Ask Ceil – Shaken Cake

Dear Ceil,

Did you feel that earthquake?

Shaken in Saratoga

Dear Shaken,

No, at the time of the earthquake I was jackhammering up the sidewalk, and also running a backhoe while riding a tractor on my farm (whose produce I will be canning) because I’m building an apocalypse shelter so that I can spend the days before the rapture in windowless and well-fed comfort, as you all suffer a horrible, horrible death.

Actually, I did feel the earthquake. I was folding laundry and noted with mild interest that the bedside lamp was lightly tapping the wall, and concluded that a large truck might be driving by. Imagine my dismay when I went downstairs to find that a broom, which had been leaning against the closet door, had fallen in an orderly fashion onto the floor, spreading minimal dust in a one-inch radius around the bristles. Damn it all.

So, I’ve been watching all the news networks for comprehensive coverage of the quake, and here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Seismologists are everywhere, and can be ready for an interview at a moment’s notice.

2. If the president is visible to the press during any natural event, no matter how mild, they will document his every random motion.

Warning: Here I digress.

Actually heard on CNN–my best recollection: “I see that the president is being handed a phone, but we cannot confirm that he is learning about the earthquake.” “Is that right, you can confirm the president on the phone?” “Yes, that is what we can confirm. The president has been handed the phone and he is talking on it.”

Sometimes I pretend that I’m the president, but my coverage goes more like, “And she’s vacuuming, is that right, Phil?” “Well, Mary, we are hearing a vacuum-like device, and she does seem to be pushing something around the floor, but we’re waiting for confirmation that it is, indeed, a vacuum and that particles are being sucked out of the carpet.” Ahem. Moving on.

3. Twitter is a news source.

4. It’s fun to imagine that, as newscasters are quoting live tweets, the writer is actually an 11-year-old boy in Nebraska. Because he probably is.

I could not stand to watch much of the news coverage, with helicopters flying over people who were standing outside in groups, enjoying a nice day away from their computers and blissfully unaware that their bald spots were completely visible to a national audience. Therefore, I missed the obligatory pseudo-scientific graphics explaining how earthquakes happen.

So I decided to come up with my own explanation.

See, sometimes when thousands of people are building bomb shelters or underground vaults for the tons and tons of gold they’ve invested in, the earth eventually says something like, “OK, that’s enough digging.” Not having an actual way to express itself, the only thing it can do is tremble in annoyance, hoping that the machinery will fall into whatever deep jagged hole that splits open.

Like a quarter dropping into the slot of a hotel bed-with-massage, construction equipment drops in the hole and the whole earth just shakes and shakes. But just for a couple of seconds, because that’s all one dumptruck buys. If you want it to go longer, you have to continue to drive construction vehicles into crevices in the earth. And if you lay down on the ground while it’s happening, it’ll help your back. Try it. I swear it works.

Dear Ceil,

Where does the song “Happy Birthday to You” come from, and why do we eat birthday cake?

Annualized in Austin

Dear Annualized,

I really, really wanted to give you a great answer. I really did, because I sense that it might be your birthday, or perhaps the birthday of someone close to you. But alas, I can only give you sad news.

“Happy Birthday to You” was written by two elementary school teachers in the late 1800’s but I cannot talk about it anymore, because it’s under a copyright. So now, as you cheerfully sing the song to your six-year old, just remember that someone is coming to hunt you down and take your money. Good times. (You know, I was thinking of copyrighting something of my own. You know, maybe the laughter of children. Or the smell of pine trees at dusk. That wouldn’t spoil anyone’s fun, would it?)

The song brings in $2 million annually. The date the copyright was filed, as I understand it, is celebrated with cake and ice cream every year at Summy-Birchard Music, the company who owns the copyright. (I hear they’re also trying to patent happy faces everywhere.)

As for the cake? People have been celebrating birthdays with cake for centuries. Long ago, people didn’t live that long, so they thought, “Great, I’m alive another year. I should have cake!” Now, as people are living longer and longer, the sentiment is more like, “We know your knees can’t support your body weight as it is. Here’s some fat-free, sugar-free pastry that will crumble in your dry mouth as you ponder your impending death.”

Maybe that’s just my family.

Ceil Kessler has been writing since she was a small child, at first in kindergarten with crayons, moving to pencils in first grade, and pens shortly thereafter. She was introduced to the computer later in life, and immediately stopped writing and began to surf the internet. Years later, she realized that you could also write stuff on a computer, and that’s where we are today.

She now consults on business intelligence software, markets and publishes the magazine “Business Perks”, runs the Laurel Highlands Vegetarian Society, and heads a team in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s “Walk for a Cure” on September 17th. To join or donate to Team Kessler, go to the Teams page and find Team Kessler in Greensburg, Pennsylvania.

If you have questions for Ceil, please send them along to, or you can use the Ask Ceil-o-matic form.

Follow her on Twitter at @ceilck.


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