Thursday, December 31, 2009
Do you recall the wrangling that went on for months over who had been elected President in 2000? Less than an eye blink later (historically speaking) we held hands in a global seance as passenger airliners crashed into buildings and crushed the last bit of naivete any of us might have had about Donne's Tolling Bell. The sound of collapsing steel and glass signaled the arrival of the Dogs of War and men of hate (With no cause, we don't discriminate). We discovered people who have nothing to live for will find something to die for and then they will want you to die for it, too.
In ten years we completed the triumph of Capitalism, as even "Red China", the People's Republic, embraced greed while attempting to maintain its pride of place as the Proletariat's Playground. Here in the USA, we waved good-bye to the last of those jobs involved in the actual making of something, opting, instead to sell one another fast food and porn clips as everywhere else on earth became a better choice for a manufacturer to be based.
More of us owned stock than at any time in our history even if we weren't sure what ownership meant or entailed. It was okay, we had a 'guy for that', remember? And it all worked great until it suddenly stopped working and then we discovered the fire sale on blue smoke and mirrors we were having. To our credit (pun intended) we sorted through all of that, with some excursions into pointlessness of course (when did search for the guilty become part of solving the problem?) and as this decade ends, many are, for the most part, financially almost where they were ten years ago. Or, as I'm fond of saying, when we were ten years better.
How we got here isn't, to me, nearly as important as what we do next, when we do it and when we begin. Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted, and while a lot of us rival Jimi, it's nearly as much about what we don't know as what we do know. Stasis can only lead to decay and decline because there is no standing still, only forwards or backwards. What we think about the next decade when it reaches its end depends on what we make of it-and now is the moment to play the game existence to the end of the beginning.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Norwich, like it or not, is a city with a reduced economic development opportunities (and still lacks a fully articulated plan to create an enhanced one). The City Council has spent three consecutive Saturdays in workshops trying to agree on a destination, and fashioning a map with milestones and markers to help us find our way. It’s a brave start and they’ll be the first ones to tell you they cannot do it alone. And those of us who live here shouldn’t let them.
This past November locally we had ten candidates seeking nine seats on our Board of Education. We had thirteen candidates for six places on the City Council and the good fortune of four neighbors seeking the office of Mayor. Some might say we were spoiled for choice. And yet voter turnout, the critical element of any effort to improve where we call home, remained at about the same levels it has been for too many years. The feeling that government is something done to us and not for us, trumps all the brave talk about regionalization, mill rates, enterprise zones, zoning variances and the other nouns, verbs and gerunds of political grammar.
Perhaps too often at times, we have allowed everyone (and anyone) with a self-printed business card that says 'developer' to talk with us about how little of our money will be needed to get our fences whitewashed, only to find out, too late, we’re on the hook to buy the brushes, the whitewash, the paint and, sometimes, even the fences. We choose to forget that everything, to include missed opportunities, comes with a price and a cost. As much as it would bother me for this to wind up as my city's motto, there are times I fear it's already a national mindset.
We wait for someone, somewhere, to rescue us overnight from a situation that took decades to develop to the point we are at now, and cast about for someone to blame as a part of any attempt to find a solution. Those whom we’ve elected will soon enough feel the sting of our disappointment if they fail to guess what we want before we ourselves know what that may be, or how to achieve it. That’s unfair and all of us need to do better.
We need to learn to speak and work with one another to better use ideas, ideals and words to build bridges that join rather than walls that continue to divide. "...(A)fter a while, you realize time flies. And the best thing that you can do is take whatever comes to you ..."
The New Year and a new decade starts Friday. What better time to begin, again?
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Monday, December 28, 2009
The only actual scheduled and posted meeting, per the City of Norwich's website, is a special meeting of the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners Wednesday afternoon at 4:30 at 108 Hunt's Brook Road. A review of the agenda gives you an excellent sense of the scope and impact this group of volunteers has for a not inconsequential portion of our population. (We're still falling way short of complying with Public Act 08-3, though the posting of the special meeting agenda is a very positive step in the right direction).
And with all the discussion in recent weeks, especially on Saturdays (though not as well-known as I'd have hoped), about community development and economic development, if you're so inclined to roll up a sleeve and lend a hand, volunteers are needed to fill a vacancy on the Community Development Advisory Committee. You'll find the application here though where we're keeping the satisfaction of knowing you're making a positive difference, I'm not sure. Just stay where you are and the Prize Patrol van will find you.
This has been a rough ride for some this year and it may be a dark ride for others in the next, but there's little doubt that together we're smarter and better than we are separately. It's a lot easier to shake a hand than to ball a fist and you tend to meet so many much more interesting people that way. "Put it there, if it weighs a ton; that's what the father said to his younger son. I don't care if it weighs a ton, as long as you and I are here, Put It There."
Sunday, December 27, 2009
The flagship, MTV, was the first of the networks to jump ship on actual program offerings involved with music. On most of what they now have, the only music seems to be what's played in the background while similar looking twenty-somethings elevate self-aggrandizement to Olympian heights. My wife and I have two twenty-somethings of our own, and had either Patrick or Michelle ever approximated, much less duplicated, the behaviors I've caught of the Brat Brigade on MTV, I'd be saving a LOT of money on birthdays, if you know what I mean.
I've never seen an MTV show called Jersey Shore but someone known as the New Jersey Italian American Legislative Caucus apparently has and is more than underwhelmed. The Day before Christmas Eve, they called on MTV to stop airing the program, calling it "wildly offensive." On New Year's Eve, according to the show's website, the one hundred and fourth episode airs, leading me to wonder where the NJIALC has been for, well, the previous one hundred and three episodes. (I'm also wondering if they hollered at HBO about The Sopranos in the same manner. And that I haven't been in a diner since the show went off the air, who do I see about that?)
From what I've read on line and elsewhere, the State of New Jersey and its legislators, men and women from diverse ethnic, racial and social strata, are facing (as are many of the rest of our fifty states) daunting challenges and opportunities fraught with risk as this first decade of the New Century ends. Perhaps, former Jerseyite that I am, now living in the Land of Steady Habits, I'm jealous Connecticut didn't go after the WB for Gilmore Girls when it had the chance (Starrs Hollow? C'mon!). We do, after all, have an Attorney General with more teeth than hair who sued when schools in the Big East bailed after Big Time Football arrived at Rentchler Field.
But cooler heads, I guess, have prevailed and no writs hit the fan. Besides, Southside Johnny (I think without The Jukes), I'm told, now resides in Westport, Connecticut changing, I'd imagine, the intensity with which he does I Don't Wanna Go Home if not completely eliminating it from the live performance. As for the young 'uns of Jersey Shore, we've had the shortest (= darkest) day of the year already, but that doesn't mean Spring is right around the corner. And if surf, sand and sun is coated in baby oil for an even tan and sprinkled with a few 'youse guys' and some 'deses' and 'does', what's the harm? Okay, it's not Sayreville, but still....."'Cause nothing matters in this whole wide world, when you're in love with a Jersey Girl."
Saturday, December 26, 2009
For many years, living in my wife's country, Germany, I, too, observed today as Zweite Weinachten (ours didn't have podnars or ten gallon hats), with Christmas Day primarily for immediate family with today being more for visits to and from friends and neighbors. Quite frankly for anyone who wishes 'it could be Christmas all year round' (which includes, I imagine, the folks who own credit card franchises), this is about as good as it gets.
We don't seem to have Second Christmas here in the Land of the Round Door Knobs. For years, after my family and I relocated from Germany, all of us would travel to my mother's house in Central New Jersey where we celebrated Christmas with various members of my large family (Sigrid has two younger sisters and one younger brother; I have three of the former and two of the latter) and their children. When Mom traded up from cross country skis to year-round sandals in Florida, we started holding our own Christmas in our own house and skipped the interstate travel. We no longer get a card from the EZ-Pass people.
I went for a walk around my my block yesterday morning--we live in a section of Norwich across from the Chelsea Parade which is, in turn, across from Norwich Free Academy. It's a quiet residential area with houses of all sizes, neatly-trimmed lawns in the summer and mostly shovelled sidewalks in the winter. Last Saturday into Sunday, as happened across most of the Eastern Seaboard, we got pounded with snow. I've heard for years that size doesn't matter so I'm not sure how much snow we had, but 'whoa! lots' comes to mind.
Our Public Works Department logged many hours plowing and sanding major and minor roadways to eventually subdue the white stuff, though not without (in some instances) unhappy complaints in the local newspapers from residents on the manner and method. Happens every year--the foot of my driveway, which I've just cleared by pushing the snow into the street is reburied by the city's driver as he plows my street and returns the favor.
It's nice when everything can be reduced to 'us vs. them' and become a part of that 'You Can't Fight City Hall' mantra. Imagine my unhappy chagrin when I hiked around the block to buy a newspaper I don't get delivered to the house, from a vending box. I wasn't dismayed because of the walk--it's not much of a walk. Did I mention we have an ordinance, as do many towns, which mandates clearing sidewalks of snowfall X number of hours, NOT days, after the snow has stopped falling? Bet you know where this is going, right?
Do I believe that some portion of those complaining about the city's snow removal efforts last week are part of the FIVE houses within one block of my house whose sidewalks haven't been cleared at all? You betcha. Many of us are the same people who don't even bother to vote anymore, because 'it doesn't make a difference'--the same people whose World of Them is vast and dark, and against which we are nearly powerless because we believe ourselves to be so.
But given an opportunity to do something for ourselves and our neighbors we see every day, clear their walks and paths, we choose inaction over action. I'm not talking about feeding the hungry or housing the homeless--this is the baby stuff that no one ever talks about in a civics class, because it's a given. Except when it's not, or just not convenient. But if this were somehow to become the responsibility of the city or state, we'd be howling to, instead of barking at, the moon when it was done as poorly as we do it for, and to, ourselves.
Friday, December 25, 2009
Four days ago, thanks to the global village and world wide connectivity (brought to me by the same military-industrial complex we normally blame for all the evils of the world (real and and/or imagined), to include the music of Celine Dion and Buckner booting that easy grounder), I had a facebook email (Or do they have their own name for that, perhaps facemail?) friend request from someone whose name I did not recognize but who listed my wife as a friend.
This one was easy since I see Sigrid, my wife, on a daily basis (the apartment isn't all that big and I know many of her usual hiding places) and she shared with me the friend request was from her former best friend and matron of honor at our wedding, damals, Evelyn F, now with a new last name as she and Rick F had gone their separate ways and each had remarried. She is now living back in Germany, only a couple of hours south of where she had grown up and was just starting out on her World Wide Wander.
Two days later, I had email from a person from Port Arthur, Texas, who had stumbled upon this gibberish the night before via a search engine into which she had entered the names of her Godparents from many years ago-their names had turned up in an entry I had written about the day Sigrid and I had married. Michelle G, the woman from Port Arthur, wrote she had been looking for this couple for over a decade and wondered if the people I had mentioned might, indeed, be the object of her search.
To tell you the truth, I had and have no idea if our Evelyn and Rick are hers, too. I know, especially today, how I'd like the story to turn out. Because of a variety of threads, all woven invisibly together, seemingly at random, I was in a position to relay her note, via my wife, to Evelyn and maybe brighten more than just one person's Christmas. Sort of like the First Christmas, except for the animals, the shepherds in the fields, The Star with Royal Beauty Bright, Pentium II computer chips, dial-up modems and, most importantly, the manger, The Mother and Child. Merry Christmas.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
I'm a fossil who grew up in Fifties where we had air raid warnings that involved hiding under our school desks and facing away from the windows (to avoid the flash of atomic incineration), three (if we had a good antenna) TV stations, all black and white all the time, fathers that got up early and went far away to work and moms who made sure we got to school, came home, put on play clothes before we went outside (every time I see either droopy drawers or tattered-knee jeans, I try to imagine the reaction of my mother or, more especially, my father, and smile as I shake my head), had dinner, did our homework and got ready for bed where we'd get up and do it all again.
Mine was a nuclear family--now most of us live in an unclear society-anything goes and nobody knows. Back in the day, we had Sister Rose, Sister Thomas Anne and Sister Mary Jean and this time of year, our heads were not filled with thoughts of sugar plum fairies (never did get that line or what they were supposed to be. Fruit cake, I've had; sugar plums, not quite), but we were experts on The Nativity Scene (I felt compelled to backspace and capitalize the "T", because I was taught NO other way to write it).
We learned all the hymns, often in what Sister Mary Jean called 'the original Latin' which I realized years later was a private joke she and my father shared and while there's a certain happiness in Jingle Bell Rock, for hard-core jollies, try Adeste Fideles (sung by someone who thought the Wise Men had given The Child the gift of Frankenstein, since I had no idea what frankincense could possibly be).
We've become people who are more familiar with the returns policy at The Mall than the hours during which confessions are heard at the local church, or as I heard it called the other day by someone too young to be facetious, "The God Store." Many of us will spend part of today trying to buy that special present for our special someone and I wish those of us in that situation the best of luck.
I've been told a friend is a present you give to yourself and there's no such things as strangers, only friends we haven't met. If both of those are true, and it is, after all, Christmas, when miracles can and do happen, as you're heading home at whatever time today from that last shopping expedition, rather than follow The Star, seek out the sound of the ringing bell and collection kettle and share some of the change, paper and coins, in your trouser and jacket pockets. You'll never miss it, and someone you'll never meet will be grateful for a moment of peace on the ground.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
I figure in a matter of weeks this, too, will be part of the 'Good Old Days' and perhaps that's better so. Meanwhile, I'd suggest we turn the page on the calendar since, soon enough, we'll be on at a new year and the start of another decade. When you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there-and there's many signposts up ahead. Instead of arguing over who is holding the map, who is steering and who’s called shotgun, let’s keep our eyes on the road and both hands on the wheel.
Let's promise one another to work to assure our elected officials, federal, state and local maintain their focus on the "Big Picture" while devoting attention to the finer details as well. In recent weeks, the women and men of my City Council here in Connecticut have been working hard to define a vision of Norwich, Next, and then refine the ways to achieve it.
It's not easy being an elected official anywhere in these United States and I've often thought sometimes, it's a little more challenging than it needs to be where I live. As someone who is not from here but who lives here now, I don't pretend to understand why sometimes it seems, we expect the worst. Maybe we’ve adopted a pessimistic mindset because that way we can only be surprised and never disappointed. We strike me as somehow being related to Eyeore, Winnie the Pooh's homefry, of sorts, who elevates pessimism to Olympian heights. But waiting for the other shoe to drop means it's much harder to dance in celebration, and perhaps 2010 is the year to dust off those dancing shoes.
The City Council we elected in November invested several hours on consecutive Saturdays (with the third yet to come, this Saturday at eight AM) learning to say aloud, and to one another, what many of us have whispered or feared to even think, and, by thus naming challenges and opportunities for us all, took a giant step in a positive direction as reflected in Monday night’s Council meeting agenda. No, you won't see the progress reflected on your property tax bill-at least not yet, but despite the dogs' barking, the caravan has started to move on. Small steps are how we start on long journeys and great adventures.
Some of us will argue into the new year, and beyond, on the merits and impact of City Council actions and decisions from their Monday night meeting--but we are starting to learn to own the consequences of our decisions. Maybe, just maybe, we're realizing the only way we can get to where we want to go is by going there together. That it's often not eaten as hot as it's served is a truth and a truism and is valid for where you live as well as for where I live. Grab a napkin and tuck in.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
I'm still handicapped by my lack of ability to visualize items. Unless I've seen it on a store shelf, or caught an advert in a newspaper or on television, simply reading a description on line with or without specifications on size and weight, I'm clueless as to the item's actual size. I live in fear this will be the Christmas where that
I'm glad I'm done, more or less, because almost, admittedly only momentarily, I caught a TV spot for Jenny McCarthy, in my opinion this generation's Lucille Ball, but without the red hair or her comedic gift, is hawking a workout video for Wii or maybe it's a computer fitness program that, when followed faithfully, will enable me to transform myself into her image and likeness. Such news usually causes me to inventory our supply of stout rope and mentally map which overhead fixtures might best support my weight, so enthralled at this prospect am I, and then came the deal-clincher. In the background, though thankfully NOT by the original artists, the soundtrack to her sales pitch was The Beatles' Revolution
The Beatles were the soundtrack to my growing up, and not just me--a whole generation of nations. Every time their song catalog gets sold, someone does something like this and (take my word for this) it really grinds a lot of us greatly. Almost ten years ago, somebody in the telecommunications industry thought exploiting Come Together to pitch themselves was a brilliant idea. I was hoping we would, indeed, come together and throw stones through every plate glass window in their corporate headquarters. Now, I can dream, should I find the workout under my tree, to finally develop enough upper body and arm strength to be able to hurl a small car both for distance as well as height. -bill kenny
Monday, December 21, 2009
And the lucky recipient has one less excuse to be unhappily surprised by the goings-on here in our Rose of New England. Our neighbors and friends who make up the various advisories, boards, commissions and committees that help so much of this city, and so many others across the country, function will appreciate having the public in attendance. Hey, if they welcome me now, imagine how euphorically they'll embrace you.....
With that in mind, recognizing snow (and removal of snow) and its impact on intended schedules and realizing Friday is Christmas, let's see what's forecast under the tree this week for municipal meetings, and watch out for the coal and what looks like a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer (and some of their output).
This morning at 9:30 in their offices in the Norwich Business Park (it's easier to get there if you head up Plain Hill Road) is a special meeting of the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Transmission Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative. The only part of their meeting open to the public is the discussion and decision on next year's meeting schedule, so you may want to consider the weather outside and the driving conditions in light of the return on attending the meeting.
This afternoon at 5:15 in their offices just off Route 12 in Gales Ferry, is a regular meeting of the Southeastern Connecticut Water Authority. I suspect it's counter-intuitive to assume they have a bottled water vending machine in their lobby, so drink up before you go.
This evening at 6:30 in their offices in the Norwich Business Park, is a regular meeting of the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments Regional Planning Commission RPC Reference Committee, the proverbial mouthful if I've ever seen one. And kidding aside, as belts continue to tighten because the recession-that's-already-been-pronounced-as-over-seems-to-keep-on-going-around here, the pragmatic necessity of regionalization and cooperation will continue to replace the 'leave my rice bowl' alone mindset that many seem to think is independence and SCCOG are setting the standards on cooperative efforts.
Tonight at 7:30 (remember the time changed for the second monthly Council meeting) the City Council convenes with a hefty agenda. You might wish to pay attention to reports from the two committees, the Commission on the City Plan and the Norwich Baseball Stadium Authority.
The report from the Commission on the City Plan is a negative recommendation to purchase the Norwich Hospital Property parcel and creates the requirement for a super majority of the City Council, five of seven, in favor of resolution seven. Assuming, of course, all members of the City Council, to include the three former members of the Hospital Site Advisory Committee, choose to vote, either tonight or at a subsequent meeting prior to the state-mandated purchase deadline of 24 January.
The State of Connecticut just agreed to significantly restructure the remediation provisions of their purchase agreement with Preston for their share of the property, so perhaps an extension of the purchase deadline of the Norwich parcel isn't beyond the realm of possibility, as has been presumed. If you don't ask, the answer is automatically no.
The other report is from the Norwich Baseball Stadium Authority, whose November minutes (most recent ones posted) don't indicate what the presentation might be about, but with Major League pitchers and catchers reporting in less than sixty days (yippee!), it would be swell if an update on a possible new tenant for Dodd Stadium were the topic.
Another item of elevated interest on the agenda, at least for me, is resolution six, the leasing of 337 Main Street, the former YMCA building. Some have argued that Norwich cannot afford another failed building as a gateway gargoyle. But when all the improvements at 337 Main are made, and all the foot traffic that the Recreation Director's presentation forecast/promised for the facility walks out the doors and back into downtown Norwich, what will have changed in downtown (be it in three years or three decades), aside from the facility itself? Quite frankly why is this building more important than the one across the street or at the other end of Main Street? You know what else I'd like to know--how many memberships, offered the evening of the presentation, have been sold in the ten days since it happened? What's your guess and are you an optimist or pessimist?
I would hope the ladies and gentlemen of the City Council, based on two Saturday sessions in a workshop entitled Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail (not what Doug Relyea is calling his intervention, but could), with the third session set for this Saturday (more later) would agree the Silver Bullet Solution to urban center revitalization does NOT work. (And the draft plan handed out Saturday was just that, a draft. I can remember the person who distributed it saying just that. I hope the Council can remember that.) You are not done and we are not over. Unless there's a more holistic approach to development and implementation of a revitalization plan rather than the current haphazard philosophy still being used, we'll continue to have bright starts that quietly fade to black with time.
Remember when the Mercantile Exchange was going to be the catalyst for a new downtown? Then it was the Wauregan that was the spark in the dark. At one point it was going to be a Discovery Center in a building someone stuck us with (and then charged us extra for windows he never installed and we paid for them anyway). We're told the Regional Inter-Modal Transportation Center is the tool that will 'help us turn the corner' and now we can add the acquisition of the former YMCA building, 337 Main Street, to that same list. In case you haven't noticed--nothing is improving.
The possibilities of a recreation center at 337 Main Street have enormous promise and offer both great rewards while containing great risk. We shouldn't become so enamored of the former that we are blind to the latter. Nor should we fear doing anything lest we do something wrong. We should research and evaluate such an acquisition, but think bigger, not smaller. What if the City Council can agree this project is but one step, and not a journey unto itself, in a larger, longer and more difficult road to re-establishing a defined downtown district as a destination for visitors while also reinventing itself as the heart of a Norwich our residents can come home to.
Our elected leaders should and would work to reward risk undertaken for the greater good, over developer greed, while defining a vision of The Next Norwich and then partnering with the private (NOT public) sector to refine that vision into a more tangible future. You and I have heard and read that 'better days are coming to Norwich' FOR DECADES. We're running out of calendar pages as well as opportunities. These are better days because THIS is the only day each of us has. We need to make something of it while we have it.
I'd like to think we haven't yet had all the discussion on this issue that there's going to be, and a friendly reminder of a point we all know, but sometimes forget (present company included): two competing monologues do not a dialogue make. There's a difference between speaking with and speaking at one another.
The Board of Education Policy Committee meets tomorrow afternoon at 3:30 in the conference room at the Central Office, across from the Norwichtown Green. There's a lot to be said for an up to date website, especially for an entity whose operation requires over half the municipal budget. Too bad it doesn't get said, or updated, often enough on some websites, eh?
The Harbor Management Commission meets tomorrow at five in Room 219 of City Hall. Here's a draft of their November meeting minutes. I'm concluding the reconstructive work on the seawall is just about accomplished, though I'm not sure if that's what the minutes actually mean. And just as a pass-along, the regular meeting of the Building Code of Appeals has been cancelled.
Wednesday night at seven in their conference room at the facilities, and don't let the weather fool you, there's a regular meeting of the Norwich Golf Course Authority. Think Spring and give Golf for the Holidays (I was reading their special meeting minutes).
And, because you've seen these itty-bitty, teeny-tiny notices in the newspapers about 'force rankings', I wanted to mention a meeting this Saturday morning (yes, as in the day after Christmas) at eight in Room 335 of City Hall where a third City Council (and City Manager) workshop, and they've been incremental in going at this, will attempt (my word, not theirs) to 'Develop a plan that will improve the Norwich economy by XX% before the end of 20XX.'
Working with their facilitator, Douglas Relyea, the City Manager, City Council and Mayor will develop a SMART-Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely-Plan of action, define the specifics and refine the tools needed to achieve the goal. Gotta tell ya, the same faces were in the gallery last Saturday as were there the Saturday before, so you need to think about joining us. Keith R is seeing more of me than my wife is-and one of them is waaay too happy about that turn of events.
Seriously, these sessions aren't high drama-but quiet progress and hard, solid work. Maybe this town is in need of a small vacation from grand gestures, or even rude ones for that matter, and instead of a balled fist, we might be willing to finally try a helping hand. "Oh, we're beaten and blown by the wind; Blown by the wind. Oh, when I go there, I go there with you. It's all I can do."
Sunday, December 20, 2009
At one level this, it may be argued, is harmless and "American" in every positive sense of the word. After all, check the wording in our Declaration of Independence, "...endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." F-U-N. Who else lives in a country founded on fun? Anyone? Judging from the footage I've seen of Mardi Gras Rio, maybe Brazil, but that's about it. And admittedly, no one's getting hurt and it's all lighthearted and that's fair enough I suppose.
I have no idea what a display like this cost in terms of money and material or into the service of how many other uses all of that could have been placed, but I suspect whatever amount it , it would have disappeared without a trace into the chasm of need we have on this planet, or just in this country. The (unconditional) War on Poverty declared by then-President Lyndon Baines Johnson began forty-five years ago. How do you suppose that's going? Perhaps we could ask one of the homeless who shuffle from abandoned threshold to threshold in my downtown, and yours, trying to get a break from the winter wind--or inquire of the poor who sleep on heating grates as people step over them on their way to work everyday in every major city in this country.
I don't pretend to know the intricacies of the most recent census (or the politics of manipulation as we gear up for the next one) or the truer meanings of the New Testament, so I'm not sure how many unwed, pregnant women we have living in barns across Connecticut or the county it's a part of, and in many respects it makes no difference. As a culture and a country, I fear, we've not only come to expect the giant government program, we rely on it.
Instead of neighbors helping neighbors in a thousand small ways, we group together to form advisories to draft a plan and organize a feasibility study. We've gone from the preamble of the Constitution, "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity...." to "Greed is Good."
If I'm distressed by anything I've seen or known in my fifty-seven years (so far) on this Big Blue Marble, it's that we keep having to choose between extremes-there's never any way to lift all the boats. Coming out of the local Stop and Shop stores earlier this week, the ringing of the kettle collector's bell prompted me to offer a dollar bill to a foot soldier in the Salvation Army. This has been a tough year for many of us, but, hand on my heart, a buck is nothing. If each of us gave a buck, how many people could that money help and, before we get too euphoric, how many would remain to be helped?
Enjoy the success of excess but try to remember, as covered in Santa suits and reindeer poop and Black Fridays and best deals of the year distractions that all of it seems to come with, the reason for the season. Others around us may not celebrate Christmas but their holiday and ours share so much of the same values that it's hard to believe after all the work we've (all) invested in helping those of us less fortunate that there's still so much yet to be done. So go ahead, double click on the You Tube funny clips about holiday lights-but reach into your pocket today, the last Sunday of Advent, as you look into your heart, and give of yourself to someone else. Their smile of gratitude will light the world.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
I mention that because had he lived, today would be his eighty-sixth birthday (he died twenty-eight years ago) and I'd like to think he would be something I never felt he was while we shared the earth, proud of something, anything, I'd ever done. In this case, as was so true in our shared lives, I would be cheating (oh so slightly) as I'd hope he'd be proud of his grandchildren, Patrick and Michelle, who are my wife, Sigrid, and my children.
My most lasting memory of my father isn't really a memory of him at all, but a reminder of how life goes on within you and without you. Many years ago while shopping, Sigrid found what she assured me was 'the perfect card for you to send to your dad for Father's Day.' This was all pre-Internet and global village days, remember, and actually it was back when it was only she and me and work (and sadly, not always in that order).
I don't remember the card, though this would be a better lesson for me if I had, but I signed it, after Sigrid had addressed it, put a stamp on it and had me throw it in my work bag (a shoulder-strapped book bag, of sorts, that carried, judging from its weight, most of the world's most curious and heaviest items).
And that's where the card stayed. Months later, and well past Father's Day, she was rooting through my bag, in search of something I had promised to bring home but had misplaced. Her theory, more often right than I'd like to admit, was that whatever it was, it could be found in my bag. The body of Jimmy Hoffa, the other gunmen on the grassy knoll, Weapons of Mass Destruction--check in the bag.
What she found that day, and registered a quiet note of disappointment with me because of the discovery, was the card we both thought I had mailed months earlier for Father's Day. Faced with the reality that I hadn't, all I could do was to mumble a promise to do so 'next year'.
You've guessed, of course, that my father died before 'next year' ever happened. As a self-centered oldest child, stiff-necked and incapable of bending, I had clashed with my father nearly everyday of life-I think from the time I could talk, all I said to him was 'no.' I don't recall what we fought about or why, but they were bitter arguments, often ending in physical contact that made me more fully appreciate the weight of his hands, but I refused to yield anything at anytime and we passed months, if not years, exchanging as few words as possible for as long as possible. I had wished the worst for him countless times, and when notified by the Red Cross (I was still on active duty in the Air Force) that he was dead, my first reaction was overwhelming guilt.
The three oldest children had moved out and away, but our three youngest sisters and brother were left to be raised by our mother in circumstances vastly different from ours when were their age, and that I made no effort to ever learn or to attempt to mitigate or improve. I've never spoken to them about those times and know I'll never do so. More casualties in a war that should have ended decades ago, but continues even as I type this and feel the gorge rise in my veins as if "enough" weren't already, and finally, truly enough.
I am, like it or not, my father's son in ways neither of us could have ever seen or imagined. Perhaps he'd be proud of that, and yet I truly hope not. Life is a sum of all your moments--waking and dreaming; everything you've done or left undone; every word, said and unsaid and of all your prayers, answered but, most especially and finally, unanswered.
Friday, December 18, 2009
'When you sup with the devil,' he offered, 'you must use a long spoon.' Our Connecticut legislators should have learned this, no later than Tuesday, when, having been summoned back for a special session by Governor M. Jodi Rell, to pass her package of budget adjustments for this current fiscal year, they declined to do so and suggested they will have a special, special session before Christmas to flex their majority muscle and pass what is, in essence, one party's vision of how to fill the growing budget chasm for the current fiscal year.
They have the votes to do so, and I wish them well, because while it's their budget, it impacts all of us who live here. Lost in all of this noise is that the current fiscal year budget was more blue smoke and mirrors than anything else to begin with and relied more on Wimpy's "I Will Gladly Pay You Tuesday for a Hamburger Securitized Today." (Suspect Simsbury's Representative Linda Schofield wasn't invited to lunch and we all know the 47th District's Representative Chris Coutu is brown-bagging it).
If you have had trouble finding securitization in your Funk and Wagnalls it's because it's a somewhat whimsical (at best) notion in which magic elves count make-believe dollars in just the right amount to make sure we all have a happy ending. Except, of course, this year in The Land of Steady Habits where the budget that was finally enacted, and never signed by a Governor who less than two weeks later announced she would not seek another term, wasn't real or happy in the first place. And as it turns out, it has no ending.
So Tuesday our representatives didn't get their jobs done, for themselves or for us. While we wait to see what additional day they choose to probably NOT get anything rectified again, check out the public statements of both Schofield and Coutu and a far too small number of other representatives and don't be surprised if:
a. they make more sense than where we are now;
b. aren't all from the same political party and
c. your representative probably isn't among them.
I leave you to draw your own conclusion on that last point.
With the way we've been spending money in The Nutmeg State I'll be amazed if those hamburgers that we were hoping to have for lunch on Tuesday, and now today, haven't already been eaten by the time the grill is hot enough to cook 'em. Guten Appetit!
Thursday, December 17, 2009
As daunting as the 'occupation' blank on a hotel registration form must be for one of the ranch hands (unsure if the pun is intended), I'm trying to imagine what the evaluators who bestow such awards put in that same blank. I was as impressed by the historical overview and social commentary offered as I was to learn that the ranch accepts all major credit cards without a surcharge. Talk about change we can believe in.
If this stuff hasn't been on all the late night shows and the Comedy Channel pseudo-news programs, it will be, I'm sure, as it's a humor writer's dream come true. I'm as sophomoric as the next person, and because I'm SO competitive, actually much more so, but I'm not sure we are headed in the right direction when we start to regard this type of situation as an expansion and extension of equal rights.
Shady Lady can, I suppose, make itself as famous as the former Mustang Ranch in Sparks, Nevada (which has a handicap accessible room that, sadly, we just don't get to see enough of in the all-too-brief video clip), though the news accounts report the pricing structure for a dalliance with the men hasn't yet been determined. I've heard at one time they were Selling England by the Pound, perhaps she might be wise to consider another unit of measurement.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
His workshop Saturday was Part One of a (at least) two part sort-of intervention without the reality TV drama that word has picked up in recent years. What he's trying to do is help this City Council create SMART objectives for Norwich-by SMART, he means, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely.
During this past election, there was a lot of talk about 'revitalizing downtown'. His point Saturday was talking about revitalization without defining specifically what you will do and how you will do it, and how you'll measure your progress, is a lot like singing about football and is the same waste of talent and time.
At least that's what I heard him telling our aldermen and alderwomen.
The public was invited, and I really thought there'd be more of us, aside from the usual suspects, but, it is after all the holiday season and this time of year everyone seems to have so much to do. I guess the six members of the City Council and the City Manager have all their holiday shopping done already because while they probably had other things to do Saturday they didn't have anything that was more important to do than to sit together and learn to work towards clearly defined and shared goals.
The workshop lasted ninety minutes. If you're a Black Friday shopper, who stands in line for three hours before a store opens, this is nothing. The workshop's rules were clear and simple. Each alderperson and the City Manager, in turn, had to offer one difficulty or opportunity, each, for Norwich.
And all the other participants had to remain silent until it was their turn. All ideas, large or small, were summarized into a single line then scribbled by Relyea onto large sheets of paper on an easel. As the pages filled, NCDC's Bob 'Too Tall' Mills carried them to the far corner of the room and hung them on the wall.
I counted forty-three different points created by the seven participants-and they shied away from nothing. Challenges ranged from a lack of leadership through inability to work with others to lack of trust in local government and inability to establish and accept realistic goals. Don't misunderstand, it wasn't all dark. Positive opportunities were seen in the involvement of volunteers across our community, and in our schools and human services. Our diversity and arts community were seen as bright spots as well.
Doug Relyea will tell you he is a statistician--what he means is after he asks the question, he tracks the answer. After they'd offered nearly four dozen challenges and opportunities, he charged each participant to place all entries in one of three categories: very important, important and less important. They could not consult with one another. He then led them back through their collective notes and by show of hands, and no one was excused from voting on any topic, he had them tell him, and one another, what was very important, important or less important in Norwich.
Part Two will be driven his analysis of what our City Council and City Manager consider to be the absolute most important outcomes and issues for our city and will concentrate on developing plans to achieve the desired results-not just continue the endless and empty years of discussion we've had. And it's happening not a moment too soon.
This City Council, the neighbors we selected and elected, are preparing to address known issues of reduced state aid for the remainder of the current fiscal year, uncertain state funding for the next budget they are about to begin working on, as well as the ramifications of decisions looming on purchasing the Norwich Hospital Site and attempting to revitalize 337 Main Street, once known as the Norwich YMCA.
They, and we, need to acknowledge that people prefer problems which are familiar to solutions that are not. As long as all we do is talk about the negative perceptions we, who live here, have of Norwich, nothing will ever happen to change those perceptions. It's not enough to say we lack an economic development plan unless and until each of us is willing to roll up a sleeve and lend a hand to write, implement and measure the success (and failures) of a new one.
This summer we capped celebrations of Norwich's first 350 years and failed to grasp this history's most fundamental lesson--tomorrow is shaped by both what we do, and what we fail to do, today. Some will still be here for the Quadricentennial. When our grandchildren and their children ask you what we did in Norwich as America struggled to right its ship in the wake of the economic calamity that reshaped the face of our nation, I'm pretty sure no one wants to say 'I watched and waited.' Each of us needs to become an exclamation and not an apology.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
I helped (=stood out of the way) as Thelma and Louise staged their end of the semester tactical withdrawal from Eastern State Connecticut State University where Michelle, about to enter her final semester as a senior, has been residing on campus since she was twelve, or so it feels (I know it hasn't been that long; I like to see if I can get a rise out her).
That was Sunday's project-to fill up the Forester with as much of her stuff as would fit, and then some, shuttle it back home to Norwich, and unload the boxes onto the kitchen floor. In my house, if one of us has learned anything after thirty-two plus years of marriage to the other one, it is to NEVER let your partner put ANYTHING away because he just moved here and has no idea where stuff goes.
There are items I 'helped' (someone else's word) unpack when we arrived from Germany that have yet to see the light of day in this Brave, New World. It's not my fault. Only the strong survive, I guess. Anyway, the problem Sunday was rain, and since I'm not a witch and am in no danger of melting, it was little problem at all.
Yesterday, as part of my be nice to the people I work with program, I had the day off and offered to help my son move into his studio apartment in the Crocker House on State Street in New London. It is very nice and is in downtown. New London, Connecticut, reminds me of New Brunswick, New Jersey, in terms of ambiance but it doesn't have a Greasy Tony's at the corner of Easton and Somerset Avenues. Tony's was across the street from Carroll's, an attempted hamburger fast-food joint that saw itself as a chain in competition with Mickey D's; sadly (for them) no one else did and simply drove them into the ground, sales-wise.
The early morning loading and unloading was a bit more ginger than might have been expected or desired (especially the latter) because of the smooth as glass finish on so many of the surfaces Patrick and I were walking on, lugging boxes and bags of swellness. Pat correctly pointed out that the only time you really appreciate how much stuff you have is when you have to pack it all to move. As someone who, himself, has a lot of stuff, let me be the first to agree with my son on that assertion.
I think I like it better that he lives 'in the city' (=buildings much closer together than farther away) as opposed to where he was in a rural area about fifteen minutes from the Foxwoods casino. It's very pretty country, winding roads, lots of flora and fauna, Laurel and Hardy, Tinker and Evans, ham and eggs and--well, you get the idea, especially if you like solitude. Actually, only if you like solitude.
He had friends coming later in the day with a box truck to help move the 'big stuff' because when you have son who is twenty-seven, there's an excellent chance you yourself are somewhat of a doddering fossil so, as was the case the day before with your daughter, after a while, even you start to wonder just how much help to these vital and marvelous fully-equipped young adult persons whom you helped create, you're actually being. I'm glad by mid-morning, when my part of the helping was done, it was warm enough that the perspiration in my eyes (my sister Jill used to say that all the time; she never cried) didn't freeze on my cheeks. Don't know about you, but I just hate that.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Meanwhile, government back and small, marches on with the Connecticut legislature set to convene in special session tomorrow to take another crack at balancing the current year's budget which no one involved in believed was actually viable when it finally months late. Yeah, I, too, am amazed that somehow all the vaporware and magic arithmetic didn't work. I wonder whose pocket will get picked and--waitaminit, I can't find my wallet.....
Here in The Rose of New England the business of local government is in good hands as neighbors work to do what they can for all of us by helping out each of us starting this afternoon at five in room 209 of City Hall with a regular meeting of the Volunteer Firefighters' Relief Fund Committee (you can find the draft minutes of the September meeting on the municipal website).
Also at five (and NOT a word about it on the City's meeting schedule) is a regular meeting of the Ethics Review Commission in Room 335. If you are interested in becoming a member of this commission (where have I heard this before?), there's a link to the application on the same page of the website. Tip on Room 335-sit up front as the acoustics are horrendous and you can't hear a thing beyond the first row.
There's a budget forum sponsored by State Representative Chris Coutu (R-47) before he heads back to Hartford on Tuesday to try to keep his House and Senate colleagues from continuing their attempt to make jet fuel from peanut oil. It starts at seven and runs until nine in Room 335 of City Hall (and just me, is it not funny that a discussion on state finances would follow a meeting on municipal ethics? I love God's sense of humor.)
Tuesday in the Otis Library starting at five thirty and slated to run until 7:30, it's the Rose City Renaissance Holiday Celebration, Community Update and Awards Presentation (How'd you like to have put all of that on the invitation?). Lots of well-deserved recognition for many talented people, working in and for a downtown district that has, for me, gamely struggled and must be admired for never giving up on itself.
You'll have to leave the party early if you're going to get to the Norwich Public Utilities offices on Golden Street by six for a regular meeting of the Board of Public Utilities Commissioners (which appears to have a vacancy by the way. Perhaps you're interested in applying) with a bonus, so to speak, of a regular Sewer Authority meeting to immediately follow. The minutes of both of their regular November meetings are on the NPU website.
The Commission on the City Plan has a regular meeting at seven in the basement conference room at 23 Union Street. I've not been able to locate the agenda as it's not on the city's website (doesn't need to, in accordance with the public law on meetings (I was told), but they're usually very good about posting it). As you probably know from the local papers, last week's special meeting on the Norwich Hospital Site purchase resulted in a negative recommendation to the City Council, meaning a 'super majority', five votes of seven, to acquire it will be necessary.
The Downtown Neighborhood Revitalization Zone meets at seven at Artwork to Empower (no idea where that is) and SUPER job by the committee in assuring their meeting minutes are posted in a timely fashion. I never tire of reading the (draft of the) June minutes on the city's website, which is a good thing, as that's all that's posted there. I'm a little surprised the 337 Main Street slide show for the Rec Department hasn't ended up on the website as well.
The regular monthly meeting of the Personnel and Pension Board has been cancelled and their piece of the municipal website could do with an update on members' terms expirations and November agenda and minutes.
Wednesday morning at eight thirty in their offices in the Norwich Business Park is a regular meeting of the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments who serve as a reminder that while at times each city and town may feel adrift in the ocean, it is the same ocean and together we are smarter and better than each of us alone.
Wednesday at nine in the Community Room of the Dime Savings Bank on Route 82 is a regular meeting of the Norwich School Readiness Council (Children First), whose efforts, I'm sure, are laudable and deserving of all the support we can give but whose efforts at telling me what they do and how they do it in anything vaguely approximating a timely fashion are, at best, execrable. One of the sites, in explaining the political climate in Norwich, describes a precinct system that disappeared after Charter Revision in March of 2001.
Thursday's Historic District Commission meeting has been cancelled, but Thursday morning at 9:30 in their offices in the Norwich Business Park, just down the street from Dodd Stadium (whatever happened to the idea of a NY-Penn League team to take the place of the now-departed Defenders?), is a regular meeting of the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative (I'm hoping that's not a real-time photo on the website), another example of cooperation across town lines that benefits everyone if we make the effort.
And Thursday at five, in the conference at The Rink, is a regular meeting of the Ice Arena Authority, whose meeting minutes are nowhere to be found on the city's website and whose members' appointments expired years ago, but certainly not their sense of dedication to working as best they can to help make sure the rink is one of the coolest places in Norwich. So, no matter how many awful puns are made at its expense, this is my town.