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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Urban or Urbane Explorers

Decades ago, as part of a radio series we were working on for some holiday programming (my evil twin, Skippy, wants to say “Arbor Day”; I want to tell him to shut up), a colleague and I trooped and traveled amongst and betwixt Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Berchtesgaden and (Lake) Chiemsee (“see” auf deutsch means lake) back when the US forces occupying West Germany constituted a 51st state (and with our own shopping centers, libraries and license plates, we were in many respects larger than Texas and Alaska combined).

One of the places that we went while at Berchtesgaden was the General Walker Hotel, a former barracks/headquarters for Hitler’s bodyguard detachment of the SS during the Third Reich. You could see many reminders and references to past glories throughout the hotel used as an economy stop by US Forces on leave in Southern Bavaria (spectacular views of the Alps from just about every window for (maybe) as I recall ten bucks a night in the early 80’s).

But getting to go into the basement and into the sub-basements of the place, where all manner of dark and dastardly deeds may have been carried out by the previous tenants was the high point, at least for me as the dust and disuse the corridors and endless series of connected rooms well below the earth had fallen into just added to the intrigue and the allure. I don’t consider myself a spelunker, but long before urban explorers helped remind us of what we had buried of our own pasts, the AFRC guides did a good job of making sure some of us remembered.

I hadn’t thought about any of that in decades until a moment ago while at one of my favorite stops on the entire (to me, so far) internet, I fell across this incredible imagery. Nearly all of it scares me so much, I can't watch; but it's so amazing I also don't dare to look away.

We cannot know everything there is to know in the world, but what a terrific goal, isn’t it? If each of us learned one new thing every day, and told/taught that new thing to one other person, how much smarter would or even could we all be by the end of the day? The week? Our lives?

Smart enough to remember our history? Perhaps wise enough to respect it?

-bill kenny

Monday, July 21, 2014

Dance on the Tables

I’m always impressed to realize again, and yet again, that the farther out in space you go the more alike we look and even more so, the more alike we behave and react to that behavior. This time last week, I was all smiles watching World Cup 2014 draw to a close because while the US Men’s National Team had fallen short, making it to the Round of 16, my “adopted club”, Die Mannshaft from Germany, had pummeled Brazil on their way to the finals where they would, a week ago yesterday, triumph in a hard-fought victory, over Argentina.

I’ve never won the most popular sporting event in the history of the planet-an event followed not by millions, tens of millions or even hundreds of millions of people but by billions so I profess to no idea or frame of reference for how one should behave.

If I were on the team that captured the Cup, I estimate my victory celebration would be measured in days-the opening moment of the Yippee! We Won! Dance, alone, would last for seven hours or more.  Be advised I have an aging white man’s sense of rhythm so some of it would be tough on the eyes, at the very least and the rest, kinda rough on the ears, too.

The Germans who historically have more baggage by themselves than the rest of the world’s population has altogether threw themselves a party for the team and hundreds of thousands of close personal friends in Berlin, earlier this week upon the team’s return to the capital. 

In Berlin, some of the team members offered chanted doggerel and desultory choreography that translates roughly as “This is how the Gauchos walk” (group bends in a simulated creep) and “This is how the Germans walk!!” (exaggerated stride). Politically correct? Undoubtedly not but obviously intended as good fun and nothing else. Or not.    

You can hit Google translate on that if you want or trust me when I tell you it’s a news story on the mixed feelings the Gaucho Dance provoked among Germans, old and young. Here’s a good version of the story in English and by all means, check out the hash brown (you knew what I meant) #gauchogate.

In a world with 99 Problems, while I “get” the concern, this ain’t one. Take a breath Germany, and enjoy the view from atop the soccer world you worked hard to get there and the rest of us will work harder to knock you down. Meanwhile we who struggle should seek solace from an all-too brief reading from the Book of Lineker. He called it, he really did.
-bill kenny

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Postcard of Who We Once Were

I came across something I wrote five years ago while ruminating yesterday afternoon on the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong's One Small Step for Man

Forty years ago today, we walked on the moon for the first time. If you weren't yet born when that happened, you missed something, you really did. You can read a library of books on how much effort and coordination, time, talents and money such an effort took, and it's staggering, but here's the thing to remember from 'back in the day':

Going to the moon wasn't the only thing we were doing as a country, as a tribe, a nation-state on Earth. We had almost 450,000 men under arms halfway around the world in forests and fields of Southeast Asia in a war that was to be as divisive as none before it in the history of our nation and whose outcome left us saddened and sullen for a decade. 

Nearly the same number of young men and women were heading to Upstate New York during this summer, actually in August, for what was advertised as three days of Peace, Love and Music and almost all anyone can remember, whether they were or not, is all the mud and the incredible performances by so many musicians, especially those whose flame flickered brightly from that stage and were then forever extinguished because of self-indulgence or profound bad luck.

Back at the moon walk, we on Earth watched around the world, with some of our younger brothers and sisters going outside to stand on the porch at Harvey's Lake (Pa) and look up at the moon to see if you could see the astronauts (if wishing could have made it so) as the astronauts seemed to skip and dance across the most desolate place we could imagine. 

As a nation we were faced with challenges all around us-but we found the time, actually we MADE the time, to watch these extraordinary people do this extraordinary thing that NO ONE in our history had ever done before. And just as no man enters the same river twice because both he and the river have changed, there is no way we can ever again be those people who watched by the dawn's early light what so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming. 

We did it then, and we can do it now--not because it's easy, because it's not, but because it's hard and because if we do not repair and restore our country, we will have no one to blame but ourselves when in another forty years we cannot recall anything to be proud of since the Moon Walk.
-bill kenny

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Death of Someone Is like Reading a Book

We exchanged notes electronically more often than we spoke on the phone, probably about every ten days for the last ten plus years. I met him about eighteen years ago when he was becoming the 'military beat' reporter for The Day newspaper, a daily based in New London, Connecticut, a town across the river from this country's oldest submarine base.

I had nothing to do with submarines and almost as little to do with the training of the contents of them and yet he always checked in or listened to an idea for a story I was struggling to pitch and more often than not made something out of what we both knew had started as less than nothing.

He was an extraordinarily fair person who not only believed there were two sides to every story but who strove to make sure he had shared ALL sides of every story. He always succeeded. From the first time I met I felt like I'd known him my whole life and that we would always know one another.

In a way we did.

He and I had exchanged notes about a week and a half ago on a yet another matter of grave national import, those were the tangents I sent us off on and always did, that was capped by some down home wisdom as a man who was both a contemporary and a confessor always managed to bring our discussions back to family and futures, home and hearth.

I'm sitting here now typing these words struggling to remember his, saddened to tears that there will be no more words to ever remember as my friend Bob, died yesterday morning in his home, at the age of 57.

I'm a better human-a husband, a father, a citizen, what-have-you, for having known him. There are no words I can offer to his children and his wife that will ease the hurt they will feel every day of the rest of their lives. I stole this thought and offer it as all that I have or ever will be able to offer: "Death leaves a heartache no one can heal; love leaves a memory no one can steal."
-bill kenny

Friday, July 18, 2014

Strawberry Fields versus Totie Fields

I have been accused of having a febrile and twisted imagination. Unless this is your first time visiting this particular rodeo I will not insult your intelligence by attempting to argue the accuracy and veracity of those observations. Thus, you could be forgiven for assuming “stabbing a watermelon in a passive-aggressive manner” might well be something from a near-fever dream I’ve had.

But. You. Would. Be. Wrong. Courtesy of Gutenberg (Johannes not Steve). 

I’ve never been to Bantam (I feel a Three Dog Night song coming on but will suppress the urge) but I’m sure it’s quite lovely, especially during watermelon stabbing season. 

You know with a bit of press wizardry, Carmine could end up with an endorsement deal for V-8 Fusion. Maybe make enough money to get himself a bigger tool box, some seedless grapes and a large carton of dial tone.

-bill kenny

Thursday, July 17, 2014

And He Will Return the Favor

The Potomac Playhouse, our legislative and executive branches of government in our nation’s capital, Dodge City, have in recent weeks had a lot of rest as the red-headed stepchild, the judicial branch, made a lot of news, most of it involving setting your watches and calendars back to the early 1950’s.

But, because things are going so well-everyone who is seeking a job is not only finding it but earning a living wage working it; various state governments are finalizing the details for a massive return of tax money to those of us whose pockets they’ve picked because they just don’t need all the dollars they took; and those migrant children overflowing our borders are, as turns out, actually on their way to Universal City and the Magic Kingdom-it has allowed our representatives to get involved in areas of the human experience in which they have even less expertise than the workaday finance and international relations of which they have been making a hash for decades.

I’ve been told in the confines of social intercourse to avoid politics and religion (and use of the word intercourse, but that's for another time) so imagine my confusion when an elected representative, Louie Gohmert, who is a professional politician, decides to put his Texas-sized oar in the water on religion, taking  a page from the Gospel of Billy Preston to demonstrate his mad math skills.

Half a world away, we have zealots of every stripe blowing one another (and totally disinterested bystanders) back to their atomic and molecular components perhaps in support of his position which, I fear, may not thrill God quite as much as some of us think it does. Call me old fashioned because I am, but I think I liked us a lot more as a species when we behaved like our belief in a Higher Power was something to be kept between us and the Divinity.

Speaking perhaps only for myself, fellow-traveler on the Big Blue Marble, the last thing I think we want to do, if God is in Heaven and all’s right with the world, is provoke Him into giving us His undivided attention. Historically we don’t seem to do real well when that happens.      

-bill kenny

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Holmes without Watson

In a city as rich with history from every era as we are, I find it sad that a person as famous as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., never called Norwich home. We would have been his kind of town. An Associate Justice of the Supreme Court from 1902-1932, perhaps his most famous quote is, “taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.”

I was thinking about those very words just the other day when my car’s property tax bill arrived marking the start of the new municipal fiscal year. I felt extremely civilized and don’t be shy, it’s okay to admit you, too, were feeling more civilized after you opened your letter from the tax collector. Maybe civilized isn’t the word either of us were thinking.

Some may feel we already had all the civilization we can afford. Listening to the mutterings and murmurings across the city was like watching a big stadium crowd do “The Wave” between innings of a baseball game.  Instead of hot dogs and pennants we had sighs of exasperation and equal parts resignation and frustration combined with mutterings and murmurings that too many confuse with problem-solving.

Bob Dylan, who’s starting to bear a striking resemblance to Justice Holmes, once said “money doesn’t talk, it swears” which is why I told my wife I was practicing my Dylan impersonation especially after I saw how my car’s value and tax rate had gone in opposite directions when I opened my bill. But because I wasn’t playing the harmonica, she was buying none of it.   

I think we all understood what was going to happen to property taxes and even why it was going to happen. However, when rates of taxation and the price and cost of municipal goods and services moves from an abstraction like a budget hearing in City Council chambers to a here-and-now dollar figure on a bill addressed to you, things get real very quickly.

I don’t think there will be footraces in anyone‘s neighborhood to get to the tax collector’s office but that’s not my point (I always wear sneakers so don't get your hopes up). No one anywhere wants to pay more taxes, even (and especially) the men and women on the City Council whose decisions about budget expenditures are what we’re unhappy about right now.

Everyone pays but everyone benefits. The system isn’t perfect but can be made better by all of us. The interlocking systems of taxation that determine how we pay for what we want and need desperately require an overhaul. Yesterday is NOT soon enough. Meanwhile.

There’s so much that happens every day as a matter of course we don’t even notice it unless or until it doesn’t. Our police keep us safe, our fire and rescue are only a moment away. We entrust our children as we always have, and will, to amazing and talented teachers. Public works takes care of more moving parts in one day than I could list in a month. 

Norwich municipal employees are professionals in every sense of the word in every agency across our city. Many are our friends, relatives and neighbors- no one is a faceless unknown “them.” This is what our taxes buy and don't ever apologize for believing we are worth every single cent it costs to live in this city
-bill kenny