Articles by

James Bornemeier

12/07/13 7:26am


The following is a transcript of emails, illegally recorded by federal eavesdroppers, between XJ3516, a member of Taystee Turkey Farm in Salisbury, Maryland, and Tom, a member of Wattles Unlimited, a Shelter Island-based turkey social group.

Tom: Just checking in, XJ. Trusting that you made it through Thanksgiving down there.

XJ: Tom! Great to hear from you. Still here, still upright, although that can be a struggle with my bulging girth. Wow, what a madhouse the last few weeks were. If I didn’t know better, it seemed like a life-or-death struggle to get ready for the holiday. All our human assistants were really hustling to keep us relaxed and fed and they even got into the holiday spirit, decorating the conveyor belts with green pine boughs and wearing historically accurate Pilgrim costumes as they tended to our creature comforts.

Tom: I was concerned about you because modern “farm life” these days bears little resemblance to the agricultural lore our elders handed down: Spacious outdoor pens, languid snacking on grain and goofy guys in overalls who considered raising us a hobby. From what we hear, it’s all business now and personal relationships are given short shrift.

XJ: I hear you, brother. Sometimes I wonder if there’s a whole other agenda at the farm and it’s not all about our longevity. Since spring, we were treated like royalty, given seconds and thirds during our three liquid meals a day and asked to do virtually nothing in return. In fact, we barely moved since August as our living space shrunk as we put on a surprising amount of weight, particularly in our pectorals, which grew to Schwarzeneggerian proportions.

My conversations became limited to fellow turkeys to my right and left with whom I could still make eye contact. The turkey in front of me was nothing but a blizzard of white feathers stuffed in my face. But, as I said, the food, though amazingly bland, was always plentiful even if we were jammed to our gullets from the meal before. By autumn, most of us found the feeding protocols to be excessive. Did we totally buy into the farm’s party line that such gluttony was in our best interest? Not really. But what are we going to do? Go on a hunger strike? You can run but cannot hide from the feeding tubes.

Tom: As a relatively bony wild turkey, I will be candid and say that sort of life sounds dreadful.

XJ: The worst part is the overwhelming sense of shared purpose has simply evaporated in the post-Thanksgiving era, to say nothing of the thousands of missing turkeys, presumably relocated to other farm quarters. While I’m treated with the utmost respect here, I catch myself wondering what it would be like to hang out in the more rough ‘n’ tumble world that you Wattles endure.
Tom: Careful what you wish for, XJ. Your indolent lifestyle and predator-free environment look pretty good in the dark days of Island winter when our daily routine boils down to dodging cars, pecking at the frozen earth and worrying about foxes. On the other hand, XJ, we can still fly, an ancient genetic bequest that may not be of much practical value these days but instills in us great pride as winged fowl. Clumsy and inelegant aviators we may be, but what a flush of freedom to take to the air, even if just for the heck of it!

XJ: I know it is not your intention, Tom, but your paean to flying is deeply depressing. When I talk of not being able to move, suggesting that I even want to, I am being disingenuous. My knees are a wreck (a very common complaint here at the farm). If the feeding tube were two feet away, I would cut down to two infusions rather than painfully shuffling to my three squares a day. It seems my legs are utterly useless for my bulked-up frame!

Tom: I should be more sensitive to your situation, XJ. I know you have made agonizing (no pun intended) tradeoffs to be fox-free for life. But, I must say, dealing with tender knees so you can chow down to your heart’s content seems a far cry from constantly looking over your shoulder for salivating Vulpes vulpes, whose raison d’être is turkeycide.

XJ: Tom, I do appreciate the state of continuous embattlement you face in the Island wild. In my pathetic physical shape, I would be easy pickin’s for a fox. Hey, a mole could give me a run (no pun intended) for my money! But the word here on the farm is that the fox threat on the East Coast has dwindled to DEFCON 5, similar to the odds of being attacked by a hyperactive human third grader. So why the paranoia?

Tom: Rotundo old pal, there are evil stirrings in Mashomack here. Call it crazy coincidence, but ever since that Clooney/Streep movie, the maliciously titled “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” cleaned up at the box office a couple of years ago, these mange-ravaged turkey killers are making a comeback.

XJ: Tom! Hello! It’s an animated feature! It’s a diverting fantasy! It’s a kids’ movie for grownups! You are so over-reacting.
Tom: Listen, Fatso, I promised myself I wouldn’t do this, but I don’t like your tone. That post-Thanksgiving lull on the farm you refer to? It’s not a lull, it’s the savage result of the annual Turkey Day Armageddon! Your missing cage buddies — and that’s what it is, XJ, a cage, not “living space” — became meals! You lucked out because you probably have a physical imperfection and are not suitable for retail! Don’t you see that?

XJ: On that note, I’m signing off, Tom. Take a walk on the wild side! Feast on roadkill! Face down a battalion of Ford F-150s! Fly into a live LIPA power line! Go nuts, man. My midday food service has arrived.

11/09/13 8:00am


I started working for the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1980, the same year the Phillies won their first championship, 77 years after the modern World Series began in 1903. They won again in 2008 and are considered a solid National League franchise. In contrast, the Inquirer in the ‘80s was one of the top three or four daily newspapers in the country; it is now a laughingstock, the news side decimated and the business side picked over by a string of soulless carrion-feeding ownership groups. While new to the paper back then, during the Phils’ run to their first Series victory, I played an infinitesimal role in their success, sitting in my battered metal chair at the Inquirer news desk, a nightly nerve center where decisions were made on what stories were important, where they went and how they were displayed.

Back then, we used a layout pad and carbon paper to map out the various sections so there was always a steady supply of false starts to be wadded up and tossed away. An industrial size wastebasket was 6 or 8 feet distant, and I had to arc the wads between the photo editor and the irascible Armenian-American senior news editor in order to drop them in the target. This is analogous to landing at the St. Thomas airport in the U.S. Virgins: little margin for error. My consecutive strings of made shots began to be noticed and tallied, and I recklessly began to link my prospective successful buckets with upcoming positive Phillies outcomes, be it an opponent’s swinging third strike, a well executed Phillies bunt, a timely sac fly or any other of the countless tactical minutiae that constitute a baseball game.

But once the Phils made the playoffs that year, my prognosticating paper wads took on a life of their own. I lost control of calling the desired outcome and was solely responsible for making the shot, regardless of the degree of difficulty my nearby colleagues put me at the line for. I don’t remember missing a shot during the defeat of the National League foes, the Houston Astros, or the ultimate humbling of the American League champion Kansas City Royals to win the Series.

But let’s be clear, my sinking of the paper wad put the onus on the Phillies: I only momentarily agitated the competitive vapors from afar; the team had to execute on the field. After the late Tug McGraw struck out Willie Wilson for the final Series out, a couple of guys came up with serious faces and thanked me for my paper wad-based postseason karmic assistance.

My personal efforts in willing my teams to victory had mixed success with Larry Bird and the Celtics during their epic ‘80s NBA battles with Magic Johnson and the Lakers. At home I set up a much smaller wastebasket to aim at during those bitter contests, and the Celtics pretty much ignored the inspiration I laid at their feet with some startling long-range buckets from across the room. Of course Bird routinely played with such other-worldly brilliance and guile that asking him to do the impossible after a sunk paper wad was superfluous.

As for home baseball-rooting techniques, paper wad launching was quickly replaced by paraphernalia. As a Red Sox fan for decades, I have compiled the usual inventory of caps, jerseys, glasses, coffee mugs and the like. I have a bottle opener that played an ecstatic home run call but the replacement battery failed to revive the announcer’s voice. I have a dress all-wool blue Bosox cap from the ‘70s that looks great but cuts off all blood flow to my brain with no major effect other than modest drooling during extra-inning comebacks. I have a vintage sweat-stained red cap that I wore playing softball. I have two badly frayed caps that date from 2004 (the immortal Yankees’ choke-a-thon) when the Sox went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals and finally win a World Series after 86 years. I have two recent replacements for the battered ’04 caps. I have a pint glass with the Series-winning ’07 roster on its side. I have two insulated Sox glasses that I use year-round. I have a couple of jerseys, one a gray travel jersey with “Boston” on the front and the number nine on the back. For those of you scoring at home, that’s Ted Williams’ retired number. The Inquirer guys gave it to me when I left in recognition of my long-ball days at the softball diamond hard by the Amtrak rail bed when getting it over the fence actually meant something.

During the season when Sox games land on the New York cable systems, I usually wear one of the ’04 caps or their replacements. Not to bog down in trivia, but one pair has the standard Sox “B” logo on the front and the other sports the so-called “hanging sox” logo. Only during regular season Sox-Yankees games or, if Boston makes it, postseason contests do I indulge in karmic manipulation, which simply consists in switching cap logo styles when the listless Sox need a jolt or late-inning heroics are demanded. Trust me, it works more often than is remotely plausible.

Last Wednesday, the Sox coasted to their third Series trophy in a decade and I was so confident beforehand that I would have bet your life that they were going to get that game six win. No need to fool around with different caps this night. Even on the tube, the air of inevitability at Fenway was tangible, visible. But, for the first time ever, I brought my Williams’ jersey downstairs and hung it on a dining room chair across the room. We didn’t come close to needing it, but you never know when you might have to go to the good karma bullpen.