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Thursday, July 31, 2008

In Norway are they called Fjord Motors?

My family has convinced themselves I don't like small talk when, really, it's the other way around: small talk doesn't like me, at least not very much. Yesterday afternoon is my most recent example, and it almost got me killed, because I forget I'm so concentrated that a little of me can go a very long way.

I parked near my local grocery store and with (conservative estimate) two hundred bajillion empty parking spaces from which to choose, I was surprised when a thirty-something or other guy, in a grey wife-beater tee-shirt, driving a light blue Ford pick-up pulled in alongside of me, sort of flopping over into my spot. It was a middle eighties model truck, lots of character (= missing paint, a crumpled fender, a ding in the door) used as a work vehicle before pick ups became trendy and housewives started driving them.

I sometimes discover I'm using my outside voice when I think it's my inside voice--usually when someone about whom I'm making a personal and silent observation to my evil twin, Skippy, points out that he's heard me and isn't happy. Like yesterday.

Bobby-John, or Billy-Bob or Harley-hyphen (I have no idea what his name was. By the time we were through he had many names for me, though none I normally answer to-but I was unable to ascertain his. Perhaps Rumpelstiltskin?) had a large, very large (actually visible from space with the naked eye, large) sticker on the back window, 'Proud to be an American.' That my ability to read it almost got me punched out I will forever blame on that Literacy Volunteer back when I was a kid.

I had just finished telling Skippy big American trucks handle like double beds, which is why some of this guy's truck is in most of my parking space when his baleful glare and flared nostrils caused me to realize I had transcended the sub-vocalization level. Remembering Will Rogers' suggestion that there are no strangers, only friends we haven't met, I complimented him on his sticker saying it 'really makes a statement, even if I'm not sure what the statement is.'

Skippy, who doubles as the Imp of the Perverse, was taken aback (as was I) when he opted to not exchange badinage and banter but rather 'what the fire truck is that supposed to mean?' ('Fire Truck' is the word I suspect he meant but pressed for time, he shortened it). Not knowing I'd already left the city limits of Leave Well Enough Alone, I asked him if he were born in the US and he assured me, loudly, he had, noting emphatically, 'fire truck, yeah-and you?'

I smiled as I explained how pride in an accident of birth was a little out of the ordinary since, as George Bernard Shaw observed 'Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it.'' I always get the quotes right--it's my timing that needs work. It was like playing to an oil painting.

Fred the Fordster took half a menacing step towards me, almost afraid to get nearer in case I had some contagion and demanded 'What are you? Some kind of a wise guy or just an a$$hole?' (but without the $, if you follow my drift). Oooh, I sighed, multiple choice. I much prefer true or false--I'm really not very good at multiple choice. I watched his eyes glaze over ever so slightly. He snorted derisively as he stormed off and into the grocery store.

Deciding my quotient of human interactivity had been exceeded for the day and whatever it was I thought I wanted to buy could keep for now and maybe forever, I opened the passenger's side front door, because I had so thoughtlessly parked too close to the Ford truck to use the driver's side door, slid across the seat and behind the wheel. Invoking the spirit of Carl Schurz, I skulked home, more or less in one piece. People say the art of conversation is dead--I was nearly at its funeral.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Go "Team Norwich!" But How and Where?

I've worked very hard for the last week or so to not descend into "rant mode" by commenting on the actions and activities of the members of the Norwich City Council (after their 21July meeting with the discussion and decisions, or lack thereof, on disbursement of the Sachem Fund and the road ahead on Charter Revision, I've been biting my tongue for so long, I have a hole in it).

The aldermen receive a stipend (and that's one of the kinder things it's called, pittance is probably closer to accurate) for their labors, that, figuring actual Council meetings, sub-committee hearings and constituent services, probably works out to about eleven cents an hour. You have to love what you do a whole lot to be willing to serve as an alderman in a city whose best days, by many of its own residents' accounts, were half a century ago.

The voters held a please-get-out-of-politics sale here last November in our Council elections, with two members of that six person council choosing to not be on the Council and three others being chosen by the voters to also not be on the Council. The miracle of democracy is often unkind and in some instances, the Revolution, while not televised (as in the night of 21 July, Comcast) still eats its own children (that's why we have those little forks, right next to the regular size ones).

Last fall was an election campaign of poems and prayers and promises (as John Denver might have sung had he lived to participate in the Norwich Semiseptecentennial) but at times it looks like we've gotten lost on our way to the fair. This council took office at its first meeting in December and while we've experienced a not insignificant amount of Shock since then, the Awe has been absent.

Last Monday in a meeting (technically an informational session) prior to the actual City Council meeting, the Chief of Police reported on his progress in implementing responses to a March 2007 survey of his police officers that indicated there were some problems. The rank and file, as I understood one of the alderman to say, had not been very kind in evaluating the Chief's leadership abilities, and he, in turn, reported one of his initiatives has been in reestablishing black and white as the color scheme for police cruisers. Yeah, reading that, it does seem a little surreal--but maybe you had to be there (though I was, come to think of it).

We've talked about economic development a lot around the Rose City for most of this decade and I was part of the last Charter Revision Commission who reconfigured municipal governance with a belief that making it more agile and responsive might streamline the decision making process and enhance the effort at creating a more robust economic infrastructure. Turns out, meaning well and doing well are two very different things.

Considering how much talk those running for City Council last fall did about charter revision, I'm more than crestfallen that now they cannot agree on how to proceed. It's like watching Goldilocks and the 'this is too hot but this is too cold' decision making model, though there's a bit more grey than gold in some of those hairlines, and not so much hair either. Again last Monday, the City Council decided it didn't want to hire outside professional assistance (I'm wondering if 'outside' was the deal-breaker?) to look at the Charter, but there seems to be no consensus on what it does want to do next. This, as is so often the case, is considered by some to be GOOD news, because if we don't do anything, we can't do anything wrong. We believe indecision to be patience, but as Voltaire noted, 'if twenty million people believe in a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.'

Now that I've finally warmed to room temperature, let me dig in and sit dead on red (and if you're not from Norwich, this might be a good time to mosey on as the rest of this may read a lot like 'Inside Baseball'.) And, no, I'm not cranked at the City Council (or more precisely, only, at the City Council), I'm an equal opportunity raver. As fond as I am of humanity in the abstract, I'm not all that big a fan of people, nor they of me.

It is not the City Council's responsibility to improve the process and practice of life in Norwich. That is a shared responsibility of each of us who lives here (and if our neighbor isn't carrying her/his share of the load, you and me have to make that up). The City Council is a tool and it's a poor craftsman who blames his tools for his failures. With apologies to John Donne's Bell, no matter who you are or where you live, you must accept the consequences of every action and every inaction (having raised two children--okay having lived in the same house while my wife raised two children), that's the hardest part about becoming a grownup, accepting that responsibility.

We, wherever we live, need to be telling those whom we have selected and elected, what we expect of them. We define the goals and they refine the methods. When they succeed, we succeed; and when they fail, we all have to try again and try harder. In Norwich, it's the usual suspects on those Mondays when City Council meetings are held. I see the same faces I see at Board of Education meetings, that I see at economic development workshops, who attend the meetings on the Commission of the City Plan and the list goes on forever.

I am often accused of being 'too hard' on those who volunteer their time and talents. I should and could apologize for my poor manners-my Mom raised me better and my wife insists I behave--but I'm afraid I can't. I demand the absolute best of, and from, each and every person who chooses to help make where I live a better place. I do not expect them to work as hard as I can--but I insist they work as hard as they can. And the rest of us need to get our feces amalgamated as well and do the same.

Let's all stop using the past as a pretense to not map the future. When does a second chance become a last chance? And, more to the point, when does a 'last opportunity' become a lost opportunity? If not now, then when? If not us, then who?
-bill kenny

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Pipes of Pan, though not Peter

Not sure why, but I suddenly remembered the Rolling Stones' original rhythm guitarist, recognized as the founder of the band, who became a drug casualty long before we fell in love with the doomed glamour that such a term can often denote in rock music circles.

Brian Jones, the guitarist who, together with Keith Richards (I'm not sure Keef knows anymore if there's an 's' in his last name or not-his record company doesn't) and Mick Jagger, created the self-proclaimed world's greatest rock and roll band ended his life face down in the swimming pool he'd built behind the main house on the estate of A. A. Milne, the author of Winnie the Pooh, a property he'd purchased with whatever money left he hadn't yet blown on women, musical instruments and any and every controlled substance known to man, and a few not yet widely known.

A maniac with an ability reportedly to be able to pick up any instrument and coax music from it on his first attempt, Jones burned brightly and briefly across the rock and roll heavens before falling to earth. The off-kilter piano after the sound effect of the jail door slam on We Love You was his; as was the ethereal arabesque in the fade of Street Fighting Man.

His band's success enabled his life of excess and by the time he was invited to leave the band, he'd been reduced to sitting in a sound booth with instruments not even plugged in, adding embellishments to tracks that existed only in his head. Another wreck on the human highway.

I thought of him because he had the first release on Rolling Stones Records, an album that I not only purchased as vinyl (this was the 70's, okay? And with regards to Ashton Kutcher, not even close, punk) but as a cassette (stolen from my VW Kafer in Offenbach as my wife and I shopped near the Ott & Heineman store) and, wait for this, on eight track (I still own the 8-track even if the player/recorder is somewhere in our basement buried under 16 and half years of American lifestyle).

The album was entitled Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Jajouka and all I can say about it, as a description, is that it seemed like an excellent idea at the time. I was going to school full time, working for a rock FM station in NYC full-time, at night, and dating a young lady at Boston College full-time. I went to sleep with the album on the turntable, programmed to repeat in an endless loop and drove back and forth from New Brunswick, NJ to Chestnut Hill in Boston MA, with it in the player for months.

All of that was, for me, another lifetime ago (the album came out in 71) and I spent my kids' elementary school years afraid they might take the elpee to show and tell on a day the DARE Police Officer Bill Nash, now an Alderman on the Norwich City Council, was on duty. Talk about finding out there are worse things than being sent to the Principal's office.

I smiled as I typed all of this even though I have no idea where in the world Sally may be--don't even want to think about what happened to my 1972 Ford Pinto (attention Ralph Nader: mine didn't blow up) and have no knowledge of the whereabouts of any of the folks I worked with or of my classmates, except for Nat. But I had me a time, yes I did.

I'd regret the passage of those years even more if I could remember them. Perhaps, there's a small mercy in forgetfulness. And he who stammers out an answer is lost.
-bill kenny

Monday, July 28, 2008

Good Morning, Mr. Dutton, and Good Night, Moon

I've gone back to bad old habits in terms of returning to a routine when it comes to driving to work. I've mentioned that there are four or more ways I can go to work (and a lot more if I don't mind getting lost and never getting there at all, which, some days is actually a better alternative than the showing up and working portion of the program. Even my boss says so).

In recent weeks, I'm driven through downtown Norwich which is a lot of completely empty and unoccupied buildings in various states of repair, all, or practically all, with signs telling anyone with literacy skills 'For Lease, Call ...' Except for the guy with the Flatiron Building who has three very cool street-side windows, linked but facing in three different directions.

In the first of them (far left as you head towards the harbor--another quaint piece of shorthand, btw) is "860" (the area code for this Connecticut. Not to be confused with the part of the state where Buffy and Amanda and their polo ponies live with their stockbroker parents in Fairfield County, which is 203. Their nanny and gardener have 860 area codes, not them).

The middle window has "889" (a local prefix and the third window--well, the sign in that window with the last four digits has fallen down, so even if you wanted to rent office space (and I have to resist a powerful urge some mornings, when I drive through downtown (it's a target rich environment, let me tell you), to NOT rent office space. Look how much time I'd save on the drive--I'm there already!), it will not happen. I'm amazed we haven't had some municipal or state agency offer to form a task force to develop a solution. We'd have to study the issue, because we do that a lot in Norwich and just before analysis becomes paralysis, we'd have to change out one or more of those involved in the study and start again. We have lots of practice at this around here and do it as naturally as breathing.

Anyway, beyond the perpetually for lease space signage, beyond the not exactly a miniature golf course anymore next to the boat launch which is part of the Harold Brown park which is next to a law office whose back windows overlook the harbor near the Laurel Hill Bridge and the P & W railroad tracks, all of which are just around the bend from the junkyard that no one likes anymore, but liked just fine for many years and so much that at one time we elected the fellow who owns it as President of the City Council, so go figure, there's a parking lot with Jersey barriers and name tags for the law offices on the far side of the intersection with the bridge.

There are metal name tags on each of the Jersey barriers, for those who work at the law firm, to include a name tag for one of the partners, a man who was active in local Norwich politics for decades, who died a number of years ago. Having been raised a Catholic (meaning I have little trouble believing in things I cannot see) I'm not especially surprised Milt still has a parking space.

I passed his Mercedes and, in his later years, his BMW every day for years and attempted to work with him on more than community project (he could project so loudly when he spoke that when he yelled, he could bruise your ribs. He seemed to like me though I never understood why, always calling me 'my young friend' leading me to conclude he had NO friends and his eyesight was terrible because he thought I was someone else) and he was such a force of nature that if anyone could still need a reserved parking space after passing, it would be Milt J.

Alongside of Milt's spot always occupied by a green four door Chrysler, the body style when they came up with 'cab forward' and everyone was convinced it was the next big thing, is Mr. Dutton. His stamina, persistence, resilience, dedication rival that of my brother Adam, whose work ethic makes everyone else on earth (except Mr. Dutton) seem like a slacker, is beyond my comprehension, but NOT appreciation. I've gone past that lot at 4 AM, and Duttton's car is there-at eleven PM on the same day, and the Iron Man's chariot awaits him (her?) without complaint. There are few constants in the universe, and fewer still that bear the mark of Mopar, and yet, here is one. How could I change my route to work? What would Dutton say?
-bill kenny

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Apolitical Blues

"Well my telephone was ringing and they told me it was Chairman Mao.
You can tell him anything 'Cause I don't wanna talk to him now.
I don't care if it's John Wayne.
I just don't wanna talk to him now."

Does anyone vote for anyone anymore or do we project our hopes, fears, desires and angers on to those seeking office, forming alliances of convenience on issues rather than principles and then exacting our vengeance on these same candidates when our interests diverge? I'm asking because (and maybe it's just me?) I've heard and read huge amounts about how old one of the men running for President is, and how old is too old (kinda like Ike and Tina's 'River Deep, Mountain High' (or as Phil, himself might say, 'My Aim is True'), except as Donovan once sang, 'First, There is a Mountain' and how black the other candidate is (do pundits assume none of us have access to televisions or any means of seeing photographs, is that why they tell us this stuff?). I'm unclear as to how either of these observable facts can be considered a disqualifier.

Not that long ago, a woman was a candidate for the Presidency--admittedly she had other baggage and lots of it, but again, so what? I was raised to believe 'in America anyone can grow up to be President'. I missed the asterisk: 'you must be a white male and neither too young nor too old. Void where taxed or prohibited by law. Package is sold by weight and not by volume. Some settling of contents may have occurred in shipment.' And yet, when you get down to it, what does any of this 'other stuff' mean when it comes to your hopes and dreams for yourself, your community and your family?

I have no illusions that, by myself, I can save the world. I have trouble saving to buy a soda--but, humor aside (yeah, that was an attempted joke; usually a misdemeanor here in Connecticut)--the best I can do, the best any of us can do, is save the piece of the world where we and our loved ones stand. And if enough of us are doing that, those pieces knit together forming a whole greater than the sum of its parts and we raise up one another and cannot only reach for, but grasp, the stars, because we are standing on one another's shoulders.

How about this election (to include the 435 Congressional seats up for grabs) we concede, with a tip of the hat to Faux Sports and the MLB All-Star Game, 'this time it matters' and spend half as much time looking at candidates as we do when we buy a car? Does that sound fair enough? I'm willing to agree I owe you that much time, even if I don't know you, Fellow Traveler on Spaceship Earth (Bucky, you were so smart-why didn't we vote for you?) And yeah, I gave you the link for the whole text so you'd have something to read when you sit up wide awake in a cold sweat later this summer and into the fall, trying to figure out for whom to vote.

We need all the good ideas we can get, my friend. We are taking on water at an alarming rate and instead of navigators and visionaries we keep hiring second raters and retreads who do little more than rearrange the deck chairs. We are all we have-grab an oar and put your back into it. It's a long way to shore and we dare not let our arms tire in this dark and stormy sea.
-bill kenny

Saturday, July 26, 2008

21--and yet no one wins

My wife and I read two different papers on Sunday. She reads the more hometown of the two, though 'hometown' is a relative expression only because it's published (=assembled) in Norwich while I read the other paper that hers makes look like the NY Times.

There was a story in my paper about the dropoff in conveyance taxes and its impact on local government. If you live outside CT, an over-simplified explanation: a conveyance tax is basically a surcharge that municipalities are permitted to extract when properties within their boundaries are bought and sold. There is no county government to speak of here in The Nutmeg State and we're all big fans of 'home rule' which is local and successful, of course, unless (and until) confronted with basically every challenge that has popped up in American society since Ike was elected President. Turns out home rule cannot solve global problems and doesn't do too well with regional ones either.
The conveyance tax is a sort of bribe (we prefer 'additional revenue source') so that local governments keep quiet, otherwise the state legislature won't renew the law, as they did earlier this summer, to the anger and annoyance of Realtors who argued, with some force and a great deal of logic, that as the economy headed south, making the cost of homes MORE expensive by adding another tax was like drilling another hole in the bottom of a boat to let the water out. Luckily, many of us believe we can walk on water (you've seen us drive, right?) so the Realtors have the comfort of knowing they're right but are still wrong.

Anyway, the times they are achangin' and the cash registers are not quite aringin' the way they did in months and years past. Two years ago, Norwich took in over 960K --this past FY, 620. When our incomes take hits like that, we adjust our appetites--but we both know that's NOT how governments at any and all levels work, so we can guess what will happen next (and in many instances already has) which will cause a larger and faster Diaspora than we are seeing across old growth areas in New England.

Which brings me to the story, that wasn't actually a story, in my wife's newspaper. She counted twenty-one public notices of foreclosure in the newspaper. This is a Sunday newspaper in a small (nearly minuscule) market where the paid circulation and news stand sales don't even approach thirty thousand copies. Please don't get me wrong--foreclosures are NOT the problem, they are a symptom of a larger and more systemic problem one that will NOT be solved by local municipalities be they Norwich, Connecticut or New York City, New York. This time, size really doesn't matter because it is not good news for anybody, buyer or seller, Cinderella or Rockefeller. Meanwhile, we read everyday about local and regional leaders outlining what I always call ham sandwich plans ('if we had ham, we could have a ham sandwich--and if we had some bread, as well of course') and set ourselves a plate as well.

It's not really that funny when you're the punchline of the joke. Especially when you think how close Norwich is to the two casinos and how many 21 dealers each of them employ. We know the cards are worn and a fresh deck should be called but none of us want forgo our deal to make that happen. Our luck could change at the turn of a friendly card. Are you sticking?
-bill kenny

Friday, July 25, 2008

If Squirrels prayed, my office windows would be stained-glass

I've mentioned that I feed the squirrels from my ground floor office window; I go through about six pounds of peanuts every week. I'm not sure I've trained them so much to come towards the open window as they've trained me to throw peanuts out to them whenever I see them congregate outside. That's a little dicey as my back is to the two windows in the office.

I should also explain my windows don't open up, but, rather, out. The bottom about-a-quarter-of-a- panel makes a 45 degree angle with the rest of the pane. Sort of like a wing flap on an aircraft though no matter how I work the two of them, the building always seems to be in danger of ditching. Sometimes, there are a half dozen or more squirrels out there, across the front lawn, or more exactly, the sort-of green vegetation that keeps the dust and mud to a minimum by serving as ground cover. I'll remember to turn around and look out the window and should any of them be looking up through the glass and see me, it (I feel silly calling them 'it' when they are he and she, I'm sure, but I don't know which or how) will start to move its jaws like it was talking to itself.

Squirrels don't make noise--they chitter when they're warning one another off some object or if a cat has wandered into the neighborhood, but they are, for the most part, a silent and stoic bunch. When one stands up on its back legs, or paws, they all stand which in the spring's early morning dawn is breaking sort of light can be a little disquieting to study. Sort of like a monastery of eight inch tall monks with hoodies, all struggling to make eye contact with the pink bi-ped Dispenser of Peanuts on the far side of the glass.

I can tell you this, because I don't think squirrels surf the web: I only got into feeding the squirrels, robins, cardinals, sparrows, blue jays and titmouse (plural is mice or mouses?) as well as (unfortunately) the grackles because I was trying to feed a chipmunk. That was the impetus for this munificent benevolence on my part. It's taken months for the chipmunk, not sure why I think it's always the same one, but I do, to realize it, too, can eat peanuts--and now, it takes one, and only one, everyday, stuffs it into its mouth and bumbles off to wherever chipmunks go.

I throw peanuts, in small bunches out the window until I see the chipmunk arrive, stumble his way across the area, flip a peanut out that intersects with his travels, and off he goes. Then I close the window (we have air conditioning and if the building manager is reading this, I have some explaining to do) and the show is over for the day. It remains over even when the squirrels launch themselves at the window, a height of slightly more than three feet from the ground (the equivalent of you or I, but mostly you, high jumping into a third story window from a standing position) and they scratch and claw for a moment on imperfections in the window sill as they peer frantically into the Cathedral of the Peanut God.

Some mornings I forget to close the window, but never the sliding screen. I'll hear faint tapping sounds as I turn slowly to see a squirrel under the window, on the slimmest of sills, pressed against the screen smelling the peanuts in a bag I keep on the shelf, but unable to work its way past the screen. They are so hungry (=greedy) none of those who make the leap will jump down as I approach the window and when I look through the glass I can see other squirrels circling under the window waiting to see how Rocky makes out. I always reward the effort. As a Divinity, I am even-handed if not completely lucid, which means sliding the screen slightly as the squirrel tries to force its nose through the opening until its jaws close on the peanut and pulls it through to its side.

It's exhausting for them, I'm sure. I get tired just watching them.
Thank goodness the weekend will be here in a moment, I, too, need a day of rest. Amen.
-bill kenny

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Life with Thelma and Louise

I won't be especially popular in my house by the dawn's early light, if either my daughter or my wife come across this -- not because I intend to write anything hurtful about either of them (they are 66% of my favorite people on the whole of the earth) -- but because they've heard all of this before and don't appreciate my playing to the cheap seats.

Sigrid, born and raised in (West) Germany, in Land Hesse, grew up, as many of her countrymen did, with a mass transit infrastructure the envy of most of the world. We are close in age, though she is younger--I mention this, because growing up in Central New Jersey is/was an entirely different experience than it was for her. When I met her thirty plus years ago she couldn't, and still doesn't, understand my fascination and devotion to the words and music of Bruce Springsteen, the patron saint of the Joyce Kilmer rest stop on the NJ Turnpike.

Her life was bounded and measured by trains, trams, trolleys, buses and subways. Hemi-powered drones screaming down the boulevard prompts a 'wie, bitte?' response, at best, and, I won't tell the story now but eventually, I cannot think of Bruce Springsteen performing in Germany without thinking about a show in the Frankfurt Festhalle, my wife, and the kooky dancer who experienced the power and glory of Thunder Road. But that's for another time.

Sigrid doesn't drive. She is the navigator and the keeper of the compass and maintains both a remarkable sense of direction, as well as composure and a sense of humor, both with me (I often tell people had I been Columbus, there would be 300 million people living on top of one another in the Azores; I'd have never found the Americas in a million years) and with Michelle, our daughter-who-goes-to-college, who inherited both my five speed Mitsubishi Mirage as well as, unfortunately, my sense of direction.

The Mirage gets spectacular gas mileage, an important point for me, whose credit cards pay for all the gas and not so much for Michelle, who does me a favor when she occasionally remembers to check the oil when she gets gasoline. Michelle is home from college for the summer and is her mother's wheelman, or wheel person I suppose, is more accurate. Think: Driving Miss Daisy, but Jessica Tandy has John Banner's approximation of a German accent. You're welcome.

I'll come home and the house will be empty. We have long since stopped leaving notes on the board on the refrigerator intended and designed for such notes, because both of my women have long realized the man in the house's ability to NEVER look at the board, much less read anything written on the board, is the stuff from which legends are made. As the shadows lengthen in the late afternoon, having checked all the calenders in the house for appointment notations (none of my appointments ever make the calendars, which, considering I buy them, seems unfair, but only to me), I eventually attempt to ring Sigrid's cell phone.

My daughter, a full-fledged member of the Digerati, has her cell phone always on and accessible, as does her older brother. Neither of them get that from their parents, most especially their mother. I don't call Michelle as she's driving except or unless Sigrid has her phone's ringer turned off, or the phone itself is off, or more usually, the phone is so buried in her purse that by the time she finds it, it's gone over to voicemail. She always thinks this is hysterical no matter how often it happens (and often is the frequency with which it happens), me not so much.

Eventually I get her on the phone--and the Mirage is so small I can hear Michelle in the background with commentary and footnotes as Sigrid offers a narrative and status report on where the Vagabond Voyagers are at that moment and the estimated time of return. So far, a presentation of passports hasn't been necessary in their travels and travails, but there's a weekend coming up and I fully expect eventually to hear one or the other tell me, "Well, we're not in the middle of nowhere, but we can see it from here." Just stay out of Arkansas, ladies; you know where I mean.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Magee Omelet

Sometimes, despite our best efforts and promising beginnings, gravity wins. I should bow to that inevitability and move on, and yet, sometimes, I can't.

Should it ever come up in conversation (not that it will, but it could (I suppose)), the number of times an egg falling through a hole in a grocery store plastic bag actually made by a six pack of soda cans that someone then placed a carton of eggs upon, will bounce on the parking lot of the grocery store is zero. You needn't ask how I know this-somethings can be taken on faith, as the Apostle Paul may have noted in a letter to Timothy, though I doubt Timothy was worried about those grocery store plastic bags. And the eggs in the parking lot (or technically, on the parking lot) were my doing.

Our children think we lie, but we don't (at least this time) when we tell them that years ago, groceries were packed by store employees in bags made of paper. Forests the size and scope of the Amazon Rain Forest were felled to produce the pulp to make those bags and Moms all across America during 'back to school' week in the fall fashioned them into protective covers for their kids' textbooks. It was, with my deepest regards to Al Gore, recycling at its finest.

I've been trying to think of something nice to say about the plastic sacks that are now the carrier of choice across grocery stores from sea to shining sea. Maybe you can, I'm having no luck at all. From the mass produced and sort-of-stuck-togetherness of them, almost impossible to separate at the register, through the notion of handles they purport to have that aren't, to their uncanny ability to hold incredible volumes and masses of items within until you are no more than three steps from your vehicle in the parking lot before letting go almost with an air of urgency, they are pure evil.

And, don't fret I contribute to the waste in the landfill by throwing them away (I can clearly see, a million years from now, cockroaches (survivors of the last nuclear war) sipping moisture drops trapped in the shards of foam cups while sleeping under the blanket of those plastic bags) because, here's the perverse part, I save the bags. When you go to IKEA, you can shop with a giant yellow bag, that you must never take from the store, but you can purchase a bag of about the same size, and of the same material (I think) that we used on the Mars probe, for your house. I took this bag to work and have filled it with grocery store plastic bags, because 'I never know when I'll need a bag.'

Except, after all this time and seventeen hundred bajillion excursions to the grocers, I have never found a use for the bags--but keep them, just in case. Since I buy stuff on impulse and at frantic-manic speed in the grocery, I'm always racing to bag the items (after wrestling a plastic bag into submission) before the self-checkout voice gets angry, meaning I rarely exercise any care in how stuff gets packed into the bags. I've dropped cans of soup onto loaves of white bread, resulting in sandwiches that resemble abstract art (especially since the cold cuts handle impact differently).

Am I pleading for a return of paper bags? Perhaps.
Or a repeal of the laws of gravity.

"Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings."

Somebody drop some homefries and bacon, okay?
John says he's staying for breakfast.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Subpoenaed in Texas, Sequestered in Memphis

A fellow walked by me in a store and offered, 'life's a funny old dog, ain't it?' I'm not sure he was speaking to me, through me or for me, but I've had days where I am bone weary from doing absolutely nothing and am so fuzzy headed my brain has been reduced to cotton batting.

'Sure is,' I say because I have no idea where this is heading and then, he just keeps walking and is gone. And now I have this mental visual of a Great Dane, an Irish Setter or one of those Please-Don't-Eat-the-Daisies dogs (never a greyhound, or a whippet or a Jack Russell terrier) and it turns out he was filling up the six seconds it took him to walk from some point before where I was to just past me on his way to the door. Thanks for nothing, Old Roy, stuff you and the horse you ro--well, never mind about the horse.

My wife and I have two children who, when they were young (I used to say 'small' as if she and I were in the miniatures business or something) had pets, fish for the most part and the occasional turtle (great name for a band, imho). My wife wound up taking care of the pets because children, being adults in training, don't care about anyone other than themselves, especially a species that can't talk or attract attention until the moment it shuffles off its mortal scales and goes belly-up. We have had our share of burials at sea- did you know that the water in the toilet swirls in a counter clockwise direction in Australia? it does-and life went on, though some settling of contents may have occurred during shipment.

We're not pet people--not that I know what pet people are or what they look like. I have enough trouble taking of myself, and really don't, my wife does, and I don't want to burden her any further. Besides why should I invite competition? I could see having a horse, sort of at least once a year for my birthday (at my age, on a pony, my feet would still touch the ground) but then what? Perhaps an ocelot? I'm not sure what they are, but they sound cool, don't they? Maybe a marsupial--I just like the name--or a koala (what happened to the one who used to be the spokesbear for the airline?).

We have mascots for sports teams, from junior high through professional, all named for animals. We drive Mustangs and more and sometimes we compare our selves to animals (you can supply your own example). We didn’t go back to her place, We went to some place where she cat-sits. She said, “I know I look tired, but everything’s fried, here in Memphis.”
-bill kenny

Monday, July 21, 2008

Beware of Darkness

By design, I suspect, ambulance and fire engine (and police, too) sirens are uncomfortable for us to hear. Not because they're loud, though they are (of course), or sudden, which is part of their charm, but because of their strident urgency--their 'you need to make way now!' demand whenever you hear them.

There's never any place on any road wide enough to move the car when I hear a pulsating siren while driving-and if I'm walking, I stop until the vehicle has gone by (though I'm not sure why, exactly. John Lennon, in explaining the rhythm of "I Am the Walrus", helped me realize why that song always frightened me: the verses' meter mimicked the siren pulsations all public safety vehicles in Europe use.) The worst time for sirens, and most stuff (come to think of it) is at night. We have these amazing brains and these very cool thumbs but there were trade offs.

As we evolved, wandered from the Garden or were left here as detritus from an alien picnic on the planet (I'm trying to be inclusive in terms of the Origin of the Species), our ears can't hear what other passengers on this blue marble can, our noses can't detect the nuances that our pets can and our eyes, while in most instances able to appreciate color, don't have the acuity or other properties some other species have.

As a college kid, I got into one of those endless 'what if you lost' loops, usually precipitated by huge quantities of beverage or herb that might have been troubling to law enforcement members--and the issue always seemed to be how would you cope if you could no longer use, in my case, eyesight. Everyone who knew me then, or knows me now, realizes I am not afraid of the dark-I am paralyzed by my fear of it. Darkness is a magnifier and a mask simultaneously.

Want to see me jump? Call me on the phone after nine o'clock at night. Phone calls at night are never good news and the only reason I ever answer, in much the same way as I pull over for the speeding ambulance or fire engine (I'm usually the reason for the police car siren), is to silence them and to pause the horror movie projecting in my head. It makes no difference if my wife and two children are in the house, in my sight, in the well-lit living room. The fresh new hell that awaits is on the other end of the Bakelite fabrication and someone has released the hounds.

This morning, as I stumbled through my ablutions in preparing for work, the siren sounded for a long time, at first faint then growing louder as it came nearer, then softer again as it approached, I assume, Backus Hospital which is a short walk from my house. Despite the early hour, I could clearly see in my mind's eye emergency personnel struggling to keep alive someone, somewhere, who had been swallowed by the darkness each of us has within that so often and so swiftly spills without.
-bill kenny

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The river flows like a silent tear

I remain seated these days because I have trouble finding and maintaining my balance-worst part is, I'm not alone. We went from a society with a Bill of Rights to a Summary of Entitlements, and we don't seem to care what happens to anyone else in order to get what we want.

Every night we watch 'the news about the war' as if there were some form of monolithic struggle (like in the good old days, maybe?) but instead all the nuance has been drained from the screen, from the printed dispatches and from the ideology that should, and could, govern our conduct in the world. I read where every year fewer members of Congress, as one example, have ever served in any branch of the armed forces, active or reserve. I'm really not sure how important that actually is but I remember a bitter Air Force joke we used to call the General's Rule: nothing is impossible for the man who doesn't have to do it.

A couple of weeks ago, there were stories about this being the thirty-fifth anniversary of the All-Volunteer Force. I spent eight years in the Air Force for many reasons, to include that they paid me ('glow from within' didn't permit me to buy cheap smokes in the commissary, I had to have money). And, sounds petty I know, but because they paid me, I wasn't a volunteer-I was a professional (unless you served with me, and thanks for keeping quiet about all of that).

Maybe I'm an old soul in an even older body. I, like many of my generation went to Woodstock (if not literally than figuratively), and unlike a former Chief Executive, did inhale and did turn on, tune in and drop out and then I started wearing long pants--I think Apostle Paul speaks of it in a letter (from camp ?), "I put aside the things of childhood." Many of the rest of us in the commune stayed with Uncle Max, I guess, on the farm. Sure feels that way.

And we've now raised a second generation of skin-covered obliviots who think because we have Earth Shoes, eat Tofu and wear "Free Tibet" tee-shirts, our piece of the world is safe and saved (what do those monks really think of Richard Gere? I'd love to know). We protest injustice and infamous injury to a person or a people by growing faint in the presence of those who inflict the damage. We still trade with them, mind you-and we even let them host the Olympics, but in our heart of hearts, at night before we close our eyes, we disapprove of them. That'll show 'em.

We have scripted a movie of life where those currently in the military service are some sort of abstraction--we're grateful for their service but we don't want to think about it too much and most of us don't actually know anyone with a son or daughter in the armed forces. Despite our technology and voluminous information networks, we have no idea how the world REALLY works and, more ominously not only do not know what we do not know but are increasingly dismissive of those who know differently than we do. Where's their loyalty and sense of team?

In a hundred years we'll have evolved into a society that we, today, will not recognize, with footnotes to laws now being laws themselves and something akin to a multi-national corporation marketing our next President. Men go crazy in congregations. They only get better one by one.
Who among us will be first?
-bill kenny

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Laying traps for Troubadours

Monday night in an informational session slated for a half hour before the actual City Council meeting at 7 PM (and after the session on the audit of the Finance Department at 6 PM), the Norwich City Council will converse with its Chief of Police, Louis Fusaro, on a variety of topics (I suspect) but mostly on a survey conducted in March of 2007and how the Norwich Police Department has implemented the study's recommendations. For those with fancy watches, this session will start at 6:30. Between you and me, I'm not sure why this conversation isn't part of the actual City Council meeting, but my evil twin, Skippy, is willing to wager the explanation would be a doozie.

Monday's are not always the most exciting night out in Norwich if you choose to attend a Council meeting (I prefer Twofer Tuesday specials at the launderette around the corner from the Wauregan Hotel because I have a lot of unmatched socks to wash) but it can be a pretty good lesson in civics. As a matter of fact, it's not unusual during the academic year to encounter high school students from across the area (though never from Norwich Free Academy, come to think of it) who, as part of a class they're taking in Government or History are in attendance at a variety of public meetings. They always approach someone in the front of the room before the meeting starts to get a signature (otherwise they receive NO credit from their teacher) certifying their attendance.

Getting the signature early means they can bug out (and why not?). We who live here seem often to pay little attention and don't require signatures (though I always bring a pen, just in case). I usually sit through the first hour or so and then head home, where I can watch the rest of the Council meeting on my cable system while shaking my head or sipping my soda (I tried to do both simultaneously. Not pretty and it made a mess on the carpet). In recent months, our Council meetings have been long affairs, I'd like to think because there are so many facets of an issue and impacts of a decision.

The conversation with the Chief of Police at the informational session, (it's not on the actual agenda of the Council meeting because the session is a meeting before the meeting even though it's with the Council. My brain hurts.) will be in open session (as opposed to executive, which is reserved for specific and specified purposes having to do with contractual negotiations, possible property acquisitions and/or personnel evaluations) and I'm confident a frank discussion will be had, because (my opinion) we have some issues (= a rash of unpleasant headlines) in need of address and redress and the police department should be both transparent and invisible to me, the law-abiding resident. We are fortunate to have so many good men and women in all of public safety (and the public sector, for that matter). Too many, in fact, to allow negative exceptions, even when they end up on the front page of a local newspaper, to overshadow the everyday excellence of the vast majority. Quite frankly, those officers, and we, deserve far more than thirty minutes, members of the City Council, but I'll take the informational session as a good-faith down payment for a start.

When I was a kid, my mom told me if I got lost to find a policeman and he would help me get home (and then my parents moved. Kidding!). And that's what I told my children (who are now adults themselves, and have GPS). We grew up with a mental movie that teachers and police officers and firefighters were brave, smart and true--role models--and we may have lost sight they, too, are people like we are, only more scrutinized and less forgiven.

We, not just in Norwich, deserve the finest people from our communities in public service, from our elected and appointed officials to and through the sanitation, education, engineering, city hall services, utilities and any other office we can think of. We pay for professionals who have a right to work for a living wage in an ethical environment and for honest people. It's not only okay to be concerned when there are instances of malfeasance or poor judgment or undesirable behavior-it should be a residency requirement.

All of us need to roll up our sleeves, prop up the hood and repair the engine of governance that we've created for ourselves. We need to stop searching for the guilty and fix the problem. Specifically, we need to read the Chief of Police's update on his responses to that March 2007 survey and, when we attend the City Council information session Monday night at 6:30, be prepared to ask questions relevant to fixing problems and listen for answers-even ones we don't like. Perhaps, most especially, ones we don't like. I don't know about you-I like to learn, but sometimes I don't like being taught.
-bill kenny

Friday, July 18, 2008

NASA used a lot of them. And TANG, too

Driving home yesterday, I saw what in another time might have been imagined to have been one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and/or another signal that End Times are nigh. Parked near the entrance to the closed-for-the day Toyota dealership, but still idling because I guess it just wasn't consuming enough fossil fuel, was a black Cadillac-one of the large Death Star size cars, not the hip pocket rockets or the trendy Euro-styled sleds.

This was an old school Caddy, the 'as a matter of fact, I do have a deed to the road in the glove compartment, so shut up, peasant' sized car, as black as Christie Brinkley's heart, or Peter Cook's reputation (sorry. I found all of that so amazingly embarrassing and stupidly self-aggrandizing last week. I now know what to get their kids as birthday presents, gift certificates for therapists). The unapologetic flagship of the Cadillac Ranch.

The couple who had been in it were walking around a Prius not peering into the windows, yet, and about as far away as we are from one another in line at ATM's. Not sure they could see the brag sheet on the backseat window on the driver's side, where the paper tells you about all the options, and how much they break out as, plus destination charges and what the EPA thinks the mileage should be. And we both know, these folks have never seen mileage numbers like those in any car they've ever driven.

Nor have they ever needed to. They looked about my age, though since they're driving a Caddy, obviously more successful, but that means we all probably went through the first Gas Crisis together back in 1973 (when gas at the pump in May of 73 was 39 cents a gallon and skyrocketed to 55 cents by the following June) and look at us now. Some of us didn't blink as we went from weekend use of petroleum products, at parties and such, to a little more during the work week, 'y'know, to take the edge off, dude' until we awakened a few short months ago to diesel topping five bucks a gallon, with high test about twenty cents behind and regular on the far side of four bucks a pop. Talk about the Man with the Golden Pump?

Suddenly those Hummers didn't look like such smart ideas, did they? And those pick-up trucks that are so large they come with their own zip codes are rusting on dealer's lots because if you can afford the gas it takes to get one of them to the market for the weekly groceries, you can't afford the groceries. Are you as impressed with your level of physical fitness as I am with mine (despite our years)? When my wife and I married thirty years ago, I couldn't even begin to get my arms around a hundred dollars' worth of groceries. Now, I can pick up a hundred bucks' worth of food without even using two hands. Must be putting steroids and fluoride in the water. Has anyone seen Rafael Palmeiro lately-now that the Viagra gig is over, has a he got a Culligan water service contract?

I figure it was their first visit to their next life-they may not know it yet, that's all. A follow-up visit, probably while the dealership is still closed because we have our pride as human beings, will find them looking at different colors of the car, and perhaps (shading their eyes) looking into the windows to see for themselves that the car has seats and headrests and, yes, a steering wheel. Perhaps on a third or fourth visit, the one just before they actually go and find a salesman (though I've never needed to seek out a salesman on a car lot. I feel a sugar cube at picnic near an army ant preserve.), one of them, probably him, will perhaps poke the car with a stick, looking for some Reason to Believe.

Meanwhile, we tell one another forty is the new thirty. By the time we get to fifty-six being the new forty, I'll be seventy, I suspect. And we didn't cut back or go cold turkey when gas went to three bucks a gallon, so maybe four is the new two, huh? And what do they want for bananas these days, because the monkey on your back looks like it hasn't eaten in a week.
-bill kenny

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Watson, come here!

For 'unspecified reasons' the telephone in my place of work went goofy the other day. It rang, and you could hear (way in the background) someone speaking or, technically, trying to shout over what sounded like a forest fire in the phone. In my earpiece it was like the Rice Krispies guys Meet Shock and Awe in a cage match of some sort and I have to assume that's how it sounded on the other side as well.

When the machinery becomes part of the scenery, and then absents itself, weirdness ensues (at least for me) when you're not Mr. Wizard. I'm more of the Ward type, not even a Wally and when 'suddenly' happens, it gives me the willies (considering my first name, maybe that should, too). When a light bulb burns out at your house, do you try the light switch a few more times, y'know, just to make sure? Me, too. I can control (or think I do) that part of the process, so I'm playing it for all it's worth. It's like when the car doesn't start, the first thing I do is check the oil. Yeah, I know-there's no connection, but I know how to check the oil. I have no idea how to get a car that doesn't start, to start. I, perhaps like you, am a One-Trick Pony (PS: our hairlines look like they went to different high schools together, by the way) and I'm going to break out the playbook when I think an emergency has arrived and do the drill.

From one day to the next, the phone became uncooperative. I even brought in another phone from home, because I figured after ten plus years, the one on the desk had spit the bit (that ties back into the reference to pony, doesn't it? Afraid so). But it wasn't the phone and it wasn't the cord I'd strung from the phone jack (nickname for phone john? I have no idea) on the other side of the room to where my desk is--and I took the 'old phone' to another phone outlet and plugged it in and it worked fine. So........

The people at my work have a process to get this kind of stuff fixed-which impresses me because until my phone stopped working it never crossed my mind that it could, or would. The first thing the repair form asks for is your phone number which sounds a little counter-intuitive to me and also vaguely like a put-on. Luckily, I was able to borrow a cup of clear dial tone from the long-suffering neighbor in the adjoining office and use her phone number. She is really good with people in charge of things. Within three hours, two people were in my office working like crazy to fix the phone.

In the meantime, of course, the phone would ring and I'd shout over the static and noise that the phone was not working (when they make Grasp of the Obvious an Olympic Event, you'll find me at the medals podium). I'd tell the presumed caller to ring me on my cell phone, whose number, as it turns out, I couldn't always fully remember and when I did, it was incorrect. If you called, I'm sorry and if you didn't, aren't you lucky?

The actual problem with the phone had NOTHING to do with me, the repair people explained (I was so relieved to learn this; it was the most important part of the explanation, quite frankly) and the causes made my head feel stuffy. Almost every wonder I own in this Brave New World is beyond my understanding when it works, and more so, when it stops working. The pumps don't work cos the vandals took the handles but while I got the rag handy, didja want me to check your oil or wash the windshield?
-bill kenny

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I Don't Want a Pickle.....

There's been some murmuring in recent days in letters to the editor of a local newspaper and news stories from Hartford that are buried on the inside pages of the regional sections of the newspapers that CT Governor M. Jodi Rell (I didn't realize my Governor had a Scarlet Letter in her name until coming back from visiting my brother, Adam, in New Jersey and crossing back into Connecticut and seeing it on the 'Welcome to' road sign; it's even on the website, Gadzooks!) is considering an effort to reinstate mandatory helmet laws for motorcycle riders (and passengers, I assume, as well).

Well, hold on a minit, Baba Looey! Connecticut may have one of the more imbalanced bonds to revenue ratios of these fifty sporadically United States (and the highest in all of New England); we may have more families below the poverty level in our state capital, Hartford, than some other states have for the entire state and we most certainly do have a public education system that has 'performance gaps' when comparing the achievement of white and non-white school-age children--but that's no reason to get excited. If you want hear howls of outrage, just whisper about helmets for motorcyclists. Folks start acting under the influence of Haggard.

Please-don't get me wrong; I'm more a Jerry Jeff guy myself and besides, I lack any skill to be able to drive a motorcycle. They scare the bejabbers out of me (both the small, sedate ones and the big, burly 'hogs', are they still called that?) whether they're in a parking lot or zipping down the street. I know people who ride motorcycles and of one motorcyclist, Evert, who's on the ride of his life and I check his blog every day because it's really cool--and I'd note, in every shot Evert posts, the folks on motorcycles are all wearing helmets. I don't think Arlo made the trip-but he did make the arrangements for the snacks.

The purple prose and hyperventilation has started on this 'civil liberties issue' and the battle lines are or have been drawn. 'Half a league, half a league-half a league onward!' (I've never understood if Al T meant the American or the National, or which division). It's good, I suppose, to be passionate (I've never been misidentified as a casual kind of person on anything) but I hope we can employ more reason than rhetoric as this conversation continues, and I suspect it will for some length of time.

Our genius, as a species, for self-destruction (and the destruction of everything around us) is, imho, just as significant as these opposable thumbs, in staking our claim at the top of the food chain. Let's make sure between and among all the shouting we can hear one another because "Ain't nobody talkin' because everybody knows. We pulled your cycle up back the garage and polished up the chrome. Our gypsy biker coming home."
-bill kenny

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Empty Lives

Graham Parker, decades ago, ranted "don't get me to fill up your empty lives" as the star-making machinery enclosed him in a Cocoon of Cool where real life was notional and, for all intents and purposes, fictional.

Ray Davies of The Kinks wished for "(A) fantasy world of celluloid villains and heroes." And, stealing another page from RD, who among us doesn't remember a Golden Child from our youth, some perfect specimen of the species, whose life was so wonderful it hurt our eyes to just look at them? And should we encounter them today and they seem to now have something other than that Happy Ending they thought was a birthright, tell me you don't smile just a little (schadenfreude ist auch ein freude).

So what should we make of the more recent examples of 'I called shotgun in Cowling's White Bronco' media feeding frenzy that is so much a part of our lives? With all this media and in such abundance, let's face it, the dumbing down, the bread and circuses, the 'Look at me, I'm Sandra Dee' aspect of our news structures, the day must be coming when reasonable human beings might well ask, WTFO? Or, perhaps more elegantly phrased, how did we end up in this hand basket, why is it so warm and where, exactly, are we going?

Not only do we rely on too many dubious sources of information and distraction, we rely on them in order to live our lives through their reports. How many more Christie Brinkley's, Alex Rodriquez's, Lara Logan's do we have to have before we can finally look away? What happened to last month's Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan or Jamie Lynn. If they're not on the cover of AADDd (Adult Attention Deficit Disorder Digest) does that mean they no longer exist?

Show of hands: do any of us shoe shop with any of the people in the above paragraph? That's what I thought. But more of us know about Lara Logan's escapades than can name the Speaker of the House of Representatives. We are more conversant with the heartbreak that is Christie's lot in life than understanding of the impact of the Prime Rate on our credit ratings (see? All this time you were blaming Countrywide for the sub-prime meltdown and it may have been Diana Bianchi) and baseball fans can now discuss whether A-Rod has more doubles with runners in scoring position than he has nooners with Madonna.

Is this stuff news? Is any of it news, and for whom? I love baseball and am a Yankees fan, and I shift uneasily as the Rodriguez family disintegrates off the field as when Roger Clemens showed up in a Spring training haircut to testify on the Hill. My need to NOT know is greater than TMZ, CNN, E!, Fox or the Daily News' need to tell me. I watched Lara Logan's reports for CBS News from Afghanistan and Iraq-I'm not sure why I'm supposed to care with whom she was knocking (combat) boots when not being shot at. As for Christie B, the Unhappy Uptown Girl, I have a hard time feeling sorry for her especially as she does such a good job of feeling sorry for herself. But, again, why is any of this leading a TV newscast or showing up on the front pages, above the fold, of daily newspapers? Joan of Arc may have drunk her bathwater; Jonas Salk could have left the toilet seat up and the Virgin Mary might have never child-proofed the stable--and none of that is any of my business.

And yet, here it comes. Who's to bless and who's to blame? We are--that's the short answer, which is good, because surveys say we don't have the span of attention required to have a discussion, much less develop a strategy, for better separating the wheat from the chaff. No wonder our world is so screwed up-look at how we gather the information to attempt to make decisions. And if you're hoping all the tumult and head noise will get better with time, let me talk to you about buying a bridge in Brooklyn.

Three question exam, but you have to get all three right. Ready? Probably not.
Who is the President of Zimbabwe?
Who originally called shotgun in AC's SUV?
Why did so many know the second one but not the first?
-bill kenny

Monday, July 14, 2008

Thank the Lord for the Night time.......

...just don't get deep into the gratitude, okay? Because either by the dawn's early light or the electric candles we all have, it gets (and stays) pretty stark. I have a getting up and going to work routine that is so old (this is where you say 'how old is it?' We'll need to rehearse, Starbuck, before doing that again) my routine has a routine. Small ruffle (this is the only blog that has a drummer, remember?).

Yours may be different but in one key way, it's the same: even though our eyes are open and we purport to be awake, we're on auto-pilot and going through the motions. If you've moved your razor, or toothbrush or other prep hardware or software, you realize, with a start, when your hands don't pick it up and you step into the now and have to actually wake up. This morning, my evil twin, Skippy, took over and it's a miracle you didn't see the news crew at my house from your house. Seriously.

I have a driver's license, a Triple A and AARP membership cards, all with my birth date (which is why I love my library card, not just because Otis Library still has that newly-renovated library smell, but also because the card doesn't list my age) but in my mind's eye, I think behaviorists call it resident self-image, I don't believe the license or the mirror. I'm a rock and roll kid with an attitude to match.

My eyesight isn't what it once was--of whom is that not true, I suppose, so I have to work a little harder now in order to see the handsome and talented daredevil and all-around great guy that I am when I stare into the mirror (and modest; I always forget that I'm modest). Speaking of modesty, my routine after awakening involves removing my night shirt to wash my hair (I eventually head to work in gym clothes and shower at work after a half hour on the tread mill or the cardio bike or the mechanical bull (just checking to see if you were still reading)), so I was shocked, so shocked I almost swallowed the dental rinse I swish around in my mouth while lathering my face and using a metal blade to shave it, when I peered into the mirror and there was this old guy, covered in skin that was not only the color of grade school lunch room mashed potatoes, but the look as well. Eeeeew!

This guy in the mirror didn't have any brown hair, like it says on my license-not a follicle. It was all grey where there was hair at all and lots of scalp where there used to be hair. I almost swallowed the dental rinse (and in my previous lives, I'd have mixed it with something and swallowed it without a second thought) when I flashed on what was different this morning. Why my now had arrived so abruptly.

Sleepy-head Skippy had put my eyeglasses back on after washing my hair--so there's this face, practically smothered in lather with two glass frames perched atop the white aerosol mountains. That I shave without my glasses helps explain the rate at which I go through styptic pencils--I thought someone was robbing the medicine cabinet and using them to write very long letters home to Mom. Talk about a prisoner of the routine, eh?
I suppose that explains the lip gloss on your left earlobe, right?
-bill kenny

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Where do you think they keep their beepers?

Went for a walk yesterday to clear my head (I know, 'in his case, what are we talking about here? Ten to fifteen steps at most? Hardly worthwhile putting shoes on.' You're right, not to mention the trousers as well) and in the course of the aimless wander (I never get lost, even when I don't know where I am, because so many folks tell me where to go; but I'm never dressed coolly enough for the suggestion), I looked down on the sidewalk and there was a HUGE swarm of ants.

I was never one of these kids who used to set them on fire with a magnifying glass (if you thought my math skills were marginal, you should see the rest of the Mr. Science Guy repertoire) mainly because I didn't have a magnifying glass and I think it would have bothered me. And, just to prove I am nearly a Renaissance Man, I don't eat them dipped in chocolate, either. (and hope they would return the courtesy if circumstances warranted.)

I have a dim memory (at my age, most memories are, I suppose) of Art Baker on the original "You Asked for It!" TV show with a story on an ant war. The show was, with all respect to Real World, generally thought of as the original 'unscripted' real-life show, the genuine article and Real Deal. I don't remember how old I was when the episode aired or who wrote in and asked for it, but I was still in short pants (which isn't especially helpful as I'm often still in short pants to this day--mostly at the request of the neighbors and as a condition of release by the court) and more than amazed at how the TV guys built this very elaborate ant farm with a glass wall so we at home could see everything that went on below ground.

It must've taken weeks to construct and to let the ants wander around in this biosphere, terrarium or whatever it was called, getting acclimated to their new home and then came the day the TV folks put down a drinking straw (I think it was) that stretched from this stand-alone ant colony to another colony they had built and stocked with ants, really big ants (I now know the camera adds ten pounds-back then, all we had was black and white so I don't know how much was added at the time) and the cameras waited until an ant from one colony wandered through his drinking straw and found a Whiter Shade of Pale, more or less.

It was total war as I remember it--and it was fascinating to watch. Bear in mind, I was born less than a decade AFTER the end of World War II and the Korean War was still a hot war in my infancy, but it was the Ant War that most impressed me, even to this day. The carnage and the chaos over the decades and through the mists of the years are as vivid now as they were then. The realization that they, the ants, so much resemble us, the bipeds with the big brains, only came in the latter years.

Back at the sidewalk, practically beneath my feet, I watched them roil and writhe as if they were a single living thing and not tens of thousands of tiny creatures, all of whom (I assume) were oblivious to my existence and interest. I confess to shooting a glance upwards every once in awhile just to reassure myself no one was staring down on me. Although, come to think of it, the sun did seem to feel a lot warmer than weather conditions should have permitted. And I still don't know what to make of those giant chocolate chips I saw around the corner.
-bill kenny

Saturday, July 12, 2008

To Be the Heir Apparent, to the Kingdom of the Invisible

Try as we may, try as we might, despite Lennon's eloquence to the contrary, we can change so much of our world and even more of ourselves and yet, it's the past we cannot change and that, even though it's the past, always seems to shape who we are and whom we will be.

I used to explain to people who fell in love with rosy-red scenarios that required so many variables that if you removed all the moving parts from their premises, there'd be no parts, that if my mother had married a Kennedy, I'd be living in the White House, but she didn't. So I'm not--and that was why I never sent my mom a Mother's Day card, because she had ruined my life.

Many people felt they saw my point (this was in the days before I wore a hat)-and were saddened I didn't send Mom a Mother's Day card. No amount of protestation to the contrary could get them to understand that that wasn't the point of my story at all-and it wasn't even true. Of course, that I would lie about not sending my mother a card for mother's day was even more distressing if not heinous and eventually I shared Clevinger's fate about being punished, or not, for marching in the Sunday parades under the direction of LT Scheisskopf.

We are everyone we've ever known, through blood or birth or chance and by extension, so is everyone else. I struggle and fail everyday to understand why knuckleheads (and that's what I call them because I'm the soul of generosity) with whom I'm supposedly working are, in reality, working at cross-purposes to me and everything I'm trying to do. It's true with with you as well, we just pretend we don't know it.

There comes a point every day or in every interaction where you pause, perhaps on the landing between the second and third floor, and say to Bob or John or Nina or Mary, "I don't think we'll ever get this piano up to the third floor!" To which they respond with surprise and irritation, "Up to the third floor, I thought we were trying to get it down to the second floor!"

And the here we are:
"And the doors swing back and forward, from the past into the present
And the bedside crucifixion turns from wood to phosphorescent.
And they're moving problem families from the South up to the North,
Mother's crying over some soft soap opera divorce,
And you say you didn't do it, but you know you did of course,
And they'll soon be pulling down the little palaces."
-bill kenny