Sunday, November 30, 2008
Last November, in Norwich, we elected a radically different, and new, City Council. Of the six vacancies to be filled, we returned only one incumbent--two, one from each side of the aisle, had announced they would not seek reelection. Three were, for lack of a more elegant phrase, fired.
Talking about being in the forefront of change-with all due respect to the President-elect and his message of change (and by the way, sir, take down that "Office of the President-Elect" sign some putz has stapled to the front of the podium when you speak. There is NO such function in the Constitution and you look like a pretentious twit even to those of us who voted for you) we here in Norwich got on the change train, sorry Ozzy, sometimes they look similar, and have yet to get off.
Interestingly, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Before last November's election, there were five Democrats and two Republicans on our City Council (Connecticut has a minority representation requirement that mandates diverse voices even if the folks choosing the voices don't want to hear some. Perhaps noble, perhaps not. Depends on who is doing the talking and what's being said), and that's what we still have. We went to an at-large selection process instead of a precinct representation (and to a smaller council) as a result of charter change we accomplished in March of 2001 (despite the efforts of some on that City Council).
The November 2001 election campaign was the ONLY time (I researched this, btw; went to the library and looked up the old copies of one of the local papers on the microfiche reader--had to show the youngster working the reference desk how to use it because it's not Google and you don't double-click to get it to work) since 1991 (I got here in October of that year, which is why I picked that as the reference point) the Republican party fielded an entire slate of candidates for the Norwich City Council. I went all the way back to 1962 and NEVER found an instance where the Republicans fielded more than three candidates for the Norwich Board of Education (which has always been an at-large proposition, also with minority representation).
I'm pretty sure I know residents who are Republicans-they don't have Scarlet R's nor do they drive orange cars, so it's hard for me to tell--and quite frankly, that's good and as it should be.
Anyway-this November one of the two Republicans on the City Council unseated a seven-term incumbent in the 47th District of the Connecticut Assembly, or House of Representatives. The soon-to-be-former alderman handily triumphed--carrying three other towns and a portion of Norwich, in the district. Considering the Republicans in the city had failed again to even nominate a candidate for the 46th District (which is just Norwich and which, for a number of years, had been represented by another former Republican alderman), you'd think there'd be some joy at his election, especially in light of the drubbing the party took across the state and the country, but you're not from here, are you?
Us Rose City residents hate to see anyone be successful or happy-somehow, we figure, it lessens our chances or our share, even though one has nothing to do with the other. Who do you think you're calling crazy? You don't even know from crazy, not around here.
Almost as quickly as the ballots were counted Election Night, the drumbeat started for the alderman to resign his City Council seat (the Norwich charter doesn't allow alderpersons to hold a second (paying) elected position; the CT constitution doesn't care, as the Secretary of State made clear in her letter to a local newspaper). Most of the drumbeating was, and is, from the chairman of the Republican Town Committee who, I'm sure, is a nice person but who has a curious grasp of logic.
In yesterday's edition of one of the local papers, he claims the alderman, by NOT resigning (the State Legislature session doesn't begin until 7 January 2009, by the way, so the Norwich City Council will meet twice more in regular session before we come to the place where the road and the sky collide), "...has disenfranchised the Republican Party in Norwich." Oh? Would the Chairman care to show the math behind that equation?
I disagree with that conclusion and reject the logic used to develop it. I'm NOT in the Republican Party (I registered years ago as a Democrat because I hoped to vote for Senator Bill Bradley in the Connecticut Democratic primary in 2000 but he had bowed out of the race by the time the circus got to Hartford. When you don't invent the Internet terrible things can happen. So I just hung out near the chips and dip) but it seems to me the Republicans in Norwich have disenfranchised themselves, and did so, a VERY LONG time ago.
The current RTC chairman has suggested in recent press interviews he would consider having his party endorse the current Mayor of Norwich, a Democrat, next year (should the Mayor seek a second term) as it did when he ran for the office in 2005. Maybe it's just me, but I am wearing my glasses, and it looks like the RTC chairman may have trouble with the idea of freedom of choice. What's the point of having a multiplicity of voices, Mr. Chairman, if they all say the same thing?
If those on the 'selection committee' of the RTC don't mind a well-meant tip from a bystander so disinterested I might otherwise appear comatose: identify a candidate. You should have started before Chris Coutu was elected (assuming you had any faith that he would win) so why haven't you nominated someone by now? While you're looking, find some one who supports, as her/his soon-to-be-predecessor did, charter revision (we should be hearing that report soon enough, right? I wonder how that bedtime story will turn out?) as well as smart growth in terms of economic development (Washington Street Overlay comes to mind, Mr. RTC Chairman and I don't remember you being anywhere near the barricades for that discussion) as well as implementation of some, part or all of the recommendations of the Ethics Review Commission, whose final report this City Council accepted in March (that's eight months ago by my calendar) and about which little has been done since.
Is it possible the Norwich Republican Town Committee thinks it has a mandate to maintain the status quo and NOT rock the boat? I would certainly hope not. Just slip out the back, Jack. Make a new plan, Stan. No need to be coy, Roy, just listen to me. Just hop on the bus, Gus. Don't need to discuss much. Just drop off the key, Lee, and get yourself free.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
What those of us who'd followed them from their debut on The Ed Sullivan Show didn't realize yet, and had no way of knowing, was that it's getting very near the end for the four as a band. I was sixteen and had spent all of my teenage years with their music as the soundtrack to my growing up.
I had no older brothers or sisters so I had been spared Fabian, Paul Peterson, Frankie Avalon (with and without Annette), all the girl groups and what John Lennon, years later, called Elvis Orbison (although this is a little spooky, even for me).
Without a frame of reference at the time, I thought The Beatles had invented rock and roll and, for me at least, not a moment too soon. Less than a year earlier, I, and all of us, had our dreams of childhood prematurely ended by an assassin's bullet with the murder of a US President and while many of us were too young to realize the carnage going on in Southeast Asia, we all had neighbors with sons, brothers, uncles and fathers who knew where it was and what it was.
Just Us Kids hadn't gotten there yet--we were still learning dance moves for the CYO socials after the basketball games. As if Father Costello, eagle-eyed chaperon, was ever gonna let you touch Janet Kinsley anywhere under her sweater, especially since we were all friends with her twin brother, Joseph. Truth to tell, all of us were working on mysteries without any clues and none of us were 'fast' or 'loose'. How could we be? We were Catholic.
The Beatles had gone from wanting to Hold Your Hand to wondering Why Don't We Do It in the the Road? and where they led, we followed. There was no satellite radio, no eighty-three flavors of MTV, no YouTube--heck, there was barely FM radio and I was in that first cohort that bought big records with little holes, albums, over little records with big holes, singles.
To this day, I still marvel over the self-assurance and unshirted cockiness it took to release Sgt Pepper. What could possibly have been lifted as 'the' single from that body of work and how big a shock to the system was it for the recording industry when The Beatles transcended the manufacturing process. In a way they proved McLuhan's 'The Medium is the Message' and made it a fact of life and an immovable object.
If, as it was to turn out, they were to produce only two more albums, and there's some spirited discussion on how those two came to be and why, that was yet to come and in no way kept us from sitting with the headphones on late at night, volume cranked, listening not just to Revolution 9 (where was that video four decades ago, eh?) but to the whole nine yards. What each of us learned, but many years later, was all of us, everywhere, were listening alone, but also together. The Beatles had made rock music global and two generations have grown up and old since then.
In a way, much of what the four did, as The Beatles and since, was referenced by the White Album. John Lennon's last release, Double Fantasy, was barely a month old in 1980 when he was murdered. George Harrison's first album, Wonderwall Music (nothing to do with those well-known posers, Liam and Noel, thankfully) is almost exactly forty years old.
And Paul McCartney has just released The Fireman (go to page two, the right hand side to listen for yourself) and if he rushes in from the pouring rain (very strange), full of fish and finger pies (one of the most eloquent pornographic references to ever make it to Casey Kasem) we've come full circle and the journey has been as much of a reward as the destination.
Like the sun plays in the morning/Feel the quiet, feel the thunder/Every ladder leads to heaven.
Friday, November 28, 2008
I've marvelled at how the tufted titmouse (that's what Wikipedia says they are. I've tried channeling John James Audobon and all I've got to show for it is a handful of feathers and bird poop on the car windshield) peck at the shells of peanuts practically as big as they are until they have created a hole they can slide their beaks into and lift the nut, or legume as they are called in South Beach and elsewhere, and fly away.
Months ago I had a mesh cage of sorts you could put suet blocks and bird seed dissolved in suet blocks into and suspend it by suction cups on the window to feed just the birds (who will battle ferociously with the squirrels and chipmunks for the peanuts). A tip (from me to you) on those feeders: when you attach them to the window, do it to the outside of the window, otherwise the birds spend all day flying into the pane of glass and when you lean back in your chair at your desk, you knock the feeder onto the floor by your filing cabinet.
Seriously. I stopped using the feeder because the little birds were getting out hustled and out muscled by huge birds, grackles, it says right there, but the ones I was watching looked to be the size of intercontinental bombers. And they stayed until everything was gone, to include it seemed, the paint on the feeder. Since I couldn't figure out how to help the little birds and punish the big, uncaring ones (I did develop a better appreciation for the Lord's challenges. Let me tell you, if the meek inherit the earth the way the sparrows and tufted titmouse(s) didn't get seed or suet, the meek better have a Plan B), I took the feeder down and put it away.
It wasn't that big a deal for me or the birds. It was summer and there was lots of whatever birds eat for them to eat (I guess. I didn't see any with a tin cup at the building's exits, and signs that read 'will chirp for worms' though there were a couple of signs, come to think of it, but the writing well, the writing was---wait for it--basically chckenscratch), but now with the weather getting wintry I put the feeder back out and now I have to reprogram these guys. I guess that's why we say they have 'bird brains'. They've spent months pacing the ground beyond my windows checking shells for those delicious peanuty insides, and so far, almost a full week into this, they haven't noticed the feeder.
All they do is look down instead of up. I suspect hunger will improve their visual acuity very shortly. I'll keep you posted. "For unless they see the sky; But they can't, and that is why--They know not if it's dark outside or light."
Thursday, November 27, 2008
This hasn't been the best year for our nation and for many of our neighbors (and perhaps ourselves) and it's far too easy to regret what we don't have rather than pause for a moment to be thankful for what we do have. That, for the most part is what today is more or less about.
I equivocate because there are people, public safety and public health workers and others who don't have a holiday because of who they are and what they do. I don't know how many millions of us work shifts, but there are many and their time off differs from others. For vast segments of the country, today is a prelude to Black Friday which starts earlier every year (as does the decorating, store front displays, holiday music etal) until quite soon we shall go directly from Independence Day to Christmas and children will no longer be born in hospitals but in malls.
Haste makes waste and also makes us less grateful for what we have and for the effort it took to possess it. It was many years ago, but I can remember being grateful for sharing an American custom with my bride, who was (and remains) a German citizen in her country where the fourth Thursday of November traditionally falls before the fourth Friday of November. As the years went on, we were to celebrate this holiday with our son and, later, our daughter, both of whom have lives of their own now and who come to visit us in a very different home, in a different part of the world from where we all once lived.
The expression 'home is where the heart is' takes on different meanings today for my brother, Adam, and his family, since his bride and their son are heading to Rob's new work in Wyoming, leaving my brother and their daughter, Suzanne, to a different holiday table than they've had in years past. And while there's the pain of absence, I suspect all of them are grateful for the memories of what they've had and will have again as times and circumstances permit.
Sometimes you appreciate more what you once had when it's absent. I have to remember and be thankful for my other brother, Kelly, and my three sisters, Evan, Kara and Jill, and our mother, Joan, as well as my wife's siblings, Beate, Klaus-Peter and Gabrielle and their mother, Anni. We are, in sum, everyone we've ever known (sorry for dragging down the cumulative, everyone, but thanks for being who you are).
Of course, our national frame of reference is the First Thanksgiving in 1621. The handful of Pilgrims who had survived the voyage across the Atlantic and the hazards and vicissitudes (something about Pilgrims makes using that word mandatory) of the New-but-growing-older-by-the-moment World had every reason to be grim, but then grateful and thankful for the generosity of Chief Massasoit and his Wampanoag tribe.
In a way, this is a brave new world in which we, too, are now journeying. Much of what we believed and thought we knew, politically, socially, financially and philosophically has been altered and, in whole or in part, swept away by what is coming and what is yet come. With all of our wealth and power, we cannot hold a moment longer than our forefathers could or longer than our children's, children's children will. But we can cherish what we have and share it among ourselves, actually making the blessing greater even as the number partaking of it grows.
For all that we have or will ever have, to include that which we have lost, we shall always have one another and this moment together. To ask for more is beyond the bounds of this day and to settle for less is too tragic for words.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Back here in the Land of the Round Doorknobs we could see it, or something like it, in the immediate future, especially if what we're promised for January is a portent of things to come. The alphabet network is offering me a show developed by Ashton Kutcher and Tyra Banks (let's pause for a moment and think about that one, shall we? The Titans of TV teaming up? Time's up and it's much later than any of us think) and is a contest to reveal and measure the inner beauty of the various contestants (I'm almost praying, if we decide 'beauty is only skin deep', they'll skin the winner; but I'll bet the test audiences won't like it). I'm sure we'll see folks who used to be on those fliers in the post office or who make Gary Busey look normal.
The other program I'm keenly awaiting is something the Fox folks (who've given us some fine entertainment through the decades. I can only imagine the size of the parade they threw in Melbourne the day Rupe's USA citizenship was approved) are calling Secret Millionaires. Both programs lead me to believe my moment of ephemeral phame on the Magic Lantern, the Electric Fire, could be drawing near. I am, as you can imagine, like a kid in a candy store--actually more like a kid who ate a candy store in terms of hyperactivity.
My idea isn't quite as innovative as National Lampoon's Catch It and You Keep It and comes down to two really super-duper ideas for one whole hour (judging from what's on most of the time, it could well be carried on multiple networks and cable providers, simultaneously). The first part would be celebrities who come to my house and do chores like wash my car, or paint my fence, or trim my hedges. I'd call it "WiIFM", what's in it for me. Did I mention they'd pay me for the opportunity to do these things and product placement ads would be EVERYWHERE to cover the production costs? We'd have Paris Hilton (I assume the musicians who played on Stars Are Blind showered for hours to get the smell off) and one or more of the Kardashians and maybe Joan Rivers' daughter and the guy who used to be on Full House, not Saget, not Stamos, the other one. Yeah that guy. Tom Sawyer had the right idea, he just didn't think big enough. At the end of the show, viewers call in and vote for the celebrity who did the best job at chores and the losers get whacked in the shins with a Nerf bat as we roll credits and hype the next half hour.
The second half of the show is a roving crew that just shows up at a random house, sort of like Ty Pennington (without work boots), and the lucky family plays in order to keep their own possessions. We'd start with small stuff: perhaps a pet, 'if you want to see Fluffy in this life ever again, who played first base for the NY Mets in their inaugural season?' (Answer: Marvelous Marv Throneberry a/k/a VRAM (Marv backwards. The denizens of Shea were a primitive but clever people.)) Obviously we can't use that question now, but you get the idea. And at the end of this show I'll have a panel of judges, like Paula and maybe LaToya and one, or both, of the two Corys, award points based on the best expressions of anguish, loss or anger (I'm thinking dropping the new SUV on top of the house for NOT knowing which English First Division football team's nickname is 'The Hammers' should kick start the tear ducts and the ratings). Especially if I have the demi-celebrities from the first half hour make up the questions (and the answers), with the understanding they don't have to be correct or even match.
I hope Adam has experience in drawing up the big bucks show biz contracts and enough extra wheelbarrows to help me haul the dollars to the bank because I smell payday! You'll watch, right? There you go, that makes two of us which is two more than I had when I started writing. I'm thinking we could have, for the premiere episode, someone dressed up like a giant turnip hosting from Canoga Park, California. Ka-ching is the thing and the bling will sing. Get Simon and Randy on the blower and tell Ryan to go soak his head.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Who invented TV dinners? Us. Drive-throughs? Us again. (What exactly did you think they meant with 'the old In-and-Out'? You are such a perv.) If it's got anything to do with eats, raise one super-sized hand and shout 'here!' It's estimated there are two billion people living on less than two dollars a day, but chances are none of us know any of them. Pass the drumstick and add that to my list of things I'm thankful for this season.
But it can go too far. Seriously. How lazy is too lazy? Not a rhetorical question, a real one based on this press release. Are we heading to here, and when we get there will it be Nirvana? Say, is that crusty bread I smell or Courtney Love (probably an acquired taste before actual fondness)?
C'mon--you can't dial the phone to call the pizza guys? Instead, you can press a button on your TiVo--is there another one to have someone come over and help eat it as well? Where does this end? How perverse are we in the family of nations that obesity is our #1 health problem? There are continents of people who wake up hungry every day and go to bed the same and we've made Jenny Craig the patron saint of low fat cheese danishes. And, competitive as we are in this culture, you know the cable guys and their DVRs are crying in burger joint take out sacks about this one.
These are the days of miracle and wonder/This is the long distance call.
The way the camera follows us in slo-mo/The way we look to us all.
The way we look to a distant constellation/That's dying in a corner of the sky.
These are the days of miracle and wonder/And don't cry baby, don't cry.
Are you hungry? Pass the remote.
Monday, November 24, 2008
This Friday evening we'll be lighting City Hall which ushers in the traditional start of the season around here (I'm hoping the Tourism office (whose link on the City's website is a non-starter) is selling the annual Christmas ornament at the lighting-my wife has one from every year the item has been offered and they are all beautiful, as is my wife (I'm never sure if she reads this, so hello Honey! just in case). For me and mine, the season really all gets started with the Winterfest parade (this year falling on the 67th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor). One year the parade was held in nearly-seventy degree weather and the following year, I think, it had to be rescheduled because of the blizzard. It's always something, I guess.
Meeting-wise, it's a light week because of Thanksgiving and the day after (what do you suppose the Pilgrims and the Native Americans did on the first Friday after the first Thanksgiving? There were no Black Fridays, no college football games on big screen TVs, just leftovers) but that doesn't mean there's not important work to be done.
Tonight at five, the Redevelopment Agency meets in Room 210 of City Hall. Neither the agenda nor the minutes of their previous meeting are available on line (only the latter, by CT public law needs to be), so we still have some work to do on full (and timely) disclosure. Maybe the City Manager's second informational meeting on obligations and requirements of the State's Freedom of Information Act will have attendees who take the message on board and act accordingly.
Also tonight at 6 in Room 335, the City Council holds an informational session on the next budget. Suspect for some in the front of the room, the session will confirm many of their concerns while for those of us in the cheap seats, this will be our first look a the challenges facing all of us as the next budget gets developed. We have a tendency (a little) too often to complain about the landings, so it behooves all of us to attempt to be present for the take-off and to see what our City Manager, his Department Heads and our Aldermen will see in terms of resources and demands for the next budget.
What a pity that the often talked about, but NEVER held, joint informational session with the Board of Education has disappeared. The city's budget is basically the Board's budget, with whatever is left over going for public safety and public works. It could have only benefited all of us to have had such a session, announced twice I believe and cancelled both times, actually held. Instead we get to have another fire sale on regrets and roads not taken.
Tuesday has the Harbor Management Commission meeting at five in Room 108. Here's their draft minutes of their October meeting though I have NO agenda (I smiled on page two, item e, about the characterization that a condominium 'project has gone bust'-Stay classy, San Diego). I'm struck by how two names I recognize are on the committee, but how a third person, recently and frequently in the news, with (I suspect) the largest and most successful of the businesses, isn't. And to think that I saw it on Norwich's Streets.
One of the local newspapers has a listing for a meeting at 6 PM at City Hall in Room 319 of what it calls the "Ethics Committee" though there's nothing on the Norwich Website, nor should there be as the Ethics Review Committee ceased to be after turning in its recommendations to the City Council on the evening of 16 March. Curiouser and curiouser ...
The Norwich Board of Education has their monthly meeting at Kelly Middle School at 6 PM. Their website is consistently not updated, so good luck with an agenda for tonight's meeting as the minutes of the 28 October meeting aren't even there. Computers and the schools (and a now-former teacher) were just in the news--talk about disturbing (the peace).
That's nearly it for this week except for a look ahead (okay a longer than normal look ahead):
Put it on the calendar now because it will get lost in the holiday crush, three weeks from today.
On December 15th at 6:30 (before the Council meeting at seven) there will be an informational session by the Norwich Semiseptcentennial Committee (that dot com designation sure seemed like a good idea when the LLC was created, didn't it?) who have a big job and recent headlines suggest fewer financial resources than previously announced.
I, for one, wish I could help more, but (and I don't know about you) I'm tapped out from helping General Motors, AIG and Goldman-Sachs. Poor GM has had to cut its fleet of seven private jets to just three, so all over it's a time when we shall scrimp and save. Perhaps Ebenezer will have a change of heart and take Tiny Tim fishing for a Christmas carp off the the dock at Howard T. Brown Park. I hear you can hook the really big ones over at the 'busted' condo project.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
I'll wager neither of us has ever tried to buy a house we can't afford with money we don't have. It's not too comforting to discover many in the lending industry didn't seem to have a problem with that idea. They're high up on the list of folks to whom our government is extending such generosity in bailing them out. Of course, we the people, are the government so I guess I mean you and me are buying the bucket for this bailout. Where did we put the water?
And, as nothing travels faster than good news and tastes better than food you didn't have to pay for, have you noticed how long the line is getting with those seeking government assistance? I've been thinking about that MasterCard statement that I hate paying incrementally. Perhaps putting it in an envelope addressed to the Secretary of the Treasury might do the trick, except it's probably far too tiny an amount to be of any interest to the Big Important People in Finance Whose Well-Meaning and Avarice Brought Us Here.
I'm not good with money and I'm a lousy politician, so if my opinion offended you I apologize. But, do not offer me, as a counter argument, that it's not greed. Your only other choice is stupidity. That's right-the folks with the TV commercials assuring me that now, of all times, is the best time to buy their expertise in today's stock market, yeah, youbetcha. I wanna party with you, Jack McCoy. I'm not forgetting (or forgiving) the elected leadership of the House Banking Committee or the Senate Finance Committee who did the bunny hop with the folks in the very industries whose activities their committees are charged with watching. You can put them all in a sack and whack the sack with a bat and you'd still hit the right one. I brought a second bat just in case.
But it's not anger that I want to pass along. Knowledge is power, so arm yourself. Do yourself and the rest of us luckless, lunchless little ones a favor and click here, read the background from the Consumers Union folks (Rosicrucians at the Easter Parade, I guess) and think about accomplishing "a hand up, not a hand out" letter to your legislator. I think June Carter's main squeeze may have nailed it way back, "Well, there's things that never will be right I know, And things need changin' everywhere you go, But 'til we start to make a move to make a few things right, You'll never see me wear a suit of white." No wonder he was never popular with the dry cleaning industry.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
I was in fifth grade of St. Peter's School (I learned years later, despite the name carved in marble on the front of the building, the possessive case was inaccurate and incorrect. But no one had yet invented industrial Wite Out and when I first returned to the USA, I drove through my old hometown one weekend while my family was still in Germany, looking perhaps, for myself and the person I was then in the hopes of better understanding the man I had become. The school name, in all its incorrectitudeness was still there. There have to be some constants in the universe, I suppose.) and our classroom was in the basement, on the Division Street side of the building (as opposed to the courtyard side, facing the high school).
We had been working on our penmanship. Our school was a firm practitioner of the A.N. Palmer method of cursive writing. Those of us in third through fifth grade loved the name of the writing style and found it incredibly funny for what it almost sounded like. We assumed the Sisters of Charity (a misnomer of some magnitude I should note), our teachers, weren't in on the joke.
I can still see the classroom. Sister Rosita's desk in the front, centered and in front of the blackboard that took up the entire wall behind her, facing in the far corner, to her left, the entrance and exit door in the back of the classroom. Our desks faced her, arranged in academic order. That is, the student with the best report card was in the far upper left corner at the head of column with everyone to and through those who failed lunch and recess at the far lower right hand side of the room, as defined by Sister Rosita. Fifty two students of varying abilities and enthusiasms--all blank slates waiting to be drawn upon.
Everything in that classroom was defined and controlled by Sister Rosita with the occasional support and intervention of Sister Mary Immaculata, the principal, whose office was upstairs (no talking in the stairwells! no running in the halls!) who existed, aside from report card day, as a voice on the cloth-covered speaker in the upper left corner of the classroom, above the blackboard alongside the American flag to which we pledged Daily Allegiance.
If you are left handed, as one of my brothers is, the Palmer Method is a trial since it assumes and presumes all of us write right (in Latin, left is the word 'sinistro' from which we have derived sinister; do you sense a bias here?) but even for right handers, the capital Q is challenging. It's a fine line between a cursive Q and a very pretentious number 2. There's also the two variants on the lower case 't', one for in the middle of a word like 'little' and the other for when it's at the end of a word such as 'variant.' When you're in fifth grade, these are matters of great concern.
Earlier in the week, before lining up to board the buses that took us home (and there was always a snobbery of those who walked home, the townies from New Brunswick, towards those of us from the developments in Franklin Township, beyond the city's borders) we had all watched, again, the Civil Defense film on what to do in the event of an Atomic Attack. I remember the sound of the film threading through the projector gate almost drowning out the assault music soundtrack laid down by the 101st Airborne String Quartet over the ominous narration of someone like Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. (no one had ever heard of Sr.; which being a Junior, I had more than casual curiosity as to how that had happened. I still use the Jr., even though my father died almost three decades ago). Orchestra crescendo, vivid orange flash that filled the screen and turned it red and then black, and something about turning away from the windows and putting our heads under our desks. Most of us were ten and eleven and hadn't spent a lot of time confronting thoughts of our own mortality. We weren't thoughtless-we just hadn't thought about it. It made for a quiet ride bus ride.
All of that evaporated as the loudspeaker crackled as Sister Mary Immaculata activated the microphone at her desk. We waited and then waited some more as, instead of her usual imperious summoning of a hapless miscreant student for a punishment for a real or sometimes imagined offense, there was the hum of an open microphone and the sound of a radio or television, whose volume was very low. Sister Mary Immaculata was, for the first time in my history at St Peter's, at a loss for words. We all leaned forward, as if willing her to speak and perhaps thirty seconds on our efforts were rewarded.
She started slowly and softly in a tone of voice I had never heard from her, or I think, from anyone. As I was to learn later in my own life, and use myself, it's the voice to explain events and occurrences that have no explanation. She started by telling us that the President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy (with whom every child of the Roman Catholic faith in the United States had an unspoken and unbreakable bond. He was our President-the first Roman Catholic, the first President who didn't look like our grandfather, a President with a pretty wife whom our moms liked a lot with small children (younger than us in the fifth grade), had been shot, later adding he was in Dallas, Texas.
All of us at St Peter's School in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and (very probably) across the United States and (maybe) around the world, bowed our heads and clasped our hands as Sister Mary Immaculata led us through The Rosary--the entire Rosary, not just a decade. That was how I, at least, knew something more horrible than what she was telling us had happened, was happening. I'm not clear if we had finished when she interrupted herself, struggling to remain composed, to tell us the President had died. We said another Rosary for the repose of his soul, but my heart wasn't in it.
I don't think I'd ever wondered until then why God didn't answer every prayer the way a petitioner wanted (I'm pretty sure I didn't use the word 'petitioner') but as the afternoon abruptly ended and we all went home to participate in the national seance provided by the three TV networks (no cable news, no satellite, no video on demand, no Internet) almost all in black and white (color television was a luxury almost beyond measure), I knew without knowing the world as I had lived in it had ended, not changed.
I looked at the calendar this morning with regret and incredulity, in equal measure. I and everyone who was born, lived and died, in the USA in the forty-five years since President Kennedy's murder, will never know what we and our world would have looked like had we prayed harder or longer or louder. I'm not sure I ever prayed again, or in the hope of my prayer being answered. And after so many years and tears, I'm not sure I know how. I can remember that kid, head bowed, at the front of room and I envy him for the strength his faith gave him in such a dark hour, knowing that the darkness was not only beginning but winning.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Rush and The Dittoheads (sounds almost like Lothar and the Hand People, doesn't it? Pity it isn't) are already in full rant-but they're an easy fix for me. I just don't tune to any of the stations he's on and since I'm not a big fan of Faux Gnus, my contact with his fellow travellers is even more limited. Not that the other side of the political spectrum is overrun by choir boys and secular saints, either, come to think of it. When I inadvertently encounter Saint Keith of MSNBC pontificating on the newest O'Miracle, I hit mute on the volume and moot on the channel selector simultaneously.
I remember European history (vaguely) from high school and reading of Voltaire, whose wit and wisdom were brushed aside as his nation, seeking to emulate in its way, our own American Revolution, created horrors without end during what became known as the French Revolution. Not that long ago, it seems to me, we stopped to think but then never started again.
We are, and/or until recently were, a nation of accommodation, of middle ground, of disagreeing but not being disagreeable. All of that is now gone or at least it seems to be. Compromise is no longer revered, it's reviled. Our slogan has become 'love me, love my dog!' Politics is no longer the art of the possible, it's a systemic polemic designed to divide our world into black and white even as we separate red from blue states. We have an inside and an outside and if you are not with us, you are against us.
We used to struggle as a nation to find a way to solve our problems and to meet our challenges. So much for the indefinite article, these days. Everything is "The" and if you disagree, there's no discussion, just diatribe. We have little use for impartial accounts and, point in fact, tend to regard those whom we call 'fair' as those with whom we agree. There's an old bumper sticker, 'be reasonable, do it my way', that's not quite as funny as it once was.
When did shouting replace talking? How do we explain to our children what we did to the country their grandparents gave us? Until us, every generation since the Founding of the Republic had striven and succeeded in leaving their children more than they had inherited. In less than a week it's Thanksgiving. What should we, and they, be thankful for? That we didn't, yet, destroy through heedless speed and greed a nation and notion that so many millions sacrificed to keep as an example to the world? Will this someday be part of our grandchildren's 'good old days?' Will they one day have to tell each other, 'my grandparents tried to change their country and all I got was this lousy tee shirt'?
Thursday, November 20, 2008
At certain times of year around here these are really popular, and are in your area, too, I suspect. I've never really gotten the attraction of rummaging through someone else's stuff, deciding if I like/need or want it, figuring out a price or haggling with the owner over the number on the tag and then taking the purchase home and making it part of my life. I have a very particular and defined sense of personal space. I don't like you in mine and I don't want to be in yours, unless we're all stampeding for an exit during a fire drill.
I don't think I've been to a yard sale, assuming I don't count the thought-it-was-a-stationary-bike bicycle I bought from Gayle and Eric across the street last summer; but it wasn't a stationary bike, at all, as it turns out. Gayle had already left it at the curb for the trash pick-up and I gave her five dollars for it and then almost killed myself falling down the basement stairs when I put it away. It was at that moment, sprawled half under it and half over it, that I realized it wasn't what I thought it was and that I should have left well enough alone (and thereafter did). My whole involvement with the bike now consists of shouting "watch out for the bike!" to people heading down the indoor basement stairs.
We have a house, probably like yours, filled with things we no longer use/need. Pieces of yourself and who you were but no longer are. Junk we didn't even realize we still have. I have shelves in the basement filled with items we got for the kids, way back when, some of it we bought for them when we all lived in Germany and we haven't done that for over seventeen years. I'll never part with any of it. It takes a lot to get into my family and even more for me to let go.
Each item has a story or a memory, even the stuff of which I have no recollection, maybe especially that stuff. George Carlin's observation never rang truer and while we may laugh at it, for the comedic directness and accuracy of its acerbic assertions, we always divide the world into ours and yours, and guess what we think of yours?
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
I don't have friends at work (I don't do the friendship thing well). I'm better at building alliances of convenience to get things done. I've never been good at small talk, since it's almost always some kind of code for bigger and darker issues. I struggle to decipher it only to realize the lull in the conversation is because the person talking to me is now waiting for my response to whatever they said. Usually, it turns I was tuned to just above the police calls and missed it. If awkward silence were in the Pictionary, it'd have glasses and grey hair (and a bald spot).
Not everyone, everywhere, has the human communication issues challenges I do (I majored in Human Communications at Rutgers, and the deliciousness of that irony isn't lost on me) but I'm hoping I can set a trend. Yesterday morning I accidentally eavesdropped on a conversation two people in the 'outer office' were having before the business of the day overtook us. Actually, it wasn't a conversation-it was a soliloquy with the man recounting in loud and graphic detail an ongoing unhappy and angry discussion he is having with his former spouse about visiting their daughter (who, as I understood it, lives with her mom, his former wife) with the other person in the office doing a lot of 'uh-huhing' and 'yeahing'.
I sat as if nailed to my chair while all of this went on about twenty feet from my open office door since I knew there was no way I could get up and close the door without calling attention to the fact I had been an earwitness to this. Talk about my right to NOT know being ignored. I hate finding out information I neither want nor need. Being married for 31 years to the person with whom I fell in love, has, it seems, rendered me less capable of understanding what happens to people in relationships that causes them to fall OUT of love.
From what I could hear, and intending no judgment (as I have few, if any, facts), the relationship was tumultuous for some length of time before the couple went their separate ways. Amicable didn't sound like an appropriate word to describe the dissolution. My lack of frame of reference precludes me from imagining how you transform from a loved and beloved in a relationship to a stranger, actually to beyond a stranger, to an enemy. I'm old enough to recognize, intellectually, that there far too many things between heaven and earth I cannot begin to understand most especially the dynamics of the human heart. Seems to be equal parts commotion and emotion, passion and pain, shadow and light. "And there's nothin' cold as ashes, After the fire is gone."
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
In the universe of nations on this planet, the Land of the Round Doorknobs is the sun and everyone else isn't. No? How about a current events pop quiz: name the Prime Minister of Great Britain; describe the form of government in Qatar; or, the number of nations who recognize the Palestinian Authority (minus ten for the most visceral and obvious answer). HEY! Do not copy from your neighbor's web browser!
How'd you do? Yeah, don't feel bad. I have NO life so this kind of stuff is right up my street, but for the most part, we, as a nation, could care less about other countries. It's just how we are-we're insulated by our two oceans and share the continent with only two neighbors and are very devoted to staring at and into our own navels. Most of us don't often journey beyond our own states or our own regions, much less to someone else's country. And when we do, we tend to take our lifestyle and tastes with us (and the places we visit cater to that. Why else can you watch CNN in a hotel room in Karachi, Pakistan? Because the management are big Larry King fans?). Julian Cope may have said it best (I can't believe I'm writing that sentence!).
Everyone has MTV and drinks Coca-Cola. Pax Americana has been a pretty good deal for large portions of the globe, at least those of us here at the headquarters want to think so. And, in fairness, absinthe makes the heart grow Fonda (except, possibly at Ted Turner's house; talk about 'coming out of the closet'). Most of us don't know who the President of Mexico is, or the name of the Prime Minister of Canada, but we draw solace from the knowledge that so many citizens of these two nations, and so many others, know all about us (or think they do).
I lived in Germany during the latter part of the 1970's through the 80's and into the Nineties, actually I was in the US Air Force (sort of like being in the Scouts compared to other services, I've been told by those who served in those other services). West Germans got nervous (and angry) when Ronald Reagan was elected President. I can only imagine how East Germans felt.
It probably didn't mean much to folks in Frankfort, Kentucky when the US deployed SS-20 missiles across Western Europe, but take my word for it, it was noticed in Frankfurt am Main, or "Mainhatten" as its residents like to think of themselves, or "Bankfurt", which is what almost all other German tend to call it. There was a lot distress, unrest, and unhappiness at the perceived bellicose behavior of our President whose attitudes and actions may have helped precipitate the collapse of the Soviet Union. Not that there will ever be a stampede to say 'thanks' for that or for the almost incalculable amounts of talent and treasure we, as a nation, expended not just on Europe but across the globe.
It may well have been enlightened self-interest that prompted us to seek to raise the tides, but the American sea lifted the boats of many nations, who derived the benefits without ever paying their own tabs (and don't believe for a moment EuroDisney isn't a tourist destination or that Indonesian teens don't hang on for every episode of The Hills. It really does come down to WWLD? Although from what I've seen, it might better be asked as Who will .....? ).
So, I'm thrilled everyone around the world is happy with our choice for President, I voted for him and can share your bliss--but hand on my heart, unless you're moving here and becoming citizens, it doesn't mean that much to me to mean that much to you. And everyone's approval doesn't validate our decision, though if we've made a small purchase at your gift shops, there's always a chance our parking will be.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Actually, you may want to come early, for an informational session at 6:30, I can only hope is inspired by Karla DeVito. Actually kidding aside (that's what that reference to Karla was all about, btw), it's a presentation by the Sierra Club, Cool Cities, on steps to combat global warming that also saves municipalities money. Talk about thinking globally and acting locally. If you care about the planet, or your city's bottom line, consider coming along.
I gave you the link for the Council meeting agenda but there are two items under "new business" I'll mention because my agenda, like that of the City Council is open and not hidden like some folks in public life we can both think of.....starting with item #2.
The City Council eliminated the APED committee some months back while leaving the Economic Development Commission (don't look for it on the city's website, it's not there). Next year, is an election year in Norwich with everyone on the City Council, to include the Mayor, up for reelection. I mention that because the news article notes, attributed to the City Manager, that the Mayor's office is 'in charge of economic development now' and goes on to describe a 'series of public meetings Mayor Benjamin Lathrop has held with community and business leaders.'
Actually, it's been THREE meetings, which is more than a pair, but fewer than what most of us think of as a 'series'. Having attended all three, two (more or less) on State Property that the City may or may not ever own and the other one on private property whose owners didn't even attend the meeting, I am at a loss to understand what this 'series' of meetings accomplished.
Sorry for the repetition: hope is NOT a plan. (I also wonder why the first two 'Development Forum' meeting notes aren't published (I have them if anyone needs them, though I won't be surprised when they're not asked for) which brings me to my larger concern, again, that there are NO notes taken or made from any City Council informational session, like the one that will held tonight--just like all of its predecessors. More repetition: insanity is doing things the way you always have and hoping THIS TIME the result will be different. For those following along at home: Substituting a rose for the period portion of the exclamation point in Norwich Now! is simply not enough and I'm hard-pressed to see any forward motion despite repeated insistence that 'Norwich is moving forward.'
But the Council can move us ahead as a city, and an employer of choice, with New Business item #3 refining and redefining hiring practices and policies. Despite the heated emotions, on all sides of this topic, it's good public policy to consider the revision being proposed, monitor it should it be approved for implementation and impact, and then report back to us, the residents of the city, at a specific point in time on its effects. Do I expect that to actually happen? See my remark(s) above, about both hope and insanity.
On Tuesday morning at 8:30 in NFA's Latham Center there's a special meeting of the Youth and Family Services Committee. I'm not sure who is on this committee as it's nowhere to be found on the city's website. Also Tuesday, the Public Parking Commission, meets at 6 p.m. in the Buckingham Memorial building near the Otis Library at 307 Main St..
And there are dueling meetings, of sorts, Tuesday night with the Commission on the City Plan, at 7 at 23 Union Street with the City Council holding a Zoning and Land Use Seminar, next door in City Hall, Room 335, at the same time. In light of the somewhat warm discussions we've had in recent weeks and months on variations on this topic, it may be very educational for all of us to gain a better perspective. You don't have to be an active adult or a high speed ferry commuter (or a harbor business owner, I guess) to have a dog in this hunt (as long as it's not in the pound).
On Wednesday morning at 9:30 in the Business, nee Industrial Park, 30 Stott Avenue, is a meeting of the Connecticut Municipal Electrical Energy Cooperative, CMEEC. I have no idea who this is or what they do and I can't help but imagine they like it like that. On Wednesday afternoon at 5, Inland Wetlands, Watercourses and Conservation Commission, meets at 23 Union Street while the Golf Course Authority meets at 7 p.m. in the Golf Course Meeting Room (I think they should call it the Mark Twain Meeting Room, but it'll never happen) at the Municipal Golf Course on New London Turnpike. The minutes of the special meeting are here, though the schedule of fees, mentioned as 'attached' in the minutes, aren't. Replace your divot.
On Thursday at 5 in the afternoon there's a meeting of the Historic District Commission that may, as the city's website suggests, be at the VFW post, or, as one of the newspapers notes, is in Room 319 of City Hall or, based on their previous minutes, may be in Room 210 of City Hall. (I love the idea of Where in the World is Carmen San Diego as a meeting planner. Pity the Utopia Edition of the game didn't work out. Maybe that can be a part of our series of Norwich Development Forums? We've already established you need not be present to win.) And Thursday night at 6 the Ice Arena Authority meets in the Ice Rink Meeting Room over at The Rink on New London Turnpike. I'd imagine enlightened self-interest assures they will be attending the Council's Monday informational session on Cool Cities
You drive past the William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich all the time. This is a note about more of a community than municipal meeting on Sunday from noon until three PM. I'm hoping to have my left knee replaced come the late winter, and I have another chance to sneak a peek at the technique (an off-rhyme I know) and maybe I'll see you there.
In closing, I'll mention it here and I'll mention it again next week...next Monday, the 24th, at 6 PM the Council holds an informational session on the next budget. A lot of us succumb to the temptation to wait until the budget hearings every Spring and then rail at the Aldermen for 'look what you did to my property taxes!' These are serious times, my friend, and the Council and everyone in City government understands you cannot control the future but you can plan for it.
If you're intending to criticize the budget landing next Spring, make it a point to be part of the take-off next Monday evening. Now return your tray to the upright position and make sure your seat belt is fastened.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
I can (sort of) understand reports of people robbing the sacristy or the altar or removing candlesticks and other items of perceived value--but consecrated hosts? And during Mass? Thankfully, if the Associated Press is to believed, law enforcement apprehended the culprit, John Ricci, which saves us all the prospect of an APB on the Anti-Christ. (Police sketch artist: 'So, you said he had horns, right?' Eyewitness: 'Yeah, and a beard. And make his hooves more cloven while you're at it.')
I'm struggling to get my head around how, exactly, John Ricci (allegedly) pulled this caper off--perhaps the old "Bless me Father--say, isn't that Mary, Mother of God, standing over there next to Brian?" Reading that the suspect is currrently undergoing a psychiatric evaluation is sort of a 'doh! ya think?' moment for me, to be honest. I can tell you this, if you're a believer, make a note now, come End of Days, you don't want to be anywhere near JR when he stands before JC (I'm a little surprised. I had figured Him for more of a dot org than a dot com kind of Deity, and do NOT scroll down on the link to see 'how it all ends'. That's why we're here, okay?)
Meanwhile and elsewhere, leading me to conclude (I would hope) unfairly that more than the game's afoot in Florida is this item datelined from Pompano Beach. In light of the fact that Troy saw the Lord's likeness on a piece of French Toast, I wonder if that will that make IHOP the next Lourdes?
PS: Whoa! Almost forgot the joke. Here goes:
Johnny Rocker suddenly dies. Yes, it's sad, but he's been a good person and a great rock and roll fan and so he goes to heaven. There, he meets St Peter who tells him 'your timing is perfect! C'mon in-the concert is about to start.'
And with that, Peter leads Johnny backstage at the Heavenly Amphiteatre where he sees Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison jamming with Jimi Hendrix. Before Johnny can say a word, Peter leads him down a hallway and slowly opens a dressing room door, just a crack, and there, adjusting his sunglasses and checking his hair in the mirror's reflection one more time, is Bono.
Johnny is saddened-and turns to Peter. 'I can't believe it!' Johnnny says, 'when did Bono die?!?'
'Not to worry,' says Peter, 'that's not Bono. That's God. He just thinks he's Bono.'