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:



Twist and Creak

August 27, 2012

We shuffled and limped into the theater in downtown Gettysburg, men and women of a certain age. Some waggishly wore hippy gear; head-bands, tie-dyed shirts and skirts, and so on. Frankly, the gear looked better on us all a few decades back, but we knew that. Everybody looked excited and eager.

Inside the theater our youth was waiting.

Well, as much of it as remains to us. A Beatles tribute band, “1964-The Tribute,” played at the Majestic, and I thought it would be a lark. It was much more.

When I was a kid, my dad would walk through the house at night, humming old Glenn Miller pieces, sometimes cupping his hands over his mouth and mimicking a trombone solo.

Inevitably, I would roll my eyes, embarrassed, and irritated, somehow. It was music from the distant past, ancient, meaning more than 20 years old. I actually liked Glenn Miller music, but I wasn’t about to admit it. It was of my parents’ world, and therefore not to be trusted.

The theater was packed. There may have been a couple of empty seats, but I couldn’t see them. Even the balcony was full. A sea of geezers, me included, all chatting excitedly. It was an Event.

I had never heard a tribute band before; there are plenty of them, for all sorts of defunct artists, from Mozart to, someday, I suppose, Justin Bieber, if they can find a 12-year-old who can sing. I was not prepared to be impressed.

After all, we live in an age when there is no “Yesterday,” (sorry, Paul). Not in the sense of media, anyway. Time, I thought, was safely tucked away in millions of little electronic pockets, in iPhones, computers, and compact discs, everywhere. Heck, I still have all my original Beatles LPs.

I got my first album from the lads from Liverpool when I was 14 and visiting relatives in western Pennsylvania. It was “With the Beatles.”

There was a record player in my aunt’s basement, and I spent a big chunk of the Christmas visit sitting in that dark space listening to that one album, over and over.

It must have driven the adults mad. But they let me have that.

I am no musicologist, but I have read critiques of the music, especially the tunes penned by Lennon and McCartney, extolling their talent and the impact their work had on music of many varieties from that moment on. If you weren’t around, I can tell you that American pop music just before the so-called “British Invasion” was nothing if not blah.

Though there have been a number of albums, many of them were mere mashups of previous work. According to at least one source, all of the massive effect the Beatles had arose from the core Beatles discography recorded during the 1960s roughly 10 hours of original music. Just 10 hours, a little more than an average American work-day. And only one of the group, George Harrison, could even read music.

Back at the Majestic, theater director Jeffrey W. Gabel came out and did the usual rah-rah stuff about the theater and its funding needs.

And then he introduced the band.

With the wigs and the suits they could pass, sort of, for the original Fab Four. They have been touring for 28 years, but they managed to look a lot younger than they probably felt at the end of the two-hour show.

But. Oh. My. God. The music.

Not exact, mind you. The playing was close enough, but the voices, naturally, not quite the same. Lots of Beatle-y banter in what may actually be a Liverpudlian accent, though the band members actually hail from places like Indiana and Ohio, for god’s sake.

But the difference between the pretenders and the real thing blurred by nostalgia and aging eyesight.

It worked. They started playing and time fell away, except for the creak in my knees when I stood to cheer, clap, and sing.

I surprised myself by knowing almost all the lyrics. I could tell because I was singing them along with everybody else I could see. The cheering at the end of most songs shook the rafters, or whatever is holding the Majestic up other than wealthy donors. “Twist and Shout” nearly resulted in a riot and, I suspect, a couple of coronaries.

Now and then I remembered that I am by profession and inclination an observer, and took time to look around: Row after row of friends, neighbors, people I flat don’t like, and people I just know by sight, all of us in various stages of decrepitude, all of us dancing and creaking in place, transported by a common joy, old faces lit by memory.

Suddenly, I was laughing and singing along, yelling at the top of my lungs, joyful. I didn’t even do that when I was a kid. It’s just that I had this happy energy in me, and there was nothing else to do with it but hurl it out into space, in joy and against time and all that dies.

I have come back to Earth, now. But changed, somehow. Not sure how to describe it. Cleaner, I guess, or at least buffed and waxed and shinier than I was. It’s a good feeling.

I’ve been walking through the house, humming Beatles songs for the past several days, now and then throwing in a Glenn Miller tune. Here’s to you Dad. I get it now.


Ghosts in the River

January 1, 2012

Ghosts on the River

Three days before the year’s end, and the weather had turned suddenly colder.

Scattered fat snowflakes darted through the scrub oaks clinging to the steep banks of the Shenango River in western Pennsylvania, a 100-mile long tributary of the Beaver that eventually flows into the Mississippi River.

Shenango means “pretty one.”

My brother, David, and I joked that if we believed in ghosts, our mother’s would be down there on the marshes along of the Shenango, gigging frogs with her dad, a rough, hard-drinking steelworker.

At our feet, on the heights above the river, were the headstones of our mother and father. Dad was buried there in 1981, Mom just a little more than a year ago.

Neither of their lives or deaths was particularly easy. But all that’s done, now.

Water, flowing water, has always held me fascinated. I grew up in northeast Georgia, along the Oconee, whose name is a corruption of the Creek word meaning “born from water.”

The Oconee’s waters tumble down over the fall line to join the Ocmulgee to become the Altamaha and finally the Atlantic.

I now live in southern Pennsylvania along Marsh Creek, which joins with Rock Creek to become the Monacacy, which flows into the Potomac. The heights between Marsh and Rock creeks were the site of the Battle of Gettysburg. Bullets and other martial debris show up in the farm field behind our house.

The thing about rivers and creeks is that they seem from moment to moment to be fixtures, but in truth they are never the same. Blink and you missed something, something that will find its way to the eternal time-sink of the sea. So they are at once symbols of opportunities lost and of hope. That’s how I think of it, anyway.

David still lives a short walk from Born from Water.

We don’t get here often. It’s a long haul for me, and a longer one for him. Visits to our mother’s sister bring us back, and we always make the trek to Riverside Cemetery. I don’t know how often we would get back if not for her.

This is our first trip back since Mom’s ashes were interred over Dad’s grave.

I will not speak for David, but I usually spend an hour or so sitting on Grandpa George’s headstone, gazing over the tops of my parents’ stones, down toward the river.

I am not there for them. There’s nothing beneath the assorted Burger and Miller stones but ash and the odd discarded mechanical parts, the odd bone or set of dentures.

I go there to address memories, good, bad, indifferent, sometimes surprising, things I had forgotten. I speak, sometimes out loud, about this or that. Long ago, there was not a little anger, as I worked through things as I aged.

I’m in my sixties now. The anger is gone, dispersed by understanding, nubbed by weariness, and sometimes by no longer giving a damn. There were ordinary people, flawed, beat down and badgered by their own past. Who am I to be angry?

I leaned against the big oak above the graves. The wind was picking up, the flakes coming more heavily.

In a few weeks The Pretty One will be frozen over. In the old days, there were spots where you could drive a car over it. In recent decades, the winters have been thinner, meaner, somehow.

David and I climbed back into the car and wove our way through the steel-town blackened gothic stones and back into the end-of-the-year bustle of town, leaving The Pretty One counting down the moments to winter.


January 16, 2011

The email came through over my phone as I was driving home from an assignment Wednesday night. Logan was dead.

I pulled the car over to the side of the road and sat there for a few minutes.

Logan was just 20, the son of a good friend from a lifetime ago, one of those friends you keep, and feel close to, even if you rarely ever see them.

David and I became friends while we were both at the University of Georgia, back in the 70s. He studied marketing and communications. I didn’t really study much of anything. We had a lot of good times together, and what bad times there might have been never mattered.

David and Logan came and visited us in Gettysburg six years ago. Logan was 14, and had taken an interest in the Amish, and the trip gave the two of them some quality father-and-son time on the long drive north from Atlanta.

The four of us piled into my van and were off to the back roads of Lancaster County. We tried to avoid the touristy places. We had a great time. Somewhere, I have photos. It was a good enough time that I realized what I had missed, never raising a son.

Logan went to military school, then high school and started college. He was a member of the swim and lacrosse teams and coached another swim team. He was also a wrestler. His Facebook page shows him, fit and buff, in high-energy hijinks with lots of friends, and being cozied up to by an enviable number of attractive young women.

And then, about a year and a half ago, Logan wasn’t feeling well. He went into the hospital for some tests. The diagnosis was leukemia.

Logan and his family fought the disease like Apaches, relentlessly seeking blood and marrow donors, doing everything they could. I think it was almost enough.

On Logan’s Facebook page is one photo very different from the others. He is standing outside, holding the German shepherd puppy he got in October, when the docs told him that his cancer was gone. He looked like a concentration camp survivor. I kept flicking from that photo to the earlier ones, unbelieving. Surely that’s not the same person?

But it was, and he was cancer-free and on his way to recovery, even beginning to eat solid food.

And then, five days before Christmas, Logan and his family learned that the cancer was back. This time, there were no more treatment options. Everything that could have been done had been done. Logan went home to his mother’s house.

The docs said he had days, months at the most.

David said that when the leukemia came back, “It was almost as if it was pissed off.” It charged in full bore, ravaging Logan’s already weakened defenses. Tuesday night, it ended.

I sat there in my car, traffic hissing by on the wet highway, looking at my cell phone as though it might offer helpful suggestions. I spent 25 years as a reporter, calling families and friends of people who had died from long battles with terrible diseases, from injuries received in crashes, some of them on that very highway, or had died from gunshots and knife wounds. It’s something reporters have to do. They don’t like it, but they do it. It’s part of the job.

And here I couldn’t call one of my oldest friends and talk about the death of his son. This wasn’t an effort to flesh out a name in a police report or an obituary. This was somebody I knew, who was going through something that words really don’t cover. Words are what I do for a living, and yet I found none to use.

I dialed the number anyway. Dave picked up.

“Dave? It’s Terry,” I said. “I just got your email…”

Frankly, I don’t remember what I said, and I wouldn’t share the words if I did. It was personal, in a way few other things are. I hope the words conveyed what I felt, at least a little. There are some things that words just can’t accomplish.

I remember in one of my favorite episodes of “The West Wing,” after the senseless death of Pres. Bartlett’s beloved friend and personal secretary. Bartlett asked to be left alone in the cathedral, and spent a few minutes blaspheming and giving God hell, and called him a “feckless thug.”

It’s one of the things I have always envied in believers, that occasionally they can bristle and fume and the one in charge. I don’t have anybody at which to curse. But I can definitely be angry.

NOTE: Should you be so inclined, contributions can be sent to the Atlanta Leukemia and Lymphoma Society at or call 1-800-399-7312. Logan also requested that his friends register to be bone marrow donors at the Be The Match Registry at or call 1-800-Marrow-2.






© 2011 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:

As many of you already know, I live in the Gettysburg area. My house sits about five miles south of the official battlefield park, scene of the famous July 1-3, 1863 fight that saw the high-water mark of the Confederacy, and the much-ballyhooed turning point of the American Civil War.

It was also a portent of great wealth for the Asian manufacturers of little toy rifles and swords with which the darling children and grandchildren of tourists pretend jolly mayhem on one another.

Of course, the battle took up a lot more space than just the 6,000-acre park. The road on which I live, for example, was the site of an encampment of troops serving under Union Gen. Abner Doubleday, who did not, legends to the contrary, invent baseball.

I am not enough of a student of history to know what Abner did in the battle, but according to a neighbor who pokes around the area with a metal detector, his troops apparently gave up sleep for the evening, preferring rather to spend their time peppering the ground with bullets, buckles, and buttons for the benefit of future relic hunters.

We get between 1.5 and 2 million tourists every year. It makes us really cagey about finding ways around town via alleys and back roads so we have a lower risk of getting behind one of our famous double-decker tour buses or some septuagenarian operating a 40-foot motor home while trying to read battlefield markers without actually stopping.

The great thing about all those tourists is that they bring their wallets with them, and when they leave, said wallets are usually a good bit lighter.

This is a good thing.

The bad thing is that we have to deal with tourists for all but the coldest months of the year. There has been, I believe, some intense research into finding a way for the tourists to simply mail their money to us, or transmit it through PayPal, but all the details haven’t been ironed out yet.

I’ll keep you posted.

These thoughts reasserted themselves recently as I sat in one of the restaurants on the tourist strip, writing in my journal and enjoying some ice cream and coffee.

Well, trying to.

Tourist season was already past its peak. Halloween was behind us, so the legions of live people looking for dead people on the battlefield were pretty well gone off to haunt other places.

Still, and mysteriously, one end of the restaurant was filled with a platoon of Confederate re-enactors in full regalia. Fortunately, they weren’t hard-core, that segment of the re-enactor universe who never wash their uniforms, out of deference to historical and olfactory exactitude, and who as a result smell like road-kill.

No, this was generally speaking a bunch of good-ole boys having a grand time with their lady friends over a hearty meal of chicken strips and bluish-ice cream sundaes. Better than hard-tack, you betcha.

They were a rowdy lot, but none more so than one fellow at the nearest table, who spoke with great animation and volume about his latest adventures in the sphere of medicine.

He sat facing me at an angle. Directly across from him, and facing away from me, was the woman who seemed to be with him. She was a substantial lass, with long, lustrous black hair and a deep and abiding passion for fried food, judging from her plate and by her, um, beamishness.

Now, I am the last person to pronounce judgment on a person’s girth, being horizontally gifted in my own right, or their choices in how they garb themselves. My favorite leisure time clothing is a sturdy set of bib overalls and bare feet, so who am I to talk?

Even so, I like to think that if I had the sort of back porch possessed by that young lady, hip-huggers might very well be the very last thing on my list of things to wear out in public.

“Hip-huggers” is perhaps not an accurate description, as these seemed more to be holding on by their fingernails.

The problem was exacerbated by a T-shirt whose reach was far from adequate.

Sometimes, it’s hard to remember just how white some white people can be.

I do believe my corner of the room was a lot brighter than it otherwise might be, for all the light being reflected my way. I felt that I had suddenly found myself in the spotlight. I would have risen and given an acceptance speech if I could have gotten a word in edgewise.

He never stopped talking. He was too loud to ignore. And the subject seemed to change every other sentence or two.

It wasn’t so bad, merely annoying, until he started talking about his colonoscopy, his dramatic re-telling of the preparatory arrangements involved, the methodologies employed in achieving the exam, and the results discovered in the process.

By the time he got to the end of the recitation and confessed that his doctor had also discovered a mother lode of hemorrhoids, (“Which I already knew,” he added), I don’t believe anyone on the north side of the Steinwehr Ave. Friendly’s had the least bit of sympathy for him.

His friends either ignored him, or pored over the brochures and notices on the bulletin board by the register…

I, fuming that my chance to concentrate on my journal-writing had been thoroughly smashed, also admitted that if I hadn’t chosen a large serving of super-chocolate fudge ice-cream, I might have gotten through the ordeal with a bit less discomfort.


© 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:

We live near Gettysburg, so this time of year, the nights flicker and thud with fireworks, and the days rumble with re-enactors’ cannonades.

The re-enactments of the Battle of Gettysburg take place perhaps two miles from my house some years, including this one. When the weather conditions are right, I have worked in my garden while artillery stuttered away right down the road.

One year, I sat with friends on their porch in town and watched a pickup truck drive by with a Civil War cannon in tow, on its way to or from a re-enactment battle.

How many places in the world can you hear artillery or see cannons being moved from one place to another, and say “Oh, they’re just playing?”

Not many, I’d guess. Not as many as there ought to be, anyway.

© 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:

This is NOT a column, but DEFINITELY worth checking out. If you’re anywhere NEAR Gettysburg during the dates listed and love photography, and/or love New York City, please go see this exhibit.

(OK, I wasn’t going to do this thing because I’m oddly shy about doing stuff like this. Helluva position for somebody who compulsively writes expository column, but there it is.)

1. I was born in Sharon, Pa., right on the Ohio line and about 60 miles north of Pittsburgh. When I lived there, as a little boy, it was the capital of The American Dream, a steel town when steel was king. The factory where my dad was an engineer employed 17,000 people. At 4:30, when he got off work, it was like watching a kicked anthill, thousands of people, mostly men, boiling out of the office and plant doors, clogging the streets of the city with cars. Today, Sharon is mostly known for its chicken wings (The Quaker Steak and Lube) and for a vocal group hall of fame.

2. My first job was as an underage laborer for a franchise of Greyhound Moving & Storage. I was 17 with pipestem arms. It was summertime in a Georgia town full of three-story Victorian houses. I got fired after a 200-pound freezer with 100 pounds of meat in it fell on me. I wasn’t hurt, but the owner was afraid I’d sue. The experience almost cured me of the desire to work. My next two jobs were as a donut glazer (and delivery driver) at a bakery, and then as an apprentice mortician and ambulance attendant. I got fired from the donut job because I drove the delivery van, respectfully, down the ranks of sailors at a naval facility during the playing of reveille. The visiting admiral was really pissed off. Before I became I reporter, I had worked at 42 different places, doing some colorful things, from picking up road kill to running a garbage company to running the switchboard at a hospital and driving concrete mixers.

3. I got most of my real education on my own, through reading and living and talking to people smarter than I am, whose numbers are legion. I graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Georgia, for what it’s worth. I’m not one of those people who still gets giddy and acts stupid when the football team from the college he left decades ago plays a game. I spent little time on campus outside of classes because I was working, sometimes as many as three jobs at a time while taking 15 hours of courses. So, no, I didn’t enjoy campus life, though I enjoyed some of the classes. I made the dean’s list twice. The first time, I didn’t know what that meant and thought I was in trouble. I’m still not sure how I pulled that off. All told, I was a mediocre scholar, only exerting myself in courses that interested me.

4. I love books and reading, and I’m always battling my TV addiction to have time to indulge myself. I don’t retain what I read as well as I used to. I find that as I get more and more years as a professional writer behind me, the less patient I am with bad writing in books. Bad writing gets between me and the topic or plot. It’s like reading through a chain-link fence. I joined the Goodreads website and have found some really good books by doing that, and have had some good discussions about books. It’s sort of a virtual book-discussion group for people who don’t feel like going out.

5. Sue and I have an embarrassment of cats. They are “owned,” insofar as one can actually “own” a cat, in three layers. We have one cat, Kitten Kaboodle, who lives in the main part of the house and sleeps on my left arm when I’m working on my laptop. That is, when she’s not attacking my feet. In the big room off the deck are seven, Mr. Bit, fat Scooter (aka Rotunda), one-eyed Winkie, Daphne, Chloe, and Sootfoot. Sprite, the seventh, is actually one of the feral outside cats who slipped in one day and hides out in my office. We have  been unable to catch her and put her back outside. Outside it’s more complicated, with a loose affiliation of felines  we feed, though some of them wander up and down the creek bank, mooching off other families. This morning the count was 13.

6. I am an unapologetic atheist, but I have a spiritual nature. This is not as confusing as you might think. At one point in a piece I’ve been working on for more than a year, I remark that “God gave us minds so that we might figure out that he doesn’t exist.”  At the same time, I admire people who have strong faith, because I’ve seen people like that get through some terrible things without being broken. But I think that strength came from within them.

7. At the present, I am just six weeks from my 60th birthday. I am annoyed with myself that I’ve started referring to myself as a geezer. I have even started giving young people advice. Just shoot me. Please. Seriously, other than a few squeaky joints and stuff, I don’t FEEL old. Mostly.

8. While we’re on aging, I was a bookworm with arms like soda straws when I was in my teens, but a summer throwing beer kegs around at a beverage distributor turned that around. Most of the jobs I had until I became a journalist involved moving heavy things from point A to point B. The result of that was that I was in pretty good shape. The result of that, in addition to a couple of motorcycle accidents, falling off a moving train, and this or that, here and there, is my back in X-rays looks like a ruined amusement park. A quarter century sitting in front of computers has done nothing for my boyish figure. I work out at a gym twice a week, job permitting, but I still manage to look more like Junior Samples from the old TV show Hee-Haw than Brad Pitt. This impression is not lessened by the fact that my outfit of choice on weekends involves bib overalls, which I consider the most comfortable item of clothing ever invented.

9. I like to cook, but not if it involves reading a recipe or too many steps or pots. My favorite thing to prepare is a dish I made up years ago that involves chicken, lots of spices and veggies and pita bread or burrito shells. One pot, lots of flavor. I’m not terribly conservative in what I’ll eat, but if given my “druthers,” I’ll take a good hamburger every time. And forget sushi. Where I come from, it’s called “bait.”

10. Fortunately, Sue is an excellent cook and learned a lot of her culinary sorcery during seven years living in Paris. I never know what to expect for supper, and I say that with the most admiration possible.

11. Speaking of food, in 1995 we bought a garden with a house attached. I had never before owned a piece of real estate. I stood in the garden one day with a rock in my hand, realizing that the rock was something like 3 billion years old, give or take, but the law said I owned it. I still find the concept absurd, but it did mean that I could actually have a garden. Gardening is not as successful for me now as it was in the years when I worked out of my home office, before I had a two-hour daily commute. I confess to being a so-so gardener. I don’t deal with the heat as well as I once did. But the garden is a frequent source of columns and constant trigger for things to think about. That means, admittedly, that I spend a lot of my gardening time leaning on some implement and staring into space as the weeds grow merrily along. I try to convince my neighbor Dan that this really IS work for a writer. Dan has another word for it.

12. I grew up in the Deep South, but have no love for heat and humidity. Every year we travel to the coast of Maine for two weeks of reading and relaxing in a little wooden cottage not much bigger than our living room. We go in late September or early October. The local libraries and good restaurants are still open, and we can walk on the shore without stepping over greased tourists.

13. A friend who tagged me with her own “25 things about me” list wrote that she enjoys listening to music but is “often stumped as to who or what that was.” That confession fills me with relief. I’ve always been that way. I listen to a lot of classical music, especially on my iPod at work to drown out the hubbub of the newsroom. I think there are maybe two or three pieces I can recognize. But I’ve never thought of enjoying great music as a trivia game. It’s the music that’s important. If somebody asks me what’s playing, I’m likely to respond “Oh, that’s Dusseldorf’s Carbuncle in nothing flat.”

14. I also like many other kinds of music; though country and western is often funny when it’s not supposed to be, and rap I view as more of a symptom than an art form. And no, that’s not meant as a racist remark. Ugly is ugly. Heavy metal would be impressive if they never showed us photographs of the actual bands. Most of them seem to be skinny chinless white doofi with bad attitudes and worse skin. Drop a Southern boy raised on biscuits and fried chicken into the middle of the group and watch some ass-kicking.

15. For some reason, I can’t understand the words in a lot of music, especially rock n’ roll. Thank God for the Internet. If I want to know what the singers are saying, I can look up the lyrics. I usually avoid doing that because all too often I discover that the lyrics are totally inane or lacking sense. Sense is not always necessary (I mean, it’s rock n’ roll, after all,) but you have to draw the line somewhere.

16. On the other hand, I have a bunch of what they call “world music” on my iPod. None of the songs are in English. In fact, some of the languages I can’t name at all. You’d be surprised how very little it matters. One of the weirdest things I ever heard was somebody rapping in Italian.

17. I have a son. He doesn’t know I exist. The circumstances of his birth would have been scandalous in another time. Today nobody cares, but I’m not proud. The situation included too much rum and not enough judgment. He is 31 and lives in a nice house in a Southern state. As far as I know, he believes that the man who raised him is his father. I would love to know him, but I don’t believe I have the right to land in the middle of his life and tell him he is somebody else.

18. I have lived in a number of fairly exotic places, and all of them were east of the Mississippi. A place doesn’t have to be far away to be strange. I live now just outside of Gettysburg, a place I have often described as “Norman Rockwell on LSD.” I grew up in Athens, Ga., famous as both the home of the University of Georgia and for being to New Wave music what Detroit was to soul music. I worked blue collar jobs for the first 35 years of my life, so I knew Athens the way most of my University friends did not. I lived for a time in public housing, where it was not uncommon to be awakened in the middle of the night by gunfire. I stood at the door of my second-story apartment and watched two men slice one another up with knives.  I also lived in the Mississippi Delta, in the middle of Blues Country. I think of myself as a Southerner in many ways, and my accent comes back when I tell certain stories, when I’ve been drinking, or when I want somebody I’m interviewing to think I’m stupid. Yankees usually think Southerners are dimwits. It’s a mistake.

18. I met Sue on Memorial Day in 1985. I was covering a hot-air balloon race for The Gettysburg Times. From a balloon, no less. We landed in her back yard. We didn’t really get to know one another until years later, but that’s when we met. You can’t make this stuff up.

19. I couldn’t say which season is my favorite. It’s not summer, though there is a lot to like about summer. It’s the other three I can’t make up my mind about. The colors of winter are my favorites. Winter is really the most colorful season, though the colors are all muted and subtle. Maybe that’s what I like about them. Autumn foliage is gorgeous, of course, if bordering on cheesy, and breathtaking. But my favorite thing about autumn is that sense of the world rushing to get everything put away before winter strikes. Leaves off the trees: check. Acorns hidden by squirrels: check. Spring, is maybe the most magical, when everything comes back from the dead, and no matter how many springs I see, each one really is brand-new.

20. Almost every word I write nowadays is on a computer, either on the desktop at work or, more likely, on my own laptop. I have said many times that if reporters still had to use typewriters, I’d still be driving a truck. I make too many mistakes to be a great typist, though I can go pretty fast when inspired. Truth be told, I really like to write, by hand, in a journal. My preference for a writing instrument is a fountain or cartridge pen. I can’t say why, but my penmanship is better with that kind of pen, and for some odd reason, I feel smarter when I use one. Reading back over my journal entries, I can tell you that there is no empirical evidence to support that feeling. Oh, well.

21. I love where I live. We bought the cottage in ’95, when it was almost 75 years old. I don’t know exactly who built it, but the people who have worked on it assure me that the builder was no carpenter. The house sits along Marsh Creek above a dam, so the water is about 100 feet across at this point. The creek has carp the size of torpedoes, all sorts of waterfowl, including blue herons and night herons, the occasional osprey, and every so often, a bald eagle or two. There is also a snapping turtle the size of a TV tray. I think about it when I’m in the creek. Actually I try NOT to think about it when I’m in the creek.

22. We had the house remodeled five years ago. We went a little overboard, but this was The Dream House. Whole weekends can go by and we will scarcely leave the property. Some days it really is hard to peel myself away from here to go sit in a big gray box and write stories. Coming home feels like solid ground under my feet after a long swim.

23. I work for the third largest newspaper in Pennsylvania. Most days I love the job, which is about as good a thing you can say about any job. Some days I’m better at it than others. Some days, I think I should have stuck with driving trucks. Some days, I think my boss does, too.

24. This year I’m celebrating my birthday at the Greenmount Community Fire Co. No. 23. The fire hall is about a quarter mile from my house. No, the fire company is not throwing a party for me; they’re having one of their fund-raising feeds, featuring roast beef and stuff. The tickets are 20 bucks and along with the meal you get a chance to win a gun. I think it’s a high-powered rifle. I was touched to discover that 20 of my friends have asked me to reserve tickets for them. I prefer to think it’s not because they hope to win the gun.

25. I had a pep talk with one of my young colleagues the other day. She’s one of those more recent hires, all of whom are younger than some of my ties. I told her I wished I was 30 again, and not just for the obvious “wait! I was having a good time” reasons. Newspapers are going through a lot of crap lately, and none of them is going to come out of this uproar unscathed. The next five years are going to be ugly. On the upside, I believe that there will always be a need for people who do what we do. All this talk about relying on “citizen journalists” is fine, but the bottom line is that reporters, most of us, anyway, really do have a code of ethics and rules for how we do things, and nobody is harder on us when we slip up than we are ourselves. Once everything settles down and news-reporting catches up to news-gathering, things are going to be interesting and exciting and we can all stop eating so many antidepressants. I really believe that.
© 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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The Song of the Ice

January 11, 2009

By God, this is more like it.

We just came through an ice storm. Black ice on the roads and on the walk to the house from where we park the cars. A thin rim of ice on the creek, the open water widening and narrowing as the temperatures fiddle around trying to decide if they are going to get serious about this whole winter thing.

It finally feels like winter, but there is still something missing. I miss the singing of the ice.

I dislike paying heating bills as much as the next guy, but if I’m going to live in a climate that has winters, dammit, I want the real thing. I grew up in Georgia, and I have to admit, our winters were pretty namby-pamby. Frosts, cold gray rains, the occasional snow or, more commonly, freezing rain.

When I moved up here to southcentral Pennsylvania in the mid-80s, I drove into a land of extroverted weather. Meteorologically, nothing seemed to happen in a small scale.

Summers were hot and humid, and temps above 100 were not uncommon. I felt right at home.

But the spring and fall storms made me think I must have led a sheltered childhood, because I was always going out to cover events that involved trees blowing over, or the roofs ripped off of houses. Deaths and injuries were not unheard of. Sure, we had tornadoes in the South, but even so, storms in the belly of Penn’s Woods seemed rather more Old Testament that what I had been used to.

But the winters. Good God the winters.

In my first winter I found myself one evening at The Lincoln Diner drinking coffee during a snowstorm so heavy I couldn’t see across the street and it had lightning in it to boot. I figured “I am NOT driving home in this!” and had another refill. I wondered if I was on the same planet I had grown up on. The place had really savage weather. I confess that I liked it.

A decade later, we moved out to this place on Marsh Creek. It’s above an ancient dam, so the creek is maybe 100 feet wide here. That year was the first I ever heard the ice sing.

Once the deep cold had set in, the creek froze over solid. The neighborhood cats used it as a way to get to the other side and tear into the population of voles, mice, and squirrels. Sometimes the ice got to a foot or more thick.

Even I could stand on it. I was impressed.

But it was the singing that riveted me. As the water level beneath the ice rose and fell, the ice cracked, lengthwise, up and downstream. The creek bed amplified the sound somehow, and the song in the snow-stilled nights rose up, haunted, hissing, humming, the twang of a hammered saw, whisper of arrows flying, the snap of whips.

The first time I heard it my hackles rose, not knowing what it was. Even after I understood, nights when I would stand by the creek in the moonlight and listen, I would wonder if that, indeed, was all the answer. It had voice, and song, to it, and I would catch myself trying to understand the words.

Over the past half dozen years, the winters have warmed or become more erratic, the bone-aching cold punctuated by periods of mild temperature, so that the ice falters, fails, and never finds its voice. The long nights are poorer for it, though we still find the occasional midnight with the ice-encrusted trees glittering under a robust moon, the breeze filling the air with the sound of ten thousand tiny bells.

Maybe the song has stilled because of global warming. Maybe it’s just a cyclical thing, and next year, or the next, or the one after that, the ice and music will return, and I can stand by the creek, under the moon, once again and hear the song of the ice whip back and forth in the silvered light.

But for now, the creek is silent, and all I can hear in the depth of the night is the trucks on the highway, a mile or two downstream. It’s a poor substitute.

© 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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The Fabulous Flying Armoire

December 14, 2008

(First published July 12, 1995, re-issued because of a discussion at a Christmas party last night. I’ve made a few tweaks, but left the original time references.)

It was a thing of beauty, all right. A genuine do-it-yourself reproduction of an old-fashioned armoire.

“Armoire” is a French word that roughly translates to “a large piece of furniture used as a closet back in the days when they built houses without them.”

More or less.

Anyway, I bought a matched pair of the things seven or eight months ago at a specialty shop near Harrisburg. Better than six feet tall and built of lustrous North Carolina white pine, they were to fill an important function at the new house, which has closets designed for use by hobbits.

The Fabulous Flying Armoire

The Fabulous Flying Armoire

We wrestled the things downstairs without too much trouble. My friend Mike noted on the way down that he’d seen the box the armoire had come in, and that it weighed 80-some pounds. It didn’t seem the time to mention that each armoire had come in two boxes, each of which weighed 80-some pounds. Timing, as they say, is everything.

Anyway, the two armoires were strapped down into my friend Alan’s pickup truck and, after a few hundred more items were packed into it and the rented U-Strain, off we went to the new house.

Naturally, being in the truck ahead of Alan’s, I missed the best part.

In some varieties of the Christian religion, it is believed that in the final days, all the Saved will ascend directly to Heaven, thereby avoiding the unpleasantness of dying and all.

Possibly the tree from which one of the armoires had been made had grown near a small church in which one of these intense and often noisy sects had practiced. Maybe it was haunted.

Whatever the explanation, somewhere just to the south of where General Pickett’s lot skewered themselves on the bayonet of History, my armoire began to twitch and tug at its moorings, designed to keep it from moving from side-to-side and front-to- back.

Alan, driving along placidly at about 40, had no idea of the wooden epiphany that was occurring in the back of his Ford.

The green truck chugged southward toward Marsh Creek. The white armoire tugged ever more furiously at the bonds that held it to the surly bungees of Earth.

In the car behind, Mike, Maria and Brian were yelling and gesturing wildly, probably at Alan, possibly to the armoire itself, attempting to establish communications with an alien species.

The truck shuddered. The armoire shrugged the bungees aside, free at last.

Gleaming in the sun under a perfect sky, it ascended toward Heaven.

A little.

They tell me it seemed to hang there, in that peaceful way things do during disasters, then began a sort of stiff curtsy toward the green berm rushing by beneath it.

The spell was broken, along with everything else, when the armoire met the roadway. For a split second, everything seemed fine. Then, splendid smooth pine shivered, the sunlight dancing off it in a thousand directions, and suddenly the armoire was a galaxy of oddly shaped boards, hodge-podged over the southbound lane of the Emmitsburg Road.

My friends collected the debris and brought it here to the new house, and told the rest of us what had happened. They sometimes took turns, sometimes talked all at once. There was a lot of arm-waving.

The pieces of the armoire lie on the back porch now, the light of the white pine dimmer, like a fire almost extinguished.

I had a friend once, a short order cook by trade. He tried to describe to me his conversion to one of those charismatic religions, and how he had felt afterward, both elevated by the experience, and shattered by it.

The armoire reminds me a little of him. I believe there is nothing for me to do but to attempt to put it back together again. I am one of those who believe that with faith and enough Elmer’s, nearly anything can be made whole.

Besides, how could I not? This is the armoire that defied gravity, that rose white as a fish into the sunlight, if only for a moment. I shall glue it together, a sort of utilitarian relic, to stand in an honored place among my other furniture, scarred and holy.

FOOTNOTE: Some time later, I think it was that winter, I actually assembled a couple of sawhorses, an assortment of clamps, and the dependable Elmer’s Carpenter’s Glue, and got to work. It took a week or more, maybe two. Some of the pieces were no more than a few inches long. For years, the reassembled armoire’s right-hand door had a panel on the inside that bore the tire-marks from Brian’s little blue Hyundai. I swore we’d never paint over that…but we did. I wish we hadn’t.


© 2008 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: