on its side under their piano in a soft case that was slowly disintegrating. The bow hadn’t been re-haired since it had last been used and the strings were old and stiff. The instrument was still fine though. So far as I can tell it’s in as good shape as it was when I was 20. More than I can say for myself.

My cello was built in Mittenwald, Germany. I named it Herman when I was a kid because kids give names to things that mean something to them, though I’m not sure I liked my cello since it represented the hard work of practicing, which I dreaded every day. But when my wife suggested we sell Herman, along with a guitar I stopped playing years ago, I said no. Selling the guitar was fine but the cello touched something in my past that was bigger.

The thought of losing Herman made me take a greater interest in it. I asked Tasha, my daughter’s harp teacher, to refer me to a shop in San Diego that sold instruments and repaired them, and she sent me to the Violin Shop, which was run by a family that had known Tasha since she was a little girl.

You might expect a stringed instrument shop to be downtown or on some old neighborhood main street, sort of like the place in Chicago where my family bought the cello more than 40 years ago. But the Violin Shop was in Sorrento Valley, a small-scale Silicon Valley where San Diego’s high-tech and life-science industry are wedged into big glass buildings on a suburban landscape.

I had to make two passes at the building that contained the shop until I knew what my GPS was pointing at, and I managed to spot the store’s name on a sign along the four-lane road.

Once inside, I left my bow with a man named Carlos and made an appointment with the proprietors to buy new strings the following week. I felt like an ass when I asked questions because the cello had become so unfamiliar to me with the passing years. I was like a man who was struggling with some subject he always left to his wife.

“Are bows still strung with horse hair?” I asked.

“I use raccoon hair,” said Carlos.

It was a joke. I left with the impression that yes, they still use horse hair. I dropped Tasha’s name to Mr. Smith who runs the place and he smiled because that’s what people do when they think about Tasha.

Prior to all this, I’d ordered some sheet music; Bach’s six unaccompanied cello suites. In there I found a minuet I once performed. And when I got my cello set to go — new strings, rehaired and rosined bow — I sat down to play.

My hands remembered. Pressing the strings against the fingerboard stung a bit because I’d lost my calluses and I had to reach farther for notes than I recall. But the feeling was still there.  Regaining the muscle tone I used to have seemed within reach. The bow found the strings and pulling it over them brought that wonderful tone.

So now what do I do?

My body has a memory that had become smaller but not by much. Do I practice and get better? I am still a middle-aged man with a life full of stuff I need to do. I never dreamed of being an outstanding cello player and I never will be. But being able to do it at all seems like a gift. It’s a little like a poem you were forced to memorize in high school that you remember decades later and you finally understand.

My parents will not live much longer. I’ll practice that minuet until I get good at it again and I’ll play if for them. That’s the least I can do.


Point Loma

Posted May 21, 2016 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized

Tuna fishing brought them to San Diego. Portuguese immigrant families caught tuna in the ocean and made homes on a peninsula called Point Loma that dangles south into the Pacific like an elephant’s trunk.

The Point is hard to get to by land, requiring lots of motoring on streets that run at strange angles as you work your way south, and I did that last weekend to pick up my daughter Sophie at a friend’s house after a sleepover. It was a two-story modern-style house with a view of the ocean. Pretty cool to tell the truth.

Point Loma, San Diego.

Point Loma, San Diego.

The mom of my daughter’s friend is a Portuguese-American woman called Jessica. She grew up within blocks of where she now lives. Her dad was the captain of a tuna boat and her world was filled with family. She had forty first cousins who could visit on foot or by bike. They were always around.

Her daughter Stella is a classmate of Sophie, and on a Friday they all went to the Festa do Espirito Sancto, an annual Catholic festival and march that wends its way to the Portuguese church, St. Agnes. Sophie told me she and Stella won the cakewalk, and there was a endless stream of friends and relatives coming up to Stella to say hello and ask her stuff.

When I grew up my family was my mom, my dad and my brother. Aside from pets, that was it. I had an extended family, of course, but it was at least two states and hundreds of miles away. Maybe being surrounded by family has its drawbacks. Everyone in the family knows your business. And what if half your family are fools and deadbeats?

I have been reading books by Richard Russo, most recently Nobody’s Fool. The author grew up in a dying industrial town called Gloversville, New York that sounds a lot like the Upstate New York city my father grew up in.

Russo left Gloversville. I hear he now lives on the coast of Maine. But he writes about the people who stayed. The people in his books stayed near their families and the people they went to high school with, even if that meant working a crummy job and everyone knowing your business.

I was like Russo. I left the small town in Iowa where I grew up. In fact, I couldn’t wait to get out. But even if I had stayed I wouldn’t have been surrounded by family because my dad was an itinerant academic (Grinnell, Iowa is a college town) who went where the job was, not where family was. Maybe chasing jobs in strange places runs in my family.

I can’t see a San Diego Portuguese like Jessica doing that. Jessica has black hair and an attractive face that seems to always smile. I see that as she talks to me in front of her house with the flat span of the Pacific in the distance, and I can’t see her anywhere else. Actually, I could. My point is I don’t think she could see it.

Jessica talks about her eldest daughter and her three grandchildren living in Goshen, Indiana like it’s something she still can’t wrap her head around. It’s such a small town, she says, and the weather is so cold.

I’m not surrounded by cousins but my niece lives here now, I’m raising my kids in San Diego and my parents have lived here nearly as long as I have. For me, I guess that’s enough to make it feel like home.

Sophie and Grandparents

Posted May 8, 2016 by tomfudge
Categories: Uncategorized