The voice on the other end of the line dripped with conspiracy, and dragged me back in time.

He was unhappy over a piece I’d written about a former 60s radical-left activist who was to come speak at a local university.

Long before the students he was to address were born, William Ayers, now 64, was a founder of the radical Weather Underground, a group whose name was inspired by a line from a Bob Dylan song, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

Weathermen were responsible for riots and the bombing of several public buildings in the late 1960s and 1970s. Most of the Weather Underground’s activities were in protest of the Vietnam War, which the group believed to be illegal. Ayers’ appearance on the state university campus was funded by private money, and his presence had nothing at all to do with his colorful and violent past. His lecture was about finding better ways to provide education in urban areas where there is little money or parental involvement.

My caller was eager to uncover a liberal conspiracy because I hadn’t written the story the way he thought I should. Oh. Well.

He did open a door for me though, back to the 60s, the decade when I grew from a boy to a man, the decade during which the whole country went absolutely crazy.

From his voice, I am sure my caller was not old enough to remember anything from 40 years ago.

I was there. I wasn’t in the middle of much violence, but that doesn’t matter, because I wasn’t living under a flat rock.

Try to imagine this: I grew up in the 1950s, in a safe world of gray flannel, of Eisenhower’s America, of booming factories and a stable world. Everything, at least to a kid in the ‘burbs, was pretty safe and reasonable. I mean there were personal drama, schoolyard bullies and the myriad insults of growing up, period. But there was structure to everything. It made sense, even if it wasn’t all friendly.

And then along came the 60s.

Here are some snapshots, things that were everywhere, in the newpapers and TVs, and laced themselves into our days and nights:

Click:   In the summer of ‘63, four little girls were killed by a KKK bomb blast in Birmingham.

Click:    Two months later, John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and two days after that, the whole country watched on national TV as his accused assassin was shot to death by a man with the dime-store-gangster name of Jack Ruby.

Click:    The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was approved by the Senate 73-27. Two days later, three civil rights workers disappeared in Philadelphia Miss. (their bodies were found buried in an earthen dam six weeks later.).

Click:    President Johnson signed a sweeping civil rights bill into law, and two days later, Lt.Col. Lemuel Penn, a black U.S. Army Reserve officer was gunned down by the KKK near my home.

Click:    The next summer, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the voters’ rights law. A few days later, rioting that claimed 34 lives broke out in the predominantly black Watts section of Los Angeles.

Click:    The following summer, July of 1966, eight student nurses died in Chicago at the hands of Richard Speck, and only a few weeks later Charles Joseph Whitman set himself up in a tower at the University of Texas and killed 15 people.

Click:    The next summer, a month after I and most of my close friends graduated from high school, race rioting broke out in Newark, NJ. 27 people died, and 10 days later, rioting claimed more than 40 lives in Detroit.

Click:    That October, tens of thousands of Vietnam War protesters marched in Washington D.C. The Census Clock at the Commerce Department ticked past 200 million.

Click:    In the new year of 1968, three college students were killed in a confrontation with highway patrolmen in Orangeburg SC during a civil rights protest against a whites-only bowling alley.

Click:    Though we didn’t find out about it until about a year later, that March, the My Lai Massacre occured in Vietnam, with the mass murder of 347 to 504 unarmed men, women and children.

Click:    Three weeks later, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, and three months after that, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was murdered after claiming victory in California’s Democratic presidential primary.

Click:    Of symbolic significance, 12 days after My Lai, Army General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the very symbol of the America we all felt we were losing, died.

Click:    In August, a riot broke out between Chicago police and demonstrators at the Democratic National Convention.

Click:    Four months later, Ted Kennedy’s car plunged off a bridge at Chappaquiddick Island, drowning Mary Jo Kopechne, and a few weeks later Charles Manson’s bizarre cult murdered actress Sharon Tate and eight other people in her L.A. home.

Click: Five days later my friend Herman T. Fields, a couple of days into his second tour in Vietnam, stepped on a landmine and pinwheeled into eternity.

Click:    That November, 250,000 protested against the Vietnam War in Washington, D.C. and, in the final month of the decade, four people died at a Rolling Stones concert in California, including one who was stabbed by a member of the Hell’s Angels.

Click:    On May 4, 1970, four students were killed and nine wounded at Kent State University in Ohio by members of the Ohio National Guard. Some of the students who were shot had been protesting against the American invasion of Cambodia, but other students who were shot had merely been walking nearby or observing the protest from a distance. Reaction in the nation was immediate, and was, along with the reaction to My Lai, directly responsible for the end of popular support for the war, and the country became even more divided.

Today, William Ayers the “domestic terrorist” is a professor, an urban education specialist with 15 books on the subject to his credit. He was somebody entirely different 40 years ago. I wonder how many people are very much like they were 40 years ago.

My caller wanted to know why on Earth somebody whose ideas were so dangerous THEN would be allowed to speak to students NOW.

I probably don’t even have to mention the whole First Amendment thing. And I have to guess that my caller’s idea of education is NOT to expose students to all sorts of ideas and viewpoints. But part of functioning in the real world is to be able to tell the difference between butter and bullshit, you should excuse my French. If you believe anybody’s party line without question, your toast is going to taste funny.

By the way, the group Ayers was associated with never killed anybody. A nail bomb they were building blew up in a Greenwich Village building, killing three Weathermen, including Ayers’ girlfriend.

That bomb was, in fact, being built with the intention of killing some military personnel, but the truth is that it never happened, though my caller seemed to believe that thinking about killing somebody is the same as actually killing them.

If that’s true, I think most of us would be locked up by now. I know I would.

That said I’m not sure how much credence I can give to somebody who speaks with so much passion about an era he did not live through. I can remember feeling throughout the 60s and 70s and beyond that the entire world I had known had flashed like tissue in fire and become something else, someplace else. Nothing, nobody, no sensibility, came out of it unscathed. We burned, smashed, and tore at our social fabric. Even now, four decades hence, it is not entirely mended.

Was Bill Ayers a terrorist back then? Maybe. More to the point, I think he was simply part of a larger terror. As were we all.


© 2009 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.

“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.

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March 16, 2009

That’s “Six-Oh” as in 60.

I am still a little flummoxed when I catch myself saying or writing it.

I am 60.

How the hell did THAT happen?

I mean, I can remember being young enough to be chafing at the bit, wishing to be old enough to drive a car. Now, I drive 50 miles each way to get to and from work every day. File that under Be Careful What You Wish For.

But 60? Holy Cow. Last time I looked, I was 40. Nobody told me that when I went over the hill I would start picking up speed.

Oh, sure, it’s not like it was a total surprise. There were warning signs. Like last year at this time, when I turned 59. I’m not the brightest daisy in the bunch when it comes to math, but I can tell with only a little strain that 60 comes very soon after 59.

We all know that birthdays with zeros after them make you stop and think. Or stop and panic. Or stop, run out, buy a Harley or over-powered 4X4 pickup truck, if not both, and make a fool of one-self with members of whichever gender rings your bell.

Been there, done that, except for the obnoxious vehicle part. Well, mostly. Shortly after I turned 55 I really lusted after a Boss Hoss, a variety of motorcycle powered by a 640 h.p. Corvette engine. It took awhile to shake that one. I sat on one while on a story assignment and revved it up. Oh my. The reasonable, responsible side prevailed over my emotional, testosterone-stained soul, who raged “Who the hell do I have to kill to get me one of these?”

Don’t get me wrong; any day on this side of the sod is a good one. Absodamnlutely. Still, sometimes I miss that fire in the gut, I miss staying up all night writing for the sheer joy of it, and hardly feeling crappy at all the next day. I miss throwing myself into a thing because I never considered the possibility of failure, whether it was heavy lifting or a marriage.

But time flies, and here I am. Slowly, you learn, you get smarter, or more cautious, which may be the same thing, and either tougher or number, wiser or more tired, or maybe some of all of that.

I like to remember something a famous neurologist told me in an interview, many years ago. He said humans are born with the greatest number of brain cells they will ever have, but they start dying off almost immediately. By the time a human is, let’s say, 60, his brain has lost a lot of its bits and pieces. The amazing thing is that the brain learns to do more with less as it ages, so by the time one hits that age, one’s brain is a lot more efficient than it ever was before.

I guess that’s a mixed blessing. So, we’ve got a scientific basis for thinking that older people have gained something I suppose one could call wisdom.

On the other hand, I worry how far that process goes. I’m not sure I enjoy the prospect of being down to two brain cells who are very efficient at talking to one ather, flashing on and off like the lights at a construction site.

Oh, well. It’s still better than the alternative. Let’s break out the Geritol and the Ben-Gay…I’ve got a decade to explore.

© 2009 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
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Big Shot

March 8, 2009

“You need to find a place with some fat,” said the nurse practioner.

I looked to see if she was kidding. I am 100 pounds heavier than I should be. Fat? Fat I got.

“I think I can find some,” I said.

Under her watchful eye, I opened up the insulin pen, swabbed the business end with alcohol, twisted the needle assembly onto it, and then pulled off the needle cover.

It’s really tiny, about the thickness of a leader on a fishing line, and half an inch long.

“How do they make them that small,” I asked. She didn’t know.

I set the dial on the pen at 10 units. Over the next week or so, I’ll adjust that dose upward as my blood sugar levels come down. When the blood sugar hovers around 100 or a little better, I will be at the right dose.

My scores using only pills to control my diabetes haven’t been all that hot. They’ve been ranging wildly between 140, which is not all that bad, to 440 when I was first diagnosed about 15 years ago. At 440, I was wandering around in a fog, with tunnel vision. I told the nurse at the time that I felt kind of far away.

“That’s because you’re damned near dead,” which made me feel ever so much better.

You have to understand that I really just wanted it to go away. I mean, diabetes is a serious commitment. Who wants that? I really wanted to believe it was a phase or something like a really nagging cold, something that would clear up and I’d be right as rain in no time.

Time dragged on, and so did I. Weird numb spots on my feet. Changes in my vision. Less energy. Face it: I’m a guy. You really have to slap me upside the head to get my attention. I’ve looked around in my closet, and there is no cape, no form-fitting superhero costume. This stuff was killing me.

So, Thursday I pointed the needle ceilingward and thunked the side of the pen with my finger and pushed the plunger to make sure the needle wasn’t clogged and there was no air trapped within.

Tiny drops of clear liquid beaded up and ran down the needle.


I suddenly realized how close the balance is; that what will be less than a thimble full of this stuff shoved under my skin every day will make so much difference. I mean, I’m still going to die. So are you (sorry.) But this, barring the unforseen, will help me move a little further back in the line. I didn’t want to be giving myself injections. Who would? But, all things considered, I am in no way ready to leave this particular circus, not just yet, anyway, and certainly not by inches.

It didn’t have to be this way, of course. It’s my own damned fault. It is Type II diabetes, which means it is most likely attributable to my weight and diet, and not enough exercise. I picked up a lot of weight when I quit my three-pack-a-day habit about 20 years ago, and never worked hard enough to shed it.

After 15 years of taking a number of pills twice a day, the control just isn’t there. So, the choices are to face things like blindness, lost of a limb or two, or death, or start giving myself shots.

Gee, doc…can I have some time to think this over?

So, there I was, pinching a handful of potbelly in the presence of Sue, my partner now for many years, and Kathy Miller, the nurse-practioner, looking on…

With a snap of my wrist, the needle drove home. I think I heard a pop as it broke through the skin, but I’m not sure. It didn’t hurt, at least not enough to make me jump or break into some colorful language. Nothing at all like a bee sting or a thorn. Not even enough to make me blink. I pushed the plunger and held it down for 10 seconds, as instructed. Then I pulled it out. A spot of blood the size of a pinhead. That’s it.

The next night, my blood sugar hadn’t changed much. Uh-oh. I started to imagine the worst. It doesn’t work. I fall into a slow spiral of decay and disability, leading to, well, bad stuff.

The night after that, my sugar was 124. That’s a place it hadn’t been in 15 years.

I stare at the test gizmo until it shuts itself off out of boredom.

That means that, in two weeks when I go back for a progress report to Kathy Miller, I have to tell her, yes, you were right, I needed to give myself shots of insulin, I was an idiot not to start sooner, when you first started to nag me about it.

I’m really gonna hate that.

Hopefully, for a long time to come.

© 2009 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
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Spring mulches on

March 1, 2009

We’re at the center of some kind of bird convention.

It’s the sort of thing that happens every now and then in nature, that makes one feel as though something was going on and we missed the memo.

We live south of the historic town of Gettysburg, just above an old dam on Marsh Creek, which flows into the Monocacy River just over the Mason-Dixon Line in Maryland, and thence to the Potomac and the Atlantic. The pond here is about 100 feet across, give or take, and generally shallow. It attracts a lot of waterfowl, expecially in the spring and fall, as they make their way north or south during migration.

Fall is best for observing, because the birds tend to show up in clumps, like tour groups waiting for the bus to take them to the next historic site and buffet.

In the spring they tend to straggle back, traveling more at a mosey than a rush, and in smaller groups. They headed south as the leaves were starting to turn and the fields were browning, and they return as snowdrops stand out against the half-inch of snow we had overnight, and as the daffodils shoulder their way through the dark mulch.

Saturday morning it was a lone common merganser chasing fish for its breakfast. I stood watching for awhile holding one of the cats, who was more interested in me making my way to the container where the cat food is kept.

The merganser was only the beginning, the opening act, so to speak.

Later, coffee in hand, I sat at a window and watched as the new pile of mulch destined for the flower beds swarmed with bluejays, a pileated woodpecker tapped its way around the clematis vine that has climbed up the tv and police-scanner antenna tower, and another group of jays and a northern flicker hopped around in the grass, turning over leaves and pecking around in the litter. All together, there must have been 50 birds or more.

Now and then Amanda, the cat-in-charge, would stalk into the yard and disperse them all, something she apparently believes is her sworn duty. Then, when Amanda would return to her usual perch out of the wind, the birds would reconvene.

This morning I had yet another reminder that spring is just around the corner. Sore muscles, and a stiff back. And half of that mulch pile still there.
© 2009 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites: