« Previous  
 Next »

Burlington's 'sick' side

08/12/02 12:00AM By Philip Baruth
 MP3   Download MP3 

(Host) Every generation has its own path through a city, but commentator Philip Baruth has recently found himself forced from one path to the next in Burlington.

(Baruth) Ordinarily these days, I live in a three-year-old's version of Burlington. The three-year-old's Burlington consists of daycare, the play spaces at Burger King and McDonalds, the Fletcher Free Library story-hour, playgrounds at Battery and Starr Farm Parks, and the game room at Zachary's Pizza. In fact, sometimes the whole world shrinks to just a single ride at the game room at Zachary's Pizza, a little yellow bus that plays "The Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round" over and over and over.

But this last week I had my brother's boy come to visit from New York. Craig is fourteen years old, and he wears big silver headphones connected to a CD-Walkman most of the time. I asked him why big headphones were back in style after two decades of increasingly tiny headgear, but he couldn't hear me.

Anyway, for four or five days, I made pretty heroic efforts to uncover the fourteen-year-old's version of Burlington for Craig. We played every game known to modern man. One day we played a quinella: miniature golf, full-sized golf, whiffle ball, Monopoly, and batting-cage softball. And we were having a lot of fun, and Craig is a really good kid, a kid who would never complain - but I knew there was something fundamentally lame in all of this, something overdetermined and desperate and uncle-driven. I was creating a forty-year-old's version of a fourteen-year-old's version of Burlington.

But I should have trusted that the city has its own methods, its own ways of stretching out its arms. We're sitting in Ming's Chinese restaurant in Colchester, eating chicken with broccoli, and all of the sudden Craig is holding out this flyer he's pulled out of the newspaper. He's taken the headphones off, and he's got this very intense expression on his face. It takes me a second, but I realize that this expression is one of hope.

The flyer is for a half-price tent sale at the Burton Snowboard Factory. "You guys have the Burton factory here, in Burlington?" Craig asks, quietly, as though asking loudly would scare Burton away.

As we drive to Burton, he tells me something I had no way of knowing: he's a budding snowboard fanatic, but the board he has now is a cast-off from a second-cousin, and he was hoping against hope to get a new one before the snow falls. And for Craig and his friends, Burton is the last word in style.

And when we get there, even I can tell that it's the mega-jackpot: there are tents full of radically discounted gear, and the actual Burton Snowboarding team is walking around offering advice. Everything is extreme. There's a DJ mixing hip-hop. Guys are doing somersaults on trampolines strapped to snowboards. Booths are giving away energy drinks with cool, Mandarin-looking characters running down the side of the bottle.

My brother's son Craig looks over at me as we cross the invisible border into the Promised Land. And when he speaks, he speaks in pure Burlington urban haiku: "Sick," he says.

Philip Baruth is a novelist living in Burlington. He teaches at the University of Vermont. His new book with Joe Citro is Vermont Air: Best of the Vermont Public Radio Commentaries.""
comments powered by Disqus
Supported By
Become an Underwriter | Find an Underwiter