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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 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Naming and Numbering the Beast

We are if nothing else very organized. Our social systems are fitted, one into the other, ever-expanding and ever-enlarging as we build a block, a neighborhood, a city, a state and, ultimately, a nation. We cannot begin until we have announced a beginning and sometimes we get into trouble for having a very poorly thought-out sense of what the ending is/should be/has become.

When I watched The Wall separating the two Germanys come down in what now feels like another life, the slaughter that was to follow in the Balkans was unimagined except by those most consumed with their cowardly hatred of “others.” That same thing was true for Islamic extremism in all the flavors that it comes in to include the current ISIL Sundae of Killing or attempting to, everyone who doesn’t worship as you do in exactly the same manner as you do.

I’ve watched news reports of ‘coalition air strikes’ trying to understand how fixed wing aircraft can ever hope to seize and hold territory since that hasn’t happened in the history of warfare (but today could be the day I suppose) and how those Iraqis betrayed by the cowardice of their own armed forces are being helped as they battle  in Anbar Province even as Kurds and other citizens of Kobane try to slow the murderous onslaught aimed like a dagger at their homes and hearths.

I’ve been calling this Last World War by a series of names that would cause my mom to cry were she to hear them, unless, as I suspect, she has similar ones that she’s spared my ears from learning. I think many of us here in the West have similar stories.

But now, good news as we can begin in earnest the task of attempting to stop these Holy-Moly Rollers, because the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces of the United States (a/k/a The Great Satan and/or The Crusaders; why not just call us The Great Satanic Crusaders and be done with it? Get the marketing guys in here and set up a test group) have decided this struggle is to be called Operation Inherent Resolve.  

Remembering Old Testament (I think) and Jonah in the belly of a whale, I cannot recall if there is somewhere in another Biblical passage anything about the futility of  negotiating with a shark, which is what I think this all comes down to now and for the foreseeable future.

It was Churchill, confronting Nazis across the English Channel, who offered “a fanatic is someone who cannot change his mind and who will not change the subject.” I believe had he met Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, he’d have amended his aphorism to include a recommendation to change the direction of the rotary blades and to replow (and then salt) the area in its entirety. What’s good enough for Hannibal….

Make no mistake; what’s to come will require more than Inherent Resolve. The world may not actually come to an end in The Levant, but I have no doubt you’ll be able to see it from there. 

-bill kenny