Monday, November 30, 2015

A Different Reason for the Season

I am VERY happy our two children are out of the buy-me-that-toy-for-Christmas phase; I'm sure they both wish their father were as well, but you can't have everything and in my house that's a lesson you can't learn often enough.

Almost two decades ago, I traipsed from store to store in search of Furby, an object whose appeal eluded me (and still does). Our little girl wanted one and that was good enough for me. I think she ended up with no more than two in the course of her growing up/my growing old though my recollection is that there were battalions of different models of these little dust bunnies available. I was always proud I resisted the temptation to train it to speak in incredibly rude sentences, but only just.

She, and we, collected beanie babies with a little more vigor than we pursued Furby, but their saving grace (when was the last time that phrase was used in connection with them?) was that you collected them all year long, they weren't specifically tied to this time of year (I keep visualizing the Gift of the Magi at the original Nativity where each of the Wise Men gives the Baby Jesus a different Beanie Baby. Just guaranteed myself another window seat on the bus to Hades.)

I know I've gotten old when I recoil in dismay reading about this year's hot toys though I needn't bother buying any of them for anyone. Star Wars toys we can pretend to be buying for nieces and nephews but never leave the original packaging and have a secret stash in the hall closet? Your secret is safe with me, my friend. I'm still working on who buys the Pie Face Game, from Hasbro. The 'why' I'm hoping is offered separately. 

I'm not sure how anyone can walk past one of the bell-ringers with the kettle this season and NOT put something in for those in need if they indeed to give some of the stuff on the "hot toys" list to someone they know. And perhaps, in the spirit of the season, I should take it a little easier on these toys, and the people who give them, except we both know before the holiday season is over we'll read or watch reports of adult shoppers coming to physical violence over a store's last shipment of something and someone, somewhere will set up a cottage industry (if it hasn't happened already) on-line to sell all the accessories every child of all ages will ever want or need. 

And if the past is the prelude to the future, in a couple of years, as part of local collections to help the hungry and indigent, all of our now older children will be donating their now unwanted hot toys of Christmases Past to those in need of a roof or a warm coat. I promise when that happens to NOT point out that no one wanted a Jedi Master Lightsaber and we'll all pretend this will constitute a happy ending, at least until the next trend.
-bill kenny

Sunday, November 29, 2015

First Sunday after Black Friday

Somewhere on the way to here, I lost my way. Not as in shuffled off the beaten path and got lost, but defiantly chose to not do as those who came before me had chosen for generations. Too stiff-necked to this day to acknowledge my failings and weaknesses, I'm often in doubt but never in error. At least in my own mind.

Today marks the beginning of a season of preparation; for the devout it is for the coming of the Saviour. I've never been quite sure what it is people like me are doing or supposed to do. I miss the comfort of the ritual and the sense of shared belonging. I fill up my hollow days with noise to distract me from hearing the approaching roar. 

I've never been clear if I am to look to the future with anticipation or fear. 
I do understand I'll find out soon enough and sooner than planned.
-bill kenny

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Seasonal Seasonings.....

We're a little less than a month from Christmas. If you don't observe Christmas please substitute the phrase "December 25th." See? That worked great didn't it?

We here in Norwich (Connecticut) have already started by lighting up our City Hall (not with fire, but holiday lights) yesterday evening.

Last night was the start and we continue today, and it will matter not what the weather looks like. Starting at one this afternoon at Chelsea Parade and wending its way down Broadway, then Broad Street and yet more and finally onto Franklin Street, concluding just around Franklin Square it's the 247th Annual Winterfest Parade.

Okay, it isn't really that many, but I've been watching a to-remain-unnamed Presidential aspirant lie every time he opens his mouth with no repercussions so I figured why not. I've been following his example for almost six centuries now. There I go again!

The pictures you see are from last year's parade (my cell phone camera cannot get images of events before they happen, sigh) but you get the idea: lots of feet in the street, people on floats waving, marching bands, local civic groups and Santa Claus to cap the parade.

There are all kinds of arts and crafts in downtown afterwards so if you're in the area consider yourself invited and wander around to check out the merchants who are doing their part for Small Business Saturday and I'd have to assume for your holiday season as well.

Maybe your town has its own celebrations going on. In that case, by all means I'll understand if you take a raincheck on ours but if you're looking to get into the mood, we have a whole cadre of volunteers who work for months on this and they do a great job, so the more the merrier and that includes you.
-bill kenny

Friday, November 27, 2015

There Are Black Friday Blogs?

I was going to get up before I went to bed and write something, just in case you thought I might do that in honor of today being Black Friday in US retail, and then I remembered that my Mom raised crazy children but not stupid ones. 

I was impressed watching all the TV commercials yesterday and reading the papers with all the inserts (the newspapers actually looked like the Sunday newspapers in terms of thickness, didn't they?) at the early hours so many stores had for today. And the rewards so many offered for sleep deprivation.

But what if (just supposin’) your city hall opened at 4 A.M. and gave you a 25% discount on overdue/past-due property taxes; would you line up the way you stood out in front of Best Buy/Big Box Joint this morning to get one of the twenty five-dimensional TVs they had for under $500? 

Or, what if the state DMV office offered a driver's license or a vehicle registration for half-off for the first one hundred folks through the door when they opened at five? Heck with that, what if DMV just let you pick the photo for the license instead of keeping it a secret until after it's been laminated? My photo ALWAYS looks like a raccoon having a seizure because of the black rings under my eyes and how their camera is designed to always catch me in mid-blink. 

Finally, what if the IRS gave you a 10% discount on your earned income credit for stopping in between 4 and 6 AM. Would the line in front of their building look like that hungry mob circling the Target store trying to score a Wii console or some of those size 44 Triple-E jump boots?

You ponder all of that. I'm heading out to church because if I get there before 5 AM they have a twofer on plenary indulgences and I need all the indulging I can get. Retail therapy and redemption, in paper or plastic.
-bill kenny

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Putting the Stuff in Stuffing

Happy Thanksgiving. 

With the weather growing colder in Southeast New England as fall descends into winter, I'm seeing fewer signs stapled to utility poles for the ever popular weekend-consuming event: the tag sale, or yard sale, sometimes called a garage sale. I have another name for these, but my mom has asked me to NOT use it in case children are reading this (a child, is, technically, writing this, hers).

At certain times of year around here these are really popular, and are in your area, too, I suspect. I've never really gotten the attraction of rummaging through someone else's stuff, deciding if I like/need or want it, figuring out a price or haggling with the owner over the number on the tag and then taking the purchase home and making it part of my life. I have a very particular and defined sense of personal space. I don't like you in mine and I don't want to be in yours unless we're all stampeding for an exit during a fire drill. 

I don't think I've been to a yard sale, assuming I don't count the thought-it-was-a-stationary-bike bicycle I bought from Gayle and Eric across the street; but it wasn't a stationary bike, at all, as it turns out. Gayle had already left it at the curb for the trash pick-up and I gave her five dollars for it and then almost killed myself falling down the basement stairs when I put it away. 

It was at that moment, sprawled half under it and half over it, that I realized it wasn't what I thought it was and that I should have left well enough alone (and thereafter did). My whole involvement with the bike now consists of shouting "watch out for the bike!" to people heading down the indoor basement stairs. 

We have a house, probably like yours, filled with things we no longer use/need. Pieces of yourself and who you were but no longer are. Junk we didn't even realize we still have. I have shelves in the basement filled with items we got for the kids, way back when, some we bought for them when we all lived in Germany and we haven't done that for almost a quarter century. I'll never part with any of it. It takes a lot to get into my family and even more for me to let go. 

Each item has a story or a memory, even the stuff of which I have no recollection, maybe especially that stuff. George Carlin's observation never rang truer and while we may laugh at it, for the comedic directness and accuracy of its acerbic assertions, we always divide the world into ours and yours, and guess what we think of yours? Pass that leftover turkey sammich, willya?
-bill kenny

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Too Many Blessings

I wrote this five years and a day ago. It was my hope then as it is my intention now to put a holiday we celebrate on the ‘fourth Thursday of every November’ into a large enough context that all we can (and should) see are our similarities because (maybe just me?) we seem to spend much of the rest of the year arguing over our differences and why those differences are so much more important than all the things we share. 

On a day that both commemorates and celebrates the importance of sharing what you have with those who do not I hope our individual reasons to be thankful are nearly innumerable but more importantly they don’t get lost among the cornbread stuffing and the secret recipe sweet-potato pie.

They were very poor and had come a long way with very little money and less hope. The lives they led had been so desperate that arriving uninvited in a land that had no use for them seemed attractive.

The first months were terribly hard. The immigrants didn't know the customs, didn't understand the language, had little grasp of the nature of the place they had come to live in and even less desire to learn of it.

Arriving in the middle of winter, totally unprepared for the season's savagery by their experiences in their own country, nearly half were dead by the Spring.

Their hosts had difficulties with the settlers. Their customs, their language, their religion were all so different from what they had known-it was hard to see the point of attempted community.

On more than occasion, as it had proven, befriending the new ones had been unwise as more of their sort just kept showing up and crowding out those who had lived in the area for so many decades.

The emigres were in a precarious predicament. It had taken almost all of their savings to make the trip to what they hoped would be a fresh start. They believed, or wanted to, that if they worked hard and did well, one day they could send for family and friends to join them in their brave adventure. But every day was a challenge and more often than not, often without victory. They were isolated, decimated and left to their own devices. 

It took extraordinary hospitality and courageous kindness by one of the long-time residents of the established community to extend a helping hand and organize support so that as the following fall approached the new people had reasons to believe.

How fortunate there was nothing like a Secure Border Initiative
Fortunate for us, that is.

We, the direct and indirect descendants of those first arrivals nearly five hundred years ago, will tomorrow celebrate Thanksgiving, possible only because Samoset ignored the arguments and fears of so many of his fellow Abenaki and welcomed the Pilgrims to the New World, establishing even before we were a nation, a tradition and legacy of welcoming all to our shores.Happy Thanksgiving.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thrills and Pills

This is a loud and blaring tough week on the tube what with the barrage of non-stop ThanksChristPassKwanzaa TV commercials importuning us to conspicuously consume (Guess who got a Word-a-Day calendar as an early present? Yep, no clue.). 

There’s a pretty good chance one of us is already in the queue for an opportunity to purchase something we don’t need but desperately want (perhaps a full-size cardboard catamaran, or a genuine Gucci shoe tree) for a low, low price on Black (Thursday evening) Friday. It will have to be you, as I still do plenty of stupid stuff, but not that stupid stuff.  

But humor me. What part of a day do you watch advertiser-supported broadcast TV? Perhaps the morning news, or the chit-chat afternoon talk shows, maybe the late night stuff? Count the number of commercials you see for prescription medications (not the headache tablets or cold and flu meds). I’m talking full-on, get ye to a doctor to have a script to take to your apothecary meds.

I predict your rough count, based on the number of them I see hamster hopping on the treadmill by the dawn’s early light and on the network evening news will be somewhere around 6.2 metric boxcars worth. To be honest, once you start watching for them, you’ll be slightly numbed by their volume.

Why are they on at all? I’m not a doctor and you’re probably not either, so why are we pre-selling stuff to people who lack the direct access to the product? Do any of us ever say to one of our doctors, ‘what do you think about we try HappiFuzziBuzz, that new anti-depression drug available in the family friendly twelve-pack?’ Yeah, and then afterwards you bill your physician for a consulting fee. Not.

Raised on sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, I have to tell you I never thought the long green would be in the middle, and yet in terms of ‘brought to you by’ advertising, we’re talking billions.  I was a kid when the Marlboro Man rode off my TV screen and into the sunset (though I still remember the “Winston Tastes Good” jingle and ‘the disadvantages to Benson & Hedges’ (never mentioning the most obvious one, cancer) and the TV wizards screamed that their world would end as those rivers of advertising dollars dried up.

But here we are, a lifetime later, and we have  more TV than you can shake a Zippo or a pillbox at so I’m thinking we can probably survive quite handsomely (in my case, real progress in the looks department) without erectile dysfunction and/or mood elevation prescription meds  and return the airwaves to the likes of Ron Popeil and George Foreman. One to sell us fishing tackle and the knives to filet the catch with the other helping us cook up that freshly-caught carp just right
-bill kenny