Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Controlling the Future

Do you remember English Lit in high school with the assigned readings? Yeah, the summer school list as well as the books during the year we were all supposed to discuss. That's where I first encountered George Orwell's 1984 (since I am a child of the sixties, born in '52, the impact of the book was/is different on me than it was for my children who may or may not have had to read it when they went to high school).

I'd read Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984 was, to my way of thinking, a companion to Huxley's Brave New World, both filmed, we used to joke, in 'horror vision'. I loved and will always love Joseph Heller's Catch-22 and was surprised years later struggling, and failing, to fit in the US Air Force to realize Heller hadn't written a work of fiction at all. Probably not the first time I suspected I was part of God's punch line, but close to it.

The bleak, grey, joylessness of both 1984 and Brave New World, more so than the specifics of the narrative is what I can recall to this day. Community, IdentityStability, the point of the State in Huxley's narrative could be the yearnings we have here in the 21st Century. In my middle Sixties, I have a growing sense of unease as I watch those on the national political scene engage in zero-sum demolition derbies as the country I grew up in becomes another place where I don't fit in.

Not sure when I first flashed on it, but the United States has become Airstrip One as we have descended into Endless War. I saw a bumper sticker, 'we are making enemies faster than we can kill them.' When you have as much newspeak as we have, to stave off the dangers of thoughtcrime, a bumper sticker like that can eat at you. 

"Ignorance is Strength" suggested 1984 and we are the strongest nation, not only on earth but in the history of civilization. Can't claim to feel a swell of pride about that as it seems to be happening despite anything any of us can do or are doing.

Our current presidential campaign which started (when?) about ten minutes after the results of the previous one were announced (and denounced by Karl Rove) has already resembled 'the Two Minute Hate' and we have months yet to go. Lots of slogans, lots of posturing--not very many solutions and even fewer possibilities. I keep looking for our version of Animal Farm's Snowball, fearful I may end up becoming her/him myself, but all I encounter are Nests of Napoleons.

The world we Americans know changed forever on 11 September 2001. We caught up with the rest of the world (pick a continent, any continent) in that increased suspicion, unease in looking at the future and 'shoot first, ask questions later' seemed to take priority over 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.' 

Within our version and vision of newspeak, the Patriot Act became the antithesis of what a patriot, as the founders used the word, could ever be. There are moments I can see Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson being fitted for orange jumpsuits and wonder how long Nathan Hale might have regretted having but one life to give if the last moments of it had been spent on a waterboard. 

Misgivings are no longer encouraged. Second thoughts can betray us. We follow the flag, even as we're swallowing our concerns as to what the flag stands for. Love me, love my dog. We all hope for the best, but plan for the worst and never speak of it because we know we never can. We hope, vaguely, for a better future and have no idea how to achieve it but convince ourselves that a particular candidate can deliver us from evil, Amen. 

Perhaps that's why more and more of our children only know of Kennedy as a former talking head on MTV, not that there's anything wrong with that, or that we have always been at war with Eastasia. He who controls the past controls the future.

Is that better than being 1984's Julia who explains to Winston the only way to save yourself from something you simply cannot endure is to make another person suffer? Perhaps. And as long as no one wonders about other choices, or why there don't seem to be any, we can always hope for Community, Identity, and Stability until Kingdom Come.
-bill kenny

Monday, August 29, 2016

Define Disability

I get our car washed near where I work. It's a great place to have them do inside and outside cleaning and it comes with a 72-hour rewash guarantee should it rain.

I'm told that got started in California, much to the surprise of Albert Hammond, and made its way East. I always get the full package because I'm lazy and they do a great job. I have never come back and asked for a do-over car wash if it rains.

The car wash is in a strip mall with a laundromat and a pawn shop that predates the two Native American casinos just up the road. I mention that because in the last twenty-plus years pawn shops have been a growth industry in Southeastern Connecticut for obvious reasons.

The other shop in the strip mall, perhaps putting the strip in its name is an adult bookstore and bar (I think they have separate entrances; I am not allowed to investigate and make sure). I am unable to report if you can check out a book and a raincoat and have a seat on the flight line while the girls take off on the runway but as you can tell from my fevered imaginings, I've given it some thought.

Driving past it on my way out of the car wash on Saturday, I noticed they now have handicapped parking. I thought about that for just a moment and decided I'm already on the short list for Hades in the next life and there's no need to start boxing with God, especially since it's not just my arms that would be considered short.
-bill kenny

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Days of Miracle Whip and Wonder Bread

From a number of years ago; consider this a re-visitation of sorts.
I'm old and this type of story doesn't do a lot for me except age me even faster. Do I wince because it's one of my idols? Of course but I return to Santayana's injunction and equation now that I'm on the receiving end of some higher math and read the news account of two twenty-somethings NOT knowing who Bob Dylan is/was. 

And then I take a breath and remember our Patrick and Michelle were at the time this story was written also twenty-somethings and realize that exhalation is a good thing (though not if you plan on seeking higher office, perhaps). In much the same way as I have little knowledge of and less appreciation for performers like Black Eyed Peas (I'm so unhip I thought there was a hyphen in the name and now I'm trying to figure out if Will and Sam I Am are related), there's been a generational changing of the guard, as is always the case, that has moved 'my' music to the back of the discount rack and shifted its broadcast location on the radio dial from "W-O-L-D" to that part of the frequency spectrum just above the police calls.

And of course, old coot that I am, I'd argue none of all that whipper-snapper music could've ever existed without Dylan or Lennon and McCartney (why does he get short shrift? Because he's still alive? Please. As one survivor to another, bravo, Sir! And well played) all of whom, when they were so much younger than that now, not only always carried ID but were asked for it by many of those my parents' age. 

And as excited as my generation's performers got over the chords they, and we, thought they had discovered, they were only building on the work of those who came before them, the (GASP!) older musicians that we had never heard of. I mean, Tabitha's right, who is the loneliest monk?

Rock and roll is, by nature, political. It's the music your parents love to hate. And it doesn't make any difference how I define rock and roll or how you define it, because each of us carries a dictionary and jukebox in her/his head (are there still jukeboxes or are they another victim of progress? I hope not. I don't recall seeing any in a very long time, but I lead a quiet life) and at a moment's notice any of us could have pushed B 52 and bombed 'em with the blues

So this old white guy is wandering around when a neighbor, God Bless 'em, calls the cops and the Law and Order Brigade puts the world right. Home Sweet Ocean Place Resort and Spa, bet Woody Guthrie never stayed, or got delivered, there in the back seat of a black and white. This Brave New World is, indeed an amazing place. If you're hungry from your hike, we've got all the fixin's in the kitchen--enjoy every sandwich

"These are the days of miracle and wonder.
This is the long distance call.
The way the camera follows us in slo-mo/The way we look to us all.
The way we look to a distant constellation
That's dying in a corner of the sky.
These are the days of miracle and wonder, And don't cry, baby, don't cry, Don't cry."
-bill kenny

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Punching the Blacktop

“They say Jesus will find you wherever you go.”

In this instance, the question might well be asked, “but will He shake hands?” And if so, was He wearing gloves. 

Grammar School riddle: What state is round on both ends and HI in the middle? 
I knew you would know that one, Warren, sticky sidewalks and all. I do wonder about those “safety concerns.”

So goodbye, Columbus and in seventy-five minutes, say hello to Cleveland. In the meantime, keep your profile low
-bill kenny

As the Twig Is Bent

As school-age children across the USA start to reconcile themselves to the inevitability that the next academic year is beginning (for some) in a matter of days if they've not yet started back, I feel compelled to note, in the interests of good sportsmanship and fair play, the boys of summer (subject to the rules and interpretations of the respective national governing boards) are a weekend away from crowning the next Little League World Series Champion. 

Here's this weekend's schedule, so grab some couch as two teams will grab some pine after the games today leaving only two to tango on the morrow. In a world where we pay grown men (and some women) wages that approximate the gross national product of some Third-World nations to participate professionally in a sport our children play for free, there is something about the joy and exhilaration of this annual competition in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, that I find a tonic for the soul. 

The enthusiasm and engagement of the television announcers, some of whom as youngsters, played on these same fields in pursuit of a championship, is contagious and inspiring. If you can listen to the Little League Pledge, almost as old as I am, or even just read it, and not get goosebumps, don't bother checking your pulse, call your coroner, as you're no longer among the living. 

All you can be is reminded and refreshed about why you choose to follow baseball. Why, in an era of a dozen other sports all grabbing more headlines and worldwide attention, the simple beauty of a contest that, at its most basic, involves striking a small leather-bound and round spheroid with a stick, be it wood, metal or some kind of composite and doing it better than a like number of others attempting to do the same on the other team. 

For a few days, eleven-year-olds  have served as role models for grown men, for which I am grateful (and wonder where we can get battalions and boatloads more). An entire team, who've just been white-washed and whose run to the Series has ended prematurely and with a drubbing no one would wish on anyone else, stand one behind the other along the first and third baselines after the final out and shake the hands of the team sending them home and tell them 'good game' and really mean it, because the Little League World Series isn't just about baseball, it's about life, as it should be lived. 

"... I will play fair.
And strive to win.
But win or lose, 
I will always do my best." 
Somehow, it's always better than good enough. 
-bill kenny

Friday, August 26, 2016

Cal Would Approve

This time last week, we were readying ourselves for a trip to see my brother and his wife, DTS. We certainly had spectacular weather for the visit and it was beyond great fun. I surprised myself on the drive home Sunday (accomplished without any parking in Waterbury) by making such excellent time that my wife wondered if I had a lead foot.

Strictly speaking, no, I did not. What I did have were exceptionally crispy feet having failed miserably on the ‘make sure you slather your feet in sunscreen’ test. I didn’t even cover them in sand and never realized they were growing pink until they were glowing red.

Don’t cry for me, Argentina, I brought it on myself and paid the price for solar enjoyment. Besides we have all the ointments and creams you can imagine, with aloe vera, lidocaine and heavens knows what else while gobbling Tylenol (which I think is the critical part of all this). 

By Tuesday around the noon hour, I could actually put my big boy shoes back on and walk with hardly any wincing which thrilled my bosses as they have hired an adult, or what they believe to be one. And between us, I wince at work just being there (so do they, I suspect), so nothing new.

I came up with my own cheat when I popped out of bed on Monday morning having not walked on admittedly tender tootsies since the night before. Sort of a Hint from Heloise moment, or at least my homage to one of hers. I placed my (clean) socks in our freezer for about ten minutes and then put them on. The relief, though temporary, was most welcome; trust me on that one.

Six days after here comes the sun. 
All innovation has glitches and this one is no exception. My first attempt at the Big Chill, still somewhat asleep but ambulatory was to put my underpants in the freezer and the socks in the bathroom for my after-work-out shower.

I realized my mistake stepping out of the shower when my feet were still extremely hot and another body part, or two, was not so much. I may have inadvertently discovered how some of the boy bands hit those really high notes, and why none of them have fathered children
-bill kenny

Thursday, August 25, 2016

And Now You Do What They Told Ya

I keep a wallet filled with foolscap, absolutely crammed. It works out well unless you were to rob me, as there's rarely any money in it, though not necessarily because of all the foolscap. 

Many years ago, in a galaxy far, far away I was a little too tightly wound (that gasp of incredulity you may have just heard from people who've known me for longer than thirty seconds is legit). The me of Then makes the me of Now look positively comatose; I may have actually slept with my jaw ratcheted closed. I cannot imagine in hindsight why I didn't have a stroke sooner, unless, perhaps, it's because I'm a carrier.

I couldn't let go of my anger. The Air Force, to my relief as their employee, rather than dump me amongst the flora and fauna, decided to send me to the head of the Psychiatric Services Wing at the Rhein-Main (Air Base) Clinic, Colonel Doctor Robert G. He was terrific-and very funny (because he thought I was, if I'm being honest) and very willing to try to rescue a wild-eyed junior enlisted Sammy Glick impersonator who kept wading out into the deep end. 

He came up with the foolscap. Every time something angered me, I was to write it down on a piece of paper and put the paper in my wallet. But every time I'd write something down, his rule was that it had to be on its own, separate, piece of paper. No doubling up, no lists. By the end of the day, I could, and did have hundreds of slips of paper in my wallet. 

No worries-I had to review ALL these slips each night and put on a different sheet of paper, all those items I was still ANGRY about (I could put those on a single piece of paper) and then I'd put that list on my nightstand. The night before I would go to see him at the hospital, I had to review the (six) pieces of paper, and transfer anything I was still angry about, to yet another piece of paper and bring that one piece out to our weekly conversation. 

Within a month, I had no lists, simply because I'd review all the slips of paper of all the things that made me angry in the course of the day and realized I had no idea what the heck was written on most of them or what the words I could read actually meant or concluded (after reviewing the note and thinking about it, which the Doctor told me later was the key point) whatever had happened to spin me up wasn't that important after all. 

How about this week or real soon (and I mean real soon) we all decide to use that same solution. No matter who you're backing from President, or Congress, or whatever your single issue is. Watch the TV news, read a newspaper, check out a column online--we are REALLY CRANKED about a lot of stuff. It's a miracle that sales of boxing gloves haven't skyrocketed. We all know, or know of, someone who wants to "fix" things by looking to punch someone else in the nose. 

I know of people who tune into certain TV programs just to yell at the talking head in the vapor box who is making a fortune by yelling at them. I guess they watch because it feels so good when the show is over (explains the uptick in cigarette sales I guess). There are others who insist on reading columnists' words out loud and follow every line of the writer's argument with a scowl, or a gesture or a deprecation. And we just keep getting louder and angrier about more things, and more people every day. We don't know how to get off the aggression escalator, and most of us don't even know we're on one. 

Passion is fine and necessary. If our ancestors back in the ooze didn't care if they evolved to have legs that carried them from the pond and helped us grow lungs, every day would be Friday, if you follow my drift. It's the grinding, though, that is wearing out us out, the pitched battles we are waging to benefit who knows who or for what purpose. You wanna feel silly about how we now get along with one another, but you don't want to use the foolscap? 

Okay--tell me five things this country was PO'ed about at eight AM on September 11th, 2001, the day this country finally realized there's a world beyond our world. Go ahead, I'll wait. Too hard? Gimme three things, then. How hard can that be? No? You want to take a break from all this head noise and hate to concentrate on the real and important tasks at hand instead? Go ahead, I'll make a note of where we were and we can get back to it sometime real soon.
-bill kenny