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Zeke's Heap : Altadena Man's 30-Foot-High Compost Pile Raises a Stink

March 09, 1990|JESSE KATZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Zeke the Sheik stood high atop the steamy mountain of fertilizer that he calls his magic carpet and contemplated the bureaucratic forces that threaten to bring him down to earth.

For 17 years, Zeke has cultivated the mammoth compost pile in the back yard of his Altadena home, carefully blending household garbage, animal droppings and mulch from a nearby cemetery into an organic tower of supercharged soil.

The fecund heap--now 30 feet high and nearly 200 feet wide--fuels a seething, one-acre jungle below of cacti, azaleas, kumquats, green onions and banana trees that he has legally incorporated as "The Promised Land." It is a monument to what he believes everyone should be doing: converting waste into something that restores, not destroys, life on the planet.

"This is the key of energy that will eventually set mankind free from misery and gravity," he said, reciting one of the rapid-fire rhymes he has developed to disarm his critics.

But county officials say things are looking bleak for Zeke, the alter ego of Timothy Dundon, a 47-year-old former plasterer and iron worker who once marched in Pasadena's Doo-Dah Parade with his pet yam.

Twice last month, heat generated by decomposing bacteria caused the manure mound to spontaneously combust, sending thick smoke billowing and, fire officials say, flames leaping into the air.

Firefighters, who had to come douse the smoldering pile, cited Dundon for improperly storing combustible waste and warned that if the dung heap erupts again they will remove it at Dundon's expense.

"If it takes off again, we're coming in big time," county Fire Capt. Russell Robinson said. "We're going to abate the problem whether that takes a bulldozer or whatever."

After the fires on Feb. 20 and 21, the case was referred to health officials, who cited Dundon for creating fly-breeding conditions. They also told him that the 50 or so chickens, geese and turkeys that roam freely around his two-story farmhouse violate an ordinance that says fowl have to be kept at least 35 feet away from a habitable dwelling.

Planning officials say they are investigating the possibility that Dundon may be violating zoning laws by allegedly selling the fertilizer from his residence. And the case is being referred to the solid waste program of county Environmental Management Services because officials contend that what Dundon really has is an unpermitted landfill.

"It's not like this big odious thing with clouds of flies where everybody has to hold their nose," conceded Paul Manasjan, a county health inspector. "But if I see a violation and it's not corrected, I have to follow protocol."

Dundon, a muscular man with shoulder-length hair and a grizzled beard, says he is taking some steps to bring his personal Garden of Eden into conformity with contemporary regulations.

He has spent the last few days shoveling a truckload of silt atop the compost pile to reduce its volatility and discourage flies from nibbling there. Before a health inspector returns next week, he plans to clean up the sundry droppings that his animals have left behind.

Occasionally, he says, he brings a few packages of fertilizer to neighbors, who seem tolerant of his landscaping, and charges a small fee for the delivery. But Dundon, who makes a living doing odd jobs while caring for a sick brother, denies that it is a business.

"This guy's just trying to promote the planet and they're jumping down his throat," said Don Miller, 34, an Altadena landscaper who swears Dundon's fertilizer is the best he's ever used. "He's a very deep person who believes in what he's doing and they're hounding him."

It isn't the first time that Dundon's vision of the world has run him afoul of the law. In 1985, despite a rhyming defense that had prosecutors rolling in the aisles, he was found guilty in Pasadena Superior Court of cultivating, possessing and selling marijuana.

"The marijuana was merely the nurse that would reimburse my purse and allow me to throw your whole universe into reverse and make things get better instead of worse," he explained, dressed in a turban and floor-length caftan. Then he spent 18 days in jail.

Dundon, whose late father was a Lockheed executive and whose mother was a concert violinist, says his moment of epiphany came in 1973, when he decided to devote his life to promoting organic fertilizer.

Since then, he says, he has been hounded by the number 2--not uncoincidentally the child's term for solid waste. He has been twice divorced, has two children, worked for Plasterer's Local No. 2 and on State Highway 22, and packages his fertilizer into kilogram bundles (2.2 pounds).

It all has something to do with the Second Coming or the animals that lined up in twos before boarding Noah's ark, Dundon explains. He believes his dung pile is that ark, the vehicle that can save mankind from the fiery destruction of the world.

The fact that the mountain almost did a little fiery destruction of its own doesn't faze him. It's just proof, he claims, of the life energy that is breeding within.

"I've built the most powerful machine around," he says, his blue tennis shoes firmly planted into the top of the teeming heap. "It's called Nature. What could be more perfect?"

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