Tuesday, May 31, 2016

We Lived in the Shadow of the Elms

Time creeps up on you and once you're past a memory of an event, it just seems to disappear. I think, in this case, some of the memory loss is due to the Monday holiday law and how it's affected when we observe Memorial Day because it was on Memorial Day, thirty-five years ago, that I learned my father died.

I was still in the US Air Force (don't worry, NOT as a pilot or anything even close to important; you know how movies with crowd scenes have 'extras'? I was one of those) and I was standing Staff Duty watch at my assignment, the American Forces Network HQ, in those days, before The Wall came tumbling down and peace, love and harmony ruled our planet in Frankfurt am Main in West Germany. 

It had just turned three o'clock in the morning, I had the radio on and Jan Wood (who pulled the ridiculously early shift Milt Fullerton had once worked while stringing for ABC Radio) had just played the sounder and started his cast in the newstank when the telephone rang at the switchboard. At three in the morning, not a lot of good was on the other end I feared and I was right.

It was an operator from the American Red Cross Family Notification Program in Mannheim and she asked for the newsroom as was the routine. Once connected, she would say the code of the day, verifying who she was, and then state the name, rank and unit of the service member who did not yet know that s/he had a family emergency/death in the family 'back home.' 

I told the Red Cross lady the newscaster was on the air and offered to take the information myself. When she spelled the last name of the servicemember they were trying to reach, I realized it was my last name and when the first names matched, I was able to tell her 'and he's asked to return home for a death in the family' and have her confirm that course of action. She asked me to read back the notification, to assure her I had it and would relay it as was standard operating procedure. 

I told her I was the serviceman who had just learned his father had died. She apologized though I never figured out for what. I waited for Jan to finish his newscast and carried the Red Cross log book back to him. I stood there while he read the one page summary of conversation, signed the receipt on the bottom and looked up at me. When he did, I nodded slightly, and when my shift ended at seven, I went back upstairs to my desk in the Radio Ops office to pull together my thoughts for the trip home. When my boss, Bob Matthes, came in later he was as kind as he could be in helping me depart on emergency leave, get a lift to the Frankfurt Flughafen and flying into JFK in New York. 



It's odd how I cannot remember who picked me up. I do remember a bus ride somewhere in Jersey to somewhere else in Jersey and eventually walking down a long and still-dark-in-the-early-morning-light-of-day-road on which my parents had built a sprawling house. A house, if not actually at the end of the world, so close was it, you could see the end of the world from the backyard. 

My dad and I did not get along, if by 'not get along' you mean loathed one another. For many years, before and after his death, I thought it was because we were so different but I've realized it's more because we're so much alike. I think from the time I could talk I said 'no' to everything he ever wanted of me and for me. 

My parents' house was bedlam. Only the three youngest children were still living with my parents; the oldest, my sister Kara, a senior in high school (I think) was just weeks away from graduation, her younger sister, Jill, in one of the middle grades of high school and Adam, looking very solemn and all alone, I guess, was in elementary school. I still feel bad about abandoning them for all those years, all those years ago. Sorry doesn't start to cover it and all I can offer is an apology and regret for my cowardice from then until now.

I had escaped and after me, a sister and a younger brother had both gone their own ways but, in candor, I had gone the farthest and fastest to another continent and another culture. I had met and married a person whose own family was as damaged in its way as I always thought mine was. Maybe that's why she and I have been at this for (closing in on) thirty-nine years this October. But in my father's house, that night and the next day and the next night, I didn't know where the journey would take me. 

The funeral director kept calling my mother, 'Mom', for (I'm sure) grief-management reasons. I remember nothing else about him except that he kept doing that until I felt compelled to tell him very quietly mine would the last face in this life he'd ever see if he did not stop. I'm not sure my mother even realized the man was there. 

I traveled in my uniform which were all the clothes I had brought with me. I don't why I packed only Air Force uniforms. It did make it easy to spot me at the funeral, at the graveside and at the wake where scores of people whom none of the rest of us had ever known, but who knew my father, stopped in to say how sorry they were and how, if there were ever anything they could do, to please call.

None of us ever did, but that's okay because none of you meant a word of it, so we're even except for where we got odd. I've kept all of those memories tucked away as if in a photo album or shoebox never to be opened until a random thought as I prepared to go back to work at the end of what should have been this year's Memorial Day weekend. 

I've now lived more years since he passed than I had when he passed. And while I, too, was already a husband, I became a father, twice, in the ensuing years. And if I had a dime for every time I wanted to ask him for an insight into something I was going through (and that was, and remains, hard for me to do because I am at least as stiff-necked as he was on asking for help) in I could easily buy a lot of folks at a bad day at the auction. 

But life is what happens when you're in the space between and differences so vast you fear they can never be bridged become just another reminder of how much my father's son I always was and always am.   
"Well I was young and I didn't know what to do
When I saw your best steps stolen away from you
Now I'll do what I can
I'll walk like a man
And I'll keep on walkin.'"
-bill kenny

Monday, May 30, 2016

For Love of Country They Accepted Death

"A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself." This is what today should be all about.


Today we can each find a moment to remember and thank someone who gave the rest of their lives for us.

"Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty."


Memorial Day, May 30, 2016.
- bill kenny

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Saturday, May 28, 2016

From General Orders No. 11

Without putting too fine a point on it I guess, today, Saturday, is for all intents and purposes the official start of the holiday weekend. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to tell you I took a vacation day yesterday because the people with whom I work deserved a break. 

I’m not going to get stuck in that ‘let’s check the weather’ trap to see what kind of plans I’ll be making because aside from attending some local observances on Monday I don’t actually do the planning in my house. Sigrid, my wife, does. Forty years on, she’s earned the right to do that.

I served eight years in the Air Force as, don’t snicker, a radio and television weenie (that’s what we called each other, but only when no one was around). Vietnam was ending (actually Saigon fell while I was in basic training), and the “All-Volunteer Force” had started as did my quarrel on behalf of language lovers everywhere (my point: since I was being paid, I was a ‘professional’ not a ‘volunteer.’).

It’s okay; no one ever paid me any mind when I hollered about it then, either. I spent 13 months with “The Friendly Giant of the North,” AFRTS Sondrestrom, ninety miles north of the Arctic Circle and went from there to American Forces Network, Europe, Headquarters in Frankfurt am Main (West) Germany. 

I lost a friend in Sondy, Jack, who drowned in a freakish set of circumstances involving the 24 hour a day Arctic summer sunshine, a wild river and a tipped raft and then, years later, we all lost Bruce and Mike when the rotors on an Army chopper they were aboard for a story about an international parachutists' jump at the Mannheim air show stopped rotating and all of them became the day’s only story.

All in all, for eight years, I’d be hard-pressed to tell you who in any service at any time had an easier duty. Oh, every once in a while a record might skip, or a cart wasn’t re-cued but nothing that caused the Russians to cross the Fulda Line. The hardest part was running into folks on flight lines or out on tank ranges who would tell me how much what I was doing meant to them while they were the ones always in harm’s way. 


Especially when in the decades since I stopped being in the Air Force we got very serious about how often we sent people into combat way and a helluva lot less concerned about the consequences for feckless and reckless foreign policy that resulted in Americans coming home in body bags.  Anyway. All of that is a preface to encouraging you to read all of this.

-bill kenny

Friday, May 27, 2016

Walkers and Crawlers

I'm always delighted by small children and infants though I’m often annoyed at parents who don't keep better control of them in social environments. I was shopping in my local grocery yesterday afternoon and hadn't realized it was 'bring your mewling child to the store with you' day because I was up to my butt in unhappy young people.

When that happens, I tend to go with the flow and get cranky myself. Trust me, it’s not pretty. Don't get me wrong-I'm not angry with the children. A newborn didn't decide to get in the car and drive to the mall. Mommy did. Or maybe daddy but based on what I saw yesterday, more than likely not, though mommy probably wishes she knew where daddy was.

I don't know when we became a country of the very young and the very old but having been the former and now being the latter let me tell you that all you other age groups, and food groups for that matter, had best start pulling your own weight around here.

We spend way too much money in these parts on diapers and Depends. We built this nation for our children; that's the deal every generation works with the one that follows except now we sold our children and their children out for off-shore bank accounts and left them with no skills, few jobs, and little hope.

We're so busy blaming the New World Order and the changing times that we have no time to look in the mirror and look at ourselves. When Gandhi talked about being the change you want to see in the world, he wasn't talking about looking under the couch cushions in the living room. He was talking about all of us to each of us, for everyone. As someone running for President who’ll never become the President keeps pointing out, “Be the Change before You See the Change.”

If being polite means being less than honest, maybe we should ask one another if that's too high a price to pay for comity. We owe each other the unvarnished truth in order to build a world in which we all want to live. Hurt feelings are a luxury we most certainly can afford if they get us to where we need to be.
-bill kenny  

Thursday, May 26, 2016

See the Sky About to Rain

I had an alert when I awoke yesterday morning from The Weather Channel on my phone about some tropical depression in the Caribbean with a chance to be the first hurricane of the season (!) Umm, I was still savoring the first butterfly of spring. I think we may be rushing the seasons faster than even Vivaldi would've liked. 

Touch wood (taps skull) we're months away from hurricanes here in the Northeast where all we really do is go to the store and buy bread, eggs, and milk (I typed that out of order and am so anal I fixed it). While homes get swept away along the Jersey Shore and towns disappear in Florida and North Carolina, we seem to make French Toast. Who knew?  

And even though I gripe about it, I'll head to the grocery store when the $*it gets real, because that's what I do. It's always the same. The aisles are jammed with neighbors whom I've never met and people I see all the time whose names I'll never know. So much for Norman Rockwell's portrait of America, eh? Though, I'm not even sure if the Saturday Evening Post is still extant. 

And why would we want it when we have tabloids to tell me "Rachel Ray Throws Out Husband" and to read that Katie is worried about her marriage to Tom. I have no idea whose these people are but nevertheless, I feel sorry for them. A grocery store gawker like me is reading all about them and there's nothing they can do about it.Their as-imagined-by-their-press-flacks lives add a lustre to my own.

Where else, but standing in the checkout line at a supermarket can I experience, admittedly vicariously, so much so quickly? How goofy must we now be that Weekly World News, the tabloid that had 'Bat Boy' and the alien shake hands with everyone from H. Ross Perot through George Bush, both H. and W., ceases publication because of flagging sales?

I LOVED WWN because I trusted EVERY news report, photo and feature was utterly bogus and knew I was never going to be disappointed. And what about the folks who placed ads in there! What were they thinking and who buys that stuff now that the newspaper is gone?

Lots of rainy day thoughts and concerns until we stand bravely and mostly silently behind one another waiting for the register operator (they're not really 'cashiers' anymore are they?) to say hello and ask us how we are, without ever waiting for, or listening to, the answer. 

We're past 'paper or plastic' aren't we? We may have given Al Gore an Oscar and a Nobel for his eco-movie, but I drove in my car all by myself and bought enough items ludicrously over-packaged to single-handedly choke a landfill. Then I return home, enjoying the buzz from a food snack I bought and ate even though I shouldn't have. Empty calories are the best. They go straight to the waistline and skip the brain. 

I've waited all winter for sunshine and blue skies but I'm forced to admit: we need to have more hurricanes and more often-helps us get out of the house and mingle. Man, I can't wait but I guess I'll just have to, we still have all this spring and summer to get through.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Other Plans for Monday

We’re so close to the traditional unofficial start of summer, Memorial Day, that many of us can already taste the burgers and hot dogs grilling on the barbecue. Although it’s only Wednesday some have been checking the weekend weather forecast so often already, Jim Cantore called to ask if we’re okay (and to see if should bring a covered dish or something to the barbecue Monday).

We’re so set on getting our Summer On we might lose sight of what Memorial Day was intended to be, and, for some still is. Some of us have parents who can remember when Memorial Day was called Decoration Day and even farther back than that, it was an attempt to honor the war dead of the War Between the States, evolving into a remembrance of all of those men and women in uniform who sacrificed their lives to preserve our liberties.

Across the country and throughout Norwich we’ll have memorials and remembrances. My family lives close to Chelsea Parade, close enough I regularly walk among the various markers where Broadway and Washington Street separate to this city’s war dead in all the conflicts which have both shaped and shaken our nation. I fully expect to join others there for a moment of silence and reflection for sacrifices past that makes today and all of my tomorrows possible.

And I hope you, too, have an opportunity to remember. If I may, I’d suggest a perfect moment to say thanks would be this Monday morning at ten at the Memorial Park in Taftville, next door to the Knights of Columbus Hall on South Second Avenue.

Each year, the Taftville American Legion Post 104, the ceremony organizers, honors a Taftville resident who gave his life during wartime. This year Chief Motor Machinist Mate Leo Bedard who died on USS Grunion (SS-216) in July 1942 will be remembered.

The organizers are welcoming members of the Bedard family, and the day will be that much more special if an even larger than usual attendance helps underscore how much we value the Chief’s sacrifice.

Ceremonies like this, the Wreath Laying at Little Plains Park Memorial at eleven, and the Memorial Day Parade at noon at The Cathedral of Saint Patrick are poor compensation for the dreams and lives many in uniform sacrificed for opportunities and privileges many of us take for granted.

Freedom has a price and each generation learns its cost. Memorial Day is our thank you to the heroes who paid the price. But we should ask ourselves what is our responsibility to them? We live in a world of instantaneous communication and television sound bites where history and news are often confused with trends and ephemera that make memories meaningless. 

On Memorial Day, we honor and remember all in military service who died because freedom is our most precious gift. Our heroes forfeited their lives for that belief and their sacrifice demands that we live as engaged and energized citizens who deserved their sacrifice because we do.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

There's Probably a Catch

Sometimes life is so surprising. And sometimes it's us and has little to do with anything we might ever think of as life.

Here's a loaded question that was the online survey question in my hometown newspaper, The Bulletin, this past Sunday. Maybe you can see the trick in the question; I didn't and still don't but judging from the percentages of the answers, there must be something I'm missing.

Here goes: TAKE OUR POLL
Would you be willing to quit smoking, cut back on drinking, maintain a healthy weight and get at least 150 minutes of exercise each week in order to reduce your chances of getting cancer?

Need more time to answer? No? You're sure? Well, if you guessed 100% of those who took the on-line survey answered yes, you are wrong.
Serious, here it is:

Yes
73%

No
27%

I guess it's true.
"There's no cure. There's no answer. Everything gives you cancer."
-bill kenny




Monday, May 23, 2016

All Too Human All Too Often

On Saturday evening, shortly after eightish (more dark than light here in the Northeast, but still some light) the 'phone pole' behind our house, bordering the right of way and it was pretty scary.

Our daughter, Michelle, grabbed video as I stared out the back door without my glasses in the general direction of the brightness. I still call them "phone poles" because that's what they were called where I grew up. These days, the poles support electrical cables, phone lines and cable though in our case we'd only need two as cable and phone are brought to us on fiber optic I'm told.

Fire like this fascinates me. You can see how the flame tips arcs, as the energy that caused the fire looks for more consumables to feed into itself to continue to grow. I think too often we are like fires. Our brightness, as perceived by others can only be fed by their appreciation and admiration and even more so by their jealousy and envy of our talents and abilities.

Those same talents and abilities that we work to keep in check and under control until something somewhere happens that causes us to too volubly and visibly celebrate ourselves, the "look at me!" moment after which that which brought us to prominence is consumed by our effort to stay that way.

I'm more attracted, as I've aged to those who glow rather than to us who blaze against the night sky. No matter the flame, I retreat to the wisdom of Edna St. Vincent Millay's First Fig while standing just far enough from the light to see the flame without being scorched by the heat.
-bill kenny

Sunday, May 22, 2016

An Ancient Screed Indeed

 I wrote this seven years ago when I was considerably younger and much more naive and trusting, at least in theory. I was angry then and, hard to imagine even more angry now. Your mileage may vary.

Have you been looking at the numbers on your credit card statement in recent weeks -all that daily annual  percentage rate, and annual amortized percentage rate and other words that I'm reasonably sure someone, somewhere, is making up as they go along? It's kinda of weird until you get to the bottom line and realize, usually with a jolt, that 'hey, they raised the interest rate on my balance!' 

Yeah, about that.....in case you hadn't noticed, it's hard times in the land of plenty though the Lord and the Secretary of the Treasury (who may well be one and same Person; I've never seen a photo of them together at the same time, so you have to wonder) are doing what they can to make sure that some time is harder than others for different folks. 

Remember back when the Treasury was having a sale on money? Ask for a billion, and get ten billion more. Do you remember the line at the checkout? Nothing succeeds like failure and lucky us, from car companies to banks, we've got financial operations that are too big to fail. I have a whole new appreciation for Tom Hanks now. Heck, where could we be if only we, too, were large? 

Anyway, Treasury gave US Banks, and banks that looked like US banks, wheelbarrows of money to keep 'em solvent. Heck! Wheelbarrows doesn't even come close-more like fleets of dump trucks filled with moolah. I'm sort of surprised the auto industry didn't recover from all the really big trucks they should have had to build so the banks could get their share of our money, and not fail.

Yep, the important part, the news reports said, was that the banks NOT fail. Poppycock-the important part was that our government, starting with the last guy and continuing with the new guy, gave the capitalists running the financial institutions a healthy dose of socialism by using our money to bail them out from their own greed and stupidity. When then-candidate Barack Obama promised 'change we can believe in' I hadn't realized he meant change back from my dollar, which, now that I think about it, I haven't actually seen lately. 


Anyway, the same banks, back from the brink of disaster, awash with all of our money made business decisions that, surprisingly have nothing to do with cutting loose the bad risks and unloading the poor loan choices that helped trigger this whatever-it-is-we're-in. Instead, the same banks with our bailout money are raising fees and charging us more to get at our own money because there's only so far you can go on thirty-four or more billion dollars and you've got to have a plan for a rainy day.

Not to worry, though. Not only will our government lock the barn door after the horse is out, the horse will have gamboled its way across the field, jumped a fence, gone into the next county, been hit by a mysterious black dump truck filled with Treasury notes, killed and then used to feed the dogs of war, by the time our legislators 'save' us (probably for dessert). 

Yeah, I love that it's called a bill of rights with a straight face. That, I suspect, means it's due on the fifteenth of the month and you don't even wanna talk about a grace period. Oh yeah, and thank you for shopping the American Way, where what's mine is mine, but what's yours is negotiable
-bill kenny

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Eating Alphabet Soup Does Not Make You a Writer

A lifetime ago I worked with Dave, from Texas, who had a honey in the rock kind of voice and a temperament you could not frazzle try as you might. He had an expression along the lines of 'just because the cat gave birth in the oven, that doesn't make her kittens biscuits.'

I was thinking of him and that whole idea when I opened this Spam I Am letter from a Mr. White somewhere in a Nigerian or Benin boiler room, obviously written by someone who learned English during a mail handler's strike so none of the vowels or rules on how to use them were ever delivered.

(The use of ALL CAPS for most of it was a very nice touch, btw. Be advised, if you run this through Spellcheck or Grammatik, your cpu will explode.)

ATTENTION: MY DEAR FRIEND;

    PLEASE THERE IS SOMETHING BEWILDERED WHICH I DO NOT UNDERSTOOD,(MR.THOMAS ALLEN) YOUR BROTHER IS TRYING TO MAKE US BELIEVE THAT YOU ARE IN SICK BED AND NOT CAPABLE TO HANDLE THE TRANSACTION. HE EVEN EXPLAINED THAT YOU ENTERED INTO AN AGREEMENT WITH HIM THEREBY MAKING HIM THE CURRENT BENEFICIARY OF THE CONSIGNMENT BOX . YOUR CONSIGNMENT BOX WHICH WAS CONFISCATED BY THIS USA I M F OFFICE.


    HE CLAIMED TO BE YOUR NEXT OF KIN AND HE IS HERE TO SEND THE NEEDED FEE OF $95 TO BENIN REPUBLIC FOR THE INSURANCE OF THE ORIGINAL AWARD OWNERSHIP CERTIFICATE DOCUMENTS,THAT IS WHY I AM WRITING THIS MESSAGE TO YOU TODAY, IN VIEW OF THIS DEVELOPMENT. YOU ARE REQUESTED TO CONFIRM TO THIS I M F OFFICE THE TRUTH OF THIS MATTER, WHETHER WE RELEASE THE CONSIGNMENT BOX TO YOUR BROTHER,


    I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU AND TO VERIFY WHETHER YOU ARE THE ONE THAT SENT HIM TO RECEIVE THE CONSIGNMENT BOX BEFORE WE CAN ALLOW HIM TO SEND THE THE $95 FOR THE MAN IN CHARGE OF THE CERTIFICATE OF OWNERSHIP MR.SAM ALBERT. PLEASE, DO CONFIRM TO ME, AS A MATTER OF URGENCY IF THIS MAN IS REALLY FROM YOU SO THAT THIS OFFICE WILL NOT BE HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR PAYING WRONG PERSON.

    BE ADVICE THAT WE ARE READY TO RELEASE YOUR CONSIGNMENT BOX TO MR.THOMAS ALLEN AND I DON'T THINK YOU WILL BLAME ANY PERSON IF THIS HAPPEN WHICH YOU HAVE ALREADY PAID SOME MONEY TO THE GOVERNMENT OF BENIN REPUBLIC IN THE PAST, THAT IS ALL I NEED TO TELL YOU NOW. PLEASE YOU SHOULD RESPOND URGENTLY TO ENABLE US TO KNOW WHETHER YOU WERE THE ONE THAT SENT HIM BECAUSE THERE IS NUMEROUS SCAM THAT IS GOING ON IN THE WORLD TODAY WHICH YOU MUST BE AWARE OF.

    IF YOU ARE VERY SURE THAT YOU ARE NOT THE ONE SENT MR.THOMAS ALLEN AS AN INSIDER IN THIS FINANCIAL INSTITUTION, GO AHEAD NOW TO SEND THE $95 WITH THE PAYMENT INFORMATION IN ORDER TO ENABLE BENIN HIGH COURT OBTAIN THIS NEEDED CERTIFICATES SO THAT YOUR CONSIGNMENT BOX WILL BE DELIVERED TO YOUR ADDRESS TO AVOID LOSING YOUR CONSIGNMENT BOX.TODAY.

Literacy makes everything possible, even the impossible.
-bill kenny


Friday, May 20, 2016

Only Attractive Friends in Pennsylvania

We have quite a slog before we reach the Republican and Democratic Party presidential nominating conventions this summer and then an even longer, hotter summer that will become the autumn of lives before we vote for a new President, a third of the Senate and the entire House of Representatives.

Maybe it looks better from where you live, but from I sit, the “no fun” light on the dashboard is burning very brightly already and I cannot even begin to imagine how much stupider (my sister Jill’s word from about the age of five onwards) it will be by the time leaves are turning and falling.

Especially when you have this kind of story to start your day. And all this time I had assumed those license plates telling me I have a friend in Pennsylvania were true. Only to have to endure a less than diplomatic truth enema from Big Ed.

The farther out in space you go, Governor, the more alike we look. When you’re a homely mook like me, you take solace in the belief that from a distance, you and Cary (or Hugh) Grant could be twins. Yeah, I know you meant beauty is only skin deep but so, too, it seems, is the veneer of civility and manners.

And in light of how nasty this whole process is about to become and remain with billions of dollars yet unspent dedicated to telling lies and ugly truths about the other candidate, the only 10’s that will be in discussion are those wrapped around 20’s and 50’s. When it comes to looks (and when and where), I think J. Geils nailed it.
-bill kenny 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Lincoln and Douglas Meet Laurel and Hardy

I can’t imagine living in any other time than this one. I’m not especially fleet of foot, agile of intelligence or well-coordinated so I’d have made a terrible pioneer moving westward ho as a minion of manifest destiny back when as a nation we were clinging to the Eastern Seaboard.

I got thinking about days gone by and nights of future passed while reading some of the excerpts from the Megyn Kelly/Donald Trump cage match that proved to be something a little less than expected in terms of histrionics and fireworks. The biggest complaint I kept reading was that we really didn’t learn any more about “the presumptive Republican presidential candidate” than we knew beforehand.

I was a kid in grammar school when Barry Goldwater ran against Lyndon Johnson but I watched grown-ups, my dad included, who had always seemed to be Republicans, physically squirm when Goldwater made a headline or was on the tube. I’m seeing that on a lot of faces of people I think are Republicans now.

I’m pretty sure after the Democratic Party convention in Philadelphia in July, I’ll have that same look for much the same reasons.  Actually, that could mean about 40% of us will be pretty goofy looking through November (since I’ll assume that’s about all of us registered whatevers who’ll bother to vote) because it’s easier to bellyache on Social Media than to work in order to fix things.

I’m grateful there was no Facebook or Twitter when Stephen A. Douglas and Abraham Lincoln debated one another as they sought to be elected to the US Senate from Illinois, though in light of the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln might not have fared too badly on Twitter.

Maybe the disquieting part for me is how (still) true the first line of Lincoln’s acceptance speech upon receiving his party’s nomination for Senate (on June 16, 1858) rings and how seamlessly yesterday and today flow together at a moment when we might better worry about tomorrow. 
-bill kenny

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Strike Another Match

I had a pair of jeans back when dinosaurs roamed the earth which mom kept patching and stitching. After a while, neither of us could remember what were jeans and what were patches. I would have never thrown them away, they were my favorites, and she would have never stopped trying to patch them. 

But at some point in time, they were gone with the wind.  Did they jump or were they pushed?  The adult of 64 I am now looks at the child who was eleven and asks ‘why does it matter?’ Bygone days and old ways.

I don’t miss those jeans and certainly wouldn’t fit into them if I still had them but was thinking about them nevertheless while reading of the Norwich Board of Education’s struggles to teach our children (and I define our children as the ones who live in our houses, as well as the ones who don’t) as the dollars to so do, dwindle down or disappear entirely.

Between the 2% increase, the City Manager proposed in his overall budget and comments to the City Council heard at public hearings, one certainty in the next education budget is it will not be the amount the Board of Education endorsed as their Superintendent’s original request.

Add to the (fewer) number of city dollars the very real prospect that even less state funding not just in education grants but even for state mandates, will be a result of whatever budget the state legislature adopts in special session and we looking not at trouble but calamity. But I fear we’ll look for stop-gap scapegoats instead of long-term solutions.  

I’m wondering if voters who conducted a wholesale swap-out of Board members last November and placed ‘the other party’ in the majority are unhappily surprised at how ‘expensive’ public education in Norwich remains. If you thought education was expensive before, try calculating the cost of ignorance.

Look around you and, regardless of your age, marvel at how different our lives are now from how we ourselves grew up in an age of miracles and wonders. But marvel should turn to menace when you look at our public sector and how it provides goods and services. The difference between a rut and a grave is the depth of the habit, and we're already shoulder deep.

Eisenhower is not President, we don't have rotary phones and our society has fundamentally and profoundly changed from that of our parents and their parents' before them. If we want different results we are going to have to do different things and do things differently.

Every aspect of how we deliver education and the services which support education must be examined for efficiencies and efficacies. The history of how we have always done things has become a hindrance to how we must learn to do things better now. We can cry about the tyranny of change or mourn lost tradition but we need to embrace what's new and what's next before we become the past.
- bill kenny    

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Low Sparks and Other Human Highway Attractions

Despite what the calendar and my driver’s license says, yes I’m old but I’m also too old for a lot of the stupid stuff we do to one another in the name of ‘decency’ and other high-sounding virtues most of which we wouldn’t recognize if they bit us on the butt. 

For a large number of folks, the “good old days” seem to have a lot to do with things staying the way they were and when a change occurs we hate the agent of change as much (if not more) than the actual change.

The current outage d’ jour seems to be where people should go to the bathroom. I should be a half-full glass kind of guy and welcome the fact that we are willing to talk about in public at all. I remember as a kid watching Preparation H TV commercials and assuming the product had something to do with books or reading because the spokesperson was always sitting at a desk in what looked like a library.

If the tumult in my mass media feeds is to be believed we now have more genders than Baskin-Robbins has ice cream, or close to it and we don’t seem to have an official policy on what to do about it. I’d like to believe that reasonable people, no matter what their position on any issue may be, can create a consensus allowing for accommodation, though in recent years on just about any and every subject under the American sun that idea has been most striking in its absence.

I don’t want to know your views on transgender public bathrooms, on women being subject to the draft, what the minimum wage should be or when you should put cheese on your barbecued hamburger. Except for the hamburger, I’m not gonna tell you mine (and on that, the answer is “always.”). I really think we’re both better off that way, me most especially.


I cannot believe we ‘need’ a state law or a federal directive to tell me what goes on in a bathroom and who goes into one is none of my business (are none of my business? I think those are two different issues). And we certainly don't need a fake celebrity to chime in any more than we need my two cents. 

Too many of us spend too much time trying to fit into what others think of us or to meet and exceed impossible expectations that cause us to doubt ourselves. I’m thinking we might all be better off if we exhale slowly and take a step back from where we’re heading so we can better see where we may end up.

Our Declaration of Independence speaks of each of us having unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It could be just the root beer talking here (of course) but it doesn’t look much like a hot pursuit on that last one, at least not for many years.  We each have but one life and I’ve learned, so far, it’s hard work to make yourself happy much less trying to make others happy too
-bill kenny

Monday, May 16, 2016

It Never Seems to Get Old

We Nutmeggers (don't ask me; that's what Connecticuters were called when I got here) sort of have a state budget, just passed late last week and late at night (or early in the morning) which means all the cities and towns across the state who have to wait for precise dollar amounts from the folks in Hartford sort of know the answers now. 


Not necessarily a case where knowledge is power but more often 'confusion from stern to bow.'. Here in Norwich, our City Council elected last November because it promised to say "no" a lot more often than its predecessors (in my opinion) is still mulling budget figures and has on its agenda tonight a resolution to have one more public hearing on the final budget proposal whose numbers were helped, irony of ironies, by a compromise on a proposal from the Democratic Governor on property taxes for motor vehicles. 


The more things change, the more they remain the same it's said (though less often done). Here are some observations I authored years ago that seem, perhaps only to me, to be as fresh as today's headlines.You be the judge. 

In the last couple of weeks around here, we've seen the part about small town life I've never been especially fond of, the small people. You know who I mean. The ones who don't have a dream of their own anymore so they enjoy stepping on those of other people, questioning their motives and motivations, abilities and aptitudes and their courage and competencies.

Across the pages of our local newspapers, we've had folks, on-line anonymous assassins offering pellets of poison and arch advice to those struggling to help fix problems they didn't create. And right now, in terms of 20/20 hindsight, it's a target-rich environment for all those who not only know everything but know everything better.

As you may have noticed, we're in quite a pickle with our municipal budget. Not intending to dazzle you with my mad math skills, let's just say it appears our wants and appetites have grown geometrically but our means and abilities to pay have only increased arithmetically.

In that gap between the desire and the deliverable is where we are, and no one seems very happy about it to include the City Manager, the City Council and at every public hearing on the budget so far, nearly every one of those who will have to pay for all of it, the residents.

It's probably a trick of my memory (and yours as well), but every year it seems we are told 'this year's budget will be very challenging' or 'economic conditions aren't right' for some big, new initiative for public education, public safety or economic development.

We're counselled "when things pick up" we can have a discussion about restoring foreign languages to schools, adding an additional firefighter or maybe paving another street that's slowly turning into a wilderness trail. Never a word about pony rides. 

We weren't doing all that well when times were good. We did not need a Not So Great Depression (or market correction or other, more obscene name for the last half a decade) experts are telling us we are slowing climbing out of to fall so far behind in our lives that giving up or giving in seem like the only two options.

Everyone knows a neighbor who's lost a house or who packed and left suddenly. You know we didn't get into this mess overnight and we're not going to get out of it without working very hard. And you think you're working hard, and you are but we still have a long way to go. We can plan our work and work our plan or pray for a simple solution and whine when it doesn't happen. But we can't keep doing both because we really suck at that and the constant practice isn't helping.

If talking about a better tomorrow made it happen, we'd be there already because we love to yak. Ideas? Please! We have them by the bushel but are we willing to offer them aloud and work to make them real? I go to a lot of meetings and rarely hear any idea except "don't."

"Don't" is not a great way to live your life, but it's an especially lousy way to run a city. And when we add a heaping helping of 'if only' to create a hypothetical situation so bizarre it's painful I start to believe if my mother had married a Kennedy, I'd be living in the White House, but she didn't so I'm not and that's why I didn't wish her a Happy Mother's Day last Sunday because she ruined my life. And if you doubt that, just ask me. It certainly beats accepting that responsibility myself.
-bill kenny

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Not Earning My People Person Merit Badge

We'll all seen people with sweatshirts or tee-shirts that say 'ask me about my grandchildren.' At some point in the past unknown to me, I must have been fitted with one that says 'tell me about anything-I don't mind.' 

I was in the local grocery earlier this week grabbing some sports drinks, as if what I attempt now at Planet Fitness in nearly the middle of the night could ever be mistaken for physical exertion. 

Humor me, okay? If I want to think it's a workout, what's the harm in letting me have this little fantasy? It isn't, and if cornered I'd admit it, but I do get winded and a bit sweaty and parts of me hurt until the Tylenol kicks in. Plus I look cool with a multi-pack sports drink in my hand as I stand in line. I get almost as much of a workout carrying that to the register as I do while on the treadmill. 

I wound up behind a fellow carrying a lot of stuff in his bare hands, without the benefit of a shopping cart or a basket. I've had that happen, where I get ambushed in the baked goods by freshly made oatmeal and raisin cookies while I sort of have my hands already full (a reach exceeds grasp moment). Have there been times I've parked the item I originally came into the store to get and bought a lot of other stuff, taken it all out to the car and then returned for the original item? Yep, guilty as charged.

Not sure what happened with this guy. He was pushing a bag of charcoal briquettes in front of him with his shoes, nudging them along, but did not seem to have any meat you would normally associate with grilling in his hands (and I don't care to imagine where else he might have put it). I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I've never been hijacked by briquettes when I'm Lost in the Supermarket, so I didn't have the highest regard for this fellow.

Then he started mumbling. From where I was behind him (I scrupulously enforce that ATM space rule when I'm in line. It will never be my hot breath you feel on your neck and vice versa), I thought he was talking to the scandal magazines alongside the gum and candy. One of the most sobering aspects of growing old is how, as I've aged, less and less of the headlines or pictured celebrities mean anything to me at all. 

One of magazine covers had someone who is so famous she only has a first name, and a CW TV show, but I have no idea who she is or the name of the show and no matter how often my daughter (and even my wife) tells me, I never learn it. There's nothing sadder than an aging hipster.

Anyway, Marty Mumbles seemed to be talking to the magazine with what looked like Mel Gibson and (maybe) a girlfriend or daughter as a thumbnail sized photo on the cover. I think there was a wife of a famous politician staring bravely if blankly into the lens to emphasize how she's sticking with Bob, or Dave or Doug, though I hadn't asked. Sometimes I think the USA is now The Truman Show, and not Harry S, except the batteries have been removed from the remote and we can't change the channel. 

The fellow in front of me wasn't talking to Mel. I looked up to realize, as he stacked his stuff (and '12 Items or less' became a suggestion, exactly when? I missed that memo) as high as he could on the smallest possible amount of space on the conveyor belt, he was actually talking at me. There was a reasonable amount of frantic head nodding and eye-blinking, but no contact, which was of no help at all in understanding a single word of whatever he was, or wasn't, saying. 

All the while the cashier was scanning his stuff, he had his back to her, addressing me. I always get these guys so I just bided my time. When she announced the total, I had to point him, using the smile and nod technique (and NO sudden movements) in her general direction so that he realized the ride was just about done.

 Of course, he wasn't prepared to pay and went through his pockets looking for cash, paper, and coins, before defaulting to a credit card, shuffling off with enough plastic bags to choke a landfill all the while jabbering away to anyone (else) who made eye contact.

When I handed the cashier my sole item, she remarked that she hadn't seen me 'in here with that guy before' as if I made it a practice to collect strangers in the night. I thought about telling her just that and then decided silence, in my case, was golden. Besides, if I dawdled, I'd be late for the cookout, and that would never do.
-bill kenny

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Food for Thought

If you can afford the Internet (and you must because you're reading this), you're doing better than a lot of folks here in the Land of the Round Doorknobs who scuffle for their next meal. It's still pretty early on a Saturday as I write this and hopefully when you read it.

I'm counting on the mail carrier to not have been to your house yet. Today's a day when you, I and mailmen and women across this country can do something for people we shall probably never meet and hopefully never have to experience what they are going through. We can stamp out hunger.

Earlier in the week, you had a file-card sized card in and among the No More Nudes for Us Playboy magazine (that 'I read it for the articles' got really old really fast, didn't it?), the LL Bean spring catalog with the Gore-Tex disco boots and maybe a postcard from somebody in the office on vacation (who goes to the Antilles this time of year?). Here's what it looks like:


The card promoted today's collection of non-perishable foods and today it doubles as a pick-up tag for your donation. This is easy; even I did it. Go to a grocery store and buy food you and your family would eat, pay for it and bring it home and put it in a bag. Staple the bag shut, with the card on the outside and put the bag on the porch.

When your letter carrier stops by today to deliver the mail, s/he will take your donation as they leave. They're pretty good at this, having done it for almost a quarter of a century and doing what they can to help us do what we can all do to give 'til it helps.
-bill kenny

Friday, May 13, 2016

Insert Your Title Here

Friday the 13th. Like we've never had one before today. Cue the screaming and running around in circles and when you tire of that, change the direction of the circles.

Insert your Yikes! Moment here: _______ (or make it longer if it was a bigger event; it's your call). Enjoy this but, keep your Taylor Swift factoids to yourself.


For the record, I am not superstitious, just regular stitious.
-bill kenny


Thursday, May 12, 2016

We Are

It has not just been remarkable sports television or remarkable plain old television. The Invictus Games, wrapping up tonight on ESPN, have been absolutely remarkable. Period. 
Stop. 
Check. 
Please.

Anything and everything you might ever wish to know about them, from origins and purpose to future and beyond is here. I’m unsure where to place the actual redemptive value that such events offer to all of us viewers as fellow travelers on The Big Blue Marble but in light of how blithely leaders of every stripe on every continent send men and women under arms off to battle one another, the effort behind Invictus may be all the saving grace we shall ever have as a species.


You’ve seen the photos. You’ve read the poem.  
The participants are us but for the grace of God.


And they are what we should strive to always be, unbowed and unconquerable. 
-bill kenny

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Going In Circles

People prefer problems that are familiar to solutions which are not. If you doubt that, look at the current churn and burn of discussions about the not yet adopted Norwich budget. I have to bet many of the people who voted for a seismic shift in the political composition of both the City Council and the Board of Education last November are the same ones who’ve been insisting on further reviews on proposed economies. 

You don’t need read a newspaper to know people everywhere are struggling to make ends meet. From small business owners, through single parent households to towns and cities trying to create budgets that deliver value for the citizens’ tax dollars without bankrupting the very people in whose name government was formed, no one is immune. Attendance and discussions (if not actual arguments) at public meetings and budget hearings this year prove that.

We all know how often in our own households we turn over every dollar before we spend it. That’s why so many insisted those whom we elect could not continue to have us live beyond our means. While we may agree we philosophically that can do anything, as a practical matter we cannot do everything.

The devil is in the detail and difference. Exactly which parts of not everything should we do and how should we pay for them? Everyone has an idea but we’ve reached a point in the process where only the members of the City Council have the final decision.

Those seven men and women who are our Norwich City Council aren't an abstraction. You know them, they are our neighbors and they are those whom we chose from a pretty big field of choices six months ago (that adage about time flying comes to mind). It was Tip O'Neill who observed that 'all politics is local' and when you look at our local level, there's not a lot of ideological differences that get in the way of each of them trying to do a good job in Council Chambers.

The Mayor, sometimes with and other times despite the City Council, is working to define community and economic development goals of the City, while the City Manager refines that vision into a plan of action and holds accountable the municipal departments to achieve those goals. All the elected and appointed officials work with agencies and volunteers towards and for a greater good and a more hopeful city. But it can no longer be a discussion about style over substance. It’s now time to decide. 

How often have we pitted teachers against policemen, human services versus road repair? Too often. And what changed? Nothing and now that has to stop. We have more wants than wallet. The City Council must decide what we can and will afford and what we must do without. We, no matter how we voted in November, must support the spending and investment decisions made by those whom we have chosen. 

-bill kenny