Mail a complaint Michael Burton’s Pathetic Biography Page

Burton, Michael E. (1952—)

The unexamined life is not worth living. —Socrates

Some lives are not worth examining. —Unknown

I was born well after my usual bedtime, so my own recollection of my birth is sketchy, at best. But I believe that my birth has had a profound impact on my life.

With no log cabin immediately available, I was born at Wilson Memorial Hospital in Sidney, Ohio on the dark and stormy night of July 22, 1952. Two barns in the vicinity were struck by lightning during the storm, and burned down. The subsequent precipitous decline of western civilization has been widely noted.

I grew up mostly in Bellefontaine, Ohio. My childhood was unremarkable and therefore not very memorable. I do remember one trip to my grandmother’s house when I was quite young. My mother had baked a cherry pie and put it on the ledge inside the rear window of our car. On one very steep hill, the pie fell off the ledge and onto the back seat. To this day, when an unexpected tragedy strikes—the Kennedy assassination, the Challenger explosion—I smell cherry pie. True story.

I wasn’t much of an athlete. I was nearly always the last person chosen for sports teams. Sport builds character—my own experience did much to make me the sullen, embittered wretch I am today. The only professional sport I enjoy watching is baseball, and I’ve scarcely seen a game since the 1994 strike that cancelled the World Series.

When I was eleven years old, I read Masters of Deceit, by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. The book seemed awfully grown-up to me, and for a time, Hoover was one of my heroes. There is nothing more endearing than a paranoid right-wing sixth grader.

A Science Lesson

Education—real education—is inherently subversive. One day in elementary school a student brought in an old-fashioned hand-cranked telephone generator. During our science lesson, the teacher used the generator to demonstrate a few things about electricity. Then he taught us something more.

He asked two students to hold the two wires coming from the generator, and he had the rest of the class join hands to close the circuit. He told us we would get a shock only if someone broke the circuit by letting go. He turned the crank, and everyone got a mild but unpleasant shock. Each of us denied that we were the one who let go. We tried again and got another shock.

“Think for yourselves!” said the teacher. “Don’t believe everything someone tells you, even if they are an authority, like a teacher.” Over the years, that lesson took firm root in my own mind. When I see a “Question Authority” bumper sticker, I remember that teacher.

Typical Teenager

As a teenager I became an avid fan of Marvel Comics. My favorite was the Fantastic Four. My interest in popular music started with the Monkees and expanded from there. I was stirred by biographies of Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Indians.

I became a student of President Kennedy’s assassination after reading a sensational article about New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison. While reading the first of many books about the assassination, I noticed glaring flaws in the author’s reasoning. The author clearly knew more about the assassination than I did, but for the first time in my memory, I was reading an expert’s analysis without accepting his conclusions.

In history classes, I learned that many of the supporters of Mussolini and Hitler were decent people who had surrendered their own judgment and were swept along by a mob mentality. I couldn’t be sure that I would have behaved differently in the same circumstances. Thereafter, I pointedly refused to join the cheers at my high school’s mandatory pep rallies. Occasionally someone would throw something at me, but the pep rally crowd was pretty tame, as bloodthirsty mobs go.

I still have a contrary streak. I feel uncomfortable joining a vocal majority even when I agree with them.

My only extracurricular activities in high school were the high school newspaper and the yearbook. I enjoyed writing and decided to study journalism. I graduated from Bellefontaine High School on June 7, 1970, a little more than a month after four students were killed by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University.

College

I started college at the Ohio State University (OSU) in September 1970. I had never been away from home before, and the adjustment was challenging. During my first year at OSU, I went home every weekend.

Some high school friends had organized a one-hour weekend TV program on the Bellefontaine cable system, and I had an interview segment on the show. I usually learned who I would be interviewing the night before the interview. Friends praised one interview in which I got two bitter opponents in local politics to admit they had some common ground; that interview felt like pure chaos to me. My interview of the district’s congressman was carried as news by the local radio station. My most embarrassing memory is being sandbagged by a rent-an-expert from the John Birch Society.

I got involved in student government at OSU, and got to know David Leland, who is now the chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party; Mike White, now the mayor of Cleveland, and John Kasich, now an influential Republican congressman and recently—yikes—a presidential candidate. Working with a speakers committee, I met Dick Gregory, Alvin Toffler, Daniel Ellsberg, Norman Mailer and others.

I learned to use a mimeograph machine and cranked out several issues of a personal political pamphlet called Who Cares? For one ten-week quarter, I had a column in the Lantern, the campus newspaper staffed primarily by journalism students.

I had been a decent student in high school, but I was a dismal student in college. I took a full-time job as a janitor and tried to continue school as a part-time student. My academic progress remained slow and disappointing, and eventually fizzled to an ignoble end.

Is It Almost Over?

I moved to a job in OSU’s Stores department in 1977, providing chemicals and lab equipment to students and researchers.

I bought an Apple //e computer in 1983, hoping it would help me to start writing again. Instead, the machine sucked the life out of me. All my time and energy went into learning about the computer. When I finally did start writing again, I was writing about computers for a users’ group newsletter. When I switched to the Macintosh, I wrote newsletter articles about it, too.

In 1990, my computer skills helped me get a job as a computer operator at the OSU Medical Center. In 1995, I moved to my current job as a systems programmer in the Medical Center’s Information Systems department. I help support a number of VAX and Alpha systems running OpenVMS.

And now, after all these years, I have a pathetic home page on the World Wide Web. This is the problem with the Web, you know—it provides a soap box for millions of people who don’t have anything to say. After many years seeking a soap box, I am surprised and sorry to find that I’m one of them.