The Talk

I transferred to public school for the first time in September of 1981 so that I could take journalism classes. I was 15 and a sophomore.

When the time came to sign up for classes, I rushed over to the teacher Bob Burge and told him why I’d switched to Placer High School. He was amused by my intensity.

I was a handful in his class, asking pointed questions and issuing challenges. A fellow student later related to her mom, “Nobody knew what to do with his brain.” In the Spring semester, I transferred to the school newspaper, the Messenger.

I was intimidated by the senior members of the staff. I felt small and scared.

Part of the responsibility of being on the newspaper was that you had to go out and get two ads for each issue. I remember having to go to the ski shop on Main Street to get their ad.

I hate selling. It’s just not in my blood. My dad’s an academic. My emotional state tends to be detached. I hate asking for anything. I prefer to be an observer. Collecting this ad was one of the hardest things I ever did.

I’m not sure if Bob Burge noticed how hard this was for me, but I don’t remember having to go out and get another ad in my 2.5 years on the staff. I just got accounts with set ads.

As I became more comfortable on the newspaper, I became my normal obnoxious inappropriate self. Mr. Burge had to often tell me to shape up and to cool it and to stop being a jerk.

Just before I graduated in 1984, he wrote in my yearbook: “I remember when you first joined the newspaper staff, I gave anyone permission to strangle you at any time…

“These have been three exciting, lively years…. In seventeen years of teaching I have never had another student challenge me as much as you did. If I have challenged you to remain calm in the face of disaster and to be both a gentleman and a journalist then, we have both gained.”

In my Junior year, I got in a daily habit of taking bets from other students on various sporting events. Mr. Burge didn’t like this. He said we were learning to take advantage of each other. He said that if I was going to do this, I had to take it out of the room.

I was always trying to get a rise from Mr. Burge. I was always baiting him, trying to provoke him. Mr. Burge was very calm. He had six kids. He was a centered guy. He had inner peace and secure attachment.

Towards the end of my Junior year, I challenged Mr. Burge to appoint me Editor-in-Chief for the next school year. I was the obvious choice based on my experience and enthusiasm but he had obvious concerns.

“OK,” he said to me one afternoon, “let’s go in the other room and talk.”

So we settled in and he said he needed assurances that I would act appropriately if he were to appoint me Editor. I assured him that I would shape up, and I did. I’ve always been able to do this when I’ve needed to. There’s something about being called on the carpet that wonderfully concentrates my mind.

So I was the Editor of my school newspaper in my Senior year and things went smoothly. I changed its name to “Hillmen Messenger“, which remains. I behaved myself. I treated the staff respectfully. After we published our final issue, I hung out in the room after everyone left and turned on Top 40 music and cried.

I went back to Australia for a year after high school to live with my brother. I didn’t know many people in Tannum Sands and wrote a lot of letters home to California. Mr. Burge wrote me back at length and cheered me up.

At Sierra Community College, I became the Editor of the school newspaper for the 1985-1986 school year and often came back to Placer High School to kibbitz with Mr. Burge.

The last time I saw him was in May of 2000. He was in the same room and as good humored and friendly as ever.

I still want his approval.

This morning, I found out he had blocked me on Facebook. I want to cry. I know I post too much and this must’ve driven him crazy, cluttering up his news feed, or perhaps I posted something inappropriate on his wall, I know I do this stuff regularly and without any concern for the repercussions, and yet I feel gutted.

A lot of people have blocked me on Facebook. The stuff I write is too crazy for them. They have reputations to consider.

My former boss at KAHI radio news (from 1981-1987), Pete DuFour, never did accept my Facebook friend request.

Many of my classmates were relieved when I did not show up for the 25th anniversary celebration. That way I couldn’t write about them.

My Placer High School journalism advisor.

My Placer High School journalism advisor.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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