Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Continuing No Shame Poetry Series Presents "The Cats Are Driving to Work"

The Cats Are Driving to Work

The cats are driving to work
Clutching their commuter mugs in their right paws
Holding the steering wheel of their BMW 523 convertibles
In their left
Sipping down strong black coffee, no cream, thanks.
The days of cream are over for cats.
They have the top down although it’s 43 degrees
and although they wear fur coats by default
It’s cold at 26 miles an hour as they grind through the
They are listening to traffic and weather on the 8’s
From the Catnip-Enclosed Nerve Center
Of WCAT-FM but not really hearing it.
Occasionally, lacking fingers, they lift a paw to
Other drivers in honor of their thoughtful and excellent driving (not).
 It means “You’re number 1! Keep up the good driving!
Thank you so much!” (Not.) They snarl behind the windshield
Want to kill and eat something rodentesque
But there are only other cats as far as the eye can see.
All the cats are thinking of meeting upon meeting at the 
Office, gossip by the water cooler, memos written,
Memos read, memos unread, the chance to be catty
About some loser in the office
(they told me this is what they think about).
In just a few hours they throw it into reverse
And crawl their way home where they will wonder
If the humans asleep in the corner have slept all day
And envy them their simple, easy life.
The cats are driving to work but
They’re not liking it,
Not one bit.

–Dan Verner

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Advice for Writers–Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button

When I was going through my parents’ effects late last summer, I came across my mother’s “button jar.” She,  like other women of the time, kept left over or stray or spare buttons of all kinds, generally in a large (empty) (mayonnaise) jar. Whenever a coat or shirt or blouse or pants or whatever needed buttons, she would pour her collection out on the table, select one that most closely matched the original, and sew it on post haste.

I thought this was the normal order of things until we came across any numbers  of new buttons in the sewing department of Murphy’s one day. “Look at this, Mom! Have you ever seen such a pile of buttons? They’re beautiful! Can I get some for my shirts?”



“Because I’m not paying 59 cents for buttons when I can match them for free from my button jar.”


My mother’s used button habit was not that unusual, and I have a suspicion she could have bought all the buttons she wanted to. She just didn’t want to. And so she continued on happily in the world of buttons, picking up strays when she saw them or taking them off old shirts that soon had a new life as rags. It was recycling before recycling was cool.

We as writers have our own button jars–ideas, expressions, words and phrases that we keep in the mental button jar we carry around. And when it’s time, we pull out just the right one and put it to use. And that’s a satisfying feeling, like finding just the button that matches the ones already on a garment.

 May your mental button jars increase!

Another Time: Velcro: A Promise Unkept,  and Yet Another Time: A History of Buttons and Other Fasteners

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Pacemakers and Cell Phones

My Dad had a cardiac pacemaker put in about seven years ago now and no one around him knows he has one. It works 24/7/355, giving him very mild electric shocks, and he takes having one as  matter of routine. And, as a matter of routine, the battery is going to need replacing soon. We’ll schedule the procedure and it will be done in the doctor’s office. I think it’s pretty good for a battery to last seven years. I have a suspicion it ain’t an EverReady.

There has been considerable progress made in the area of pacemakers, I am told. They
are smaller, more powerful and last longer. Their installation procedure has been, realtively speaking, simplified, and the pacers themselves are more reliable.

I was thinking at the same time about some of the improvements made with cell phones recently. While they are smaller, more powerful and easier to operate (maybe), I would venture to say that they have not improved a the same rate as pacemakers. Maybe that is because it is demonstrably more important to keep grandma’s heart beating than it is for Muffy to text her girlfriend. Still, yet another errant thought led me to consider whether cell phone technology could be combine with implant improvements.

I think I can sense some resistance to this idea, but please hear me out. The cell phone could be made small enough to put under the skin. It wouldn’t have to be replaced (or the battery, anyhow) for seven years. Dialing could be done by speech (already possible) or perhaps soon, thoughts. It wouldn’t be much different from Blue Tooth, except the phone couldn’t get lost, and neitherr could the earpiece.

I think this will be an option in the next ten years. It’s not for everyone, and while I have to frankly admit that having a phone in touch with me 34/7/3565 (under my skin!) gives me pause, it might an idea whose time has come for certain people. Don’t sign me up yet, but keep me informed.


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All Zipped Up

I was zipping up something the other day when the zipper stuck. I would have to say that this rarely happens any more, but since the location of the zipper was such that it had to be zipped up more or less completely for me to be considered part of polite society, I worked with it until it came unstuck and all was right with the world again. I won’t mention the location of the aforesaid zipper, but I know that Biscuit City readers (and especially the gentlemen) are familiar with the location of this most important closure.

This quickly resolved bump in the road got me to thinking about zippers in my usual random fashion and I began wondering about the origin and history of zippers. I delved into Wikipedia for some answers and you can do the same ( ), but I wanted to pu the description of a zipper here just to show how complicated these things can get:

The bulk of a zipper consists of two strips of fabric tape, each affixed to one of the two pieces to be joined, carrying from tens to hundreds of specially shaped metal or plastic teeth. These teeth can be either individual or shaped from a continuous coil, and are also referred to as elements.[1] The slider, operated by hand, moves along the rows of teeth. Inside the slider is a Y-shaped channel that meshes together or separates the opposing rows of teeth, depending on the direction of the slider’s movement. “Zipper” is onomatopoeia, because it was named for the sound it makes when you use it, a high-pitched “zip!”

And just becausd I can’t leave well enough alone, I want to note that “onomatapoeia” should be “onomatapoetic” and the use of “you” in the last sentence is weak. I think “named for the sound it makes when used: is better. (Someone stop me! I’m having an editing attack!) 

For one, I am glad that good old Gideon Sundback (doesn’t his name sound like he could have played for a baseball team of the time? “Batting ninth and pitching, Gideon Sundback!”) perfected the zipper around 1917 based on previous less effective fasteners.

I’m sorry to quibble with my good friends from WIkipedia (again!) but the memories I have as a lad of zippers are that they were anything but “perfected.” I have been traumatized by a succession of jackets whose zippers stuck part way, leaving the wearer to do the Stuck Zipper Dance and wriggle out of the garment, only to repeat the process in reverse later on. Zippers really didn’t improve until they were made of plastic, about the time Velcro came on the scene. I think zippers were intimidated by the unique qualities of Velcro and decided to clean up their act. And so, by and large, it has been jam-free sailing for users of zippers, which is most of us. So, today, if you are wearing a zipper, zip up! (Or zip down! I don’t care) and enjoy jam-free(with a few occasional exceptions) openings and closings!

Later on in Biscuit CIty: Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?


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Now It Can Be Told

Pilgrim Monument, in Provincetown, Massachusetts, one of our undisclosed locations this past week.

All right, now I can reveal the undisclosed location I was at last week. Actually, it involved several locations. See, I lied about having a staycation in last Monday’s Biscuit City. I did this to protect my valuable goods. If I had any, that is. Probably my most valuable “possession” is Nacho the Cat whom I will be glad to see and she will be over the moon to see me. Hang on, Nacho, Daddy’s coming!

Last Thursday we got up about 5 AM to be taken to Dulles Airport by Nephew Josh who did yeoman service driving the mighty Impala and depositing us at the airport at 6:30. We thought there wouldn’t be that many people afoot at that early hour but there were teeming hordes of them. We had checked in online so we put our bags in and went through security, arriving at the terminal gate about 8 AM for an 8:30 flight. We grabbed a breakfast sandwich and boarded the flight which was a turboprop.Please remind me to check the flight equipment before I book a flight.

So, we were on our way to Raleigh-Durham Airport or more specifically to Durham to visit our friends Ed and Marji Bratcher. Ed was pastor of our church for fifteen years, and we have kept in touch with them. If you know them, they are both doing well. The assisted living facility they live in is amazing, and the food is wonderful. If I lived there I would weigh about 400 pounds.

Item two on the agenda was a choral music reading conference sponsored by Hinshaw Music. If you’ve never been to a choral music reading conference, don’t go. (Little joke, there, Becky!) No, in this activity each participant is given a packet or several packets of music (all published by the company putting on the reading, strangely enough) and then everyone reads through the anthems. There were about 300 people there, including a lot of choral directors, so the group sounded good even though we were sight-singing.

A rather distant shot of John Rutter, directing. The man is a genius.

The reason there were 300 people at this event (which typically draws about 100) is that John Rutter, the premier choral composer in the world today, led one of the segments. He is witty, charming, tells great stories and can write the stripes off a zebra. I got him to autograph two anthems, one that was sung at William and Kate’s wedding for Alyssa and one for Amy, “Look at the World,” which is about the wonders of the natural world, including animals which her students are fond of.

After the day’s events, we went back and had dinner with the Bratchers and headed out for an evening concert of the choral music we had gone over, done by some fine singers who had actually rehearsed it. John  Rutter conducted several of his pieces for the second half, and they were glorious.

We left the assisted living facility the next morning about 4 AM to make a 6:05 flight to Providence, RI to be picked up by our long-time friend Jerry Cerasale. The flight, which used a jet, stopped at Dulles so we could say hello to Northern Virginia. We walked up to the connecting flight’s gate and walked right on the aircraft. Jerry picked us up at 9:30 and we were on our way to the house on Cape Cod  (Eastham) the Cerasales own and will eventually retire to. They are models of hospitality. Jan puts together gourmet meals and we had many good and deep conversations. Cape Cod has historic and natural wonders, and we sampled both. And oh, yes, the shopping, as Becky will tell you, is marvelous.

So, Jan drove us back to the Providence Airport Thursday afternoon and we got into Dulles about 4:15. It was a busy time away; it was good to get away, but it’s always good to come home. Amy and Alyssa came Friday, keeping up the more or less steady presence of Verners at the Cerasales.

I hope you have as restful a vacation as we did.

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We’re on Vacation!

That’s spelled V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N, and that’s where we’ll be, so we’re shutting down the glass-enclosed observation post here at Biscuit City Enterprises and are scattering to the four corners of the country.

DV is going to have a staycation and work on catching up on old issues of National Geographic the way his hero Andy Griffith used to do on his vacation.

Chief of Staff Molly Bolt is leaving for an undisclosed location. Word is she needs a break from her sister Dolly Grip, Holly Berry, and Jolly St. Nicholas since they have been staying with her for the past month. Molly seems exhausted and we hope she can rest and recharge this week.

Harrison Bergeron has a pile of books to review so he too is sequestering himself as well. There is probably no truth to the rumor that he and Molly are off together. It’s just a friendship, folks.

Nancy Whiskey will go back to Florida to compete in the Amateur Beach Volleyball Nationals following her release from her suspension for hitting too hard in the games this spring. Harrison Schmidt will be going to keep score for the girls. He says he likes their uniforms.

B. Russell Sprout will visit Belgium to see some family, mostly cousins. We hope he brings back chocolate.

CEO NK will work on undisclosed projects designed to bring Biscuit City Enterprises continuing honor and glory. She’s a worker, our Nancy!

Enjoy your week off folks! We’ll enjoy ours!

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The Continuing No Shame Poetry Series Presents "Demeter in the Supermarket"

Demeter in the Supermarket

She stalks across the parking lot
And maybe it’s a trick of light
In the heat distorted air
But it looks like she is walking above the surface.
At the cart line, she jerks one loose:
It has one stuck wheel
And another that just spins stupidly
But the rest are no better.

She begins her tour of the aisles,
A goddess among mortals
Going counterclockwise
Against traffic
Someone runs a cart up on her
Achilles tendon.
It’s enough to make a
Goddess curse.
Silencing a child’s tantrum in the cereal aisle
With one frosted look
She peruses the grains before
Settling on some nice quinoa,
Shudders through the frozen foods
(She doesn’t like the cold)
Moves inexorably toward
The produce section

And there she stays
Looking at the pomegranates
Trying to remember.

–Dan Verner

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Advice for Writers–Tape and Rule

My father was a heck of a carpenter until tremors in his hands made it difficult for him to build as he used to. I helped him on a number of jobs and learned a lot about the trade, although I will never be a furniture-grade artisan. I’m more a treehouse/doghouse level practitioner of the art. My tightest tolerance is 1/2 an inch, in a field where tolerances are zero inches. You get the idea.

Nonetheless, I enjoy building things and doing projects using my skills, such as they are. Recently (since last August) I have been converting our security fence that used to be around our swimming pool (which was filled in several years ago) into a nice picket fence. My dad sometimes comes to watch and advise me. Now, I prefer to use a tape to measure things. He swears by a rule, which I am not comfortable using. I’ve tried using one, and folding and unfolding one seems to be too much work. A rule does have the advantage of not flexing back on itself and collapsing like a tape, but, hey, I can work with a few collapsed tapes.

Here are a couple of shots of my fence project, which is about 40% complete:

Here’s a shot of a partly completed section of the fence with my yellow cat litter tool bucket in front of the fence. That’s my shed that needs painting in the background. The pile of lumber is discards from the old fence.

Another shot of the fence, showing a part near the house. You can see the old security fence in the background, and the new picket fence to the left. Progress is being made. 

Here’s a nice picture of a Stanley tape, just like the one I have:

And here’s a picture of a rule:
The point is this: using a rule or a tape is a matter of comfort and personal preference. Either one will get the job done. So it is with writing. There’s no wrong or write way to go about it. Some writers write in the morning, some in the afternoon. Some write in marathon sessions, others for short bursts. These things don’t matter: what matters is that the job of producing meaningful, truth-filled and excellent writing is done. Rule or tape: it’s your choice. Write on!

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Society and Technology–E-Mail, Telegraphs, Pneumatic Tubes and Frequent Snail Mail

Like many other people, I am a part of an email group and receive regular messages. Because I am about as sharp as, say, an eight-year-old on the computer, I’m careful to reply only to the sender.  Some people reply to the group inadvertently, which makes for good times. Receiving messages intended for someone else really seems to bother some people on email; perhaps I am a trifle voyeuristic, but I enjoy reading other people’s email.  It gets really fun when people don’t recognize the sender and then send more messages to the entire group, frequently creating a cascading effect that can lock up a system for days.  My school system email with thousands of users went down for the better part of a day as a result of one unknown email sent to everyone. I’ve heard other people say the same thing. The solution, of course, is not to reply to the email, or, if you’re bothered by it that much, delete it before you read it. I also know people who are inordinately bothered by spam, the junk mail of the internet.  That’s also a case of deleting, although I think I don’t receive as much spam as some people do.

E-mail is fairly handy since it’s fast and easy to use. You can also send messages to groups of people (see above–and I know–I am a technological genius with such observations).  I remember when the preferred method of notification of numbers of people  was the telephone tree. Not a pretty sight, and not that reliable.

The internet has certainly changed our lives. In the bad old days research was done by going to the library, poring through books and magazines and taking notes on the information on aptly named note cards. When I had a serious term paper to do, I had a note card box I carried around with the information on cards in it. It was probably an incredibly geeky thing to do, even then, but it kept me from losing the cards.  When it was time to write the paper, I laid the cards out on the floor of the basement and had a huge living outline.  One time my mom opened the door to the outside and the wind blew my outline away.  It seemed somehow like a parable.

I’ve just finished reading a book by Tom Standage called The Victorian Internet. He argues that the telegraph in the nineteenth century functioned much like the internet does in our day. (In another book, he says that coffee houses in seventeenth century England functioned like the internet.  The man is crazy for seeing the internet behind every bush.)  I’m not totally convinced since the telegraph required trained operators at both ends to send and receive messages, but he does have a lot of cool information about the telegraph system. For one thing, operators could recognize each other by the way they manipulated the key. The telegraph network consisted of branch lines which fed into an office, which retransmitted the message on another branch line to its final destination.  In some cases, there were several central offices in a city, and the  messages had to be delivered to another office, using messengers.  This wasn’t the speediest method in the world, so telegraph companies built pneumatic tubes to transfer messages between offices. (You can see pneumatic systems at work in bank drive-ins.  Department stores used to have them when they had a central cashier, usually located on a balcony high above the sales floor.  It was real entertainment to try to follow the capsule as it sped on its way.)  

These tubes seemed like a good idea, and by the end of nineteenth century, major cities had pneumatic mail systems used well into the twentieth century. Some inventors even tried a pneumatic subway system to move people in New York. It ran a few blocks and wasn’t successful. I would think a vacuum strong enough to move a carload of people would produce an unpleasant effect on the ears.

The internet is responsible for the decline in the number of regular (“snail”) mail items sent. Still, until we have transporters  a la Star Trek, we’ll need to rely on delivery services to transport the goods we order online. It seemed that I remember the mail being delivered twice a day and found out that indeed it was, until about 1950. Catalogues and ads could arrive more often.

There’s a delightful book by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society which is developed entirely through letters between the characters.  It’s hard to tell exactly from the book, but it seems that in London after World War II at least the mail came several times a day.  It was entirely possible to invite someone to dinner in the evening by sending a letter than morning and receiving a reply the same day. In late eighteenth century London, mail was delivered six times a day. Now that’s approaching internet status.

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