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



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:






A Queasy Bit of Genius

December 2, 2011

By T.W. Burger

I have to admit that a teeny part of me thinks there is somebody absolutely brilliant behind all this.


Americans destroying what it is to be American in order to protect America from people who would destroy what it is to be American.


I mean, WOW. It’s like MAD magazine on crystal meth.


On Tuesday the U.S. Senate, which, I’m beginning to think, may be the terrorist organization we really need to worry about, voted to keep in place a controversial section of the defense spending bill that would allow the indefinite detention of any terrorism suspect, including American citizens.


I can really see the attraction, to be honest. There are, plain and simple, really scary people out there. Some of them are just plain crazy, and some of them are crazy but think they are acting on behalf of Allah, or Jesus, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, for all we know. Like it or not, they’re out there, walking around, watching the world through the warped lenses of their assorted lunacies, and perfectly happy to go to glory on behalf of their own delusions, if they can just take some of us – preferably a whole lot of us – along for the ride.


Well, that’s the picture that’s hung on the side of legislation like this, anyway, a poster to convince us that we must do everything in our power to quell the threat against us.


No matter the cost.


That last part is not even in the fine print. It is not even mentioned.


Of course, we are really pretty vague about whom that threat actually comes from. The terror-of-the-moment is anybody who worships Allah, and there are some good reasons for that. On the other hand, back in World War II, We The People locked up a lot of innocent folks – 110,000 Japanese-Americans and about 16,000 German-born citizens and immigrants for much the same reason we want to lock up people who go to the wrong place of worship on the suspicion that they may be jihadists.


Of those Germans, perhaps one in 10 was members of the Nazi Party. Eight were actually suspected of espionage.




I spent an afternoon walking around what was left of the Manzanar Japanese internment camp in Southern California some years back. It had just been handed over to the National Park Service, but nothing had been done to pretty it up. I was OK until I found the cemetery. A number of the graves were very small, only a few feet long, with toys, trinkets, and folded blankets placed over them, by people, perhaps, who are not simply shrugging their internment off as a temporary inconvenience.


Guess what happened to their jobs and property while they were gone.


In any case, the long internment of so many without due process, based in large part on the way they looked or talked or cooked their sausage has been a matter of some shame to the U.S. Apparently, it has not be so much of a shame that we have been cured of heading in that direction again.


Perhaps the fact that our detention camps are not, strictly speaking, on American soil helps make our updated detentions seem more humane, or at least less un-American.


Sixteen Democrats, among them Pennsylvania’s own Robert Casey, joined the usual foam-at-the-mouth crowd to vote against amending the legislation to remove the section on authorizing indefinite detention. It gave me the same sensation I had when I once was convinced there was a snake in my sleeping bag.


To be sure, there are not very many people locked up at the nominally illegal military prison in Guantanamo. At last count, there were perhaps 170 or so people who are adjudged to be too dangerous to let go, but who for one reason or another cannot be tried under whatever legal rules they are still sticking to down there.


OK, so these are arguably really bad people. I’m sure they honestly hate us. If they didn’t hate us when they were thrown into that hot, humid dog-run years and years ago, they do now. Maybe it’s hard for some of us to feel sympathy.


But think about it.


The renewed authorization would make it possible, LEGALLY possible, to snap you up and haul you away for as long as they want, even for the remainder of your natural life, without ever allowing you to be charged, to have your day in court, without ever speaking to a civilian attorney. And all because somebody somewhere with the right title on his or her door decided you were a threat to national security, based on an informant, an astrological forecast, or the reading of chicken guts. Doesn’t matter. A paper gets signed and you are gone.


There are people who like this bill, obviously, who think it’s just the thing for combating the newest crop of boogie-beings that haunt our dreams.


President Obama has threatened to veto the bill if it contains the “indefinite detention” language in it, and hooray for him. The really stupid thing about it is that throngs of people who hate anything as long as Obama is for it, would, when not drinking that particular Kool-Aid, be whooping his praises for standing up for the Constitution that is supposed to protect us from this kind of tail-tucked hogwash.



© 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:




There has been a lot of talk lately about the decision by Eric Holder, the U.S. Attorney General, to prosecute Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the confessed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks on the U.S. and the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, among other crimes.

The decision to try Mohammed in a civilian court instead of having him face a military tribunal has been greeted by a lot of outrage and hand-wringing. It’s dangerous, some say. It’s what the terrorists want say others, so we shouldn’t give it to them, say others. It could give the terrorists reason to attack New York again, and threaten the court, the jurors, prosecutors, etc…

My friend Bob wrote to me the other day. “I think it is absolutely insane,” he said. “If these terrorists will be tried under the U.S. criminal justice system, AND it’s been admitted they did not receive their Miranda Rights, AND both the President of the United States and the U.S. Attorney General have admitted they were “tortured,” wouldn’t any competent judge would have to immediately dismiss the case?”

I am certainly no attorney, but I’ve covered my share of court battles. I have some thoughts.

For one thing, yes, a civilian trial will be full of pitfalls. And that’s OUR fault.

The previous administration’s tendency to use the Constitution only as a list of suggestion left us with quite a dilemma.

For one thing, as to the site of the trial, legally, i.e., constitutionally, it only makes sense.

The attacks of that day, for all their scope and horror, were criminal acts, carried out by a criminal organization. Thus, our laws demand that a trial be held in the jurisdiction in which the crime took place, with a chance for Mohammed to face his accusers and have his say.

Of course, there is the worry that Al Qaeda or some other band of holy murderers will seek to avenge the people involved in the trial, or the residents of New York City.

So, we’re supposed to break our own laws because we’re afraid of the terrorists?

The whole reason they are called terrorists is that they want us to be afraid, to abandon what we stand for and do things out of fear and anger, not out of reason and law. The last thing they would want is to be treated fairly under a set of secular laws, removed from the passions of our righteous anger and their feudal, wild-eyed fundamentalism

Yes, another attack could happen. But it’s not as though any of these thugs need a new reason.

It is also not as though we have not been through all this before.

A number of terror suspects have been put on trial in the U.S., convicted and imprisoned and the world did not come to a screeching halt. With a little time on a search engine, I found seven right off the bat.

•    First, let us not forget Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, whose truck bomb destroyed a federal building in April, 1995, killing 168 people, 19 of them children. He was one of our home-grown terrorists, born and raised New York State. He attacked what he believed to be a tyrannical federal government. Tried and convicted in a civilian court, he was executed in June of 2001, less than three months before 9/11.

•    Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, one of the planners of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, was tried in New York City in 1997 and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Incidentally, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is his uncle.

•     Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, aka “The Blind Sheikh,” is serving a life sentence after he and nine others were convicted of “seditious conspiracy” for planning terrorist attacks on a number of civilian targets in the U.S. In 1996 he was sentenced to life in prison. At the time, he said the U.S. would certainly kill him once he was in prison. Apparently, the paperwork for his assassination in lockup got lost somewhere.

•    El Sayyid Nosair stood trial as a co-conspirator of Rahman. He too received a life sentence.

•     Richard Reid, whom we in the label-happy media named “The Shoe Bomber,” is serving a life sentence after he tried to destroy a jetliner in flight in late in  2001 by setting off explosives hidden in his shoe.

•    José Padilla, charged with planning to explode a “dirty bomb,” was convicted instead on conspiracy charges. He is serving a 17 year sentence.

•    Zacarias Moussaoui, one of the Sept. 11 conspirators and the only one who failed to board an aircraft that day, is serving a life sentence.

The feds apparently think they have enough of a slam-dunk that they can try Mohammed without falling back on his confession, which was obtained after illegal questioning under torture. More on that in a moment.

We already get tons of criminals who claim not to have been Mirandized or who say they were tortured or coerced in some way. In some cases, it may even be true. But if they can’t offer proof or corroboration in some way, those accusations do not carry a lot of weight.

In this case, Mohammed was tortured, water-boarded more than 100 times, and former Vice President Dick Cheney repeatedly saying “oh, that’s not torture” won’t change that fact, or its consequences. Any competent defense attorney will bring up the torture, if the prosecution attempts to use the confession.

Mohammed, by the way, only confessed some time after the torture sessions were ended and more traditional interrogation techniques were applied.

The problem is that you can’t go screwing around with what is really a very good legal system without paying some kind of consequence.

The previous administration played fast and loose with the rules as it suited them, and now we have a real mess on our hands.

This whole matter hinges on how serious “We the People” take the Constitution, truly the foundation of what and who we are as a nation.

We are not some tribal society, in which anything goes as long as it benefits that one narrow group of people. We are distinguished by the fact that we are a nation linked and shaped by a set of codified rules, not by race, creed, or religion. If we cannot abide by our own laws, then we are little more than a very large mob.

Or, to be blunter, we would be no better than terrorists ourselves.

Bob is right. This IS a disaster, but a disaster of our own making.

But surely it is plain how we would compound that disaster to make special cases out of suspected terrorists, to set aside the rights guaranteed them under the document that defines us? To do so would be to grant them victory.

As hard as it is to think about the possibility that these guys could go free, in the greater sense I think we have no other choice than to grant them the rights we would give any other thugs whose crimes were less spectacular.

I don’t think the civilian trials of these alleged terrorists will throw a wrench into our legal system. It may be true that they walk free because We the People set aside the Constitution and took a short-cut. If that occurs, it is we who threw the wrench.

A friend asked, just this morning, asked if I realized that in a lot of countries, Mohammed would simply be paraded out into some public place and summarily shot.

Yes, I know that. That is the point. We are better than that. And the bad guys hate us for it.
© 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:

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:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then along came the 60s.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


© 2009 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.

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

Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:



I’m afraid that we’ve had so much war in recent years that we have forgotten that heroism comes in many guises.

Sometimes the greatest acts of heroism come not from the use of weapons and force, but rather in acts of beautiful defiance that are simply breathtaking.

Only recently I learned of Vedran Smailovic, the cellist of Sarajevo.

It was 4 p.m. on May 27, 1992, two months into the three-year war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a nasty war involving more than a half-dozen factions that changed objectives and allegiances several times during the conflict. In short, it was a dog-pile of a mess, and there were no winners. Not there ever really are.

Smailovic, then in his mid-30s and principal cellist with the Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra, was watching from his apartment window as an artillery shell landed amid a bread line in front of The National Library. The explosion killed 22 people, scattering stone, bone, blood and body parts.

The next day, Smailovic, dressed in his tuxedo as though preparing for a performance in one of Europe’s great halls, took his cello and an old stool and sat in the center of the shell crater and began to play. It was exactly 4 p.m.

He played Albinoni’s Adagio in G, music that can make you believe in angels.

He finished playing despite continued shelling and gunfire nearby. And then he left.

The next day, he was back, and played the same piece, paying no mind to the mayhem around him or to the risk.

And the next day. And the next. Until he had played 22 times, once for each of the 22 who had died before his eyes.

He played, not to cheering crowds in their finery, but to cratered streets, rubble, to bone fragments and terror and the smell of smoke and decay. He played for more, I think: To that in us that is better than our familiar role of angels of death, of harrowers of the innocent. He played, perhaps, for what is possible, for what Lincoln called “our better angels.”

A journalist at the time asked him if he thought he was crazy, playing on a battleground.

Smailovic reportedly replied: “You ask me am I crazy for playing the cello, why do you not ask if they are not crazy for shelling Sarajevo?”

He was right, of course. By the end of the slaughter, more than 100,000 were dead, and nearly 2 million had been displaced.

Why is it so hard to see which of those two actions – the destruction of a city and the lives within it, or a sole man defiantly standing up to the insanity and horror – is the act of madmen.

If Vedran Smailovic is crazy, then I say God bless the lunatics, and give us more.


© 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:



Tempus fugiting faster

March 23, 2008

I think my best interviews – using the term broadly – have been with the very old.

I once talked to an old guy named Samuel, whose daddy picked him up one clear night in 1910 and showed him Halley’s Comet. He lived long enough to see it again, and wept remembering that night so long ago. He also said “I saw the first airplane land in Adams County, and I sat in this chair and watched a man walk on the moon.” Neither one of us could say much after that. After all, what could be said?

Just this past week I wrote about a remarkable woman who had died in a Washington, D.C nursing home at the age of 102. Not exactly an interview, obviously, but fascinating.

Frieda was born the year President Theodore Roosevelt begin his full term as president. He had ascended to the presidency on Sept. 14, 1901 after the assassination of William McKinley. The year is regarded as Albert Einstein’s “miracle year.” In 1905, he published four papers. In one of them he developed the theory of special relativity that gave birth to the famous formula E=MC2. It was the year a little town in Nevada named Las Vegas was founded after the auction of 110 acres of desert, and in Paris, infamous exotic dancer and purported spy Mata Hari made her debut.

Frieda’s grandson sent me a photo of her taken in about 1919, when she was 14 and had just finished the eighth grade. It was as far as her schooling would go.

 Shortly after the photo was taken, her father died, and she had to go to work. She worked for 80 years as a bookkeeper before retiring.

What a century to live through, I thought. Born four years before the introduction of the Model T, she lived to see space shuttle flights become commonplace.

On the other hand, tempus fugits faster all the time. I was born 43 years after Frieda, and I hardly recognize the world from back then. I did some quick research. I was born the year the 45 rpm record was introduced. Today, I have an ipod. I’ll wager that if you show a 45 to somebody younger than 30, they would have trouble identifying what it was.

We had a telephone, a black Bakelite thing with a rotary dial. It was on a party line. Neighborhood gossips on the same line could pick up the phone and learn what their neighbors were talking about. Today, I don’t have a “land line,” but a cell phone that has more functions than I’ve probably discovered yet, including the ability to give me directions on the road.

The first two VW beetles were brought to the US that year. They were regarded more as curiosities than viable transportation. “Too small,” people said. The sedan I now drive, a product of the early 21st century, looks like some sort of silver aquatic creature giving birth when I get out of it. Too small, yes, but a necessary evil in these days of long commutes and soaring fuel prices.

A few weeks before I was born, a USAF crew made the first nonstop round-the-world flight, covering about 23,000 miles in a shade more than 94 hours.

The aforementioned space shuttle makes the trip in about 90 minutes.

The Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb in August of that year, and whatever innocence might have about how humanity holds its fate in its own hands was gone forever. The USSR is gone, but the specter of nuclear annihilation is still with us. And I can’t help but note, because I live in Gettysburg, that a few months after my birth, the last six surviving veterans of the Civil War met in Indianapolis. That brings into focus the fact that the war was really a recent thing, in historical terms.

That same year Howard Unruh killed 13 neighbors in Camden, New Jersey, using a Luger he had kept as a souvenir from WWII, making him America’s first single-episode mass murderer. There would be more.

In the years since, my country has gone to war a handful of times, with very mixed results. The death count in American lives lost in those conflicts tops 116,000. Just in the latest fracas, we have chalked up nearly 30,000 wounded. Some unofficial sources push the number up to 100,000. And that’s just our soldiers. God knows how many civilians we have wiped out.

So, a very mixed bag. I have been here a tad less than 60 years. There’s no point in engaging in discussions about what was good and what was not. Some of the good and bad was obvious. The jury is still out on the rest. I’m no Luddite, scornful of technology. I confess that when it comes to human nature, I am intuitively a pessimist, which means that all my surprises are happy ones.

I just can’t wait to see what’s next.



© 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:





In Harm’s Way:

March 16, 2008


It was the eyes that caught me first.

The sergeant sat at a downtown Starbucks waiting to talk to me for a story I’m working on about soldiers like him. Soldiers who come back from the wars, in one piece, more or less, but not the same.

Never mind the digital hearing aid in each ear, from being too close too often to things that went boom. That’s not the worst of it. The real damage is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. We called it different things in different wars, but we tend to pooh-pooh the afflicted because the wounds don’t show.

The sergeant who went away for three tours of combat never came home, his wife says. Somebody else did. He does not disagree.

What went to war was a prankster, a burly good-natured everyman sort of kid with bad hair and an attitude and a twinkle in his eye. A friend of the sergeant told me he was the first guy in town, back then in the late 1980s, to learn breakdancing.

What came home was a ball of fury, barely contained, the twinkle gone. He said he is always in “battle mode.” He said if you’ve never been in combat, you don’t know what that means. But I see how he sits, coiled, eyes tense. There is no ease in him.

Under treatment, including medication, he seems compliant, resigned, and doomed, a dispirited being in a slaughterhouse pen.

Get this. Some studies predict that three out of 10 combat vets come down with symptoms of PTSD within a few months after they return.

I don’t want to write too much on this now: I still have his story to tell in the newspaper, and I don’t have enough of him to do that yet. The Army is not being helpful. They won’t let me follow him through a day of therapy. In fact, they tell me that he is not, technically, allowed to talk to me at all about his PTSD. It needs to be done, they tell me, through designated representatives of the military. The sanitized version.

Two decades of service, often in harm’s way, indeed, harmed. And he is not supposed to tell anybody what happened to him.

It is no wonder he feels anger. So do I.


© 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: