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 would have loved to have met Joe Delaney.

 

Finding Joe’s place was dumb luck, really. Most of my attention had been given to the spectacularly rocky coastline of western Nova Scotia. I spotted the hand-lettered sign on the landward side of the road. It bore a cartoonlike head and the legend “Masque Acadie,” and saw what looked like a hundred or so scarecrows staging a demonstration in a field.

 

These are the sorts of things one should not resist.

 

“Back in 1984, my father tried raising a garden here, but the animals, the deer and the rabbits, ate everything up,” said his daughter, Ethel, who had opened a take-out diner and souvenir shop in a converted mobile home at the site of her father’s creation. “So, some neighbors said to my father, why do not you build some scarecrows and keep them away? So, he had some junk sitting around, so he made three, each about six feet tall.”

 

Joe used old clothes, Halloween masks, strips of bright plastic, and a lot of imagination.

 

The morning after the scarecrows went up, two tour buses and several cars stopped while Joe was tending his garden. Some people came out, told him they really liked the scarecrows, and took pictures.

 

“By the end of the summer, he had a dozen scarecrows,” said Ethel.

 

I poked around the little gift shop, and bought a tiny cup of coffee from her. She handed me the change. Ethel said she and Paul opened the little business two years after the tourists started showing up.

 

She wore a lot of makeup, with her eyebrows outlined carefully, the heavy black lines of the pencil leaving an oblong hollow. Ethel was an expressive speaker, and her eyebrows moved a lot. It was hard not to stare.

 

A couple of cars stopped. The people got out, took a few snapshots, dropped a few coins in the collection box that had a little sign saying the money was for the upkeep of Joe’s scarecrows, and drove away. I thought about buying some scarecrow postcards, but changed my mind. I am very cheap.

 

“The year after, he had 30 scarecrows, and the tourists kept coming,” said Ethel, her eyebrows sending semaphore signals of their own. “He had a little workshop out in the back, in the old bus, where he kept making more.”

 

Joe had died of lung cancer about two years earlier, Ethel said.

 

“He was doing real good right up until the end,” said Ethel, in accented English that told me she was more accustomed to French. “Then he got sick and we took him to the ‘ospital, and in just a little while ‘e was gone.”

 

In front of Ethel’s little take-out was one of those bright-colored windmill things, a propeller to catch breeze attached to a mechanism that made a little wooden silhouette of a woodsman make chopping motions with an ax. The blade kept hitting against the novelty’s frame. A stiff breeze blew in from the shore on the other side of the road. The little lumberjack chopped in a frenzy, a little toy maniac in the wind.

 

The same year that Ethel’s take-out went in; a vandal struck one night, destroying all but one of Joe’s scarecrows, whom Joe had named Rory. Ethel, her eyebrows rigid with indignation, said she knows who did it, but has no proof.

 

“It was a man who lives down the road, he left a bar that night after he got drunk and got in a fight. He comes in here sometimes, and I just look at him,” she said.

 

Joe wrote an account of the vandalism as though written by Rory as an eyewitness. The piece was published in one of the area newspapers. After it ran, a lot of people gave Joe money and old clothes so he could recreate his scarecrows. Today, there are about 100.

 

“We put’em away in the winter and bring’em back out in the spring,” Ethel and her eyebrows said. “We try to keep’em looking nice for people.”

 

The collection of U.S. president scarecrows looked a little tattered, but then, so does the office. There were scarecrows sawing logs, scarecrows playing fiddles. Most of them, however, stood in the traditional scarecrow pose, legs spread slightly, arms straight out at the sides, heads staring straight ahead or, sometimes tilted back, staring at the heavens. These latter looked as though they were either praying intensely, or asking God, “Why me?”

 

There were no scarecrows created to look like God providing answers, though there were a couple that looked like they could be televangelists.

 

Somewhere along the way, Ethel said, Joe forgot about the garden. He wasn’t around to ask why he simply kept making scarecrows, even to the exclusion of the garden they were designed to protect. Ethel, her eyebrows arching with pride, said her father’s scarecrows draw 20,000 to 30,000 tourists a year.

 

That’s a lot of coffee, meat pies, muffins, and postcards.

 

But I am not certain. Sure, that’s what keeps Paul and Ethel solvent, but I do not think money was Joe’s first consideration. I looked at the little photo Ethel kept of him, standing out by his workshop. There was a definite impishness in those eyes. I think Joe just kept building scarecrows and putting them out, just to see how many tourists he could lure in. I have a funny feeling he went to his grave bemused at the public’s apparently endless appetite for cute.

 

I finished my coffee, and threw the thimble-sized styrene cup into the trash. Ethel thanked me. Her eyebrows seemed to have dozed off.

 

“Come back and see us again,” she said.

 

I climbed into my van. The crazed lumberjack was taking a breather. A woman over among the scarecrows excitedly asked her husband, he of the white patent leather shoes and matching belt, to take a picture of her standing next to Ronald Reagan. I started the engine and left. A guy can only take so much culture in one dose.

 

==================================

It was not a very large cemetery, tucked away between the back end of a large brick church and a row of some houses that had seen better days.

 

There were no grand mausoleums, no pigeon-anointed angels atop granite columns, waving their swords and managing to look at the same time fierce and slightly distracted, as though they had just wondered where they had put their car keys.

 

This was a narrow rectangle of graves, 30 or 40 of them, of men, women and children buried during the years between the American Revolution and two decades before the American Civil War.

 

The church of which these sheep had been the flock had long ago moved to larger and more grandiose quarters a few blocks away. It has since changed its name. The old building is gone. All that remains are the stones, and the whispers of the names they bore.

 

I was there, as usual, because there was bad news. A number of the headstones seem to have been broken, cast down shattered on the grass the night before my visit by person or persons unknown.

 

Probably the latter. Thugs like that rarely act alone, as they need one another to crank their courage up.

 

Plainly, this was not the first time it had happened. While many of the broken surfaces shone white and new, as many more were old, weathered. It seems that these dead have been an affront to someone for a very long time.

 

It is hard to imagine why. The victims were all, by now, a thin stratum of darker soil in the surrounding clay and shale. On the stones, most of their names had been eroded by time and weather into vague ciphers. On some, the names were plain, but the dates, those points on the continuum between which the stories of their lives unfolded, were obliterated.

 

On those that are legible, the dates gave a much more careful accounting of that time than we are used to in the late 20th century. Joseph Heagy, we learn, for example, died in 1844, having lived exactly 63 years, seven months, and 17 days.

 

Another stone gives a hint of what may have been a wrenching story. Mary, wife of Ludnik, died on Sept. 14 of 1804. Ludnik, still at her side, died two days later.

 

These are people, I thought as I walked in the perfect autumn day, who lived in the tumult between the birth of the nation and the times that nearly tore it apart. It was a time of high passion, but they and their passions were by now dust and whispers. So why the anger? Why the fractured markers?

 

I stopped and looked again over the field of fallen stones, amused at myself. This had nothing to do with the vanished remains, or the people who had once worn the names etched in the marble and shale. Here, I had assumed the culprits had a reason. I had assumed that the spate of vandalism had been the result of something reasoned through, a solution to a problem.

 

Silly me.

 

This was, I reminded myself, a simple skirmish between order and chaos.

 

It was a fight between life and the vast, endless darkness on either side of it.

 

I suppose there is no better reminder of that final blackness than a tombstone, standing there solid, part of which bore the inscription “The Last Brick Wall you will ever hit.” Maybe that is where the anger comes from, a sudden despair that your brief moments above ground will mean nothing and your end even less.

 

I tucked my notebook in my hip pocket and stowed my pen, walking back toward my car. My anger at the vandalism had not abated, but alongside had grown a little understanding, and perhaps a little sympathy. The idea that you do not matter and will not be missed when you go is a painful one, I know.

 

If kicking over memorials to the forgotten dead is the best idea you can come up with as a stance against that great, crushing anonymity, you had better get used to being a nobody.

Tristan, Eagle and Fawn

August 24, 2008

When Tristan learned that, somewhere in the tangled recesses of his grandmother’s farm was a 21-foot motorboat, badly damaged in an accident decades ago and still sitting on its trailer, he couldn’t settle until he’d seen it.

He is 12, after all, and the world beckons, and what better place for a city boy to answer that call than at his Gramma’s farm?

So, armed with his pellet gun and a hunting knife he had found in my desk and “borrowed” sometime earlier (he and I will speak of that later,) off he went, a long, skinny figure dressed in the wrong kinds of clothes for clambering around in the scrub, but moving in that quick, silent way he has that makes him able to vanish right in front of your eyes while he’s supposed to be doing homework.

Nobody is really sure where on the 28 acres the boat sits. Just “back there” in the woods. Perfect, for a boy intent on discovery. He had already found a set of crawfish claws down by the dam at our house, and what he thought was a complicated bone half-buried in a bank. It turned out to have been a glob of melted and burned plastic, but the excitement of finding it is what counted at the time.

And while mowing the grass at the farm, had seen a bald eagle fly right over him, and made the acquaintance of the garden groundhog. It had been one adventure after another.

And it was going to get better still.

T stopped in his search for the boat and looked around; probably around the time he realized he was lost. He looked down at his feet and punched up his Gramma’s number on his cell phone.

“Gramma, I found a little baby deer!”

It was curled up asleep…right at his feet.

When T spoke, the little fella awoke, jumped up, and froze. He related that to his Gramma. And then, the “daddy deer, with really big, you know, antlers,” showed up.

I suspect the antlers, at this time of year, were more panicked imagination on T’s part, that, but the fact was, there was a grownup deer and there was Tristan standing next a fawn, perhaps its fawn.

As he told me the story, I felt this little rush of panic. I’m no expert on deer, but plenty of animals get violent if they think their young are threatened. I imagined finding T in some clearing, stomped and gored. I’ve since been told that deer are not so protective, but even so…

Then I snapped out of it. T was right in front of me, unscathed, eyes wide, telling his story. He got away unscathed, perhaps out of pure dumb luck, but then I’ve had my own escapes thanks to the same agency.

He said the big deer made a snorting noise – he reproduced it as well as he could – and both deer scampered away.

A little later, he spotted the bald eagle perched in a tree. He called Gramma. She said if the eagle is in a tree, perhaps there is a nest nearby. He looked around and, sure enough, there it was.

“It’s so big! Like a tabletop!”

He never found the boat, but he worked his way out of the woods, finally, finding himself at the neighboring farm, where he got to know the resident grandson of the owners, who, Tristan said, gets to drive an ATV, a motorbike and, miraculously, the farm’s tractors.

I confess to a little envy. It’s been a long time since I went wandering, mostly lost, in the woods, open to anything. I’ve had my own moments, the Cooper’s hawk that landed next to me when I sat on a deadfall, or finding the abandoned barn miles out in the woods, and inside, a vintage car, in brand-new condition except for the half-dozen bullet holes in the trunk, the fight I and my dog Gramps had with an old boar possum who wasn’t as good at playing dead as he might have been.

All the sorts of things that give parents gray hair, I suppose, and all part of the forays one begins to make out into the world as one’s childhood begins to slip its moorings.

T was with us for a week and we’re both recovering. It’s been a long time since Sue had children underfoot, and I never have, so it was….an experience. We have found most of the miniature metal cars that adorn a shelf in the living room, and the cats are a little less edgy. A few things keep turning up in places where they don’t belong, or, conversely, turning up not to be in the places where they do. It may be a week or two before our old-fogey lives get back to normal.
==============================.
© 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:
https://burger2go.wordpress.com/
http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

Lost in the garden

September 20, 2007

One of my favorite things to do is to forget myself in my garden.

Allow me to explain. Off to one side of my vegetable garden is a little open area under a cluster of trees, an elm, a couple of sweet gum, and a sweet olive shrub. The space holds a couple of chaise lounges and chairs. Think of it as a sort of den without walls.

It is generally a quiet spot, at the highest point on the lot, with 50 acres of corn or soybeans on one side, and a gentle slope of trees, shrubs and flowers down to the house on the other side.

I make a lot of my weekend phone calls from up there because the signal is good. Sometimes I go up to read or write.

Or, as a sign my dad used to have said, “Sometimes I sits here and thinks, and sometimes I just sits here.”

I have sat so still there that a cardinal once flew over my head so close that the air of his passage stirred my hair.

Late afternoon is best, when the light slants in just so, and the breezes come alive, dancing in with a cargo of whispers from their passage through the crops.

Not surprising that I would sometimes nod off, stretched out on a chaise like that.

The really neat thing is when I first swim back up to consciousness. I am aware of sound, a rustle of wind, cry of a blue jay. I open my eyes to see leaves fluttering, branches waving, maybe clouds scudding by.

For maybe a second, perhaps two, that is all I know. Not my own name. I don’t remember that “I” am at all, or even the names of the things I am seeing and hearing. I am just a part of it.

Pretty soon, of course, I recognize things not so much by what they are, but by the labels I have been taught to attach to them. I think “tree.” If I were German, it would be “baum,” French, “arbre,” or Spanish, “arbol.” Invented tags that have nothing to do with what the tree, after all, is.

Then it all comes back in a rush, the busy details, who I am, what I need to do that day, the feature story I really need to get started on because it’s due Thursday, the prescription waiting for me at Gruber’s Pharmacy for one of the annoyances of growing older. Growing older itself, which reminds me that there is more time behind me than there is before me. And that someday the leaves will be dancing for somebody else.

I get up, stiffly, and totter off to where I left the lawnmower. There are details to tend to.

OOPS! It’s Elvis

August 26, 2007

About a month ago I read a news report about a woman in Colorado. She is a rock collector, and her claim to fame is that she found a rock that she swears looks like Elvis Presley’s head.

The collector put the rock on Ebay and put a reserve on it of $20,000. So far, nobody has met that price, never mind surpassed it. What is this country coming to? Apparently we have no cultural for, um, whatever that is.

 

On the Ebay site, they quoted a Colorado geologist who said that “the rock is 3 billion year old pre-Cambrian granite. He stated that the rock does not appear to be altered in any manner, and the image is a natural formation caused by weathering.”

Well, it’s good to know that the rock is genuine.

elvis-rock.jpg

That’s a photo of the rock. If you look closely, you will see, inside the black oval, the 3-million-year-old image of Elvis. I don’t know about you, but I think he got better looking as he got older. I don’t want to be a party-pooper here, but for the life of me, the figure on the rock looks more like the cartoon character, Alley Oop.

So what?

Because it’s Elvis. Or Alley Oop. Or one of the Founding Fathers, for that matter?

alleyoop.jpg

 

 

 

 

Because it is not, or not claimed to be, either Jesus or The Virgin Mary.

Apparently, many religious types firmly believe that God has whole legions of angels who have as their primary assignment slipping around in the dark of night painting His son’s and His son’s mama’s likeness on bits of toast, mildewed walls, spilled paint, and biological stains on clothing.

Some of them are better artists than others, or perhaps I just don’t understand abstract impressionism.

I wonder if practitioners of Islam are forever seeing the Prophet’s likeness peering out of their hummus.

I wonder what atheists think when they spot a rock like that chunk of granite and see, however crudely done, a profile more-or-less-clearly etched thereon.

Oh, wait, I think I know the answer:

“Hey, look! It’s Alley Oop!”

==============================.

© 2007 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/

It’s puzzling, sometimes, how stories can float around in the background for awhile before making any big splash in the news.

Just recently news anchors were mentioning – it never went much further than that – a Dutch study which revealed that women who have had breast implants were three times more likely than those women who had not had them to commit suicide.

Never mind that the results of the study were reported by the BBC in March of 2003. We probably didn’t hear about it in the U.S. because there was too much important breaking news going on, such as Britney’s absent bloomers and other ongoing scandals of the rich and vacuous.

The gist of the study was that the researchers looked at the records of about 3,500 women between the ages of 15 and 69 who had implants between 1965 and 1993

The researchers, from the University Medical Centre in Utrecht, looked at records of 3,521 Swedish women aged between 15 and 69 who had had breast implants between 1965 and 1993. The causes of death were analyzed and compared with the death rate in a similar group of women from the general population.

There were 15 suicides in the breast implant group compared with five expected in the other group.

In the U.S., once the story about the suicides did rise, somehow, to the point that it earned mention by the TV meat-puppets, the story was off and running.

Well, at any rate, the late night comics got hold of it and tossed out the usual flutter of tasteless jokes.

I don’t remember anybody wondering why despair should visit so many of those women. One of the researchers said that perhaps women about to have the surgery should be subject to more strict psychological screening.

Gee, really? I would suggest that anybody who volunteers to spend thousands of dollars to have somebody sew bags full of silicone gel into their body does, indeed, need to have their head examined. But that’s just me.

I’d like to offer a possibility, based on observation.

How often have you seen a middle-aged man hit one of those dreaded “zero” birthdays, 40, 50, 60, and the next thing you know he’s thundering around on a Harley, or in a Corvette, perhaps, God bless him, getting filigreed with tattoos.

Said codger is then seen hanging around bars, annoying younger women and generally making a spectacle of himself.

Where I live, there’s a big festival weekend held every year and attended by more than 10,000 Harley owners. It’s sort of a celebration of denial. Everybody, of course, is entitled to their own pursuit of happiness. At the same time, I have to say that guys my age do not look like Arnold Schwarzenegger when they dress in leathers, sleeveless shirts, and tats. Hell, neither does Arnold Schwarzenegger, not any more.

In my late teens and early twenties, I wanted to be a writer. I had a typewriter. I took to smoking a pipe. At a local used furniture shop I found a saggy old hound’s-tooth tweed sports jacket with leather patches at the elbows.

There are few things in this world that look as silly as a peach-faced youth dressed in a tweed jacket, a fuming pipe sticking out of his mouth. With the possible exception of old, fat men with tattoos, drying their armpits as the roar down the road on expensive motorcycles.

Anyway, I spent a lot of time looking thoughtful and polluting the air. I stayed up late at night, thumbing through reference books and reading other writers’ work.

I really looked like a writer, I thought.

Never mind that I didn’t actually write anything except for some pretty awful poetry. I was not really a writer. But I had the look nailed, baby.

We’re all about appearance, aren’t we? We look at those magical people, the ones we wish we were, or were like, and think, down deep, if I looked like that, drove one of those, bought one of those, wore that, I would be like them.

And so you get yourself an outfit, or a thing, from tattoo to Blackberry, hot car to hot babe to artificial these and those, implanted here and there.

And one day you catch a glimpse of yourself in a store window as you’re going by on your Harley, or in your tweed writer’s jacket, and your realize that it’s just you, that you’re no cooler or with it than you were before the tats or tweed.

If you’re lucky, you shake your head sheepishly and get rid of the trappings and go on and actually be who you are.

If you’re not lucky, well, maybe you become a statistic, a subject of a study somewhere.

© 2007 Marsh Creek Media,

Gettysburg, Pa.

First off, let me confess to my geezerhood.

I have been in the reporting business long enough to remember the days when news, particularly on television, was different from gossip.

Hard as it is to believe, there was a time when the shenanigans of the rich and stoned were pretty much relegated to the gossip columns in newspapers or, if they did something approaching real interest, like getting beheaded in a car accident or getting drafted into the army.

Most of us have been embarrassed by the trend to put anything to do with the rich & shallow on the front page…heck, ANYWHERE in the front section. Britney Spears and her adventures in motherhood, rehab, and efforts to destroy the lingerie industry by showing off the fact that she doesn’t wear any (at least, not while there are photographers around,) was bad enough.

But this whole business with Paris Hilton has taken the cake. You know all the arguments, which basically boil down to “so what?”

We have all had to write (or announce) our share of dopey stories foisted on us by some ubereditor who confuses twitter with journalism. Mostly we grumble, grind our dentures, and go ahead and do it. Principles are one thing, but there is always the desire to keep one’s job.

Enter Mika Emilie Leonia Brzezinski, 39, co-host of MSNBC’s morning program “Morning Joe,” which airs weekdays from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., Eastern time.

Last Tuesday morning, she realized that the Goon in Charge had given her a script in which the lead story was yet another froth-and-titillation segment on everybody’s favorite heiress.

The story following that was one about Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana breaking from President Bush on the Iraq war.

You may remember Iraq. More than 3,500 Americans dead, God knows how many maimed and wounded, and probably tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians dead and wounded. Hardly anybody ever mentions them.

Brzezinski, being, you should excuse the expression, a real journalist, had the novel idea that a story linked to a war where actual people were actually dying might be more important that the Paris Hilton silliness, refused to read the story.

Better yet, she attempted to burn the story’s script on air but was prevented from lighting it by a co-host. She finally tore the script up, walked over to a newsroom shredder, and turned the thing into confetti.

OK, I’ll accept the possibility that the whole thing might have been a publicity gambit for Brzezinski, but I am not so convinced. She is the daughter of Zbigniew Brzezinski United States National Security Advisor under President Jimmy Carter. I think she probably has a pretty well-honed idea of what might and might not be a story that matters.

In any case, I watched the YouTube clip of the newscast’s salient points. I couldn’t stop smiling.

I hope she keeps her job. Hell, I hope they put her in charge.


I suppose it was only a matter of time.

 

The Associated Press reported last week sometime that Maryland’s state superintendent of schools, Nancy Grasmick, is promoting the idea of having teachers use comic books to inspire students in elementary and middle schools to read.

 

The state has worked with Disney Publishing Worldwide and its educational division to develop a pilot project to put Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck into eight third-grade classrooms.

 

Apparently, Goofy won’t be available until late in 2009, when his second term in the White House ends.

 

Anyway, the Disney folks took Maryland’s reading standards (their wording, not mine) and created comics-based lesson plans “incorporating skills students needed to learn, such as how to understand plot and character.

 

The whole idea makes my Grumpy Old Fart side slap his hands to his head and cry out to the Gods of Literature.

 

Then the rest of me tells me to get a grip. Yes, every fuddy-duddy bone in my body creaks out in protest, but, after all, what were the kids reading – or NOT reading – already.

 

Do YOU remember what you were reading in elementary school? Yeah, me neither. But I was one of those bookworms who read everything I could get my hands on. I was also lucky in that I had a schoolteacher aunt with the bubbly nickname of Baba who was always giving me books to read, so the drivel supplied by the elementary schools has faded away.

 

Still, I remember the books about a couple of kids named Dick and Jane and their dog Spot. “See Spot run. Run, Spot, Run.”

 

What’s amazing is that ANYBODY came out of that kind of literature able to read at all. An awful lot of people came out of school, though, able to read, but never wanting to again. And no wonder. If all you teach kids is that what they’re going to be faced with is something totally sappy, the likelihood that they’re going to have any desire to read is going to be slim to none.

 

Comic books have a bad rap, some of it deserved, and I’m not sure talking mice and ducks is exactly the way to go, but I’m no educator. Heck who am I to talk? Like a lot of children, I had an “invisible friend” when I was a kid, apparently because the real kids in the neighborhood left a lot to be desired. Heck, my invisible friend even had a dog. Eventually my invisible friend faded away. I still miss the dog.

 

My point, which I nearly lost there, is that comics and graphic novels (longer and more complex works done in the comic book style,) would not really be out of place in schools. I would never suggest that they take the place of more serious reading, as in books that don’t give you a lot of pictures so you have to “see” everything in your mind.

 

For example, there’s Larry Gonick (http://www.larrygonick.com), who’s series, “The Cartoon History of the Universe – from the Big Bang to Alexander the Great,” was a lot of fun to read and, in only about 100 pages, as I remember, gave a very general but accurate (according to the science of the time) picture of the workings of the universe. I still have a copy.

chu-i-front.jpg

 

 

On his home page, Gonik writes “Welcome to the web site of the Overeducated Cartoonist! Since 1972, I’ve been creating comics that explain history, science, and other big subjects. Why such heavy stuff? Because I’ve made it my mission to bring people the information they need to make wise decisions about the future of the human community. I’m only trying to save the world here!”

The last thing I would want to suggest is to fill elementary and middle schools with “comix” to the exclusion of meatier stuff and claim that we are at last leaving no child behind. That would be the simplistic sort of solution to a complex problem, the didactic equivalent to the Reagan-era definition of ketchup as a vegetable.

 

With only a little trepidation, I’m going to say I don’t think the folks in Maryland are so very far off the mark. I don’t think the point of an education is to fill heads with information and have them stagger away, dripping data like a used teabag.

 

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve always thought that the point was to give kids the tools for a life of discovery and inquiry. I really don’t care if the little curtain-climbers are seeing Spot run or pondering the musings of a talking rodent with three-fingered hands. If the kids comes away from the exchange with an idea that his world will grow through reading, then I’m all for it.

 

© 2007 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.

By T.W. Burger

==============================.

Snicker me no doodles…gimme coffee.

Call me old-fashioned. Even boring. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Done? Good.

I confess that I am a coffee snob, but not one of those who will only order, I dunno, a half-caff, elderberry latte or some other horror.

What the hell happened to coffee? I mean a regular cuppa joe, java, whatever.

I attended a meeting the other night where the participants all received a ‘goody bag.’ I got one, too, which was nice. There were brochures for various businesses, a mug from a local bank, a coffee scoop and a free sample of ground coffee called “Snickerdoodle,” enough for a single pot.

I was immediately suspicious. Coffee is, to me, a very serious drink, sometimes ceremonial, even sacramental, sometimes gustatory, even medicinal, something to keep me from falling over in a dead stupor while writing about, say, some township’s tax ordinances, or sitting through a staff meeting. It pries me loose from the fogs of sleep in the morning, and bolsters my spirits during the day.

Coffee is not something one names “Snickerdoodle.”

Imagine a Catholic calling Pope Benedict XVI “Benny,” or, increasingly, as painful as calling George W. Bush “Mr. President.”

Anyway, I had to try it. Yesterday morning I opened up the little plastic baggie and dumped the little pile of Snickerdoodle into my coffee maker and stumbled off to get dressed while the machine coughed and gurgled.

After awhile, I sat in the living room, laptop at the ready for my morning ritual of email and scanning newspapers online, a steaming cuppa coffee at my side.

Excuse me: Make that a steaming mug of Snickerdoodle.

OK, imagine if somebody had decided to make a new type of Hershey’s Kisses, only instead of chocolate, had substituted roast beef. Nothing wrong with roast beef, you know. Just not in that context.

That’s what Snickerdoodle tasted like. Not like roast beef candy…but like something amiss, out of place. A gilded lily. A mistake. Not icky like, say, eating bugs, just not right.

Thank you, Mr. Gutenberg, but it’s time to say goodbye.

I admit to being a fuddy-duddy in some respects (note words on coffee above,) but yesterday on the long drive to work I had a sort of a mini-revelation. I’ve been writing a column more-or-less regularly for 27 years. Sorry, I’m not tired yet, but I have discovered a sort of stuck-in-a-rut quality to what I do. Mostly, it is due to my longtime partnership with Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg. Johannes, rest his soul, has been a great boon to me.

Somewhere just shy of 600 years ago, Mr. Gutenberg invented the printing press, a device that inarguably changed the world, and more or less made it a better place, with the possible exception of junk mail.

His gizmo, much refined, made newspapers possible, and newspapers have kept me employed for most of the years I have been at this.

But there’s the rub. Writing for newspapers tattoos into one’s DNA certain hard-to-quit habits, like deadlines.

For all those column-writing years, I have had one day or night a week when I wrote a column (well there was a time when it was six days or night a week, but that got old after a couple of years.) If I missed that date, I didn’t have a column that week. If I had an idea for another column and I’d already sent one off, I had to tuck that away for another week. Usually, when the time came, I’d forgotten what the idea was, or, worse, remembered the topic but couldn’t recall what my thinking had been on it.

Very frustrating.

Late in life, (yesterday morning) it occurred to me that I was behind the times. My newspaper still prints on a daily basis. But we also publish online, and breaking news appears there as we write it. The deadline as we used to know it is gone. News, for good or ill, is there as soon as we know about it, even if we don’t know much.

So, why am I still sitting here working as though I was still buddied up with Mr. Gutenberg? It has been two years since this column regularly appeared on newsprint, yet I have been writing as though there were a crew of ink-stained wretches standing around playing pocket pool while I finished my column.

So, from now on, Burger to Go will be a little bit like breaking news on-line…pretty much written and sent when I think of them. It’s likely to be a little choppy at first…old habits die hard…but I’m trying to keep up with the times.

And now, I’ve got to go break the news to Johannes. Maybe I should ease the news with a cup of coffee. Or maybe he’d prefer Snickerdoodle.

© 2007 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.