Freezerburn in Burlington

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(Host) The Burlington City Council is currently considering a plan to turn the decrepit Moran Plant on the city’s waterfront into a new home for the YMCA. Commentator Philip Baruth is all in favor – but he’ll miss the old Moran Plant anyway.

(Baruth) I like to think that people — and cities — are more than the sum of their most beautiful parts. For instance, I’ve always loved the Burlington waterfront for its mix of the lovely and the unlovely. For every pristine element there was a gothic element; and most impressively gothic of all was the Moran Plant.

The Moran Plant is an abandoned power plant, four or five stories tall, perched right on the edge of Lake Champlain. The brick is old and dark, and the windows are just deep black sockets. In recent years the City has run a sailing center on the Moran grounds; so this huge deserted hulk is always surrounded by twenty or thirty colorful little sail boats, like Godzilla wading through a weekend regatta.

But my favorite part of the Moran Plant has always been what the graffiti said on the north side: in big orange-and-black letters was the word “Freezerburn.”

I never knew what the anonymous graffiti artist meant by that word, but I liked it from the first moment I saw it. Maybe originally it referred to a local band, or some inside joke; but, as with all enduring art, once the word was there, it came to mean a thousand divergent things.


It was the ultimate one-word urban haiku, three-syllables instead of seventeen, one single solitary poetic foot — a dactyl, if we’re going to get technical about it, one deeply mysterious dactyl.

The Oxford English Dictionary has this to say about freezerburn: “Freezer-burn (special word combination): Uneven discoloration of frozen meat or poultry that has been inadequately packaged.” I don’t know about you, but every winter there comes a point in late February where I look at myself and the people trudging through the ice around me, and that definition of freezerburn starts to make a whole lot of sense. At that point, I’m freezerburn, you’re freezerburn, and all of us are freezerburn *by choice* – that’s the astounding thing about it – because Florida is always just a plane ride away.

But we’ve rooted ourselves here, knowing full well that every winter our packaging will be in one way or another inadequate, and our discoloration will get a bit more uneven. But we don’t care because, as I said at the start, all of us in the Snow Belt like to think that people are more than the sum of their most beautiful parts.

If you go down to the waterfront today, you’ll find, as I did a few weeks back, that they’ve already removed the word “Freezerburn” from the side of the Moran Plant. This is all part of a long-term clean-up that will finally culminate in the grand opening of the new Burlington YMCA in a few years. And don’t get me wrong: I’m all for it. It’ll be an excellent thing for the city, for families, for kids. But make no mistake, when they sandblasted the word “Freezerburn” off the side of the Moran Plant, something was lost, and part of what was lost was flat-out local poetry.

Philip Baruth is a novelist living in Burlington. He teaches at the University of Vermont.

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