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Friday, October 24, 2014

Never Been to Spain

The days are getting shorter and the nights crisper here in Southern New England (how oxymoronic is that descriptive? I always expect someone to say ‘pahk yer cahr, y’all’ so I just typed it (and you read it out loud, right?)) though we’re still a long way I hope from requiring, as our friends Down Under might (in July), a three dog night.

Like Cory, Chuck and Danny, I, too, have never been to Spain nor have I been to Oklahoma. But I have followed from afar a truly original public life in public service as lived by Dr. Thomas Coburn, who doesn’t make house calls because of his day job, senior Senator from the state of Oklahoma.

As you’ve probably gleaned by reading this screed on almost any given day, I am not considered a Friend of the Republican Party, unless we’re talking the Roman Republic, and yet Senator Coburn, along with (the late) Jim Jeffords, (the once and future) Bernie Sanders and (more recently) Elizabeth Warren are my most favorite members of the United States Senate and notice, please, how two of them at one time called the Party of Lincoln home.

I have not so secret hopes that Sanders and Warren might join forces on the same ticket in pursuit of  the Office of the President of the United States in 2016-perhaps with a no-nonsense slogan like “what’s left to f*ck up?” Senator Coburn is bowing out after a very long career in Dodge City in the service of the people of his home state of Oklahoma and all the rest of us, too.

For quite some time he has been a voice in the desert crying out about what he sees as inappropriate extravagance, or waste. As he closes the chapter of his life that has photo views of the Potomac, he authors one last edition of his Wastebook (and I smile at the cover thinking of my brother Kelly, whose birthday it is today and his dislike of monkeys is beyond epic.)

How can a nation with the talent assembled at the National Science Foundation fear tomorrow when we’re engaged in life changing and affirming research such as teaching monkeys how to play video games and gamble. This, ISIL or ISIS or whatever your name really is, is why we’ll always triumph no matter how many bandannas without eye holes you wrap around your head or how tightly you wind them.

Speaking of whom, on page 45, is this eye-popper/head-shaker: “The State Department’s Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) is responsible for crafting the official online presence of the U.S. government on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter with the mission to counter the sophisticated propaganda machines of terrorist groups around the globe. This year, a portion of the $3 million taxpayers entrusted to CSCC was used to create the Think Again Turn Away Twitter account, which currently counts more than 2,000 tweets and 7,654 followers.”

I concede that’s 7,653 followers MORE than I have. But I’m going for quality, not quantity. So what does it matter?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

No Place like Gnome

Americans are a people possessed with and by wanderlust, said the man who travelled a quarter of the way around the world to find the person who completed him. But, if I may offer something to better explain, that wasn’t what I started out on the journey to do.

You’ve seen/read the news on this: Jeffrey Fowle is back in Ohio after a Gulag Intermezzo (of sorts) in North Korea. Terrific news for his friends and family and perhaps reasons to be cheerful for the loved ones of Matthew Miller and Kenneth Bae, both still guests of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

In much the same way as I don’t understand people who base jump, pet sharks, climb mountains or do all three at the same time while blindfolded, naked and on roller skates during a rain of locusts, I look more than askance at anyone who would journey to such a country.

I don’t pretend to know why any of them chose to travel there or to have understood, so far, what they did to earn themselves an extended stay, but however they’ve been making their travel arrangements, do yourself a favor and stay away from whomever they’re using. 

For me, both the guy who always needs a shave, and that snarky multi-colored gnome give me more than enough cause for pause (and when did it become too hard to say “cutting out the middleman” so much so that we now have a term, disintermediation (that no one on earth understands), to do this). And besides there’s a world full of places I would love to see, and whose People’s Republic didn’t make the list?       

In a world of unlimited possibilities, someone chooses to head towards a place where they make men’s suits out of poured concrete, where Spy vs Spy isn’t a Mad magazine feature but rather a meeting of  the Neighborhood Watch, and an optimist is someone who looks forward to when they can die.

With your fussin’ and a fightin’ won’t you get me to the rhyme?” Preferably without routing me through Chicago while my baggage travels direct to  Dallas.  
-bill kenny

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Not Middle Earth but Home

I would hope you are tiring of my insistence that there's more to Norwich than meets the eye, unless you insist on keeping your eyes closed (and if you do, having your mouth do likewise is okay, too).

As someone who's been around these parts for twenty-three years, but whose rest of his parts are considerably older than that, I can appreciate still being regarded as an enthused beginner with a more childlike than childish sense of enjoyment of the variety of activities within our city limits.

I especially enjoy discovering, as I did this past weekend, kindred spirits in terms of being NFH (Not From Here). Forgive my absence of modesty but I think we might be better off with a few more of us.

This weekend proved my point about a plethora of simultaneous, multiple and diverse interests (guess who got a thesaurus for his birthday? And I so wanted a brontosaurus) being addressed here in The Nine Mile Square (a great coffee table book from the late Bill Stanley that's just a small part of the informational materials at the Norwich Visitors' Center on the Norwichtown Green and if you haven't been there, it's not only for visitors from without Norwich but helpful to those from within).

Saturday I had the perfect excuse to visit The Lowthorpe Meadows, just a few steps behind the concrete constructs housing businesses over on Town Street on your way into the Norwichtown Historic District.

It's a bit bigger than 18 acres and I've heard it called a "cool, hidden place" and if your definition includes tiger swallowtail butterflies, deer and a pod of goldfinches you have most definitely come to the right place.

Saturday was a semi-annual clean-up and because the meadow meanderers are so good at picking up after themselves all year long, a volunteer like me had light work and an opportunity to enjoy steps around this absolute gem.

Before the weather turns even more autumnal, you should carve out an hour  and make it a destination, I promise you'll be delighted with yourself for taking a break from bustle and noise of the 21st Century.

Here are some other steps that pay dividends include the (only) twenty-six steps from Main Street down the stairs to the Otis Library basement. This past weekend was the Friends of Otis Library Book Sale, combining a chance to do good by financially supporting the folks who support Otis Library with a chance to feel good by gobbling up great bargains by the bagful.

One of the volunteers estimated there were at least 10,000 books offered at bargain basement (literally) prices. Sounds about right to me, especially on Sunday with a bag of books going for five bucks. I love doing good deeds, especially when I, too, get the immediate benefit.

These activities go on around here all the time; you just have to learn to look for them and grab your opportunity when you see it. Or you can complain about how there's never anything to do around here and feel good about feeling bad. Your choice.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ishmael, Call Me Bullwinkle

As the autumn days grow shorter, the critters in our backyard get a little more frantic. We have cardinals, which is certainly more than the World Series can say, as well as Blue Jays, see previous attempt at humor, along with other birds like woodpeckers, titmouses (quite a lot of discussion eh?), sparrows and our favorites, the grey squirrels.

I went out about a month ago and bought a fifty pound bag of what turned out to be shelled peanuts, in pieces, which meant my wife had to rescue me (again) by unearthing two ancient squirrel feeder boxes that we could use for the "I love Pieces that aren't Reese's" contingent except..... it happens, most of the squirrels, and I think we're up to seven or more now (I don't like being accused of profiling but they do all look pretty the same so I'm not sure if I'm counting some more than once or if there are even more than I thought), like the shelled legume more than the already to eat version. Go figure.

There are times you can almost forget they are a wild animal, usually at the exact moment you're having second thoughts about having them take a peanut out of your hand. I've never had mad math skills, so help me out. It's five phalanges per hand, right? No doubt about it, I gotta get me a new hat.


-bill kenny

Monday, October 20, 2014

(Semi) Auto-Erotica

My wife and I have a new (to us) automobile. We have come a long way from Kasernenstrasse 2, in 1982 when we had (what else?) a 1973 Vokswagen Kafer, racing orange (which was in hindsight about the only thing racy about the car). I blew the engine up on a trip from Stuttgart to Munich less than two years later and I've never looked at another VAG product since.

Meanwhile, back in the here and now. We went to look at cars last Monday, on Columbus Day, hoping to discover (a terrible play on words) a replacement for our 2003 Subaru Forester XS that had a skosh over 188,000 miles on the odometer.

We got the Forester in February of 2006 a month or so before I had my left knee surgically replaced (I always type it like that as if there were another way that gets done) and I knew with a long rehab that shifting would be out of the question and the Mitsubishi Mirage people had advised me driving their vehicle in first only, instead of using all five forward gears, would do more than just void the warranty.

The Forester was the second Subaru vehicle we ever had-a Loyale front-wheel drive station wagon had preceded it at some time in the middle nineties and I had enjoyed driving that car immensely. The Forester proved to be as bullet-proof as the Loyale requiring no emergency repairs of any kind at anytime and aside from oil changes and other regularly scheduled maintenance blending into our lives perfectly.

In recent months (and years) small failings had started to add up (I fully expect these very same words to appear in my obit, so I'm treading carefully)-pieces of trim had come undone; some rust over a rear-wheel well had made itself known and the electrical connections from the driver's master console for windows and locks worked more fitfully than regularly.

Al at the car store (he told us they don't see 'dealership') had a very late model Forester in his lot, along with at least three of every other kind of car (except maybe Smart of which I saw one), and it was a nice ride but the car next to it caught my wife's eye and I loved the test drive in it. We made no decisions or promises, saying only we would get back to him.

After some discussions during the week and a stop by a really large Subaru dealership to discover nothing on the property that spoke to us, we headed back to the car store to tell Al yeah, let's do the Impreza to discover he was off but since the consultants don't work on commission, it wasn't like Nick was poaching when he helped us. After one more test drive we were sold and wanted to get the purchase process started figuring it would be a couple of days.

Make that a couple of hours. We drove our new (ish) car home that evening and I slept in the vehicle luxuriating in that new car smell for three days afterwards. I of course am exaggerating-it was a couple of hours at most. And despite being four wheel drive, and the house having really wide doors, Imprezas do not fit in the average kitchen. At least not the one in our house. Happy Motoring.
-bill kenny

Sunday, October 19, 2014

An Oasis without a Desert

Had an opportunity to help some across town neighbors at their semi-annual Lowthorpe Meadows clean-up. Even better, for me, was that since the folks who tend to wander in this 18 acres of open space in the Norwichtown district of Norwich pick up and clean up on a regular basis, there's not a lot the Christmas help like me have to worry about.

I've meandered the property on more than a few occasions, encountering a doe and her fawn (unless I witnessed a kidnapping and didn't realize it) but today it was fun to just enjoy the expanses of rushes, wild roses and other flora and fauna while sharing the company and conversation of Angus, Barb and Tim.

Actually not so much of the latter from Angus not because he's not sociable (he most certainly is) but because he's a dog. He's quite amiable and likes being scratched on the top of his head and under his chin (assuming that's what it's called on a dog). I didn't need my leberwurst aftershave to get along with him so it worked out well for me as well.

It was in all a nice way to spend a Saturday morning and still be home in time for noontime and the remainder of the weekend and another reminder to myself that every time I think I've built a big enough box to fit Norwich into, another aspect and angle, a different light and texture offers itself for inspection and enjoyment and I have to head back to that definition I'm building of where I live and start all over again. With pleasure and delight.

-bill kenny

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Extreme Unction at Dysfunction Junction

Couldn’t resist borrowing a pre-Vatican Council II name for a sacrament just because I liked the way it all rolled off my tongue (yeah, I know ‘this is typed’ but I read it out loud, sometimes swishing the words around in my mouth as if I were at a wine-tasting). Erratically elegant in an inarticulate speech of the heart way.

Funnily enough (though that rarely is true of the sentence that follows) using words to diffuse and obfuscate instead of to inform and enlighten is actually my point today.

I had a letter the other day from someone pretty important to me and my health care options with a nearly illegible signature (A.N. Palmer died for your sins, sir; Kelly, note the second line of the second paragraph) and a very long job title. Within that title, as but one of his responsibilities, is “Chief Transformation Officer.”

As you have undoubtedly concluded if you’ve visited this space before, I love words-their power, their majesty, actually everything about them I find intoxicating. The language of origin is hardly a matter of concern for me anymore because of the number of transliteration services at my fingertips’ keyboard (I didn’t type ‘translation’ because many are not) but I love the job title and have zero clue as to what it means.

I see Transformers when I look at it and my previous experience with the fellow’s organization leads me to wonder if I should think Autobot or Decepticon (I would hope I’m wrong but whoever authored the Wikipedia entry for the latter term will most definitely be living out his days on that pull-out couch in his mom’s basement.). Intending no disrespect I think you can put them both in a sack, hit the sack with a bat and you’d get the right one. But your mileage may vary (or transform for all I know).

Since most of my knowledge about All Things Transformer are animated cartoons on video cassette we had (and still have someplace though we lack a player for them) when Patrick, our son, was much closer to the floor than far away, I’m fuzzy on the distinction between AllSpark and AllAnythingElse (burn).

Of course, from my own childhood and catechism class are echoes of arguments about Transfiguration and Transubstantiation. Neither of which I suspect Mr. Executive Scribble would be especially anxious or interested in defining (or using in sentence unless and until the rate of reimbursement improves very dramatically). “And I translate into many hours of history…and nobody knows my name.” (or title)

-bill kenny