Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Love Is Also a Verb

We're still at that point in the calendar that says "spring" but you keep an eye on the sky whenever you talk about an outdoors activity because "surprise" also starts with "S." That's how I was this past Saturday with a threatening sky but moderating temperatures walking to St. Vincent de Paul Place on Cliff Street to take part in the initial Clean Up the Streets for 2017.

I'm not all that expert on the history of the outreach but I know that it's the last Saturday of every month through the spring and summer and into the fall. The Last Green Valley has partnered with Norwich area spiritual and community groups to organize donations of work gloves, trash bags, and cleaning tools.

It was people power at its best. I'd estimate thirty or more folks turned out in the St. Vincent de Paul parking lot to tackle a target area of what seemed to be most of the streets in the neighborhood surrounding the kitchen and food pantry operation.

We, patrons of the kitchen and Norwich (and beyond) neighbors were there in all ages, sizes, shapes, and colors to include a young grade-schooler who came to keep her grandma company to a father and junior-high aged son from Colchester who volunteered last year and who came this year (again) with a work truck and a large flat-bed trailer.

The organizers intend to take on a different neighborhood across the city each month and from what I saw and experienced on Saturday morning there's no trash, too small or too large for them. Always in pairs and sometimes in small group work parties, we filled yellow trash bags with discarded detritus and more from sidewalks, curbsides, and streets while dreading rain that never arrived and hoping the sun would win its battle with a cloudy sky.

I tagged along with the aforementioned dad and lad and their truck and trailer and an indefatigable scout on a 50 cc moped in charge of advance reconnaissance as we worked our way down Cliff Street hauling mattresses, cabinets, a television, a recliner and one or more sofas, box springs, tables and other home furnishings onto Roath Street and what may have been the heaviest pull-out couch ever made.

We worked our past the Norwich Pizza Palace and Butch's Luncheonette making the right onto Main Street across from the old YMCA and then the next right on Park Street. Meanwhile, helping hands had fanned out across and throughout Oak, Hawthorne, Clairemont and all points in between. As organizers shared later on Facebook, in less than two hours Saturday morning we collected 2,820 pounds of trash. Yipes!

Yeah, I spent part of the rest of the weekend sore in places I didn't know I had. But with a smile on my face from being able to enjoy the opportunity to not just say I love living in Norwich but doing something to prove it, too. Next Clean Up is Saturday, April 29th. Just bring yourself, you're all we need.
-bill kenny    

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Road is Very Well-Paved

I am a huge fan of the Abilene Paradox which was groundbreaking about forty years ago in explaining, or attempting to, how groups and organizations undertake actions that are counter to the desires of those who are in those very groups. I have two VHS cassettes (yeah, I am old-school), one with a 'bootleg' version of the original lecture Dr. Jerry Harvey delivered at American University in D.C., shot from a shaky camera in the balcony as he stalked around the stage with a hand-held mike with a soft Texas accent and sharp sense of the absurd.

He spoke for almost ninety minutes on the tape I have (which at times loses the video control track causing the picture to roll and in some places be nothing more than 'noise' (= snow on the screen)) and he never lost a member of the audience or failed to make his point or any of its corollaries. He was concerned with what I recall as the lack of forgiveness for mistakes, which is as true today as it was at the time he stood on stage.

I've worked for folks who've summed this concern up inelegantly as 'One 'oh shit!' wipes out a 1000 'attaboys!' In America, he noted, the first public mistake is nearly always the last one as no one is prepared to forgive, much less forget, a previous failure or allow someone who has failed the opportunity for redemption. I've felt for years that Search for the Guilty is akin to his premise since so often I've watched and participated in, these witch hunts, instead of fixing a problem. And if you think I'm typing about "Derbygate," you're not wrong.

Harvey's other premise was the pervasive power of the fear of negative consequences. He described a social interaction that hinges on one party being willing to take a step and make a decision that will set off a chain of events, some of whose consequences may not be well-received.

His concern was that often, within the group dynamic that gets us all to Abilene, the effort becomes to persuade the decision maker that possible consequences could (not will, only could) outweigh probably benefits so that NOTHING is accomplished. The beauty of this, he pointed out, is when this happens, every other person in the group is absolved of ANY responsibility for what doesn't get achieved because after all, they didn't make any decisions at all, right?

I live in Abilene and if you've watched the tape, or I should say 'the program' because it's on DVD and probably on BLURAY-DVD, you live there as well. I don't care what it says on your driver's license, or how the address on your mail reads. When we become comfortable with group think to the point where NOT thinking like everyone else makes you a suspect, welcome to Abilene.

And here in my Abilene, in addition to Derbygate, we are the proud owners of a building in our downtown (that is very much the former and not so much the latter), Reid & Hughes, whose rehabilitation has been a top three topic of local conversation every day for the twenty-five and one-half years I've lived here. It's almost like Willy Wonka's Everlasting Gobstopper because every time our city council almost makes a decision on the building, it changes its mind. Different City Council's over the year, same situation. We're currently back to 'let's save it' (from 'let's raze it' sixty days ago) and of course this time we mean it. (Just as we did last time.)

At some point down the road, I'm not clear if it will happen before the November Council elections or if the building will again be a campaign issue, when the Chelsea Renaissance is no further along than it was the last time we talked about it, because of as-yet-undiscovered defects in another yet-to-be-seen plan for downtown (that was privately developed and sprung on everyone) which all will publicly embrace but privately despair of, we here in our Abilene will still be talking about the day we were going to make jet fuel from peanut oil but didn't. And that's exactly how we want it to stay.
-bill kenny

Monday, March 27, 2017

Breakfast of Chimpanzees

I am not a big fan of experimentation (I used to be a huge fan of things created through fermentation but that was another lifetime, one of toil and blood, and I make it a rule to not go there on Mondays) and plod along for the most part with one foot in front of the other in travel and travail from Point A to something like Point B. It fills up the day and makes the time go fast.

On weekday mornings I have a bowl of Cheerios for breakfast after I've gotten to work. I still spend more time there than I do at home because I live for the approval in strangers' eyes, I guess (keep your pity or contempt to yourself; I have my own). Perhaps true for you as well, I have a routine from the time I open my eyes to about a half hour after I'm actually at work.

All the stuff in between happens, of course, because I'm the one making it happen, but it's an auto-pilot operation. I'm such a slave to how things flow that if anything changes or shifts, like one of those wind-up toys that walks itself into a corner, I just keep bumping into whatever the roadblock has become, unable to clear it or go around it.

Cheerios at work is my decompression food, I suspect. When I sleep, I cannot recall if I dream though my wife has told me there are nights (and early mornings) where I shout out and/or talk or get up, and for which I have no explanation because I have no recollection. My dream world is just black. I use the whole going to work and getting used to being there for the next twelve hours part of the day as the Re-entry to Earth part of the program. And the fuel for this is Cheerios.

I knew someone who called them bagel seeds-suspect the Big G folks wouldn't have been too happy about that but it makes me smile and I repeat it to myself every morning and crack myself up. I never tire of saying it or laughing at it. If I had but a million or so folks with my delightful sense of humor (someone had to say it, and it didn't look like you were about to) I could have my own cable news show-and oh, how we'd all laugh then. I have Cheerios in the next to last of the red plastic bowls we had when we lived in Germany and used for cereal there.

Years ago, Sigrid found very nice and (actually) quite pretty replacement bowls and the red plastic ones (except the two I rescued) went to the land of their ancestors on trash day. As the oldest thing currently in our house, I get VERY nervous when anything is pitched out 'because it's really old.' You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows on that equation.

I eat Cheerios without sugar or milk. Actually, and I don't eat a lot of cereals, I NEVER eat dry cereal with anything other than a spoon and my mouth. Why do you think they call it DRY cereal?

What am I supposed to do with the milk? Drop little tiny people in the bowl, so they can be rescued? Perhaps I should get a recording of Nearer My God to Thee, and using sugar cubes to construct a fake iceberg, reenact the sinking of the Titanic. Of course, with that much sugar in my system, I'd be crayoning all the walls in the five story building I work in for three days, from the outside in, until sedated with a croquet mallet.

I used to eat Wheaties, back when Bob Richards (if I were shorter, I could ask him for a pony ride for my birthday) was on the cover (I don't how old I was before discovering he didn't invent them but was the first endorser of a cereal. I never count the Quaker guy on the oats).  These days, I guess you'd have to use the ultra-high temperature 2% stuff that looks like white water. I've never understood how they get the cows to stand still while they heat 'em up. I suspect they catch them early in the morning.....
-bill kenny

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Gratitude Is the Atttitude

I had forgotten about these words and just stumbled across them and smiled because I was a much sunnier person when I first offered them and have faltered a bit in recent years as I've allowed life to grind me down (which is an excuse masquerading as a reason and I know it). I found them to be a tonic (as immodest as that sounds) and I hope they help you as well. Actually, I hope you are so well you don't need them and can pass them to someone else. The old ripple in the pond effect, don't you know. 

We each have peaks and valleys, good days and dark days, moments of pleasure and of pain. We've all had opportunities to regret choices and decisions that have taken us farther away rather than closer to that which we desired. Sometimes there are ways to get back and other times we must live with the price we pay. 

We each have been a prisoner of circumstance, heredity, genetics or serendipity and we all have been victims of what we see as an uncaring and unfeeling universe. Meet Nick Vujicic and realize, again (or for the first time) that the effective range of any excuse is far less than a meter. 
-bill kenny

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Third Largest State

The key to subtraction is often an abstraction. In times of high-stress political theater, it's useful to the cause to render someone who disagrees with you as "your opponent" rather than "Mister" or "Ms." Someone with a Name and Face.

We've become quite adept at it in terms of reportage about all manner of violence, be it domestic, terrorism or war. We speak about victims of opioid and other substance abuse as if we were counting cans of peas at the local market.

The emotional distance we create is, I suppose, useful in allowing us to sleep at night. We do not and cannot hear the cries and pleas of the homeless, the hungry or the hopeless when we have decided to consider them 'economically disadvantaged' and whatever other multi-syllabic descriptive phrases we invent to insulate us from the world in which we live (and that we also created).

This list of many of our United States may seem nonsensical as you try to sort out the order. It's not.

Here we go: Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan, New Jersey, Virginia,  Washington,  Arizona, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Indiana, Missouri, Maryland, Wisconsin, Colorado, Minnesota, South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, Kentucky, Oregon, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Puerto Rico, Iowa, Utah, Mississippi, Arkansas, Nevada, Kansas, New Mexico, Nebraska, West Virginia, Idaho,  Hawaii,  New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, North Dakota, Alaska,  District of Columbia, Vermont, and Wyoming.

The states are listed in descending order of population; I owed you that. My family lives in one of these states. My mom is in Florida. I have brothers and sisters in another and cousins, and nieces and nephews galore scattered throughout. You probably do as well. Each of them has fewer than twenty-four million, 24,000,000, people. It's a big number when you type it out.

Twenty-four million people would be the population of the third largest state in our country, behind California and Texas, the two states not on my list. As it is, twenty-four million people are also the number of Americans projected to no longer have health insurance after the Affordable Care Act is "repealed and replaced" by Republican Party Congressional Representatives.

Their effort would remove"essential services" such as maternity leave, prescription medication, hospital stays, and all addiction therapy services and insurance providers to exclude those with pre-conditions. In other words, welcome to 2008, before the Affordable Care Act. And despite all of those subtractions, the GOP Freedom Caucus wanted more cuts. Here's another list:

I'm supposed to believe the GOP bill, Trumpcare, is what passes for progress in the shining city on the hill as Peg Noonan wrote for Ronald Reagan in whose name some truly horrible social policies have been endorsed and embraced by the present-day GOP.  Don't be fooled by the failure of political will on the part of a con man turned President and a back-bencher masquerading as a Speaker of the House. The catastrophe that was avoided Friday was only momentarily avoided. These bastards will be back over and over and over again. They can't help it, it's what they do. The party of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt has become an abomination unrecognizable even to themselves.
-bill kenny

Friday, March 24, 2017

Here's Hoping that the Days Ahead

I'm remembering a morning a very long time ago when I stopped in at a fast food place for breakfast probably because the way I was already living wasn't doing enough damage quickly enough to my body. Anyway.

Standing behind a dad and his young daughter, based on the time of day and their clothes possibly on their way home from Mass (Holy Communion and a McGriddle, who could ask for anything more) I realize from the way he's speaking to the counter person about employment he doesn't have a job. There's a discussion of shift availabilities (all of them) and pay differentials (doesn't sound like many) and he's nodding as she's talking while scribbling names and numbers down on a McNapkin.

I think, as we age, it takes us longer to bounce back from the knocks and bruises of what we insist is everyday life. In our twenties, we went from position to position with nary a thought of tomorrow or even later the same day. Then as the decades advanced, each job started to look more like a career until the economic tsunami we endured a number of years ago and its crashing waves that continue to this day to thunder around us ended up sweeping away savings, self-respect and maybe home.

The child at his feet was no more than five and had a tiara on and a pink fairy-dress that parents think every daughter at that age loves. He's making sure he understands the sequence in which to call the numbers, because 'if you call region before district, they'll tell you there aren't any vacancies' when the child squeals in delight and holds up her prize.

She's found a dime on the floor-perhaps someone dropped their change from a purchase, or, more likely, it didn't quite make it through the slot in the counter collection box for the supportive housing of parents of children with cancer the franchise has constructed across the USA and around the world.

I'm not alone in this latter supposition as the father bends to pick his daughter up and explains to her where the dime really came from and, by inference, where it really belongs. Without hesitation, safe in his arms, the child leans across her father and drops the dime through the slot in the top of the box. He smiles as his order is given to him and both dad and daughter head for the parking lot and home with breakfast and, perhaps, a new hope. For a just a moment, a bright Spring morning brightens even more. The past is gone, it's all been said. So here's to what the future brings, I know tomorrow you'll find better things.
-bill kenny

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Just in Thyme

I'm typing as fast as I can and only hope that spell check saves me from the ignominy of reading like a Hottentot at a Hootenanny. It's my own fault really-I like to live on the edge, walk on the wild side, sail too close to the wind, hang on by just a thread and as many other cliches and bromides as I can get on a 24 hour loan from Billy Bob's Emporium of Previously Used Sentence Components located in Del Rio, Texas.

Went to make myself a little pick-me-up yesterday after lunch and decided to skip the Java jive and the tea leaves and made a cup of chicken bouillon from those cubes that are so dense I've always suspected they are actually made from the matter that comprises a black hole in space. I especially like how there's always one piece of the foil wrap you cannot get off until you're reduced to trying to scrape it off with a fingernail and then, uh-oh, there's bouillon fragments under the nail. Do NOT put that fingertip in your mouth. Ever. If you have to ask why, it's too late.

So here I am, struggling with eight fingers (the foil was really hard to get off), putting the cube container back in the pantry and checking out the label (thank goodness for that Literacy Volunteer!). There's some disquieting news all the way around, starting on the front that tells me there's chicken 'with other natural flavors'. Sure wish we'd be more forthcoming detail on that. And what about the LARGE yellow letters that brag NO MSG ADDED ('contains naturally occurring glutamates' Huh?) or the nutritional information that ONE cube provides 45% of your daily intake of sodium. Let the Morton Salt girl put that in her umbrella and smoke it.

And then atop the screw cap, I saw the fateful advisory, 'Best by August 2014'. OMG. I'm lousy at math (and English as we both know) but I knew there was trouble. The light grew dim and my life started flashing before my eyes. It's been so unremarkable, mine was replaced by the Jimmy Dugan Story and since that's so short, the second reel was the Song of Bernadette (Peters, which was disconcerting especially the excised dance of a thousand veils scene from Barney's Great Adventure).

And then, just before the darkness enveloped me, I tried to figure out how anyone, even the manufacturer (yeah, Hormel, I'm talkin' 'bout you) would distinguish among good, better or best in chicken bouillon cubes. Turns out it was getting dark because I was dozing, not because the mortal coil was assuming the shuffle off position. Talk about relief! Of course I'm still a little peckish-perhaps a slice of last Christmas' fruit cake will hit the spot.
-bill kenny