By T.W. Burger

“Chronic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed, is a most undesirable sentiment. If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time. On no account brood over your wrongdoing. Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean.” 
― Aldous HuxleyBrave New World

 

 

 

Huxley may be correct. I don’t know. Some remorse is easier to shed than others.

 

There is the secret son.

 

This is more painful than most of what I write.

 

It speaks more of personal failures; failed relationships, lack of responsibility, of not caring about consequences.

 

I am in full support of a woman’s choice when it comes to pregnancy. On the other hand, I won’t take any of the philosophical shortcuts that make the consequences easier to bear.

 

Just as I support scientifically based thinking on evolution, I must believe that an embryo is a human at the point of conception, or at least a human-in-the-making, a biological process that, if uninterrupted, will produce…one of us.

 

The whole business of choosing when it is no longer OK to terminate a pregnancy is more semantics than reality; at any point in that process, a human life ends. I support choice, but pretending that a human life is not interrupted in process is dishonest, I believe.

 

It is what it is.

 

All the same, I believe that is the choice to be made by the female human, the one who must do all the hard work of carrying, birthing, and, very likely, raising that child.

 

But enough philosophy.

 

I found out when my partner decades ago had a miscarriage that it was her second. I was stunned. We were supposed to be on birth-control. Our relationship was falling apart and she thought having a child would keep us together.

 

Her doctor gave me hell, until he realized that I had no idea that she had even been pregnant, had stopped taking The Pill, and didn’t know about the first miscarriage.

 

My emotions were complex. Worry for her, sadness for both of us, not a little anger as well.

 

The relationship did not survive much longer.

 

There were two abortions with two different women. I was not careful, did not use protection. Not something to be proud of, and not a case of pretending the actions were of no consequence. One of the two women, raised in a very religious household, named the dead embryo after the procedure, and often said that “they took my baby.”

 

I don’t remember the name that she gave the child.

 

I went with her to the clinic. The waiting room was full. Several of the women joked that having the procedure done gave them a “vacation” from having to have sex with their men.

 

That turned my stomach. For me, it was a very solemn event. Like an execution without a prior crime. Not a thing to be taken lightly. I became a lot more cynical about humanity that day. And about myself.

 

I was the only man there. I don’t understand that, either.

 

Around the same time, a woman with whom I had become involved became pregnant. She was married and intended to stay that way. It was the 1970s, and sex was still a playground. No thought for consequences.

 

I went by once to meet my son. He had my eyes, my ears. He had a club foot.

 

I held him and talked to him and, drawing a strange look from his mother, apologized and told him that I was happy that he had made it so far. After all, in those days the odds had been stacked against him.

 

I try to keep track of him. The last I knew, he had settled in Asheville, North Carolina. I found his house on Google Earth, a little brick bungalow at the corner of two streets in a modest neighborhood. From the satellite photos, I saw toys in the yard, a swing set in the back. I have grandchildren.

 

I have grandchildren.

 

No issue, as the Bible calls it, but a son and grandchildren and probably great-grandchildren who do not bear my name, do not know my face, or even that I exist. Yes, I have been tempted to contact him, spill the beans, because I have a selfish desire to connect.

 

But that would mean telling him that the life he has had for nearly 40 years has been a fiction in part, that the man he called Dad for all those years was not, at least biologically. I know, I am assuming some things, but any other assumptions I make would only be to make myself feel better. I don’t deserve that.

 

So, yeah, I lived through the sexual revolution, firing wildly from the hip.

 

I’m still standing. But there are bodies in my wake, and wounds I cannot heal.

 

Brave new world, indeed.

 

I knew right away I was going to like Nate Nicholls when I saw his yard.

I was sightseeing in 2005 on some of the back roads in the area of Maine where I like to vacation, and there it was, inhabited by guys leaning on shovels, giant chickadees, giraffes, assorted frogs, cactus, oversized flowers, and the odd dragon or two.

Everything was made out of junk, scrap metal, propane tanks, rakes, shovels, railroad spikes, nuts, bolts, lengths of rebar, this and that.

I whipped the car onto the shoulder and walked around some, taking photos, hoping the owner would show, but he wasn’t home.

But there was a big, hand-lettered sign. The sign said that the township is telling him that no business in the township can have items for sale unless they are screened from view. So, his sign says, nothing you can see there is for sale. Unless, that is, you look at it through a screen. He provides the screen, of course, a square of framed wire mesh that he made himself.

“Ok,” I said to myself. “I GOTTA meet this guy.”

The next day, I did.

Nate Nicholls was no trained artist. He was a high school dropout, then 43, who eked out a living harvesting and processing wild Maine blueberries, doing odd jobs, and from the occasional sale of a piece of his art.

Turns out, he was born only about 50 miles from where I live, in Lancaster, Pa. He was married and lived with his family in a white wood frame house adjacent to his workshop and his, well, it’s hard to say what it is. Display area, museum, and storage lot. Prop lot for some very strange stage production. Something like that.

Nate, who had collected mostly metal junk for his hobby for years, got serious about welding and bolting odds and ends of stuff together after his mother died about three years before I met him.

“She was artistic. After she passed, I just felt like I had to do something, and this is where it went,” he said.

He also said he got a little ticked off with the local government because they told him he couldn’t keep all that junk in his yard.

“So, I started welding stuff together, and called it art. I said, ‘now it’s art, what are you going to do now?’ “

He said the township didn’t like him very much.

Nate’s prices were arbitrary. He had a steel sheep he made and set the price at $6,000, because he’d seen one made by a famous sculptor priced at that figure.

“And my sheep looks more realistic,” he said with obvious pride.

The sheep, I had to admit, looked pretty darned real. OK, it looked like a sheep in chain mail, but this is art, right? The convention/menagerie in Nicholl’s yard includes people of all shapes and sizes, an elephant, giraffe, one whole red and orange dragon perhaps 10 feet tall hatching babies out of propane tank ‘eggs,’ parts of several other dragons, a self-portrait of the artist, one squid, one octopus, a pair of tiny dogs made from car springs that I would swear were modeled after a pair of miniature poodles I know, any number of birds, lizards…all made from old gears, snowmobile mufflers (great for peacocks and pelican bodies, as it happens,) nuts, bolts, pitchforks, shovels, picks, shears, screwdrivers and chain-link fence.

Nate said he spent a lot of time in scrap yards, and sometimes people just bring stuff for him. One fellow, I believe, provided a couple of tons of railroad spikes, which have evolved into hundreds of tiny figures romping, dancing and marching around Nate’s five-acre property.

Sadly, Nate is not making any more fanciful creatures.

One July day he was welding a small metal frog when his heart failed. He was rushed to the hospital in Damariscotta, but nothing could be done to bring him back. His kids had him cremated and buried his cremains in his sculpture garden, and covered his grave with bouquets of flowers made from gaily-painted flowers fashioned from outdoor spigot handles.

I make a point to stop at Nate’s on every visit to Maine. Sometimes I chat with his son Josh, who lives in the big old house, and sometimes chat with his daughter, Alissa, on Facebook.

Like many artist’s Nate’s life stared back at us from his work. He once had a run-in with the state highway department. They said his stuff was too close to the road. He countered by listing a number of more usual businesses on the same highway who keep their products as close or closer. In honor of the dispute, Nate built a highway department guy leaning on his shovel, a stumpy cigar stuck between his teeth and a woman giving him hell about something.

To celebrate his warm relationship with his township, Nate has a figure carrying a skull around on a platter. He said the head represents a figure from the local government who is sometimes a pain in the butt.

The biggest problem Nate had, aside from his hassles with the local and state government, is that he gets attached to each piece, knows the story behind every part of it, who brought him this spring, that doohickie, and what inspired him to make it. It’s sweet, but it doesn’t help his cash flow.

“I can’t mass produce these things, but if I have only one of a piece, I can’t sell it. And of my very favorite pieces, I can hardly bring myself to sell them at all,” he said.

He did sell stuff, though. He picked up a turtle made of railroad spikes, its shell made from old steel nuts welded together. It was about eight inches across. He said he makes them pretty often, because people walk onto his property and offer him a hundred bucks for one.

He said he figures he could get $10,000 for the 10-foot-tall red-and-orange dragon, babies and eggs included.

At his memorial service Alissa read from a poem Nate left behind:

There really isn’t much difference
between this old man
and a chunk of rusty mooring chain.
I grow weak
from both the weathering of time
and the brine of existence.

Since Nate’s death, his kids have moved some of the sculptures around. Some of the pieces have been stolen, but they are doing the best they can on a limited budget. They want to maintain Nate’s Recycleart Garden Gallery and the garden for as long as they can. The garden is free and open to the public, and they want to keep it that way.
Recycleart sculpture garden and studio
https://www.facebook.com/recyclesculptor

http://recyclesculptor.com/

Max

October 23, 2015

I try my best to be rational, despite a lot of guff I get from less liberal friends.

 

I went through religious phases, even tinkered around in the occult for a while, until I got tired of trying to believe ridiculous things. So, I have self-identified as an atheist and a non-believer in magic for decades now, but I have to make an exception for particular dogs and cats.

 

I remembered that when I met Max.

 

I had a wonderful dog when I was a kid, a Heinz 57 of very democratic ancestry named Gramps. His previous owners called him that because his bark sounded like the griping of a querulous old man.

 

Gramps and I were as inseparable as a boy and his dog could be. We explored the woods and fields in the area where I grew up and were often out till after dark. I had a BB gun and Gramps, and was relatively fearless, except for that time with the Peacock, but that’s ‘whole ‘nother’ story.

 

When I was in Junior High, a brat down the street yanked on Gramps’ tail where it had been slammed in a door before we got him. Gramps yelped, turned and bit the little turd on the face.

 

Without hesitation, Dad took Gramps to the vet and had him put down. He said if he had not, the family of the little monster would have sued us.

 

I was heartbroken. I suggested that we put the kid down too, but that idea gained no traction.

 

I didn’t speak to my dad for a couple of weeks. I think he was really hurt.

 

Four years later I worked as a helper on a beer truck. I was loading the hand-dolly back on the truck in a town 40 miles from home when I turned around and there was Gramps.

 

Of course, that was silly. He was a young dog, and Gramps was pretty old when he died. But he was identical; same short glossy black fur, same white blaze on his chest, same quizzical tilt to his head when I talked to him.

 

I laughed at myself and climbed up in to the passenger seat of the cab.

 

Gramps II took a running leap and sat in my lap.

 

We talked for a long time. Wes the Driver, being a notorious motor-mouth and unable to keep a schedule, stayed in the package store for a long time.

 

I told him how much I missed him and stuff like that. He wagged and licked my face and looked into my eyes. When Wes came out from the package store, Gramps II licked my face again and jumped out of the cap and trotted away.

 

Wes, who had not seen the dog, saw my face and asked what was wrong. Nothing, I said, smiling. Everything’s fine.

 

And it was.

 

During my recent vacation, several of us were out exploring South Bristol, a little fishing village on the Maine coast. The town has a rare swing bridge spanning the gut between a sheltered harbor and Muscongus Bay.

 

A swing bridge serves the same purpose as a draw bridge, but instead of lifting up, it rotates to the side to let boats pass.

 

I am told there are only a few of these in existence, and the one in South Bristol will be gone by the spring of 2016, replaced by a more traditional drawbridge.

 

We had been watching the bridge working and taking photos of it. I finally sat on the steel curb on the span’s walkway to rest.

 

A slender, well-dressed woman with white hair approached with an older white Labrador retriever on a leash.

 

From about 20 feet away, the Lab, 12 years old and named Max, spotted me and nearly tugged his leash out of the woman’s hand. He plowed through my standing friends and threw himself at me.

 

He butted his head against mine. He licked my face and beard, wriggling like a puppy. I rubbed his ears and scratched his chest. He made small vocalizations. We were long-lost friends…who had never seen one another before.

 

“My god, he never does that,” said the woman. “He is normally kind of shy. He never approaches people.”

 

The group of us chatted with the woman for a while. She lived somewhere on the Maryland coast. I don’t remember much of the conversation; I was all about Max.

 

I talked the way I would to any other friend. Max mostly spoke through his eyes and body language. I said I would be happy to take him home, and I meant it. Whatever it was between the two of us, between two members of separate species, it was powerful.

 

Finally, it was time for the woman to leave; he husband was picking her up and two days later they would leave for Boston to visit some family, then home to Maryland.

 

She tugged the leash. Max looked at me, licked my face. He turned and walked away slowly. My throat tightened. If I had been a child I would have made a scene.

 

I do not know how to explain what happened between Max and me. I am not sure that I really want some cut-and-dried psychological explanation. I had felt a spark of something that bridged a gap that some would say cannot be bridged.

 

Max and I know better.

 

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.

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:

https://burger2go.wordpress.com/

http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

http://rockthecapital.com

 

 

By T. W. Burger

There he was, throwing everything out of whack.

He roamed from room to room, weaving erratically, and chaos followed him. Desks sat empty, pens and pencils lay willy-nilly where they had been dropped. Computers hummed vacantly to themselves. Electric typewriters buzzed, abandoned.

There was a kid in the courthouse.

I do not mean the slack-jawed nitwits with their hats on backwards, the ones I usually see up before one of the county’s judges. I mean a rug-rat, a cookie-cruncher, a toddler.

Cute as a bug’s ear, too.

Not that I’m an expert. I have always shied away from having kids. Too selfish, I suppose. Now and then, like when I saw this little guy bonking around inside a couple of courthouse row offices, I get this wistful feeling that, gee, wouldn’t it be nice…..

When that happens, I go visit someone who has teenagers and it goes away.

But there is a thing that happens whenever anybody brings a little one into the courthouse. I call it PMS, or Persistent Mommy Syndrome. (Boy, will I catch hell for this.) Most of the employees in the row offices are women. Anybody brings a tyke there had better be good at sharing.

Everything stops.

Everybody comes over and pokes and coos. The reactions from the kids vary, but I think most of them respond like this one did: Bafflement followed by “died and gone to heaven.”

I watched, frankly, with something approaching envy. Virtually every woman in the place had to take her turn holding the little guy, bouncing him up and down and generally marveling at him.

The kid, of course, was just eating this up.

I made some wisecrack. One of the women suggested I was jealous.

“Somebody did the same thing to you when you were this little and cute,” she said.

Yeah. So how come it doesn’t happen now that I can appreciate it more?

Do not answer that question.

Years from now, as a grown man, this guy will wonder why it is that every time he walks past a courthouse he gets a big smile on his face.

If I were another kind of writer, now would be the time where this column would dutifully grouse and grumble about all those “man-hours” (an interesting term, all things considered) “wasted” fussing over some kid while the paperwork languished, boxes unchecked, corners unstapled, triplicate copies unfiled.

Sorry. You have the wrong guy. The paperwork can wait. Personally, I think the world could use more people with PMS. Maybe if more kids got that kind of attention, I wouldn’t be seeing so many of them standing before the fierce gaze of a judge.

 

© 2014 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:

https://burger2go.wordpress.com/

http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

http://rockthecapital.com