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.

 

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

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Angels in Stone

October 12, 2016

 

Of Angels in the Stone

Adapted from a column published in the Gettysburg Times on Dec. 2, 1989.

 

The man was not old, but weathered, like a well-used hoe.

He had come into the office of the concrete plant where I worked to buy sand for a project “back to the house.”

He dug the money for his purchase out of a ragged leather wallet that he must have bought when Ike was still in office. I think some of the money had been in there that long, too.

“How much?” he asked.

I put down the book I had been reading. I have forgotten the title, but it was about human evolution. The volume lay open on the computer console in front of me.

On the page, a row of skulls stared vacantly outward, with the cranium belonging to the oldest member of the human family discovered to that point on one side, and modern man’s vaulted white dome on the other, with assorted way stops lined up between.

It was one of those rainy days, late in the Georgia summer, when business was slow, and there was time to talk, to do things at an idle pace. We weren’t busy anyway; several days of rain had turned the Georgia clay into something like pudding. I had sent most of the drivers home.

I looked up the price of that particular grade of sand, added the tax and gave him the total. He counted out the exact amount, digging in his bib overalls for the change. He leaned against the door-frame and lit up a cigarette.

“Wet,” he noted.

“Yeah,” I replied, “not much going on.”

He was as dry as beef jerky, impervious to the rain. The daylight pouring in through the office window wrapped around him in the same way that lamplight embraces wood that has been carved into shape and oiled.

His eyes drifted to the book, the skulls looking back from the page like the portraits of family members in an old home.

“That there about evolution?” he asked, giving the first letter the sound of a long “e.”

“Uh oh,” I thought, nodding in assent.

“You believe in that there?”

“Yessir, I do,” I answered. “Do you?”

“Surely do not,” he said, new steel rising in his voice. “I believe unto the Lord, and unto His Word.”

I was a little more than halfway through my university study, and a little bit more than half arrogant. I knew things. I believed in things that I could see and feel and smell.

“Look here,” I said. “You see those pictures there. Those are skulls, real ones. A long time ago there was meat on those skulls, and brains in them. Something or someone lived in there. Do you believe that?”

“Yessir, I believe that. They’re real, all right.”

I stood and picked up the book, excited. Perhaps I was going to make a convert. Perhaps, having stepped into the swampy world of Religion Vs. Science, I may have managed to win an argument.

Silly me.

I pointed out to him what little I thought I knew for certain regarding the evolution of human and pre-human anatomy. I talked about progressively larger brain cavities, different jaw structures, flatter faces, flipping pages in the book as I spoke. I felt flushed with power.

“So, can’t you see that there seems to be a definite progression in these, from the oldest to the modern?”

He agreed that it seemed to be so.

“Do not you agree, then, that these creatures were real, and that they may possibly have been our ancestors?”

“No sir, I can’t accept that,” he said, the gray light from outside enhancing the lines and angles of his craggy face. “They are not ours.”

He took a long drag off his cigarette. The smoke hung around his head, something else obscuring the air between us.

“Well, if they are not our forebears,” I said, a little exasperated, “who are they? What are these bones?”

“They are the bones of fallen angels,” he said.

The air rushed out of my lungs, the way it does when one unexpectedly steps waist-deep into frigid water.

I think about that man now and then, with his measuring eyes and his hard hands. Sometimes I see him in my mind as clearly as I saw him in that doorway all those years ago.

I think about him sometimes when I am plodding my way through court records, preparing to cover the trial of accused rapists, child molesters, murderers and drug dealers.

We are influenced by thousands of unseen forces, my more-or-less educated mind tells me. We are the products of our environment, of our heritage, social and genetic. We create our own Hells.

The man in the doorway stares through smoke. “I believe unto The Lord, and unto His Word,” he says.

Like anyone else, I want the world to make sense. Things can be explained, dissected, explored, named. Give me a thing I can name and the name will make most of the fear disappear like smoke.

I say this sometimes with the assurance of the man in the doorway, a man worn by toil and as set in his convictions as a post is set in the ground.

And sometimes I say it with the shrill bravado of a small boy whistling his way through a dark graveyard.

Usually, reason wins. But now and then I find myself in an interview across a table from someone who seems made of wood, shaped from something no longer living, dead in some sense that goes beyond sensibility.

In times like those, I sometimes see him again, drawing fire to his mouth, speaking through smoke, in the doorway to a world where angels could fall bereft of God to crash into the cold stones of the world, and I wonder which one of us has found the best answer.

There Is No App For That

August 31, 2014

By T.W. Burger

Guns are not dangerous in the same way that a sharp knife or a hammer is not dangerous.

There, I said it.

It’s the people. It’s us. We are the danger.

It’s not quite the PC thing, I know. It is quite the fashion now to rage against firearms, as though they are the embodiment of the devil himself.

I like guns. With a couple of odd and mostly inoperative exceptions, I don’t have any, but I like them. I grew up with guns. I had my first gun, a Daisy Model 25 BB gun when I was 11. (If you don’t think a BB gun can be dangerous, talk to any ER physician.) I got my first grown-up gun at about 14 or 15, a single-barrel 16 gauge shotgun, and had a number of firearms afterward.

I never once killed anyone, though I confess to have thought about it once or twice.

As far as the use of guns, well, I like to keep fantasy and reality segregated. The infamously bad movie “Red Dawn” (1984 and again in 2012) and its plucky gang of high school students defeating an invasion by the Soviet Union in the first version and a rogue unit of the North Koreans in the second made everybody feel good.

Despite what we see on TV and at the cinema, it’s not bloody likely. Witness the mess in Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan. It seems that absolutely everybody in those places is heavily armed. Do those places seem placid and safe? Take note, NRA.

So, guns are OK by me. Idiots and crazy people are something else. Put a gun into the hands of any member of those two classes and bad things can happen, and often do.

For example: “People just want to experience things they can’t experience elsewhere,” said Genghis Cohen, owner of Machine Guns Vegas. “There’s not an action movie in the past 30 years without a machine gun.”

Ghengis Cohen? Really?

Cohen was commenting on the recent death of an instructor at just such an establishment who died after a 9-year-old girl was unable to control an Uzi. The Uzi is a submachine gun that fires about 600 rounds a minute in calibers from .22 to .45. On August 25, this little girl from New Jersey was on a family adventure and got to fire a real machine gun.

The instructor, Charles Vacca, a 39-year-old combat veteran, took a bullet to the head when the girl lost control of the Uzi. He died. God only knows what psychological injuries the child will have. Some adventure, huh?

There is no way to keep everybody safe. Not in the real world, not even in our own local country, with more than 300 million people bumping into one another every day. Outlawing guns is not going to happen, and it wouldn’t solve the problem anyway. Better control of who can have a firearm is a good idea, but unlikely to be anything but a move to make us feel that at least we’re doing SOMETHING.

One is tempted to suggest that we need to improve ourselves as human beings. Personally, I think that is the only thing that will likely make any real difference. But creating better humans is beyond the reach of government. Such a leap requires introspection and genuine regard for one’s fellow humans.

Somehow, I don’t think that there’s an app for that.

———————————————

 

© 2014 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.

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

Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:

https://burger2go.wordpress.com/

http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

http://rockthecapital.com

 

 

August 12, 2014

By T.W. Burger

I found it, naturally, while looking for something entirely different.

 

In a box on a bottom shelf in my office, jammed in with some other mementos, was my old Mr. Trash hat.

 

It was filthy.

 

Of course, it was filthy when I put it away, sometime back in the early 1980s.

 

The grime is easy to explain. Mr. Trash was a “refuse removal business,” which most of us would still call “garbage company.” I was the field manager, though I’m not sure I had any formal title. I ran the crews. We started out with five trucks. I’m not saying the trucks were worn out, but their continued presence on the road had to be due to divine intervention. This was 1981 or ’82, and one of trucks was a Dodge. Dodge stopped making trucks any bigger than pickups in 1968.

 

I was in management in about the same way a staff sergeant is an officer, i.e., not much. Oh, I had a desk in the office and a pager (this was way before cell phones) and a pickup truck. But I also ran the crews and picked up garbage, usually by swinging by the homes of customers who had been missed by my crews.

Mr. Trash

Mr. Trash

Garbage workers never catch a break. Even today, I believe, people look down their noses at them, no pun intended. Which is a shame, because it’s not easy work, and if you don’t think their work matters, let your garbage men go on strike for a couple of weeks. In summer. We had a strike in Atlanta when I was in my 20s, I think. We lived 70 miles away and used to joke that we could smell it.

 

One clever fellow in the city figured out how to get rid of his own trash. He would put the bags in a box and gift-wrap the box. Then he would drive into the city and park his car for a while on a side street and go for coffee, leaving his windows open. When he got back, et voila’, the garbage was gone.

 

Anyway, it was a challenge balancing my crews and the company owner, who, I suspect, had never before worked with anybody who didn’t wear a coat and tie.

 

For example, I had prepared color-coded maps of the county for each workday, with different color on the map for each crew. The boss went to the trouble and expense of having color copies made for each of the drivers. He presented each man with the maps. The drivers looked a little baffled, but dutifully stored the maps in the cabs of their trucks and drove off to the day’s work.

 

“They didn’t look very happy,” Boss Man said. “Well,” I replied, “only one of the drivers can read. They know their routes from memory. Roger can’t even read house numbers, but he’s got a tremendous memory, when he’s sober.”

 

One of my crew was attacked by a pit-bull whose owner had failed to secure it in its doghouse. Larry heard a noise and turned to see this animal snarling and heading toward him like a surface-to-Larry missile. The dog launched into the air. Larry grabbed a one-gallon pickle jar from the trash can and killed it with one blow. I arrived about 10 minutes later to find the homeowner screaming about lawsuits and such, and berating Larry with all sorts of insults. I interrupted to point out that if I had just seen a man kill my pit-bull with his bare hands, I might be a little more circumspect in the way addressed him.

 

So, after about a year of similar adventures, Mr. Trash and I parted company. The hat went into storage with hats from other jobs. And yes, it’s smudged and smeared by various substances whose origins I don’t care to think about much. I can remember it being so soaked that sweat dripped off the hat’s bill. I wore it for awhile the day I found it, and I do believe I could still smell garbage.

 

Still, Sue asked me if I would like her to put it in the wash. She has a sort of hat-shaped cage thing she can clip onto it so it won’t lose its shape.

 

I think it’s a girl thing. Wash my Mr. Trash hat?

 

No way.

 

It’s an historical artifact.

 

 

 

 

By T. W. Burger

There he was, throwing everything out of whack.

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

There was a kid in the courthouse.

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

Cute as a bug’s ear, too.

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

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

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

Everything stops.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do not answer that question.

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

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

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

 

© 2014 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.

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

Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:

https://burger2go.wordpress.com/

http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

http://rockthecapital.com

 

On a recent rainy Tuesday, I paid a visit to some fossilized bits of dinosaur and one of the people who discovered the bits.

“Bits” here being used advisedly: These bits were small compared to the critter they came from, but pretty doggone big to the rest of us.

The dinosaur debris belonged to one or more individuals of a species called Alamosaurus sanjuanensis, brought out of the New Mexican desert by Robert Sullivan, senior curator in paleontology and geology at the State Museum of Pennsylvania.

Sullivan has spent his summers for the past 30 years working the dinosaur bone-yards in the blank spots on the map to the northwest of Santa Fe and Albuquerque. It is hot, hard work, and the teams are small, only two or three people from each sponsoring group, in this case, The University of Montana’s Museum of the Rockies, and the State Museum of Pennsylvania. That means that only a small number of fossils per season can be dug out of their surrounding stone, prepared, and carried out in knapsacks or on stretchers. It’s got to be something you believe in.

 I am trying to remember how we ever really believed in dinosaurs until the movie Jurassic Park came out. And yet, we did. Even when all we had to rely on were drawings and paintings in National Geographic, the clunky “claymation” monsters in bad science-fiction films, and, of course, our own fevered imaginations, we believed.

I’m no spring chicken, and dinosaurs thundered around in my imagination as long ago as I can remember, without benefit of full-size, full-color, bellowing digital versions of the creatures. I have to guess that people working in the field today spent time as children looking out over a pasture or into a murky forest and imagined vast shadows moving, shaking the ground with each step.

Maybe they still do, looking up from editing research papers, imagining they just caught a shudder of vibration running through the heating ducts, a furtive rustle in the shrubbery outside.

Computer Generated Imagery in films like Jurassic Park brought dinosaurs to life, starting with the first film in 1993, and several times since in sequels with increasingly lame plots and acting. Well, for the humans, anyway. The acting on the part of the digital dinosaurs seemed top-notch, at least in my book.

With the advent of CGI, the monsters moved with a spontaneity that made one want to sit astride their lumbering backs, or run away squealing. On the other hand, I wonder if seeing them so apparently real has damaged our ability to imagine them. I hope not. We believed, back in those technologically deprived days, because we needed to. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was a need to believe in vast and dramatic lives in a time so distant it implied a hope in a world after our own. Maybe, for those of still children and feeling insignificant and powerless, it was good to populate our spirits with beasts so big as to be undeniable, unstoppable, and inexpressively awesome.

Alamosaurus is a pretty big deal. For one thing, it’s simply just damned BIG. Two of the recovered pieces are vertebrae, one from back around the beastie’s hips, the other from the lower part of its long, long neck.

The remaining piece is a little less than half of an Alamosaurus’ thigh bone. It’s nearly four feet long, meaning that this bone, from knee to hip, was eight feet long and more than a foot thick.

Bob wouldn’t speculate on the animal’s size because this particular type – long-necked and –tailed herbivore that ambled around on four legs – came in a variety of models that might have enough variation to make scientific guesses about its length, weight, etcetera, just that…guesses.

Even so, the University of Montana put out a graphic showing an estimated comparison between a generalized Alamosaurus and a typical full-grown human male. The other silhouette is a representation of one of the vertebrae found at the New Mexico site.

Feel humbled? You should. The Alamosaurus was one of the biggest creatures ever to walk on land, though there was another, similar herbivore, Argentinosaurus, which was slightly larger. Full-grown, Alamosaurus was more-or-less the length of an Amtrak passenger car.

Nobody has yet found the skull of an Alamosaurus, so nobody can say for sure what it looked like. It likely had a brain the size of a tangerine, so if it were around today it could probably run for public office.

There are a lot of reasons we can be grateful that the real dinosaurs are long gone, I suppose. On the one hand, I really do enjoy picturing one lumbering through the field across the road from my house, chomping and belching its way through the soybeans.

On the other hand, I think keeping something the size of a city bus out of my tomato patch would be a major pain.

Kicking Back

October 5, 2010

A new fire crackles in the Franklin stove, armor against the growing chill.

The writing-for-money stuff has been put away for the day. Time to relax.

This little working harbor with its tiny fleet of lobster boats and a few pleasure craft lie quiet under an overcast sky. The bell buoy at the harbor mouth tolls over and over, promising an unquiet night for those on the open water.

Out in the Gulf of Maine the sea tosses, never easy, and waves smash on the boney coast.

From here, it sounds like breathing.

It has been a vacation of small adventures. Nothing hair-raising. Nothing that would make the papers. Saturday night our friend and neighbor Bob brought over a blueberry pie he had made that afternoon. We dug out the vanilla ice-cream, and an evening of dietary mayhem and great conversation ensued.

Yesterday, we spent an hour or so up in Waldoboro with Nate Nickoll, an artist of endless imagination who has populated his property with dancing figures, dragons, giant ants and frogs and mermaids, even a yellow submarine, all made from scrap metal. Sometimes he sells his creations, if he can bear to part with them.

This morning, I created my first breakfast involving scallops. It was a big hit. There’s no telling what might happen next.

And, no, this column doesn’t have a point, not as it would if I was tackling economics, or man’s inhumanity to man, or my personal glee at the demise of the Hummer. It’s just me taking time to disengage, knock it into neutral, and just be.

You should try it.

==============================.
© 2010 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/

Happy New Year!

For those of us of a certain age, writing “2010” is a real adventure.

I write for a newspaper for most of my living, a trade that seems to be fairly precarious these days. I’ve stopped reading articles in the trade journals. They made me feel like a sword-swallower with hand tremors.

So. 2010 is the sort of date we all saw written in science fiction stories when we were kids. Years beginning with the digit 2 were the Years of The Future.

And here we are. Funny, it doesn’t look all that much the way the sci-fi writers thought it would.

I distinctly remember we were supposed to have colonies on the moon, and probably on Mars. Every home would have a car that would fly. People would wear form-fitting clothing that looked like it was made out of spandex.

Energy mostly came from safe nuclear fusion reactors.

Look around.

Obviously, we missed a step, here and there.

The closest thing we have to a space colony – outside of Congress — is the International Space Station. Think of an Airstream trailer with solar panels.

Our cars? Well, except for some hybrid vehicles, the basic technology of the automobile is the same as it was in Henry Ford’s day, with sexier bodywork. Today’s cars don’t go airborne unless something has gone terribly wrong.

Some people wear form-fitting spandex clothing. Few of them look good in it.

Our energy still comes from old-fashioned sources, hydro-electric, coal, and a few generation plants powered by nuclear fission. Fusion reactors cannot maintain a nuclear reaction and so will not melt-down, and produce little or no nuclear waste. No more TMI nonsense.

Naturally, nobody has been able to figure out how to make a fusion reactor yet that didn’t take more energy to run than it produced.

So, we’ve still got poverty, as always, wars everywhere, as always, and a nation that seems to have no sense of adventure, certainly nothing like it had 40 years ago when humans left their first footprints – and their first junk – on the face of the moon.

This is not to say that I’m one of those old crabs who think nothing has turned out right.

Well, not much has turned out right, but I’m not all that crabby about it.

Today is my 25th anniversary as a newspaper reporter. That much time in these trenches teaches you that few things turn out as planned, usually cost more than they were supposed to, and are usually late to boot.

I come from an era of party lines and rotary-dial phones, black-and white TV, from a time when everything in the world was far away and a long distance call was a marvel, even if filled with hisses and odd acoustical events. And it seemed as though everybody read the newspaper.

Earlier this week, I watched a TV program on my iPod.

I regularly check the weather, read and send email, and take photos and video on my cell phone.

Sometimes I even talk on it.

Attending government meetings or court hearings, my colleagues and I often write stories and file them on-line…while the meeting or court business is still going on.

Every news story and most of the contacts I have made in the past quarter century exist as a pattern of electrons on my laptop or an external hard-drive. A few years back, I ditched four file cabinet drawers full of files, because almost everything that was in them is available on-line in less time than it would take me to walk over and find the file.

And, to be honest, I usually read my own paper online in the morning before I make the 50 mile trek to work where I can get my hands on a dead-tree version.

Yeah, the news industry is going through a lot of changes right now. I have no idea what will happen next. That’s scary, especially for those of us on the shady side of 60 with pesky things like mortgage payments to keep up with.

Even so, it’s also exciting. When the dust settles, there will still need to be people who can sort fact from conjecture and rhetoric and tell a good story.

I hope I’m still one of them, partly because I can’t afford to retire in this economy anyway, and because reporting has GOT to be more fun than shuffleboard.

I think of the opening of this new decade the way a novice skydiver looks at the open door of the airplane on his first jump.

Enough talk. Let’s get to it.

AND ANOTHER THING:

This is just something to think about.

On Christmas Day, independent singer-songwriter Vic Chesnutt died in Athens, Ga.

He was 45.

He died from an overdose of muscle-relaxants.

Chesnutt was partially paralyzed from a car crash when he was 18.  He got around by wheelchair.

He was facing a lawsuit filed by the local regional hospital following surgeries that left him owing about $70,000.

Chesnutt, who was signed to a Canadian record label, often worked with musicians from there. In an earlier interview with the Athens Banner-Herald, Chesnutt said his band mates were stunned by his situation.

“…It’s something that blows their minds; there’s nowhere else in the world that I’d be facing the situation I’m in right now. They cannot understand what kind of society would inflict that on their population. It’s terrifying…I’ve been nearly suicidal over it,” he said.
In other news, CNN reported just last week that tests performed on conservative talk-show guru Rush Limbaugh after he was admitted to a hospital for chest pains found nothing wrong.

The network reported that Limbaugh praised the work of the medical staff.

“The treatment I received here was the best that the world has to offer….I don’t think there’s one thing wrong with the American health care system. It is working just fine.”

I would like to note two things.

1.    The health care debate has not been about the quality of health care available to Americans. If they can pay for it. It has been about who can pay for it. Meaning, who can get, afford, and keep health insurance.

2.    In the summer of 2008, Rush Limbaugh signed an eight-year deal to stick with his radio show. The deal is reportedly worth $400 million, with a $100 million signing bonus.

3.    Vic Chesnutt may have committed suicide because he was being sued for as much money as Limbaugh makes in about three hours.

Just something to think about.
==============================.

© 2010 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/

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:

https://burger2go.wordpress.com/

http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

(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.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:
https://burger2go.wordpress.com/
http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/