Monthly Archives: June 2012

The Continuing No Shame Poetry Series Presents "Deconstruction"

Deconstruction
I am taking down
Bulletin boards
In the church basement
Backing out the screws
That hold them to the wall
With my cordless drill
And a number 2 phillips bit.
I wonder about
The people who drove
Those screws in
Years ago.
Who were they
What were their lives like
And where are they now
Long gone, possibly
Moved away
Or dead. 
Keats had his
Statue of Ozymandias
And Grecian urn
To reflect on time
And eternity.
I have 
Bulletin boards
In the church basement
And
Deconstruction.
–Dan Verner

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Advice for Writers: The Parable of the Sorry Pear Tree

This could also be called “Pruning and Revision,”  except that I have written about pruning and revision. This post has a different pruning story, though, and a different focus.  Anyhow, as I was saying…

When we lived in Fairfax, we had a pear tree that stood by the sidewalk. It wasn’t much of a tree: it was about fifteen feet tall and its small tough-skinned fruit was as hard as a brick. My mother decided that it needed pruning so my dad got up on a ladder with his pruning saw and went to town. Maybe it’s more accurate to say he went to several towns. By the time he finished, the poor sorry pear tree looked like a small telephone pole with a few leaves hanging on for dear life at the top.

My mother was less than pleased by my dad’s work with the saw. In fact, she was livid, saying that he had probably killed the tree and that he might as well go ahead and chop it down.

The idea of pruning is to allow the plant to concentrate its resources and energy into a smaller volume, producing greater growth and, int he case of fruit trees, better fruit. There’s an analogue in writing: more concise writing is more energetic and more to the point. It doesn’t waste anyone’s time with excess verbiage. It doesn’t annoy the reader by skipping around the point. Flabby writing annoys the fool out of me. I can’t tell you.

But I can tell you that the tree came bustling back the next spring, with an honest thriving bushy growth of limbs and leaves and, miracle of all miracles, huge pears that were sweet and delicious.

I learned an important lesson from this and it is if your wife wants you to prune your pear tree, be sure she watches so you don’t hack too much off. Oh, and pruning, revision and concision are good practices.

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So Long, Privacy, It Was Nice Knowing You

One of the things in the list of Nine Things that Will Disappear during our lifetime was privacy. I hate to say it, but it’s gone already. In the name of national security, government agencies scan emails and other electronic media and who knows what else. Now, I don’t think I’m paranoid and I don’t expect the black government helicopters to come swooping down on my cul-de-sac at any moment, but we are pretty much surveilled 24/7/365.

Take security cameras, for example. They are truly ubiquituous and we don’t even think about them. This was brought home to me recently when I went to take a pair of slacks back for my dad which were the wrong size. I exchanged them for a pait the correct size and the clerk offered to put them in a bag for me. I said I didn’t need a bag, thank you, and she allowed as how the security cameras would pick up the fact that I was carrying something out of the store which was not in a bag and register it as a theft.

Well. I didn’t even think about security cameras. They can be useful when a child is abducted or a crime has been committed, but we’re all pretty much on Candid Camera when we go out.

Information is collected on us when we go on the internet. Have you ever noticed that the ads online change according to what you’re looking for or in my case, writing about? Someone’s watching and it ain’t Santa Claus.

I also am concerned that drones are going to be used domestically for law enforcement. I know that they will be a tremendous asset to the police, but I worry about abuse of their surveillance capabilities. The New Yorker had an article on the domestic use of drones recently, and one of the major takeaways for me was the number of ways their abilities can be abused. I just hope there are clear and stringent guidelines for their use and that someone with ill intent doesn’t get hold of a Predator equipped with a Hellfire missile. We wouldn’t know what hit us.

I found the movie Minority Report to be the most chilling one I had seen in a long time. In that dystopian vision of the future, citizens can be arrested for crimes they haven’t committed yet. Sure, it’s secure, but what privacy? It looks like the brave new world that we are rapidly attaining, if we haven’t already.

So, what is there to do but when we go out, mind our p’s and q’s and smile and wave! We’re on camera and someone is watching!

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The Biscuit City Chronicles: When I Was a Cowboy


 A while back I did a singalong with a group of about 50 people. We sang American songs, folk songs mostly, one of which was “Home on the Range.” I asked how many of those assembled wanted to be cowboys when they were younger.  Only about three people raised their hands. I was a little surprised at this. When I was about six years old, I wanted to be a cowboy more than anything else.
I happened to come along in the early days of television, and many of the cowboy movie stars had made the transition to the small screen. There was Wild Bill Hickok (I forget who played him) and his sidekick Jingles, portrayed by Andy Devine (“Hey, Wild Bill, wait for me!”). Then there was the Cisco Kid with his pal Pancho, who embodied every Hispanic stereotype known to humankind. Hopalong Cassidy was unusual in that he had silver hair. Played by Bill Boyd, his horse had the coolest saddle and equipment around.  I even had a Hopalong Cassidy cereal bowl with Hoppy and horse on the bottom.  My reward for eating all my cereal was to see Hoppy at the bottom of the bowl. I believe Gene Autry made appearances on television, although those might have been movies. Sky King was a modern-day cowboy who used a twin-engined Cessna instead of a horse. He had a niece named Penny to round out the show. Of course, the King of the Cowboys was Roy Rogers and his inimitable cast: Dale Evans (I think she rode her horse Buttermilk sidesaddle), Trigger the palomino, Bullet the dog, and a humorous character named Pat Brady with his jeep Nellybelle that was forever breaking down.  I’m not sure to this day exactly what Pat Brady did around the ranch except mess up, but they were a family.  And Roy and Dale sang at least at the end of every episode: “Happy Trails to You!” It was a great time to want to be a cowboy.
Locally, Pick Temple had a show sponsored by Giant Food and Heidi bread.  I still remember the Heidi bread song, sung to the tune of  “On Top of Old Smokey”:
My favorite bread’s Heidi,
I hope it’s yours, too.
It tastes so delicious
And it’s so good for you.
So let’s all eat Heidi
And before very long
All Giant Rangers
Will grow big and strong.
I never missed an episode of Roy Rogers or Pick Temple.  My wife actually got to meet Pick.  She also saw the Beatles in person.  The most famous person I have seen in person was Janis Joplin and that’s enough said about that.
Of course, when we watched cowboy shows we wore our cowboy outfits.  I have a picture of my brother and me in our cowboy hats, shirts, vests, jeans, and boots, sporting our gun belts and armed with twin cap pistols. We were fairly impressive if you ignored the fact that we were about three feet tall.  My wife still has her cowgirl outfit, which is red with a hat, vest and skirt.  I have never asked her if she has ever ridden sidesaddle but it looks from the outfit as if she were about three feet tall at the time as well.
I think I wanted to be a cowboy for about four years.  I even lobbied my parents for a pony, unsuccessfully since we lived in a house with a tiny back yard.  The issue of where to put the pony never bothered me: I just wanted one.
My cowboy days came to an end about 1957 with the Davy Crockett fad. (I was susceptible to cultural pressure.) I wanted a coonskin cap, which I never got, and a flintlock rifle which I did.  It was plastic, about two feet long and shot caps. The caps were not as spectacular as the hammer striking the flint and throwing sparks far and wide. I think I might have set some fires with it.  The Davy Crocket rage ended for me when I saw the Disney movie and realized he died at the Alamo.  There didn’t seem to be much of a future in being Davy Crockett so I went on to other things.
I know that the movie and televisions versions of cowboy life were highly romanticized.  It was tough, dirty, thankless work and the heyday of the cowboy in the West didn’t last that long.  Still, the media cowboys embodied certain virtues that are worth having today: independence, a sense of justice and fair play, and a willingness to stand up for the underdog. They might not have been real, but what they stood for certainly was.
And so, for all you buckaroos out there, “Happy trails to you, until we meet again…”

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Stupid Is as Stupid Does

I’ve written about the various household projects I have in progress, but I don’t think I’ve mentioned one of the most frustrating.

I wanted to run a “copperline” telephone line to the glass-enclosed observation post here at the Biscuit City studios after the existing line was taken out when Verizon installed Fios about three years ago now. Instead of the four-wire telephone feed, I have what looks like a coax cable (a fiber-optic) leading to the router for my wi-fi. Fios has worked extremely well: when the cable was cut by a sliding ice sheet a couple of years ago, the repair guy came out and fixed it on a Sunday morning.

We do have a couple of hardwire phones: the kitchen phone that hangs on the wall and one of those wireless bases with four phones that go with it. The phones are a bit frustrating because if you get a call and someone else wants to pick it up on another phone, you have to transfer the call to the other phone. I have no idea where the directions are to do this, so we have to go to the kitchen phone or take the handset to the person receiving the  call. Then the handsets all end up in the same place. First world problem, I know.

So, I needed a copperline for the fax machine in the Biscuit City office. Actually, I have a laser printer/fax/copier/scanner. It has been fabulous. My dad’s financial guy, Mike Washer, told me to get one and it has been so useful. But I occasionally need to fax something and to do so I go over to the church and use the fax there. I know, it’s only about half a mile, but I expect convenience (I’m so spoiled, I know).

So, first I had to drill a hole through the wall, which I did with my 12-inch bit. Then I fed the telephone cable through the hole and went outside to hook it up to the junction box. There was no sign of the cable protruding through the wall. It had gone down inside the wall and had probably wrapped itself around the HVAC unit in the basement.

I pulled the wayward cable out and enlarged the hole Someone suggested a fish tape, which is a long metal ribbon (of darkness–it is black. Pace, Gordon Lightfoot!)that is used to “fish” cables through walls and other barriers. I got the line through the wall, hooked it up and tried the phone. Nothing. Since it was February and cold to be monkeying around outside, I put this project on hiatus and just got back to it this past week.

I thought the problem was the old cable I was using (nearly 45 years old) so I got a nice new run of cable and fed that through the wall. Three times. The cable kept going and slid outside the house. Finally I tied a pair of pliers at the end and that stopped the slide. I connected the wires (only need two out of four. I’m sure the other lines have a function: I’m just not sure what it is) and hooked up the jack. Nothing.

I then thought the problem was the jack so I got another one from my collection of cast-off telephone parts and tried that with the same result. I then thought the cable might have been bad even though it was new. Stranger things have happened. So I rigged up a telephone that I could take to the old school junction box and touched the cable wires to the terminal. Still nothing. Then I noticed that the hardwires that do work went to the Fios (new school) box. That was what was necessary to make a new line work. I didn’t want to mess with a Verizon installation so I ordered a VoiP box (voice-over-internet telephone. I think.) that will give me a wireless hardwire (oxymoron of the week). It’ll be here this week. I’ll let you know how the electronic genius that I am makes out with it.

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The Continuing No Shame Poetry Series Presents "Realization"

Realization

The children are years gone
From this empty nest
Married, moved away, departed,
And
I no longer know when spring comes.
There are no more swim meets to chauffeur
No anxious awaiting of college acceptances
Or rejections
No proms to plan for
And as the months slide on
No graduations
Or weddings
Or end of school giddiness.
Spring is much like summer
Without these markers
And I am suspended, timeless
And yet somehow growing older
Wondering where the months
And where the children have gone. 

–Dan Verner

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Advice on Writing: Persistence and Stupidity

I don’t know if I have shared the story of the clock here and how I nearly drove my brother Ron crazy with it. I think I have mentioned that our pastor asked me to take apart some study carrels in one of our church buildings and move them to another room. He said, “I hear you’re good at that sort of thing,” meaning taking things apart and then (sometimes) actually putting them back together again. I have been that way ever since I can remember—I like to take things apart and put them back together, if I can. Which I can’t sometimes.
Anyhow, I somehow got hold of a mechanical clock when I was about ten years old. I took it apart, put all the pieces in a shoe box and then tried to put it back together again. I had no idea how to do this, but after we ate dinner, I would sit at the kitchen table and fiddle with the parts for hours, until it was time to go to bed. I was so engrossed in what I was doing that I didn’t notice that my brother Ron was growing impatient with my tedious and obsessive efforts.  After about two weeks of this, he couldn’t take any more. He grabbed the box of clock parts, screamed, “I can’t take this any more!” ran to the door and threw the box into the darkness of the back yard.
I sat there stunned for a moment. Our mother looked at me. “He’s right, you know. Give it up.”
I made a move for the family flashlight which we were not allowed to use without special permission since we would play with it and use the batteries up. “You may notuse the flashlight,” Mom warned sternly.
I rose early in those days, so at first light I was outside, meticulously gathering clock parts from the grass and putting them in the box. As I brought my treasure inside, my mom was waiting for me. She sighed. “I’ll say this for you: you’re either persistent or stupid.”
In thinking about writing, sometimes I think that writers (and I say this with as much affection as I can muster) are both persistent and stupid. As for persistence, how many people would keep at something (short story, novel, play, poem) for weeks or months or years with no guarantee that it will ever come to anything or ever see the light of day? Writers do, that’s who. 
By the same token, I think writers (self included) are on the foolish side. (My mama taught me to never call anyone stupid, except she called me that because, well, I was sometimes.) Ours is a solitary pursuit, and the same quality of persistence can seem foolish to relatives, friends and acquaintances.
I have already experienced the glazed eye look when I  tell people about the great scene I wrote that morning for my novel. No one cares about our writing as much as we do, and no one is as persistent at what we do, even when it seems a foolish pursuit. 
I think, though, that we’re really determined and the smartest, kindest, most talented and good-looking people on earth. If my mama were still with us, she would tell me not to brag. But, as my daughter Amy says, “It’s not bragging if you’re telling the truth.” And I am.

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