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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Warm Thoughts and even Warmer Hearts

New Englanders are, as an outsider who has lived on the fringes of their kindness for seventeen years, a bit on the rough and tumble side even in the best of times. I have, in turns, been often chastened, frequently disquieted and on rare occasion, bewildered, at how flinty they can be. How one folk, so to speak, can embody the ruggedness of their habitat as unerringly as New England Yankees do (how delicious is the irony that the baseball Yankees are actually located in the Middle Atlantic States, I once observed to a life-long denizen of Norwich and a die hard Red Sox. "I wasn't thinking 'delicious'", was her rejoinder with a derisive snort.).

One of the two daily newspapers in New London County, The Day, has, like the rest of us gotten caught up in the financial turbulence that makes up our daily lives and has resorted to a not-unique attempt at a solution (though in the news business perhaps so, and (more ominously) possibly becoming more prevalent) of sending its entire work force on a one week furlough without pay to reduce the operating costs (I keep fantasizing about what happens if EVERYONE takes the same week?).

The story, as posted to The Day's website is here, but the outpouring of emotion by purported readers who possess a keyboard but also the poorest of literacy, logic, grammar and spelling skills at the bottom of the story just warms the cockles of my heart (and doncha just love warm cockles on a cold January Weekend in New England? Sorry, I couldn't resist). If you're looking for sympathy in those online comments, you'd be better off checking between the words "hits" (but put the 's' on the front of 'hit') and "syphilis" in the dictionary because you won't find it anywhere else.

I have worn out the spell checker on every computer I've ever worked, which is funny because when I was a kid, I fancied myself to be a good speller. It looks like a lot of us never grew up, and few have any interest (or feel any need) in using the spell check that comes bundled with the comment bloc. I am absolutely amazed at the presence of schadenfreude in so many of the on-line comments, and the absence of correct spelling and grammar. I'll leave unremarked upon the absence of thought so many comments reflect in their totality of hurtful heartlessness.

The variations on a single theme, "I Just Want You to Hurt Like I Do" are as numerous as they are relentlessly joyless. And I have to concede the lack of logic in so many of the constructs as posted nearly takes my breath away. Which based on the majority of the views expressed, would please most people immensely as I like the newspaper, know a small number of those who work there and find them to be decent, hard-working folks for the large part with spouses and families.

And these (I nearly typed 'perfect') strangers (HA!) sincerely and truly hate the reporters and photographers, the advertising layout people, the second shift inserters, the bundlers, the driver, the editors, every one whom I've forgotten and overlooked (don't worry, this crowd won't), every aspect of their employer and the product of all those efforts. The arrogance of ignorance and the ignorance of arrogance has really, I fear, become a national character trait (and flaw) of these United States, starting here in our oldest and first-settled area. We have gone from E Pluribus Unum to NOT ME SUCKA!. Sic transit gloria, Koo-koo-Kachoo.
-bill kenny

Friday, January 30, 2009

Welcome to Connecticut! Help Yourself

Reading a sampling of the state's newspapers in the last couple of days, it looks like Hartford's Mayor, Eddie Perez, has followed in the Connecticut big-city tradition of Ganim, Santopietro and Giordano, each in his own special way, and allowed himself to get caught being venal and greedy.

Maybe we here in The Land of Steady Habits are just numbed or there's just too much else going on right now in our lives and across our nation, but (to me) it seems so far the public reaction has been more along the lines of 'of course. Tell me something I didn't know.'

I don't think it's just me, but when we speak of politicians in the abstract we use a tone of voice usually reserved for describing how we removed something unpleasant from the sole of our shoe with a stick. The word doesn't seem to sound right unless said with a sneer. The other side of that coin is that each of us knows someone, somewhere, engaged in our town in public office (and thus, by definition, a politician) of whom we are inordinately fond and/or of whom we speak in the highest of tones because he/she is making a positive difference for all of us.

I'm NOT suggesting the Rebecca of Sunny Brook Farm News Agency bring us only stories about public officials behaving well in office (what would they print on the other side of the 3 by 5 card?) and doing right things right. Those who treat the public trust like a private trough, and it's not restricted to just Connecticut (yes, Rhode Island I am looking in your direction as I type this) or New England or even just the USA, fail themselves and all of us with their actions and their (absence of) ethics.

There's a passage in the Old Testament where, after Cain slew Abel, The Lord asked of him where Abel was and Cain responded 'Am I my brother's keeper?' Today, working a second job because of layoffs in the sheep herding industry, Cain might ask 'do you want fries with that? ' But his original question and its implication still resonates.

The great thing about being a pessimist, 56 years (plus) here at the ant farm, is that I can only be surprised and NEVER disappointed. Hartford's Mayor Perez, like all the GBs (grotesque backgammoners? No, try greedy ba$tard$) just reaffirmed my own (too little) faith in my fellow travelers here on the big blue marble. Demonstrating again, the Lord gave us two hands so we could help ourselves and two pockets to put it all in. And when I ask 'can I get an Amen?' the congregation is out in the cloakroom picking one another's pockets--just to stay in practice.
-bill kenny

Thursday, January 29, 2009

We Didn't Count Tomorrows

I probably wasn't alone Tuesday in getting to a record shop (they aren't called that anymore (of course), but that's what I call them anyway) or in this case, asking my wife and daughter while out on a T & L sojourn for school and beyond, to pick up the just-released Bruce Springsteen album (sorry, compact disc) Working On a Dream (and the audio files should hold you until you get your own copy. I'll wait here-go now). Like many across the country and (perhaps) around the world of a certain age, I've done almost nothing else but listen to it since I slipped off the shrink wrap.

I'm a fossil (and yes, I know you're thinking of a different word; hold that thought), so the DVD that comes with the CD is more or less a drink coaster for me. I think (the last time I checked), we had/have four DVD players in the house (though only three televisions, perhaps) and I know how to work none of them. Eventually one of my children will ask me if I want to watch the DVD and that's how I'll find out what that's like.

Right now, all I have is the music, which, from the time I first started to listen to him, is all I have ever needed. Sorry for the repetition of this story. I used to catch him and his band, under a variety of names, 'Child', 'Steel Mill', 'Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom', 'Bruce Springsteen' (the marketing guys were left cold at that one) starting in the winter of 1971 when he'd perform at The Ledge, the commuter lounge on the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers University (I searched in vain for a reference to it online; like so much else of my life in Jersey, it's just gone).

By the time Greetings from Asbury Park, N. J., came out in 1973, I'd seen him about seventy-five times at a total cost of perhaps eleven dollars. It's amazing he and the band survived on the starvation wages they earned from back then (The name changes were to get us into the place on Friday nights, thinking we were going to see someone new). Of course, it wasn't the money they were playing for, in much the same way as it's not the rock and roll I still listen to him for (and yeah, that's a split infinitive, for those keeping track at home).

Yeah, I could tell you he is the poet laureate of New Jersey, but it's been my experience you don't need to be from the swamps of Jersey to realize that and for decades, despite the differences of life experiences between and among us, he has more often than not been my voice and yours for hopes (dashed and otherwise), dreams (fulfilled and less so), hurts (real and imagined), trials, travails and triumphs, with words you didn't realize until you heard his that were what you wanted, and needed, to say.

I come from a large family, and not especially close-knit (from my perspective; some of my younger siblings might offer a different insight) spanning literally decades, and two different generational cohorts and yet, Kara, Jill and Adam have, each in her/his own way, made his music a part of the soundtracks of their lives as much, if not more, than I.

If I were to tell you as a fan, that the album for me, ties up loose ends from Magic and earlier work, I'm not sure you would either agree or even follow, so I shan't. Especially when there are songs like Queen of the Supermarket which echoes ideas I read in a wonderful John Updike short story a lifetime ago, A & P, and I smiled wistfully as I typed that just now as Mr. Updike, Rabbit Run, has, himself, run for the last time though his passing is coincidental to the release of this record. (Has there ever been a more exuberant turn of phrase in American literature than "...just having come from between the two smoothest scoops of vanilla I had ever known were there..."? Rosalita, it gives you a run for your money, honey. And let's not forget, 'At six months old, he'd done three months in jail.")

Springsteen speaks to me and for me, "With you I don't hear the minutes ticking by, I don't feel the hours as they fly. I don't see the summer as it wanes, Just a subtle change of light upon your face." I'm blessed to have someone to whom I, too, could sing those lines (and she is eternally grateful that I don't try). He has one more wife and one more child than I have, but that's okay-it turns out, after all, it is the journey and not the destination. We've all lost people along the way, and you can hear his grief about the passing of his band mate and friend, Dan Federici, most especially when Dan's son, Jason, in an evocation and echo of Wild Billy's Circus Story, plays accordion on The Last Carnival.

Together we've grown older, though the jury's still out on the wiser part.
You really need to get this record. "Did you say something, Sammy?"
-bill kenny

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Roadhouse (Red, White and) Blues

When the Governor of Arkansas, William Jefferson Clinton, gained his party's endorsement as their Presidential candidate in 1992 and sought to unseat the incumbent, President George H. Bush, the task was daunting. President Bush and a grand coalition had just reduced Saddam Hussein's Iraq war machine to mush and it seemed every other newborn Kuwaiti baby (and not just the males) was being named George. The Cold War had ended, the Persian Gulf War concluded with a triumphant parade down the Canyon of Heroes in Manhattan (still picking the confetti out of my hair on that one, and I have a lot less hair now than then). For a moment, the world was once again our oyster.

But as a quick check of history will show, the hot button for that election proved to be a remarkably simple slogan and accidental call to arms "it's the economy, stupid." And while it's been some time since James Carville discovered fire and invented the wheel, metaphorically speaking of course, the more things change the more they remain the same.

In Connecticut, the ladies and gentlemen of our upper and lower legislative houses have been in session for about three weeks and are still dancing around the uninvited guest, the state budget deficit and its ever enlarging whirlpool effect that's pulling in, and down, all manner of state and municipal programs as it grows larger on a daily basis.

It's hard for the 168 cities and towns across the Land of Steady Habits to even begin the process of developing next (fiscal year's) budgets when so much of the forecasted state and federal revenues needed to drive all manner of programs could evaporate tomorrow like the snow that won't. The mandates will remain however and those costs will be transferred to those of us who do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community.

In recent months, more and more local leaders have spoken about regionalization (to better control costs) but old bugaboos like autonomy and who is really in charge keep rearing their ugly heads and so far all the talk has been that, just talk. More interesting to me (at least) has been watching municipal leaders sort out 'economic development' to both better define it, and then to refine it.

Our local daily newspapers here in New London County took turns in the last seventy-two hours explaining the role of the largest military installation in the New England, Naval Submarine Base New London (which is really in Groton) as an economic stimulus package for the region which causes me to furrow my brow a bit. All ducks are birds, I agree, but not all birds are ducks. It's a bit discomfiting to watch people describe something about which they know very little (objectives, goals and means of national defense), in terms like 'dollars and sense' because the writers think they know something about those concepts.

Which brings me back to my ducks and, with apologies to Holden C, where do they go in the winter (and where do they all come from)? In Norwich, it seems to me (as a non-economist and as someone who did NOT stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night) we have a surfeit of under-utilized commercial buildings, many in downtown but also throughout the city. I suggested to someone last week we needed more ball fields and fewer brown fields and I wasn't joking, though the idea around here seems funny, based on how much sprawl we've created.

One of the downtown structures, the Reid and Hughes building, may finally be awakened from its Sleeping Beauty slumber, as reported yesterday morning in one of the papers but, in re-reading the story, there were sentences that lead me to conclude we're not really wearing our "stupid" message decoder rings (and there's a story in the other paper, too. I almost forgot. Stupid confetti.). The prospective developer, who is risking her cash and well-deserved reputation, reportedly explained to those on the Norwich Redevelopment Agency that she "talked to retail franchise companies and they are not interested in downtown because of the lack of pedestrian traffic. She proposed the apartments, which she said would help bring more residents to downtown. She said no one wants to be the first chain store to come to an area."

A bit later in the story is: "(Thomas) Marien (chairperson of the RDA) said city officials may want to "weigh into" Lam's ideas for redoing the front façade, which now has a modern granite facing....He said an architectural rendering of the façade could be one condition placed in the development agreement." I've only heard the expression as 'weigh in' or as 'wade into' so I applaud the innovative language and the concern (ask residents and businesses in Princeton, New Jersey about appearances and facades) but it's all a piece of my larger disquiet on how we don't know what we don't know so often.

When many of us speak of smart growth in terms of an economic development strategy, what ends up happening in many local instances is developer-driven and piece meal at best. We manage change (across our society) the way horses run--looking no more than one footfall ahead of where we are, which explains why so often, like the cowboys in those old movies, we end up saddle and all, over the cliff.

Not unlike where you live, probably, we have a city with lots of people owning a part of this amorphous concept known as 'economic development'. Sometimes, lots of people are pulling on their respective oars, but in opposite directions so while there's movement, we're not moving forward but going in circles. Other times we argue about whose oar is in the water and who should build the boathouse (which always becomes the central argument: who pays?). We could, I suppose (and believe we should) here in Norwich go back to the basics and look at the operator's manual, the City Charter, a line at a time, and bring it into the 21st Century (maybe kicking and screaming) and then realign a lot of who we are and what we do based on that new road map.

Since the current charter is all we have as we begin a year that will see us elect six alderpersons to our City Council (each is a two year term) as well as a Mayor (to a four-year term) within a City Manager-Council form of government (the Mayor, says our charter, in a less than stellar moment of clarity, 'is responsible for promoting economic development' which means many things to many people, especially when we never define the terms of the debate), we'll have to dance with the ones that brung us.

I was beyond happy when one of the current Council members, Robert Zarnetske, declared his desire to be the next Mayor and offered an economic development plan (if all you get out of the 56 pages is that he likes blue pens, perhaps a career in office supplies is in your future).

I don't pretend to get it all--I'm not even sure I understand as much as I think I do (that old 'don't know what I don't know' bromide back to bite me on the butt; and where the heck is that duck walking to anyway?) but it's a place to start thinking which is much harder to do than to stop thinking, which seems to happen on a routine basis around here. It's full of ideas and not so much ideology and seems to key in more on how to do well than to mean well.

The year is young, and there are a lot of people active in Norwich who will, I hope, consider upping their game and seeking office and enlarging the discussion--but, you ever watch those poker games on TV and there's a minimum bid? Same deal for me. If you're considering a seat on the next Norwich City Council (I was tempted to type that as the Norwich Next City Council, and I guess I just yielded to that temptation) or Mayor, I'm willing to pony up a share of the gas and tolls for the drive, but I have to know if the road map you're offering (and you will need to have one) is taking us to your grandma's house or my grandma's house. Figuring that one out after we pull up to the house and the elderly, white-haired woman at the door starts screaming about burglars, is much too late (especially if she then reaches for a shotgun). And keep your eyes on the road; your hands upon the wheel.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic

With each passing day, the estimate of the size of the State of Connecticut deficit for this year, and some already spooky projections for the next fiscal year, have been growing. Those who usually spend more time scrutinizing the menu where you place the drive-through order by shouting into the clown's head are starting to pay a lot more attention to the folks they elected back in November (now known as 'the last of the good old days') and what those people are up to as they work with the Governor and one another to lower our dependence on the nanny-state while flattening, we hope, some of the high cost of government.

By visiting here, and doing some digging, I've discovered one of the earliest legislative forays by one of those newcomers we selected in November, Representative Chris Coutu, whose campaign was All About the Benjamins and concerns about the lack thereof in state coffers, has joined with a plethora (my homage to a meeting in Norwich I went to last week) of legislators in both chambers to (wait for it) revive the tradition of free Labor Day weekend coffee stops on Interstate 95 in Waterford, as operated by the local Boy Scouts Troop.

Two years ago (?) the Connecticut Department of Transportation, citing a plethora (once you get started it's hard to stop!) of safety concerns came up with new rules to standardize how service organizations (like my daughter's high school (NFA) marching band which ran one of these coffee stops up on 95 beyond Stonington for all the years she was in it) can use the rest stops and weigh stations during fundraisers. The coffee, crullers, soda and what-have-you never cost anything, though donations were appreciated and guilt is a powerful persuader. The CONNDOT rules prohibited organizations from operating 24-hours non-stop at the facilities, meaning they had to break down and close at a stipulated time (you know, during the middle of the night when no one is using I-95) and then reopen and re-erect the tent, et al, the following morning when all the car and truck drivers get back on the highway.

As you might imagine, you can't swing a cat and NOT hit an Eastern Connecticut legislator who doesn't think this is the greatest idea in Hartford since they made June National Inland Wetlands and Web-Footed Watercraft Month last year. The co-sponsors and prospective co-sponsors include State Senators Eileen Daily, Andrew Maynard, Edith Prague and Andrea Stillman and joining Representative Coutu, colleagues such as Representatives Ed Jutila, Steven Mikutel, Thomas Moukawsher, Melissa Olson, Elizabeth Ritter, Kevin Ryan, Diana Urban and Elissa Wright.

Because the State's website is good, not as good as Norwich's mind you but still slick, you can sign up to follow the progress of this (or any) bill. The miracle of democracy in your electronic in-basket--the stuff the Founding Fathers (and some of the Mothers) fought for, all those years ago. That whatever needed to be fixed about this issue (I am being charitable calling it that) could be done by the Governor talking to the Commissioner of the Department of Transportation, maybe something like "Hey Joe (Where You Goin' with that Cup in Your Hand)?" is lost in the noise. I'd call all of this churn masquerading as legislative intervention a tempest in a teapot but both tempest and teapot have retained legal counsel.

Besides, it's possible the good men and women we send to Hartford have realized there's NOTHING they can do about the state budget woes and are hoping maybe with a few more three day weekends and a lot more donation-operated rest stops, we can turn this budget frown upside down. Meanwhile, if they can just get the chairs bolted to the quarter deck, they won't keep falling into the dark and rolling sea.
-bill kenny

Monday, January 26, 2009

Meat of this week's meetings

It's the final week of the first month of 2009, and when you check the City of Norwich website for municipal and cultural goings-on (thanks for adding that dimension Josh P, it's a nice touch), you'll see some regularly scheduled meetings have been cancelled. I'm a specialist in NOT checking the calendar as closely as I should and either showing up for not-happening meetings, or showing up extra early for meetings. I thought one meeting I attended last Thursday was starting at five even though I had an agenda that said five thirty. Take me down to my boat on the river, indeed.

There's a Board of Education (Special) meeting this afternoon at 4:30 in the central office on Town Street across from the Norwichtown Green, but it's a private matter and not a pleasant one, as you'll read here. The Redevelopment Agency meets at 5 PM in Room 210 of City Hall. Based on their minutes from December, I'd expect they'll continue to sort out the Reid & Hughes project as well as Shipping Street.

On Tuesday, the Board of Education Policy Committee meets at 3:30 in their offices at 90 Town Street and I must confess to a certain and growing sense of annoyance with how the Board fails to use any of its taxpayer provided technology to even remotely address state-mandated requirements to inform the public about its meetings. Here is the Board's website; don't be disconcerted the membership roster is from 2005-2006 (between us, the members haven't changed though I'm sure they've improved or tried to) but do feel free to be perturbed that the posting of minutes of regular Board of Education meetings seems to be fitful, at best, and good luck finding any information on the committees or their activities.

Later Tuesday, at four at 23 Union Street (next door to City Hall), the Building Code of Appeals meets, and based on the minutes of their special meeting of 13 January, I'll be looking at the Majestic Rose with new eyes.

There are two meetings at five, both in City Hall. The Harbor Management Commission meets in Room 219 picking up, I'll assume, from where they left off in November (I was unpleasantly surprised in their minutes to read a note that some of the boats (not Tall Ships) that had committed for (I assume Harbor Days as part of) the Semiseptcentennial have withdrawn.). And also at five, in City Council Chambers, the NAACP (happy 100th anniversary!) is hosting a Crime Forum. Also Tuesday, at seven in Room 335 also in City Hall, the Board of Public Utilities Commissioners/Sewer Authority will hold a public hearing on the Newton Street Area sewer project.

There are two meetings Wednesday, one at five by the Board of Review of Dangerous Buildings (whose December meeting minutes, by the way, aren't; and were also shot in Panavision it seems to me) with the Golf Course Authority meeting at seven to follow in their conference room at the NGC over on New London Turnpike. I'd assume on the agenda will be the members' requesting reappointment by the City Council.

It's not a city meeting, by any means, but it happens Thursday at 6:30 PM over at Olympic Pizza and it's an opportunity to meet Alderman Bill Nash as he starts what promises to be a series of meetings across Norwich to gather input and ideas (rumor has it that he's bringing a large cardboard box to put all of those insights into, but it looks like the same box he was going to use to put all the fun in when he was elected to the City Council). It's a nice idea, and Olympic has great pizza so I hope to see you there, though I can understand the Alderman hoping more you, than me, will show up.
-bill kenny

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Be-Bop Emporium

What would you change in your life if you could? I'll give you a second to chew on that. Pretty straight-forward question, all things considered, and tick-tock my friend, that's our lives rushing by, so what did you pick?

Okay-you have me. That's (obviously) a trick question. We cannot change anything in our lives to this moment in time. No matter how hard I try, I cannot undo the cross word I said yesterday to a colleague nor can you take back your 'Gee, You're Number One in my book!' hand gesture that you offered that obliviot driving the DeVille as if the deed to the road were in his glove box (bad news, sunshine, the GM folks hate to talk about it, but it is).

The trouble is so often tomorrow is shaped and defined by today and yesterday (and we can only control one of those two--as for tomorrow, see yesterday in terms of management). I can regret what I said yesterday but I can only resolve it by working harder today to NOT do it again (I'm not at work so I'm feeling pretty good about my chances). I'm not sure what to tell you about the DeVille Dunderhead, except grow old gracefully, buy one yourself and cut off some other driver. (I'm starting to see why no one wants to hire me as an advice columnist).

Far too often, though we talk about freedom of choice, we yearn for freedom from choice. We like NOT having the unlimited horizon of possible paths and prefer much of the time to trudge, head down and morose mealy-mouthed wordlessly whispering about how we can't do otherwise, when we always can change today (which is the only way we can alter tomorrow). I'll bet one of the top ten phrases of the day across the country is "there was nothing I could do."

That Hapless Hostage from Hades stuff is starting to get old, doncha think? Here in the Land of the Round Door Knobs, we just inaugurated a young man as our President who ran on the simplest of beliefs-we can and must change who we are and how we are. Even if you didn't, and don't, believe in yourself, enough of us last November believed in him that things did change. We did that. Meanwhile.....

All across the USA and around the world, for reasons very smart people have gone crazy trying to make me understand, we are in the throes of an economic bad patch. I don't know if it's a recession, depression, a market adjustment, a catastrophe--the words have all lost their meaning as I've watched more and more of us surrender any sense of control, and with it, responsibility for what becomes of us.

It's been a tough couple of years, at least in the USA. Remember what we all argued about from the White House to the State House to the chambers of City Hall on September 8, 2001? Neither do I. Life has seemed more often than not like a fever dream since then, at as many levels as can be comprehended.

If this were a movie, we'd have long since demanded our ticket money back and headed for the exits. But it's not, and we didn't. So today, the last Sunday of January in this year, 2009 (before Common Era), what are you going to change in your life so that tomorrow, the last Monday of this month, is different and better (don't confuse the two terms, they are not interchangeable and that's by design)? Sort of look like the question I started with today, doesn't it? Yeah, except it's better.
-bill kenny

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Similar to how sausage is made

An advantage to life in a small town is the proximity to the mechanism and levers of local government. In a city the size of Norwich, Connecticut, about 36,000, I know a goodly number of the people on the primary bodies of governance and policy, like the City Council and the Board of Education as well as many who are part of of the forty-two Advisories, Boards, Commissions and Committees in Norwich (that includes the now-defunct Ethics Review Committee, who turned in their recommendations in mid-March, and have waited for the City Council to outline specific concerns its members have since then. Godot will be here before those concerns are shared. Take your time, Aldermen, November elections will be here soon enough. I, truth be told, never actually put the broom back in the cupboard, so there's no extra effort).

In our state legislative chambers, you read of a decision that, as you examine the issue, makes close to no sense. Suddenly, our neighbors-- the ones we elected to speak and act for us in "Big Town"-- become 'them' and 'those guys' and often something even less kind as a descriptive. That's why I try to attend at least one 'not so splashy a deal' meeting every week in Norwich, so I can appreciate the process and all the people who use it to create progress even as our city's leaders talk about 'The Big Picture.'

Excellent example this week was the Thursday Sachem Fund Board meeting. The Sachem Fund is a partnership between the City of Norwich and the Mohegan Tribe to create a funding resource for targeted initiatives across a spectrum of community, artistic and economic areas in Norwich. I'm pretty sure nobody else has a fund like this. It's a unique and pretty nifty arrangement for getting big things done in small ways.

Thursday's meeting was 'special' (= not regularly scheduled) because the Semiseptcentennial Committee had requested money for their ongoing efforts to celebrate the Rose City's 350th Anniversary (which is now 135 days from beginning, by the way). You can check out one of the local paper's accounts here, as well as the other one (but this one becomes a pay for play item in a couple of days) and it was illuminating and instructive to watch people who meant well try to do well, as they see it and within the parameters of their own rules and requirements.

Money makes the world go round (and that's money with an 'm') and it's what's needed (in large amounts) if Norwich Harbor is to be filled with Tall Ships this summer so that the Rose City can be filled with visitors. Getting the process to generate an appropriate product can be problematic. And while we struggle with the size and scope of a challenge, despite efforts to the contrary, often we succeed in only changing its shape. "While money doesn't talk, it swears."
-bill kenny

Friday, January 23, 2009

From toll-free to stone cold

You've known this for a long time and I appreciate the generosity you've shown in light of it: I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer. I'm not even close to being the sharpest spoon, for that matter. And if I were a fork, I'd be the one with the four tines pointing in as many different directions as the limits and physics of metallurgy allow.

The epiphany (admittedly a small one) came last night (actually late afternoon) on a cable station, watching a repeat of something from somewhere else when up pops (almost literally) a commercial from the Walt Disney Resorts folks about your next birthday and giving yourself a special present (with a balloon with mouse-shaped ears). Fun is serious business and the Disney Folks work it like no one any of us know.

Fretter that I am, I wonder how this Free Admission to Any Disney Resort on Your Birthday campaign will impact that time-honored Super Bowl exercise of hyperbole, at the end of The Game, when the winning team's most valued player is asked by The Announcer With The Big Boy Voice, "Wwelkj (insert guy's name here), now that you've won Super Bowl Whatever Number This One Is, what are you gonna do next?" And the wiener, and all of us across this great land and perhaps around the globe, shout in gleeful unison, "I'm going to Disney World!" The success of excess-it's what makes Team USA #1. Just ask us.

This birthday promotional campaign means I no longer have to learn an end zone dance, or how to spike a football, or point heavenward with a pigskin while moving my lips seemingly in prayer (what kind of a Divinity, with all the troubles we have on this orb, would worry about foul shots (yes, Jason K, I mean you; and btw, if they make self-aggrandizement and promotion an Olympic event, we'll see you at the Medals podium. Please.) or touchdowns and open-field tackles or hitting into a Series-ending double play? I just need to stay alive until the end of April. Kaa-ching!

Oh yeah, and I also need to travel to one of the Disney resorts to avail myself of the free admission (plus other stuff that's hard to read as denoted by the asterisk on the commercial for the shortest amount of time legally allowed). And, from what I can understand between flashes of Shiny, Happy People having the largest fun with their clothes on you can possibly have, I have to call for a reservation or something at One Four Oh Seven W DISNEY.

That was when I realized 'hey, that's not a toll-free number!' Nope-and when you're selling Happiness on a Stick at the rate that these guys are, why would you need one? We are all perfectly happy to pay long distance fees to listen to It's A Small World while on hold for however long it takes to get us booked as we're already hooked (yeah, that song is really annoying and you'll be hearing it in your head for the rest of today, at least). So great is our need, the Disney Denizens could reduce the staff to one operator, who spoke NO KNOWN EARTH LANGUAGE and we'd stay on the line, not only because "your call is important" but because the act itself is practically sacramental.

While at Rutgers, I took a three credit course within Mass Comm on The World According to Walt Disney (I know what you're thinking: 'You Rutgers men! Always on the cutting edge of intellectual curiosity and whimsical invention!' That's what you were thinking, right? No jokes like, 'what a Mickey Mouse course that must've been') where we discussed Walt's pioneering animation efforts to include reducing cartoon figures' hands to three digits and a thumb (get up tomorrow morning and check out the 'toons. The guy was a genius!) because those hands looked more real than reality itself. How Zen is that?

We also examined the implications of why Donald was naked from the waist down and down from the waist up--he ain't got no trousers, but why, especially when Mickey does? Okay, they're a two button model, but pants is pants (are?). How about how Goofy and Pluto were both dogs, but Goofy talked, had clothes and walked upright (GAWRSH!) and poor Pluto got screwed by his agent. I think we had a seminar on Minnie and Daisy and who all of those nephews belonged to ('uncle donald indeed!' I got eyes-you think I didn't see the resemblance? And both Daisy and Minnie not only had dresses, always, but underwear as well) and how all of that came to be. No wonder I don't know anything useful-there's no room left in my brain.

Disney resorts folks have NEVER had toll-free numbers. If we're willing (even eager) to buy the paint and the brush and the fence, Tom Sawyer, why the heck would you offer it to us for nothing? And what exactly is Pluto doing to Mickey's leg? Holy Mousekedoer and oh yeah, Happy Birthday! Bring a football when you go-we can have a pick-up game.
-bill kenny

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dashing through the Snow

Large parts of the Northeast got dumped on it a bit over the weekend in terms of snow. Okay, here in Norwich, Connecticut, it wasn't anything like Lake Effect Snow though many of us around here often do feel ourselves superior, come to think of it. Anyway. We had a couple of inches of the light and fluffy variety from Saturday evening into Sunday morning and then, after dark on Sunday night, a more serious and plentiful snowfall that didn't gladden my heart looking out on it Monday morning, deep and crisp and even.

Fifty-six years on, most of it riding shotgun in the clown car, have changed my feelings about a lot of things, to include snow and I suspect, looking around here Monday morning, I'm not alone. My days of finding a Flexible Flyer under the tree at Christmas (now it's more like for' under a hundred bucks plus shipping'; the times they are achangin') and running outside to test it are decades ago. Last year, we bought a gas powered self-propelled snow thrower that I wish could actually render me superfluous by finding the snow all by itself, starting itself up and making it all go away.

When you have neighbor, as I do, like Eric B, you automatically become a better person (and I need all the help I can get). He was getting organized to go to work Monday, so while he was out with his snow blower, he took a crack at all the sidewalks in the zip code, it seemed, and by the time I had finished checking my eyelids for holes at half past seven (a/k/a 'sleeping in'), most of the work was done for me.

With my snow blower, I dug out the parked cars on the even side of the street (when I tell you I live on the odd side of Lincoln Avenue, don't snicker; it's not that funny) because Norwich has a raft of snow removal ordinances (Article I, section 19-1), like three hours after snowfall ends having your sidewalks snow and ice-free or receive a ticket and a fine (cannot wait for that one to start being enforced. The house on Washington, between Chelsea Terrace and Williams NEVER seems to shovel and the snow from two weeks ago that turned to ice is now under the snowfall of recent days--not that they are the only ones).

Unlike Manhattan with alternate side of the street parking to better facilitate street cleaning and snow removal, Norwich just says park on the even side--though the plows very often aren't as thorough as anyone might hope in removing the snow from the odd side. All of which means there's snow everywhere. It's not really a lot of work for me to use the snow blower to make sure most of the cars of my neighbors have a fighting chance to get out (my daughter is home from school so her car is out in the street and not in my garage because I've decided that space in the garage is based on seniority on the planet). And since, I'm liberating my daughter's car, I go ahead and get everyone else's, taking care to NOT hit their cars (happiness would be coming out and finding a scratch, which is even crummier than being snow-covered).

As I walk behind the snow blower, Tom G comes out with his shovel and his dog, Madison. Madison arrived as a pup replacing Bailey, a Please Don't Eat the Daisies breed of dog, after Bailey went off to fetch the stick in that Great Meadow in the Sky. Madison was a pet for Amy and Billy, Tom and Gwen's children, but kids like petting the top front part, care very little about feeding the bottom front part and have no interest at all in the back end. Madison, whose golden coat is flecked with silver now, has become Tom's dog and when you see one, you see the other.

As Tom shovelled snow from the curb side of his cars, Madison went cavorting across the neighborhood. Madison loves snow and cannot understand how none of the bipeds who live on her street could have zero interest in playing with her in it. She smashes through snow drifts and piled up snow, sometimes knocking it back onto the sidewalk you just cleared--there's nothing mean, she's high-spirited and is absolutely thrilled to be out in the snow. There's not enough hours in the day for Madison to sniff all of the white stuff, dash from place to place barking excitedly and trying to get you to park the snow blower or drop the shovel and run along side. To her credit, she never takes it personally when, without, exception, we harsh her snow buzz and shovel grimly onward. After all, with these nifty thumbs comes awesome responsibilities. If All Dogs Go to Heaven, it's understandable why so many make snow angels here on earth.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Franklin Delano Obama or Barack Roosevelt

Welcome to Day One. Now that a lot of the shouting has died down and the two million plus who filled our nation's capital yesterday have started their sojourn home, where are we and how do we get to where we hope to go?

I don't pretend to have the answers to those questions. But I can imagine that the shoulders of the person upon whom we placed the burden of answering those (and thousands as yet unformulated and unasked) questions, together with a lot of our hopes and dreams, must (by necessity) bow his back and give him cause for pause.

Not that you would have guessed any of that yesterday, watching the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, administer the oath of office to Barack Obama, clear-eyed, ram-rod straight and ready to begin. His first address to all of us as the President, not as a candidate for the office, not as a hyphenated"- elect" but simply as President of the United States of America (and thus, the most powerful person on earth in the history of the planet) had to do so much for so many, it didn't seem possible mere words could achieve everything expected.

President Obama and we have all arrived at a precarious point in our nation's existence. I'd like to think, from what I heard yesterday, he is embracing the challenge (as if there were another choice) and we would do well to do the same. If we've learned nothing in recent memory but that business as usual in practically every aspect of our lives will no longer be good enough, that lesson may still be sinking in for some. A lot of folks are nursing hangovers today--hope (and other four-letter words) will do that to you, I guess. "In the morning, I shall be sober."

There are those on the air and on the web who want to wait and see (abwarten und tee trinken as Germans say) which might seem like a good idea, except when this President succeeds, we all do and should he fail, the consequences for each of us are incalculable. If we're tying fate between our teeth, it pays to smile to start the day. We need to put partisanship aside, ideally forever, but practically speaking, at least for now. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.
Far too often, and far more often than any of us will want, the days ahead may be filled with tears and toil. We have much to do, let us all begin. Again.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Short and full of it

I'm talking about municipal meetings this week in Norwich--what did you think I meant? Oh.
This is an historic day, and you can't swing a cat and NOT be able to watch some, part or all of it on line, on the tube and possibly in your dreams. How often do we all get to make history? Enjoy it.

Despite its length, this is a busy (and I hope productive) week in the Rose City. Here's what I'd suggest you want to check into on the calendar (and thanks to Josh P, the website wizard for using his powers only for good):

Tuesday, I'd consider bringing a sack lunch (for dinner) to City Hall as there are TWO informational meetings, one at 6 PM a presentation by City Staff and Property Owner's Association on rental housing and codes followed by another at 6:30 a Semiseptcentennial Committee update (these folks have a busy week before them; more in a moment), with a City Council meeting at 7 PM. January is National Mentoring Month so if you were mentoring before the proclamation announcing it to start tonight's meeting, thank you very much. For the rest of us, there are ten days left in the month, so get with the program double-time. Speaking of days and dollars, tonight is also the annual Mayor's State of the City Address, which, I recall was always the FIRST meeting of the year, as outlined in the city charter. After the Council meeting is a reception across the hall in Room 335 sponsored by the Greater Norwich Area Chamber of Commerce and Children First because they didn't hold a reception after the FIRST City Council meeting of the year (I guess. I don't know why they're holding it now).

Also Tuesday night at 7, the Commission on the City Plan, meets at 23 Union Street and their agenda looks to be full and filled with important issues and items, from sober houses through zoning matters. And also at seven, at Artworks (which is 49 Church Street), the Downtown Neighborhood Revitalization Zone (yeah, I don't know who's in it either) meets in what, according to their page on the city's website, looks like for the first time since October of last year.

On Wednesday morning it's another of those on the quarter hour rise and shine meetings I so enjoy, the Rehabilitation Review Committee, starting at a quarter to nine at 23 Union Street. I didn't find any meeting minutes or an agenda, but it looks like, aside from one member, all the other members need to get reappointed. Children First Norwich/School Readiness Council, meets at 9 a.m., at the Dime Bank's Community Room (over on Route 82). Just me or does that website need a bit of work? When your 'events page' speaks in the future pluperfect tense about something that happened over two years ago, maybe someone should think 'update'. Receptions, even late, are all well and good but currency of information is paramount (or MGM, if you prefer).

Also Wednesday at their central office, at 90 Town Street, across from the Norwichtown Green, is a Budget Expenditure Committee meeting of the Board of Education (and since we've having a fire sale on currency, how about some for the BoE website as well). All of us know how much of our town and city budgets support public education and how thankless a task being part of any board or advisory can be, but those who volunteer for the Board of Education, and more specifically, those down in the boiler rooms where curriculum is determined and budgets developed, are deserving of every kind word and thought we can summon and not very many of the ones so often hurled at them come budget time.

The Recreation Advisory Board meets tonight at 6 in the Recreation Department office on Mohegan Road and judging from their minutes they get together every other month (another charter note, if I may: members are present or absent. There are NO provisions for 'excused.' It's a very simple and binary situation-one or zero, absent or hero. No middle ground of 'excused.').

If you're still trying to sort out your property tax and changes since the fall's revaluation, you;ll want to be in room 335 in City Hall at 7 PM for Revaluation and Assessment Seminar. If you don't ask the question, the answer is always 'no', so ask, that's what these are all about.

There's an early Thursday (= 8 AM) Norwich Community Development Corporation annual meeting in the NCDC office at 75 Main Street about which I know absolutely nothing and have to wonder if that's more or less by design (I never attribute to malice that which can be explained by ignorance, but sometimes I'm tempted. Ladies (? I guess) and gentlemen of the NCDC: when your Executive Director can moderate a two plus hour forum on what the owners of the Norwichtown Mall should or could do with their private property (and all of those in that forum had to yell since the owners stayed in Boston and didn't come to the meeting), you need to find the time to have your website be more than the cajun pablum it has been for months.

Also Thursday it looks like the first meeting of 2009 for the Historic District Commission starting at 5 in Room 319 of City Hall. I'll be elsewhere in the same building a little later, in Room 335 at 5:30, to be exact, for a special meeting of Sachem Fund Committee. I've already noted last week why I'm so keen on this meeting. The good news is that I, too, still believe in free lunch. The bad news is that I believe we've already eaten it. Would you care for a napkin?
-bill kenny

Monday, January 19, 2009

Let no man pull you low enough to hate him.

I'll write about Norwich municipal meetings as I do every week, tomorrow, because municipal offices are closed today.

I'm never sure if it's proper to wish another person a happy Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday or not, but if so, I wish you one and I wish he could have had a few more himself. Few people in my lifetime have shaped circumstances and events as much as he--the election and then murder of John Kennedy, the murder of Robert Kennedy, the arrival of The Beatles (don't shake your head, what they did was reorder the universe) and, of course, the extraordinary life, lessons and death of Dr. King.

America, poised to celebrate another peaceful transition of presidential power in historic terms when Barack Obama assumes the office of President of the United States tomorrow, could not possibly have been here now, in this place and time, if not for those (of all races and creeds) who struggled to set us on a better and bigger and more inclusive course 'back then'.

Today, as we observe Dr. King's birthday, I hope we remember all of those forced, to ride in the backs of buses, to drink from separate water fountains, to eat elsewhere in luncheonettes (and a hundred thousand other inhuman indignities from fire hoses, billy clubs and attack dogs to caustic, cutting remarks through flaming crosses and burned out churches) who helped us to be here.

It's important, I think, that we don't allow the passage of years to dim the memory of Dr. King's life and work. Those were dangerous times in which he (and we) lived and if you arrived on the planet after he was murdered, when you look at American history of that era it's hard to believe we were those people. But, and here's my glass half-full guy typing now, we've gotten from that place to here. There's a long road ahead of us, all of us, and these are not the easiest of times in which to continue our travels, but we can, because we have.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Across the country today there are nearly countless observances of Dr. King's life. many referencing our hopes (I fear nearly unfulfillable) for our NEXT President whose inauguration is tomorrow and here in Norwich, or where you live, I hope you have the time to partake and take part.

I have medical appointments scattered throughout the day--you can't be as dyspeptic as I am about the outer world and not have that same venom consume you from the inside (no matter how fast I run, I am my father's son)--so I hope my physicians are far enough along with me by three o'clock that I have the opportunity to join the others who will assemble at the plaza in front of Norwich City Hall (and wouldn't it be nice if this year it's not so arctic cold?) to share a celebration of the life that was, and be saddened, briefly, for the life that is no more.

It's a short march after some remarks from City Hall this year, down and around the corner to the Evans Memorial AME Zion Church (the site, as I recall, of the first informational meeting on the proposed changes to the Norwich Charter (to be approved by the voters in March 2001 but we didn't know that then). How fitting in light of that desire and need to change then, that we should return to there now) for a Way Maker Celebration.

After that observance, when each of us then returns to the world we have created, why not try a little harder, a little longer and, if necessary, a little louder to not just make a difference, but to be the difference. "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."
-bill kenny

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Subterranean Homesick Blues Meets Project Runway

True Confession Time: With my son, now 26, and my daughter, now 21, adults of their own, my interest as a parent, share-holder and all-round busybody in the Norwich Public Schools and our Board of Education has waned considerably. 'Back in the day', I went to Board of Education meetings, was a parent who took vacation days from work to be on the Kelly Middle School Building Instruction Team (BIT) working with teachers to study the results of Connecticut Mastery Tests in the hopes of mapping new directions in instruction while my wife more often not home, but rather helping in classrooms across the school. I'm sure it was with considerable relief that the superintendent and principals watched my children grow into students who attended Norwich Free Academy, saddened to no longer have my wife's patience and graceful skills in a thousand schoolyard situations but happy with the notion I would darken somebody else's hallways (and did).
Son of a school teacher that I am, I have enormous respect and regard for teachers and classroom professional across the public education sector. My own two children arrived here from an alien, distant shore in the early winter of 1991 and learned English and, in large part, all (or nearly all) the skills to be good citizens of their city, state and nation (because they'd experienced their Father's country from the perspective of their Mother's) because of those at the Buckingham School, with Gary Gelmini as principal and at Kelly Middle School, with Don Steadman and Janis Sawicki at the helm.

Public education, I once read, doesn't so much teach a public as it creates a public. I think that means many of the attributes and traits we exhibit as adults are first developed and nurtured while we are young. Third graders may not know how to spell egalitarian, but (at least in theory) they embody that principle. In recent years, as too many aspects of our society have collapsed or failed to function properly, the roles of public schools and other institutions have expanded and enlarged--not always to happy effect.

Too many of our children are eating breakfast in their schools and classrooms--and I'm not concerned about the public funds used to do this (because if we, as a nation, cannot afford to feed hungry young bellies, how can we hope to educate hungry young minds?), though the sums involved are frighteningly large--because the need is so staggering. I am concerned because as a wee slip of a lad, I and my brothers and sisters had breakfast together in our house every morning before getting on the school bus. Mom wasn't a short order cook by any means, but cereal, milk, toast and butter were all there and she got us up early enough to make sure we got dressed and had breakfast.

In addition to being a nutritionist, our Mom was also the fashion coordinator. We were lucky, we went to Catholic school (how bizarre to write that. I never felt lucky about that) with uniforms that included white shirts and blue ties, with SPS (Saint Peter School) on them, and dark trousers while my sisters had jumpers and white blouses with dark knee socks. The Protestant and Jewish kids in the neighborhood, who went to public school, had Moms with the same basic jobs in their houses. And all of us were clad in clean, hole-and-tear-free, as well as neatly pressed, school clothes--maybe not the newest, or the most stylish but they fit, in every sense of that word.

When we came home from school, the first order of business was the play clothes we HAD to put on before sandlot baseball, tree climbing, crayfish hunting in the stream down the street and, I guess, whatever the girls did when they went out to play. Those were very different days than the ones in which my wife (almost exclusively and with nearly no help from her husband) raised our children. She and I could have actually been my kids' show and tell (does that still exist?) since we were the same people who had made them and all of us still lived under the same roof. NOT something a lot of their classmates could claim. Everyday of their Going-to-Norwich-Public-Schools Lives, our kids had to pass their mother's inspection before leaving the house. No one named Kenny, to my knowledge, got on the school bus across the street looking like the dog's breakfast or something left out in the rain.

Mom's rules were just that, rules (and were tacitly enforced by Dad who copped out with a 'go ask your mother' response which our two realized meant 'no' if that's what she had already said. If I had a dime for every time my wife ever told one of our progeny, 'go ask your father', I wouldn't have enough money to buy penny candy. Which I would share with the class at show and tell, if it still existed.) and her rules were NOT suggestions.

In our house, we were all in this 'school thing' together with a clear and defined division of labor: teachers taught, parents parented and the children benefited (at least that was the hope). My children never had a lot growing up (their father's inability to earn wheelbarrows full of money has much to do with my skill set and very little to do with the number of wheelbarrows I bought at the hardware store; still have 'em, make me an offer) but I'd hope they agree their folks did their best and in turn, as they continue as adults today, they're reasonably well-equipped to be sentient and caring humans in this otherwise-too-much-like-an-ant farm society.

Meanwhile, last week in Norwich at their first meeting of 2009 (which still hasn't been properly noted on their website, not that I'm keeping track; okay, maybe a little bit), the Board of Education and its Superintendent announced, at the request of numerous parents, they will consider the idea of school uniforms for children attending Norwich Public Schools. There were, in the course of the next days, news accounts, one each in the local papers (one here but the other one is only active until the end of today and then you have to buy it) both straight-forward and (perhaps) more illuminating when you scrolled down and read the readers' comments.

"First one up is the best one dressed" is an expression (of contempt) used for generations in Irish-American households. From what I see, today's children sleep in and late A LOT. In Norwich, and just about everywhere, teachers are now the Fashion Patrol, instead of (actually, more in addition to) teaching. When did this happen and why? There is already a school dress code here, probably at your school, too. Somewhere in it, there must be a section, maybe 'parent's responsibilities'(?), explaining dress code enforcement is a partnership between parents and the school. Each one has a role and a job and each should pull their own weight while making sure our kids pull up their pants.

I get confused when parents (I assume) allow an eleven year old girl to dress for school like she is a Pop-Tart in an MTV video or a nine year old son whose under garments are visible from space (they're called UNDERwear for a reason, sport). And not oh-so-coincidentally, Tuesday night's Norwich City Council meeting, resolution one, authorizes an application to the CT Department of Social Services to "promote teen pregnancy prevention initiatives." Another parent responsibility. along with food and clothing, that's been abdicated and somehow evaporated. Who'd have thunk it?

Old soul that I am, I'd be thrilled if teachers and other employees of our public schools could devote more of their time and talents (and by extension, MY tax dollars) to core competencies such as 'educating children for the 21st Century' instead of making sure they're members of the Clean Plate for Breakfast or Lunch Club, putting their recreational procreation in the in-school daycare center (Sly was right) or assuring shirts and tops reach all the way to pants or skirts and no one sings the 'I see England, I see France' song, unless they're in a travel club after-school.

All this hullabaloo about school uniforms and clothes doesn't mean it's worthwhile. It means we're distracted from the larger and more critical issues in our schools. Turns out Johnny can't read and Susie can't add, but they're dressed to the nines in A&F or AE or who-knows what no-go logo is this week's flavor, sorry, flava (trying to keep it real, home fry). Meanwhile, FUBU describes the outfits of more and more youngsters whose lives were FUBAR from birth. How about this: Parents, do your jobs so those we've hired to teach can better do theirs. That way, we all can concentrate on improving our education system to enrich and enhance the teaching and learning within, and without, our classrooms to better prepare our children for the world we are leaving them. A world made in our own image and likeness except, the pump don't work 'cause the vandals took the handles.
-bill kenny

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Getting fuzzy

With the snow, and light covering of ice on top of it, from earlier in the week, my practice of feeding the squirrels and birds has taken on a bit more of an air of urgency. Food for all on the outside of the glass is a bit harder to find in the shortened winter days of New England and both feather and fur go after their daily bread with a single-minded seriousness bordering on the joyless.

The birds, to include a couple of male and female cardinals, sparrows and tufted titmouses (titmice? I have enough trouble with the species; trying to nail the spelling is just borrowing trouble) are not as enthused about a feeder shelf filled with seed attached to my office window as I'd have assumed. I've kept the blinds down after a REALLY unnerving experience last week with a sparrow. I could hear something tapping away at the plastic feeder holding the seed and when I turned from my desk to look out the window, a sparrow who was standing in the feeder, slamming it with her (his?) beak, turned around to glare at me (yeah, I know that sounds crazy; but it's true) as if to demand 'what are you looking at, biped?' I've rationalised no one likes to be watched while eating. I think I may have seen three or more of the cardinals flashing gang signs.

The snow has just enough ice glaze to hold up the birds, without their breaking through, leaving an assortment of upside down "Y"s in all directions to mark their sojourns. The squirrels, weighing a bit more, tend to crunch as they munch and each of the five or so has set up on different places and limbs of one of two of the small pine trees that grow in the area about three yards from the office window (too far to successfully leap from a branch and land in the seed feeder. I know this is true because I've watched more than one Flying Zambini Brother (or sister) attempt it).

From these vantage points they can see into the office, and, sitting at my computer, I become aware of small eyes boring a hole into the back of my head. When I turn around, one or more of them actually stands up in her/his tree limb to make sure my eyes follow the movement (I think they've done a decent job of training me all in all) so we are both clear on the next step in the procedure.

If I throw out a handful of peanuts, they chase one another around making odd noises, seemingly attempting to bite one another and eventually the blue jays, knowing a good deal when they see it, touch down, grab a peanut and fly away before any of the squirrels can sort out what's happened. So, if I have the time, I flip the peanuts to them, one at a time, watching them as they watch the arc of the legume in flight as if pondering the notion of attempting to catch it in mid-air. There are instances, I suppose, where they could have caught them--I've brained them with a peanut but so intent are they in their pursuit, they shake it off, flip the peanut around a few times with their front paws before popping it, or most of it, in their mouths and running off.

They aren't always at the windows--they disappear for hours at a time. For all I know, they go someplace for coffee, perhaps a latte. But they always return and I feel the little eyes, turn around, and we begin again. A couple of weeks ago, someone a few windows down, on a pleasant afternoon, opened her window to let in some air and was stunned to have one of the squirrels standing on the sill, nose pressed to the screen, oblivious to her shouts of surprise and unease.

With all the snow, it's hard, I guess, for them to break habits. Instead of eating every peanut, they seem to save some for later (perhaps with a cup of cocoa in the evening?) and when there's no snow, I've watched them bury peanuts all over the front lawn of the building my office is in (I don't know if or how they remember where they are). But in the winter, they bury the peanuts in the snow which suggests in the animals-only edition of Mastermind, they won't make it to the prize round. Talk about four-legged fuzzy logic.
-bill kenny

Friday, January 16, 2009

Calvin & Hobbes (Slight Return)

I don't say this lightly, I'm not well-known for my humor, but Bill Watterson's birthday, 5 July, should be a(nother) national holiday. Watterson, the genius responsible for the world's most wonderful comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes, never failed to amuse and amaze on a daily basis for the ten years and six weeks he shared his creation with the world.

One of the nice things about being somewhat advanced in years, and slightly mentally encumbered, is not remembering if I cried when the comic strip came to an end, but I suspect I did. I had and still have, a large number of the C & H books, which were compilations of the daily strips. At various times one and/or the other of my children, for reasons entirely their own, have borrowed and enjoyed them as much as I still do and (at least in theory) have returned them to where they found them. Just as their father, a role model in everything even vaguely connected to doing as I say and not as I do, has always returned (nearly) everything to its proper place.

That's actually an inside joke. When I wash the dishes, my wife gets to play 'Where in the World Is Carmen San Diego?' with a surprising assortment of implements and kitchen objects, ranging from the mayonnaise knife through the plastic microwave splatter guard to the small chopping block, because her husband of over thirty years just moved into the house and has no idea where she keeps any of these items.

Yeah, to some extent, I do resemble Calvin's Dad (mostly at the hairline), who, like Calvin's Mom never had a name in the comic strip. Calvin's classmate and occasional nemesis, sometime victim, and often object of unwanted attentions, Susie Derkins, went Calvin, himself, one better in that she not only had a first name, she had a last name as well.

You didn't need to know that Watterson had named his two characters for John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes, two more disparate souls you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere, with or without Carmen's assistance. The comic strip is a marvel without ever savoring the irony of the name. I was thinking about C&H when I came across an online article from the International Herald-Tribune, "Who Would Jesus smack down?" that I'm sharing with you because I found it to be amazing stuff even though no tigers were harmed in the writing of the story.

My own relationship with a Supreme Being has been, shall we say, somewhat uneven in recent decades, but I'm forever fascinated when, while channel surfing, I come across any of the televangelists toiling in the video vineyards in His Name. I was just thinking the other day of Billy Mays and his feverish fervor, being a marketing John the Baptist, albeit for a curious assortment of products, but I'm not sure who plays his Salome unless you can imagine Paula Deen with a veil. (Please, don't.)

I didn't even know there was a GodTube (and was I ever relieved it wasn't porpoise which is how I first read it) but I wasn't surprised to realize much of what goes on in the Mars Hill Church wouldn't quite fit there. I, too, am a Poppa Daddy (much better, I think, than being a mack daddy and far more alive than a Bernie, larger than a Big, and without the deviated septum of a Fleetwood) in the Peasant Princess tradition, but at an hour PLUS per sermon, I guess my first prayer is for patience (and an aisle seat in the back). Praise the Lord and pass the extra couch cushions. After all, a progressiveboink is, in its own way, a revelation. Can I get an Amen?
-bill kenny