By Chris Giblin
Cornell University Associate Professor James Burton checked into the Elmira Psychiatric Center last night. Burton was allegedly enjoying himself watching Internet porn before the futile policies and pudgy images of former President Millard Fillmore flooded into his mind and ruined his fantasy.
Fillmore’s indistinguishable early political career, mediocre presidency and decidedly overweight appearance have all contributed to the destruction of the entirety of Burton’s private life over the past several years, according to him. After a decade’s worth of painstaking research and writing, Burton published Sectional Conflict and the Political Realignment of the 1850s in 2006, an impressive 1,600-page work that was meant to be the end-all source for American political history in the years immediately preceding the Civil War. Burton succeeded admirably in this undertaking, receiving widespread praise and recognition from the academic community for the book.
“After I published my book, I had a few happy months where I actually enjoyed life and felt relieved,” Burton said from his hospital bed. “But then the nightmares came back. And then it wasn’t long before I started involuntarily thinking about Millard Fillmore all the time. Hey, speaking of the guy, did you know he was also from upstate New York? Yeah, he was just like you and me…”
Burton developed an unhealthy obsession with mid-19th century historical figures over the course of his research for his book, leading him to start conversations with friends and family about pre-Civil War America and nothing else.
“By 2005, I couldn’t talk to him about what groceries to get at the supermarket without him launching into a lecture about expansionism, the Free Soil Party or some other boring 1850s history topic,” Burton’s ex-wife Linda Heywood said. “Every so often he’d come to his senses and tell me that things would be better once he finished his book. For some reason, I believed him.”
According to several sources close to Burton, he went from being a completely social man with a personality and an array of interests in the late-1990s to an introverted, withered sack of historical knowledge by the mid-2000s.
“Over time, I guess I just stopped caring about things like sports or friends or current events,” Burton said. “Then I can remember the time it encroached on my sex life. I was in bed, staring at my naked wife, and all I could think about was the time Millard Fillmore signed the Fugitive Slave Act into law.”
Burton then acted as though Fillmore was in the room with him, as he yelled urgently to an empty desk on the other side of the room:
“Don’t do it Millard,” he said. “You’ll betray your Northern Whig base! Be strong!”
“In the year leading up to the book’s publishing, I was being haunted by all sorts of political figures and events from the time,” Burton said later after coming back to his senses. “John Breckenridge, Stephen Douglas, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, you name it. Ever since I finished though, it’s just been Millard. But don’t get me wrong, that fat bastard’s done a good job of ruining my life on his own.”
Burton now lives in a single apartment in downtown Ithaca, having lost his wife, kids and home to divorce last year. He now reports that he can’t go so much as three minutes in life without being agitated by the thought of Fillmore’s portly image or his indecisive policies that brought scrutiny from both major political parties in the early 1850s. In addition, Burton believes Fillmore is with him in the room a few times a day.
Practitioners at the Elmira Psychiatric Center speculate that Burton may have a rare form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder brought on by extensive academia rather than by any particular physical event.
“I’m almost certain this is Burton’s diagnosis,” EPC psychiatrist Robert Mitchell said. “Many people are under the false impression that PTSD is only seen in war veterans or rape victims. This is often the case, but there are plenty of other events that can cause thorough trauma to a person’s brain. Take Burton: For years, he studied nothing but a horribly boring time in American politics when leadership was indecisive, half-assed compromises were made and there weren’t even major sports teams to distract the people from their lives. If I were him, I would have offed myself years ago. May God have mercy on his soul.”
Mitchell said the patient-doctor confidentiality agreement was void on him, since Burton was “actually some other guy’s patient now.”
Chris Giblin is a junior TV-R major who is really not that obsessed with Millard Fillmore. E-mail him at email@example.com.