Rosie and the Killer Turkey

Revised from the original, which appeared in The Gettysburg Times in 1989.

We called him Rosie because of the girl my best friend was dating. We were all in high school, and she was in her early 20s. Now, Georgia was probably one of one of the sexiest things breathing. You take that and couple it with the fact that teenage boys are biologically very little more than hormones in sneakers, and you have a potential for real heartbreak.

Nat and I used to double date, only mine often didn’t show up. I would drive. They would sit in the back. Later, I’d tell them what the movie was about, and think of some clever reason why the steering wheel had gotten tied in a knot.

Anyway, all of us were madly in love with Georgia. I wrote little poems about her. Wise beyond my years, I kept them to myself. I no longer have them; I think that they self-combusted.

Wally, (not his real name) however, forgoing his usual indirection, bought Georgia a dozen Roses. From then on, Georgia would fix him with those big, brown eyes when Wally walked into a room, and say, Well, hey, there’s Rosie.”

The name stuck for a long time, though Georgia didn’t.

So, anyway, one November day, Rosie came across the street to my house and asks me, “Hey, you like turkey?”

Sure, I replied, sensing a trap. Rosie was one of those guys who, when he walked up to you smiling, you wanted to check the location of both your wallet and your girlfriend. I think he works in Washington now.

“A farmer daddy knows just gave him some turkeys. Would you help me get’em ready?”

“Getting ‘em ready” was more involved than I’d hoped. When we got to Rosie’s back yard, there stood two very large turkeys, beady of eye, sharp of beak, and very much alive and unready.

Rosie volunteered to hold the turkeys, one by one, while I took the firewood axe and ushered them out of this vale of tears and into their manifest destiny of stuffing, cranberry sauce, and endless leftovers.

Rosie was not the most steady of individuals.

He held onto the frantically struggling body of the first turkey. I held its head, and applied the axe somewhere in between.

Rosie, never one for long goodbyes, let go of the turkey.

I am not real good with an axe.

The future turkey dinner rose into the air, gravely wounded and furious.

Every one of its feathers stood on end; it looked as big as a Volkswagen. It landed on me, locking its claws into my sweatshirt, gobbling furiously as it tried to peck at my eyes.

Rosie started to laugh.

I hurled the turkey at him. Rosie stopped laughing.

Somewhere in the next few minutes, the turkey expired, probably of natural causes. I walked home. My poor mother almost had a heart attack, as I walked into the house, carrying the axe and covered with blood.

I never learned what the Rosie family did with the other turkey. I never got any thanks for my help, not so much as a plateful of leftovers.

Rosie, who was also famous for his short memory, probably never figured out why I chased him out of my yard a few weeks later. All he did, I’m sure he told his other friends, was walk up to me and ask: “Hey, you like pork?”

Peepers

April 1, 2015

By T.W. Burger

It’s going to be all right, after all.

I heard peepers.

I mean spring peepers, if you’re from some dull place that doesn’t have them. Whatever the weather might be doing at the moment you hear them, it means that spring has actually arrived and is busy setting up housekeeping

It’s been a long, grueling winter. Many records for cold and snowfall were set on the eastern side of the U.S., giving those who don’t know the difference between weather and climate the chance to pop off like a bunch of spring peepers and say there is no such thing as climate change. They always ignore all the places in the world that are hotter and drier than ever before.

Sorry. I don’t know how that soapbox wound up right in my path.

Anyway, some ofus had begun to worry that winter would go on and on, perhaps rubbing right up against summer. The peepers took a collective deep breath and reassured us.

They are not much to look at; only an inch long or a little more. They hang out in gangs in boggy spots and what you hear is a lot of high-pitched calls. Imagine a thousand rusty porch swings squeaking in chorus but not necessarily in sync and you’ve about got it.

There are two subspecies, by the way, the northern and the southern. There aren’t a lot of differences, except the southern variety peeps with a distinct drawl.

I made that last part up.

By the way, the chorus is all sung by males. They stand around during mating season, each trying to make more noise than the next guy, in order to attract a mate. So, they are not so very different from humans. It’s a good thing Harley-Davidson doesn’t make a model for peepers.

Show and Tell

March 30, 2015

Despite my joshing, I never really did much in the way of booze or drugs in my youth. I have my dad to thank for that.

When I was 17, he got me a job at a local funeral home. I grew up in the Deep South, and most funeral homes ran their own ambulance services. We were NOT EMTs (I don’t think the term had been invented then.) Our ambulances were retired or semi-retired hearses with no equipment to speak of, and almost none of us had any training.

If you were alive when you got to the ER it was because God wasn’t ready for you yet, not because of any skill of ours. Dad got me the job just as my cohorts were starting to experiment with alcohol, drugs, and fast cars. I’d pull dead people I knew out of crashed cars and thought “Yeah, THAT looks like fun.” I was in my 30s before it struck me that was my father’s intent. Foxy devil. He would have known that mere lectures and threats weren’t going to cut it for me. It had to be show and tell. Thanks, Dad.

Cold Turkey: A Holiday Tale.

 

Well, this Thursday is the big day. Turkey day. I used to have the figures handy that told how many turkeys die to make Thanksgiving possible, but I’ve lost them.

 

It’s a lot.

 

Not so long ago, things were a lot simpler. A lot of the people I knew forswore their store-bought birds and got a live bird from a farmer.

 

Trouble is, too many of the folks who gave this “old-fashioned” method a try were young people from the ‘burbs. Their experience with “nature” was getting draft­ ed by their parents to help fight the war on crabgrass.

 

My neighbors at a little mobile home park in Georgia are a case in point.

 

The couple, let’s call them Tom and Tif­ fany, were both raised in one of those towns squeezed like putty at the seams where New York and New Jersey are glued together.

 

They grew up in some development named after the trees that had been cut down to build it.

 

Tom was a sleepy, even lethargic sort of guy. It was hard to tell if he was awake or sleepwalking.

 

Tiffany was, well, perky, given to hare­ brained ideas and sudden enthusiasms.

 

Tom was at the university, studying to be a biologist. Tiffany worked somewhere as a secretary.

 

The way it was told to me, one Thanks­ giving, Tiffany decided she would surprise Tom with a turkey.

 

She purchased a big hen from a farmer who swore on a stack of Greenpeace pam­ phlets that he had raised the thing from a poult and had never fed it anything he could not pronounce.

 

Back at home, Tiffany, raised on painless supermarket turkeys, could not bring her­ self to apply the firewood axe to the bird’s neck. The brief stay of execution ended, however, when Tiffany found Tom’s supply of chloroform.

 

She put the turkey to sleep.

 

Triumphant and little nauseated, Tiffany got the big hen plucked after a fashion, but the idea of trimming off the head and feet was beyond her sensibilities, not to men­ tion the idea of moving all the turkey’s in­ side stuff to the outside.

 

So, into the fridge went the nude bird, awaiting the arrival of Tom. Remember, the turkey was to be a surprise for Tom.

 

Tiffany’s unflappable husband came home in the late afternoon, tired, burdened by thick books and reeking of formalde­ hyde. Tiffany told him she had a surprise for him in the refrigerator.

 

Tom opened the door.

 

The little light came on.

 

The turkey woke up.

 

Naked. In pain.

 

And really, really ticked off.

 

With a hellish gobble, she exploded out from among the beansprouts and leftover chili, straight at Tom. The now-streamlined and furious bird dug its claws into Tom’s sweater and began pecking and biting him on the face and arms.

 

Tom, as intended, was surprised. And more lively than usual.

 

Still screaming, the turkey dropped Tom and charged into Tiffany, knocking her backward, breaking the glass front of her china cabinet.

 

The bird bashed the portable TV off its stand, knocked a life-size poster of Elvis the King from the walls before it flapped through the still-open trailer door. A strange, pale apparition in the fading light, the turkey fled gobbling fiercely into the depths of the trailer park.

 

The next day, Thanksgiving, I dined on a properly quiet and immobile turkey with my mother and brother. Tom and Tiffany went out for dinner at a local restaurant that featured a large and placid salad bar.

 

The attack turkey, I found out later, met its fate at the hands of a little old lady down the street who had never heard of “Mother Earth News,” but who knew a dinner on the run when she saw one.

 

 

 

Defenders on the Wall

December 14, 2014

This week’s “Reporter’s Notebook” entry from the Gettysburg Times. I’ve received a lot of comments on it….

By T.W. Burger for the Gettysburg Times
Now and then, I take the long way home from town, down Red Rock and Shriver roads. Despite a few ostentatious houses sprouting up like warts in the rolling fields, it is still a pleasant, rural drive. Sometimes I am treated to the sight of a bald eagle, and once saw a pair sitting in the branches of a sycamore.
The route takes me past the memorial set up for Wildlife Conservation Officer David Grove, shot to death by a moron on the night of Nov. 11, 2010. He was 31, but looked younger. Any death of a law enforcement officer is a hard thing. But this one hit home because it was close to home. Had I been standing outside my house I would have heard the shots. The bad guy was caught almost immediately and will never see the world outside prison again. I don’t remember his names, and don’t care to. Even if they put the cretin to death, it won’t change anything.
I can’t say exactly why I frequent the memorial. I did not know WCO Grove. It may be that I realize that I can hang around on my deck at night or walk my road after dark without having to worry very much about being attacked because there are cops out there who stand between me and my easy life and the bad guys. Cops have been getting a bad rap lately, and maybe in some cases necessarily so. But we should never forget what’s out there, and who is manning the walls.

 

Athens, GA — The man was not old, but weathered, like a well-used hammer.

He had come into the office of the concrete plant where I worked to buy sand for a project “back to the house.”

He dug the money for his purchase out of a ragged leather wallet that he must of bought when Ike was still in office. I think some of the money had been in there that long, too.

“How much?” he asked.

I put down the book I had been reading. I have forgotten the title, but it was about human evolution. The volume lay open on the computer console in front of me.

On the page, a row of skulls stared vacantly outward, with the cranium belonging to the oldest member of the human family on one side, and modern man’s vaulted white dome on the other, with assorted way stops lined up between.

It was one of those rainy days, late in the Georgia summer, when business was slow, and there was time to talk, to do things at an idle pace. We weren’t busy anyway; several days of rain had turned the Georgia clay into something like pudding. I had sent most of the drivers home.

I looked up the price of that particular grade of sand, added the tax and gave him the total. He counted out the exact amount, digging in his bib overalls for the change. He leaned against the doorframe and lit up a cigarette.

“Wet,” he noted.

“Yeah,” I replied, “not much going on.”

He was as dry as beef jerky, impervious to the rain. The daylight pouring in through the office window wrapped around him in the same way that lamplight embraces wood that has been carved into shape and oiled.

His eyes drifted to the book, the skulls looking back from the page like the portraits of family members in an old home.

“That there about evolution?” he asked, giving the first letter the sound of a long “e.”

Uh, oh, I thought, nodding in assent.

“You believe in that there?”

“Yessir, I do,” I answered. “Do you?”

“Surely do not,” he said, new steel rising in his voice. “I believe unto the Lord, and unto His Word.”

I was a little more than halfway through my university study, and a little bit more than half arrogant. I knew things. I believed in things that I could see and feel and smell.

“Look here,” I said. “You see those pictures there. Those are skulls, real ones. A long time ago there was meat on those skulls, and brains in them. Something or someone lived in there, do you believe that?’

“Yessir, I believe that. They’re real, all right.”

I stood and picked up the book, excited. Perhaps I was going to make a convert. Perhaps, having stepped into the swampy world of Religion Vs. Science, I may have managed to win an argument.

I pointed out to him what little I thought I knew for certain regarding the evolution of human and pre-human anatomy. I talked about progressively larger brain cavities, different jaw structures, flatter faces, flipping pages in the book as I spoke. I felt flushed with power.

“So, can’t you see that there seems to be a definite progression in these, from the oldest to the modern?”

He agreed that it seemed to be so.

“Do not you agree, then, that these creatures were real, and that they may possibly have been our ancestors?”

“No sir, I can’t accept that,” he said, the gray light from outside enhancing the lines and angles of his craggy face. “They are not ours.”

He took a long drag off his cigarette. The smoke hung around his head, something else obscuring the air between us.

“Well, if they are not our forebears,” I said, a little exasperated, “who are they? What are these bones?”

“They are the bones of fallen angels,” he said.

The air rushed out of my lungs, the way it does when one unexpectedly steps waist-deep into frigid water.

I think about that man now and then, with his measuring eyes and his hard hands. Sometimes I see him in my mind as clearly as I saw him in that doorway all those years ago.

I think about him sometimes when I am plodding my way through court records, preparing to cover the trials of accused rapists, child molesters, murderers and drug dealers.

We are influenced by thousands of unseen forces, my educated mind tells me. We are the products of our environment, of our heritage, social and genetic. We create our own Hells.

The man in the doorway stares forever through smoke. “I believe unto The Lord, and unto His Word,” he says.

Like anyone else, I want the world to make sense. Things can be explained, dissected, explored, named. Give me a thing I can name and the name will make most of the fear disappear like smoke.

I say this sometimes with the assurance of the man in the doorway, a man worn by toil and as set in his convictions as a post in the ground.

And sometimes I say it with the shrill bravado of a small boy whistling his way through a dark graveyard.

Usually, reason wins. But now and then I find myself in an interview across a table from someone who seems made of wood, shaped from something no longer living, dead in some sense that goes beyond sensibility.

In times like those, I sometimes see him again, drawing fire to his mouth, speaking through smoke, to a world where angels could fall bereft of God to crash into the cold stones of the world, and I wonder which one of us has found the best answer.

There Is No App For That

August 31, 2014

By T.W. Burger

Guns are not dangerous in the same way that a sharp knife or a hammer is not dangerous.

There, I said it.

It’s the people. It’s us. We are the danger.

It’s not quite the PC thing, I know. It is quite the fashion now to rage against firearms, as though they are the embodiment of the devil himself.

I like guns. With a couple of odd and mostly inoperative exceptions, I don’t have any, but I like them. I grew up with guns. I had my first gun, a Daisy Model 25 BB gun when I was 11. (If you don’t think a BB gun can be dangerous, talk to any ER physician.) I got my first grown-up gun at about 14 or 15, a single-barrel 16 gauge shotgun, and had a number of firearms afterward.

I never once killed anyone, though I confess to have thought about it once or twice.

As far as the use of guns, well, I like to keep fantasy and reality segregated. The infamously bad movie “Red Dawn” (1984 and again in 2012) and its plucky gang of high school students defeating an invasion by the Soviet Union in the first version and a rogue unit of the North Koreans in the second made everybody feel good.

Despite what we see on TV and at the cinema, it’s not bloody likely. Witness the mess in Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan. It seems that absolutely everybody in those places is heavily armed. Do those places seem placid and safe? Take note, NRA.

So, guns are OK by me. Idiots and crazy people are something else. Put a gun into the hands of any member of those two classes and bad things can happen, and often do.

For example: “People just want to experience things they can’t experience elsewhere,” said Genghis Cohen, owner of Machine Guns Vegas. “There’s not an action movie in the past 30 years without a machine gun.”

Ghengis Cohen? Really?

Cohen was commenting on the recent death of an instructor at just such an establishment who died after a 9-year-old girl was unable to control an Uzi. The Uzi is a submachine gun that fires about 600 rounds a minute in calibers from .22 to .45. On August 25, this little girl from New Jersey was on a family adventure and got to fire a real machine gun.

The instructor, Charles Vacca, a 39-year-old combat veteran, took a bullet to the head when the girl lost control of the Uzi. He died. God only knows what psychological injuries the child will have. Some adventure, huh?

There is no way to keep everybody safe. Not in the real world, not even in our own local country, with more than 300 million people bumping into one another every day. Outlawing guns is not going to happen, and it wouldn’t solve the problem anyway. Better control of who can have a firearm is a good idea, but unlikely to be anything but a move to make us feel that at least we’re doing SOMETHING.

One is tempted to suggest that we need to improve ourselves as human beings. Personally, I think that is the only thing that will likely make any real difference. But creating better humans is beyond the reach of government. Such a leap requires introspection and genuine regard for one’s fellow humans.

Somehow, I don’t think that there’s an app for that.

———————————————

 

© 2014 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.

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August 12, 2014

Originally posted on Burger to Go:

By T.W. Burger

I found it, naturally, while looking for something entirely different.

In a box on a bottom shelf in my office, jammed in with some other mementos, was my old Mr. Trash hat.

It was filthy.

Of course, it was filthy when I put it away, sometime back in the early 1980s.

The grime is easy to explain. Mr. Trash was a “refuse removal business,” which most of us would still call “garbage company.” I was the field manager, though I’m not sure I had any formal title. I ran the crews. We started out with five trucks. I’m not saying the trucks were worn out, but their continued presence on the road had to be due to divine intervention. This was 1981 or ’82, and one of trucks was a Dodge. Dodge stopped making trucks any bigger than pickups in 1968.

I was in management in about…

View original 582 more words

August 12, 2014

By T.W. Burger

I found it, naturally, while looking for something entirely different.

 

In a box on a bottom shelf in my office, jammed in with some other mementos, was my old Mr. Trash hat.

 

It was filthy.

 

Of course, it was filthy when I put it away, sometime back in the early 1980s.

 

The grime is easy to explain. Mr. Trash was a “refuse removal business,” which most of us would still call “garbage company.” I was the field manager, though I’m not sure I had any formal title. I ran the crews. We started out with five trucks. I’m not saying the trucks were worn out, but their continued presence on the road had to be due to divine intervention. This was 1981 or ’82, and one of trucks was a Dodge. Dodge stopped making trucks any bigger than pickups in 1968.

 

I was in management in about the same way a staff sergeant is an officer, i.e., not much. Oh, I had a desk in the office and a pager (this was way before cell phones) and a pickup truck. But I also ran the crews and picked up garbage, usually by swinging by the homes of customers who had been missed by my crews.

Mr. Trash

Mr. Trash

Garbage workers never catch a break. Even today, I believe, people look down their noses at them, no pun intended. Which is a shame, because it’s not easy work, and if you don’t think their work matters, let your garbage men go on strike for a couple of weeks. In summer. We had a strike in Atlanta when I was in my 20s, I think. We lived 70 miles away and used to joke that we could smell it.

 

One clever fellow in the city figured out how to get rid of his own trash. He would put the bags in a box and gift-wrap the box. Then he would drive into the city and park his car for a while on a side street and go for coffee, leaving his windows open. When he got back, et voila’, the garbage was gone.

 

Anyway, it was a challenge balancing my crews and the company owner, who, I suspect, had never before worked with anybody who didn’t wear a coat and tie.

 

For example, I had prepared color-coded maps of the county for each workday, with different color on the map for each crew. The boss went to the trouble and expense of having color copies made for each of the drivers. He presented each man with the maps. The drivers looked a little baffled, but dutifully stored the maps in the cabs of their trucks and drove off to the day’s work.

 

“They didn’t look very happy,” Boss Man said. “Well,” I replied, “only one of the drivers can read. They know their routes from memory. Roger can’t even read house numbers, but he’s got a tremendous memory, when he’s sober.”

 

One of my crew was attacked by a pit-bull whose owner had failed to secure it in its doghouse. Larry heard a noise and turned to see this animal snarling and heading toward him like a surface-to-Larry missile. The dog launched into the air. Larry grabbed a one-gallon pickle jar from the trash can and killed it with one blow. I arrived about 10 minutes later to find the homeowner screaming about lawsuits and such, and berating Larry with all sorts of insults. I interrupted to point out that if I had just seen a man kill my pit-bull with his bare hands, I might be a little more circumspect in the way addressed him.

 

So, after about a year of similar adventures, Mr. Trash and I parted company. The hat went into storage with hats from other jobs. And yes, it’s smudged and smeared by various substances whose origins I don’t care to think about much. I can remember it being so soaked that sweat dripped off the hat’s bill. I wore it for awhile the day I found it, and I do believe I could still smell garbage.

 

Still, Sue asked me if I would like her to put it in the wash. She has a sort of hat-shaped cage thing she can clip onto it so it won’t lose its shape.

 

I think it’s a girl thing. Wash my Mr. Trash hat?

 

No way.

 

It’s an historical artifact.

 

 

 

 

Beyond the last buoy

April 16, 2014

4/9/2014

On realizing that I am a year older than my father when he died.

I am swimming in a dream.
Far out, beyond the last buoy,
Far from the noisy beach and shouting
Children and their bright toys,
What am I doing here,
Out in this murk?
The sea is smooth,
But featureless,
And the water dark.
T.W. Burger

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