Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Love Is Also a Verb

We're still at that point in the calendar that says "spring" but you keep an eye on the sky whenever you talk about an outdoors activity because "surprise" also starts with "S." That's how I was this past Saturday with a threatening sky but moderating temperatures walking to St. Vincent de Paul Place on Cliff Street to take part in the initial Clean Up the Streets for 2017.

I'm not all that expert on the history of the outreach but I know that it's the last Saturday of every month through the spring and summer and into the fall. The Last Green Valley has partnered with Norwich area spiritual and community groups to organize donations of work gloves, trash bags, and cleaning tools.

It was people power at its best. I'd estimate thirty or more folks turned out in the St. Vincent de Paul parking lot to tackle a target area of what seemed to be most of the streets in the neighborhood surrounding the kitchen and food pantry operation.

We, patrons of the kitchen and Norwich (and beyond) neighbors were there in all ages, sizes, shapes, and colors to include a young grade-schooler who came to keep her grandma company to a father and junior-high aged son from Colchester who volunteered last year and who came this year (again) with a work truck and a large flat-bed trailer.

The organizers intend to take on a different neighborhood across the city each month and from what I saw and experienced on Saturday morning there's no trash, too small or too large for them. Always in pairs and sometimes in small group work parties, we filled yellow trash bags with discarded detritus and more from sidewalks, curbsides, and streets while dreading rain that never arrived and hoping the sun would win its battle with a cloudy sky.

I tagged along with the aforementioned dad and lad and their truck and trailer and an indefatigable scout on a 50 cc moped in charge of advance reconnaissance as we worked our way down Cliff Street hauling mattresses, cabinets, a television, a recliner and one or more sofas, box springs, tables and other home furnishings onto Roath Street and what may have been the heaviest pull-out couch ever made.

We worked our past the Norwich Pizza Palace and Butch's Luncheonette making the right onto Main Street across from the old YMCA and then the next right on Park Street. Meanwhile, helping hands had fanned out across and throughout Oak, Hawthorne, Clairemont and all points in between. As organizers shared later on Facebook, in less than two hours Saturday morning we collected 2,820 pounds of trash. Yipes!

Yeah, I spent part of the rest of the weekend sore in places I didn't know I had. But with a smile on my face from being able to enjoy the opportunity to not just say I love living in Norwich but doing something to prove it, too. Next Clean Up is Saturday, April 29th. Just bring yourself, you're all we need.
-bill kenny    

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Road is Very Well-Paved

I am a huge fan of the Abilene Paradox which was groundbreaking about forty years ago in explaining, or attempting to, how groups and organizations undertake actions that are counter to the desires of those who are in those very groups. I have two VHS cassettes (yeah, I am old-school), one with a 'bootleg' version of the original lecture Dr. Jerry Harvey delivered at American University in D.C., shot from a shaky camera in the balcony as he stalked around the stage with a hand-held mike with a soft Texas accent and sharp sense of the absurd.

He spoke for almost ninety minutes on the tape I have (which at times loses the video control track causing the picture to roll and in some places be nothing more than 'noise' (= snow on the screen)) and he never lost a member of the audience or failed to make his point or any of its corollaries. He was concerned with what I recall as the lack of forgiveness for mistakes, which is as true today as it was at the time he stood on stage.

I've worked for folks who've summed this concern up inelegantly as 'One 'oh shit!' wipes out a 1000 'attaboys!' In America, he noted, the first public mistake is nearly always the last one as no one is prepared to forgive, much less forget, a previous failure or allow someone who has failed the opportunity for redemption. I've felt for years that Search for the Guilty is akin to his premise since so often I've watched and participated in, these witch hunts, instead of fixing a problem. And if you think I'm typing about "Derbygate," you're not wrong.

Harvey's other premise was the pervasive power of the fear of negative consequences. He described a social interaction that hinges on one party being willing to take a step and make a decision that will set off a chain of events, some of whose consequences may not be well-received.

His concern was that often, within the group dynamic that gets us all to Abilene, the effort becomes to persuade the decision maker that possible consequences could (not will, only could) outweigh probably benefits so that NOTHING is accomplished. The beauty of this, he pointed out, is when this happens, every other person in the group is absolved of ANY responsibility for what doesn't get achieved because after all, they didn't make any decisions at all, right?

I live in Abilene and if you've watched the tape, or I should say 'the program' because it's on DVD and probably on BLURAY-DVD, you live there as well. I don't care what it says on your driver's license, or how the address on your mail reads. When we become comfortable with group think to the point where NOT thinking like everyone else makes you a suspect, welcome to Abilene.

And here in my Abilene, in addition to Derbygate, we are the proud owners of a building in our downtown (that is very much the former and not so much the latter), Reid & Hughes, whose rehabilitation has been a top three topic of local conversation every day for the twenty-five and one-half years I've lived here. It's almost like Willy Wonka's Everlasting Gobstopper because every time our city council almost makes a decision on the building, it changes its mind. Different City Council's over the year, same situation. We're currently back to 'let's save it' (from 'let's raze it' sixty days ago) and of course this time we mean it. (Just as we did last time.)

At some point down the road, I'm not clear if it will happen before the November Council elections or if the building will again be a campaign issue, when the Chelsea Renaissance is no further along than it was the last time we talked about it, because of as-yet-undiscovered defects in another yet-to-be-seen plan for downtown (that was privately developed and sprung on everyone) which all will publicly embrace but privately despair of, we here in our Abilene will still be talking about the day we were going to make jet fuel from peanut oil but didn't. And that's exactly how we want it to stay.
-bill kenny

Monday, March 27, 2017

Breakfast of Chimpanzees

I am not a big fan of experimentation (I used to be a huge fan of things created through fermentation but that was another lifetime, one of toil and blood, and I make it a rule to not go there on Mondays) and plod along for the most part with one foot in front of the other in travel and travail from Point A to something like Point B. It fills up the day and makes the time go fast.

On weekday mornings I have a bowl of Cheerios for breakfast after I've gotten to work. I still spend more time there than I do at home because I live for the approval in strangers' eyes, I guess (keep your pity or contempt to yourself; I have my own). Perhaps true for you as well, I have a routine from the time I open my eyes to about a half hour after I'm actually at work.

All the stuff in between happens, of course, because I'm the one making it happen, but it's an auto-pilot operation. I'm such a slave to how things flow that if anything changes or shifts, like one of those wind-up toys that walks itself into a corner, I just keep bumping into whatever the roadblock has become, unable to clear it or go around it.

Cheerios at work is my decompression food, I suspect. When I sleep, I cannot recall if I dream though my wife has told me there are nights (and early mornings) where I shout out and/or talk or get up, and for which I have no explanation because I have no recollection. My dream world is just black. I use the whole going to work and getting used to being there for the next twelve hours part of the day as the Re-entry to Earth part of the program. And the fuel for this is Cheerios.

I knew someone who called them bagel seeds-suspect the Big G folks wouldn't have been too happy about that but it makes me smile and I repeat it to myself every morning and crack myself up. I never tire of saying it or laughing at it. If I had but a million or so folks with my delightful sense of humor (someone had to say it, and it didn't look like you were about to) I could have my own cable news show-and oh, how we'd all laugh then. I have Cheerios in the next to last of the red plastic bowls we had when we lived in Germany and used for cereal there.

Years ago, Sigrid found very nice and (actually) quite pretty replacement bowls and the red plastic ones (except the two I rescued) went to the land of their ancestors on trash day. As the oldest thing currently in our house, I get VERY nervous when anything is pitched out 'because it's really old.' You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows on that equation.

I eat Cheerios without sugar or milk. Actually, and I don't eat a lot of cereals, I NEVER eat dry cereal with anything other than a spoon and my mouth. Why do you think they call it DRY cereal?

What am I supposed to do with the milk? Drop little tiny people in the bowl, so they can be rescued? Perhaps I should get a recording of Nearer My God to Thee, and using sugar cubes to construct a fake iceberg, reenact the sinking of the Titanic. Of course, with that much sugar in my system, I'd be crayoning all the walls in the five story building I work in for three days, from the outside in, until sedated with a croquet mallet.

I used to eat Wheaties, back when Bob Richards (if I were shorter, I could ask him for a pony ride for my birthday) was on the cover (I don't how old I was before discovering he didn't invent them but was the first endorser of a cereal. I never count the Quaker guy on the oats).  These days, I guess you'd have to use the ultra-high temperature 2% stuff that looks like white water. I've never understood how they get the cows to stand still while they heat 'em up. I suspect they catch them early in the morning.....
-bill kenny

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Gratitude Is the Atttitude

I had forgotten about these words and just stumbled across them and smiled because I was a much sunnier person when I first offered them and have faltered a bit in recent years as I've allowed life to grind me down (which is an excuse masquerading as a reason and I know it). I found them to be a tonic (as immodest as that sounds) and I hope they help you as well. Actually, I hope you are so well you don't need them and can pass them to someone else. The old ripple in the pond effect, don't you know. 

We each have peaks and valleys, good days and dark days, moments of pleasure and of pain. We've all had opportunities to regret choices and decisions that have taken us farther away rather than closer to that which we desired. Sometimes there are ways to get back and other times we must live with the price we pay. 

We each have been a prisoner of circumstance, heredity, genetics or serendipity and we all have been victims of what we see as an uncaring and unfeeling universe. Meet Nick Vujicic and realize, again (or for the first time) that the effective range of any excuse is far less than a meter. 
-bill kenny

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Third Largest State

The key to subtraction is often an abstraction. In times of high-stress political theater, it's useful to the cause to render someone who disagrees with you as "your opponent" rather than "Mister" or "Ms." Someone with a Name and Face.

We've become quite adept at it in terms of reportage about all manner of violence, be it domestic, terrorism or war. We speak about victims of opioid and other substance abuse as if we were counting cans of peas at the local market.

The emotional distance we create is, I suppose, useful in allowing us to sleep at night. We do not and cannot hear the cries and pleas of the homeless, the hungry or the hopeless when we have decided to consider them 'economically disadvantaged' and whatever other multi-syllabic descriptive phrases we invent to insulate us from the world in which we live (and that we also created).

This list of many of our United States may seem nonsensical as you try to sort out the order. It's not.

Here we go: Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Georgia, North Carolina, Michigan, New Jersey, Virginia,  Washington,  Arizona, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Indiana, Missouri, Maryland, Wisconsin, Colorado, Minnesota, South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, Kentucky, Oregon, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Puerto Rico, Iowa, Utah, Mississippi, Arkansas, Nevada, Kansas, New Mexico, Nebraska, West Virginia, Idaho,  Hawaii,  New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, North Dakota, Alaska,  District of Columbia, Vermont, and Wyoming.

The states are listed in descending order of population; I owed you that. My family lives in one of these states. My mom is in Florida. I have brothers and sisters in another and cousins, and nieces and nephews galore scattered throughout. You probably do as well. Each of them has fewer than twenty-four million, 24,000,000, people. It's a big number when you type it out.

Twenty-four million people would be the population of the third largest state in our country, behind California and Texas, the two states not on my list. As it is, twenty-four million people are also the number of Americans projected to no longer have health insurance after the Affordable Care Act is "repealed and replaced" by Republican Party Congressional Representatives.

Their effort would remove"essential services" such as maternity leave, prescription medication, hospital stays, and all addiction therapy services and insurance providers to exclude those with pre-conditions. In other words, welcome to 2008, before the Affordable Care Act. And despite all of those subtractions, the GOP Freedom Caucus wanted more cuts. Here's another list:



I'm supposed to believe the GOP bill, Trumpcare, is what passes for progress in the shining city on the hill as Peg Noonan wrote for Ronald Reagan in whose name some truly horrible social policies have been endorsed and embraced by the present-day GOP.  Don't be fooled by the failure of political will on the part of a con man turned President and a back-bencher masquerading as a Speaker of the House. The catastrophe that was avoided Friday was only momentarily avoided. These bastards will be back over and over and over again. They can't help it, it's what they do. The party of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt has become an abomination unrecognizable even to themselves.
-bill kenny

Friday, March 24, 2017

Here's Hoping that the Days Ahead

I'm remembering a morning a very long time ago when I stopped in at a fast food place for breakfast probably because the way I was already living wasn't doing enough damage quickly enough to my body. Anyway.

Standing behind a dad and his young daughter, based on the time of day and their clothes possibly on their way home from Mass (Holy Communion and a McGriddle, who could ask for anything more) I realize from the way he's speaking to the counter person about employment he doesn't have a job. There's a discussion of shift availabilities (all of them) and pay differentials (doesn't sound like many) and he's nodding as she's talking while scribbling names and numbers down on a McNapkin.

I think, as we age, it takes us longer to bounce back from the knocks and bruises of what we insist is everyday life. In our twenties, we went from position to position with nary a thought of tomorrow or even later the same day. Then as the decades advanced, each job started to look more like a career until the economic tsunami we endured a number of years ago and its crashing waves that continue to this day to thunder around us ended up sweeping away savings, self-respect and maybe home.

The child at his feet was no more than five and had a tiara on and a pink fairy-dress that parents think every daughter at that age loves. He's making sure he understands the sequence in which to call the numbers, because 'if you call region before district, they'll tell you there aren't any vacancies' when the child squeals in delight and holds up her prize.

She's found a dime on the floor-perhaps someone dropped their change from a purchase, or, more likely, it didn't quite make it through the slot in the counter collection box for the supportive housing of parents of children with cancer the franchise has constructed across the USA and around the world.

I'm not alone in this latter supposition as the father bends to pick his daughter up and explains to her where the dime really came from and, by inference, where it really belongs. Without hesitation, safe in his arms, the child leans across her father and drops the dime through the slot in the top of the box. He smiles as his order is given to him and both dad and daughter head for the parking lot and home with breakfast and, perhaps, a new hope. For a just a moment, a bright Spring morning brightens even more. The past is gone, it's all been said. So here's to what the future brings, I know tomorrow you'll find better things.
-bill kenny

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Just in Thyme

I'm typing as fast as I can and only hope that spell check saves me from the ignominy of reading like a Hottentot at a Hootenanny. It's my own fault really-I like to live on the edge, walk on the wild side, sail too close to the wind, hang on by just a thread and as many other cliches and bromides as I can get on a 24 hour loan from Billy Bob's Emporium of Previously Used Sentence Components located in Del Rio, Texas.

Went to make myself a little pick-me-up yesterday after lunch and decided to skip the Java jive and the tea leaves and made a cup of chicken bouillon from those cubes that are so dense I've always suspected they are actually made from the matter that comprises a black hole in space. I especially like how there's always one piece of the foil wrap you cannot get off until you're reduced to trying to scrape it off with a fingernail and then, uh-oh, there's bouillon fragments under the nail. Do NOT put that fingertip in your mouth. Ever. If you have to ask why, it's too late.

So here I am, struggling with eight fingers (the foil was really hard to get off), putting the cube container back in the pantry and checking out the label (thank goodness for that Literacy Volunteer!). There's some disquieting news all the way around, starting on the front that tells me there's chicken 'with other natural flavors'. Sure wish we'd be more forthcoming detail on that. And what about the LARGE yellow letters that brag NO MSG ADDED ('contains naturally occurring glutamates' Huh?) or the nutritional information that ONE cube provides 45% of your daily intake of sodium. Let the Morton Salt girl put that in her umbrella and smoke it.

And then atop the screw cap, I saw the fateful advisory, 'Best by August 2014'. OMG. I'm lousy at math (and English as we both know) but I knew there was trouble. The light grew dim and my life started flashing before my eyes. It's been so unremarkable, mine was replaced by the Jimmy Dugan Story and since that's so short, the second reel was the Song of Bernadette (Peters, which was disconcerting especially the excised dance of a thousand veils scene from Barney's Great Adventure).

And then, just before the darkness enveloped me, I tried to figure out how anyone, even the manufacturer (yeah, Hormel, I'm talkin' 'bout you) would distinguish among good, better or best in chicken bouillon cubes. Turns out it was getting dark because I was dozing, not because the mortal coil was assuming the shuffle off position. Talk about relief! Of course I'm still a little peckish-perhaps a slice of last Christmas' fruit cake will hit the spot.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Same River, Different Boat

I wrote this almost exactly seven years ago as our city prepared for “the toughest budget season in a long time.” Sometimes the more things change, the more they don’t.

Times are tough all over. Money drives every discussion and the easiest way to end anyone's argument about an initiative, idea or ideal is to ask 'and how will you pay for this?' The silence is deafening. 

But here's the thing, especially as work begins on a city budget many fear we cannot afford while our State stares into the maw of massive deficit: we must assume there's not going to a lot of help making ends meet so can we afford to spend the money required to operate Norwich?

How about: Can we afford not to?

In years past we've had extended and extensive discussions in Council chambers and voting booths, on expansion and modernization of Kelly Middle School, the revitalization of Chelsea, construction of a regional intermodal transportation center and a half-dozen other projects. The discussions have been good though some might argue some of the decisions less so. Fair enough.

We can all agree we want to enhance and enlarge the municipal revenue stream by expanding private sector investment in Norwich but if we don't recapitalize our infrastructure, reinvest in our public safety and readdress decades of make-do funding for our public schools, whom do we hope to attract to Norwich and what will we have left of Norwich for ourselves?

No one wants to pay more taxes, none of us like what we're paying now. But all of us want the services we currently have to remain exactly as they are, and maybe even get a little more. And each of us has an opinion on where (else) in the budget savings can be realized.

The only people who can get us out of this mess are already here. We are all we can count on and that's perfect, because we are all we need; but we have to be willing to take risks to achieve rewards. And we need to remember there are NO silver bullets. Rome wasn't built in a day and even 
Marcus Aurelius  found the real estate market soft when trying to lease the upper floors of the Coliseum.

There are as many reasons to NOT invest in ourselves as there are residents, but there are over 
40,000 reasons why we must spend our own money on our own city. Each of us is worth every penny of the current city budget as well as the one that will be developed by the City Manager and the various department directors. Soon enough the men and women of the City Council, the neighbors we elected to make tough decisions like budget expenditures, will need every informed idea and constructive suggestion we can offer.

If we are worth saving, we'll have to reinvent every aspect of how we do business. The difference between a rut and a grave is the depth of the habit.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

From Here On In Your Life Begins

I'm inching my way towards Closing Time, a step more each day. I've defined who I am by what I do for so many years, I'm not sure who I shall become when I'm no longer working but I've concluded that while that song is nearly over, I'm unsure of the next. Going through things, important and so much less than, collected in the course of over a quarter of a century, gives you pause. And more, or less I guess.

Tucked in the back of a lower left-hand desk drawer I found a bag of finger puppets Sigrid bought me many, many years ago at the Ikea in New Haven, CT. Many people think of Ikea as the Swedish furniture store, though I'm not sure in the Twilight's Next To Last Gleaming, much of it is actually made at or near Trondheim.

I'm thinking more likely it's a half a world away from where labor, materials and energy prices help keep costs low and shareholder's returns high. Anyway, Ikea has a great cafeteria with excellent, and cheap, eats and, when you know where to look, a killer assortment of finger puppets. I bought a set of ten animals, that actually look like the genuine article, though much smaller to fit on your finger.

I recall the first thing I did after we bought them was put them on, in preparation for the drive home. A word of advice on finger puppets, from Ikea or anywhere for that matter-you need to have someone with you. You need her to put the second set of five on your other hand-it's really hard to put finger puppets on when you already have finger puppets on.

But the real reason you need someone is there has to be a person to shrink down in her seat and stare without blinking out the front window as traffic slows to a crawl on 95 North because it was built in 1957 when the rate of flow was 20,000 cars a day and now it's more like 20,000 cars an hour while you amuse yourself and other motorists (you hope) by leading the finger puppets in song. 

Actually, the other drivers smile at you the way they'd look at Ted Bundy hitchhiking as they frantically try to switch lanes. Almost all sing-along songs succeed with finger puppets except rounds, such as Row, Row, Row Your Boat, unless your shotgun is willing to help out on the bridge and she's usually too busy hissing 'everyone is watching us!' in a tone of exasperation that could only mean a frosty evening when we return to the house.

And after all that the finger puppets end up in the bottom of a desk drawer where now having been rediscovered, they'll enjoy a brief renaissance before being brought home to disappear into the basement forever.

I've developed a belief in an afterlife that has room for a Heaven and Hell, as well as Limbo, and a basement. A basement? Yes. While many of my tribe of Sixties Kiddies would argue as to the final eternal destination of Richard Milhouse Nixon, I believe (this is religion, after all) basement is the most logical place.

All my designs, simplified/And all of my plans, compromised. I wouldn't be amazed to find the reason for why I've been doing for a living what I do for a living buried in another desk drawer I'll open later in the week, and even less so when I don't recognize it.
-bill Kenny

Monday, March 20, 2017

I'm Hoping Shelley Is Right

In light of what the calendar says, far more so than what my window has been offering in recent days and weeks on this, the first day of Spring, I can continue to whine about the winter I so hope is really and truly over. Not nearly as much as I am over it.

If you live in most of these occasionally United States I know you know whereof I mewl. And sitting in the shelter of Long Island Sound I would not be surprised to learn we here in Southeastern Connecticut got off lighter than many others. We didn't get what we deserve, thank goodness, but certainly more than we bargained for.

And I also concede that none of cold weather kvetching will keep me from piteously bleating when the heat and humidity of August are here, because they never come on little cat feet but stomp right in wearing Size 44 Triple E jump boots. Where oh where will any of that polar vortex be when this happens? Your guess will be as good as mine.

I endorse the emotion that suggests worrying and complaining about the weather, while completely human and often humorous, is a waste of our time and talents. It will change nothing and dilute our enjoyment of the moment in which we find ourselves.

Now and Zen, I remember, "Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes and the grass grows by itself." Make a moment for yourself to take off your thirsty boots and stay very still for awhile so you can enjoy the shifting of the seasons in your own time and at your own pace.

Spring, the most hopeful of seasons, awaits. I hope yours will be everything you want, and most importantly, everything you need.
-bill kenny

Sunday, March 19, 2017

An UnHappy Tradition

I've offered these thoughts every year on this day and date in the hopes that one time it will all make sense and I can leave my recollections here for the universe to pick clean. But it hasn't yet and it doesn't look like it will be happening today so, here I go.

This ends a tough week for anyone who's ever picked up, owned, or been named for, anyone in Alban Butler' Lives of the Saints. The main event, of course was Friday, Saint Patrick's Day. I'm not sure everyplace on earth paints the median strips on main street green as part of the parade or adds food coloring to the beer but let's face it, Saint Patrick is the 800 pound gorilla in the room for the month of March.

Which is too bad, because today is the Feast of Saint Joseph, husband of Mary (Mother of God) and (sort of) Jesus' step-dad. I'm envisioning an at-the-dinner-table exchange between the Son of Man (when small) and Joseph that has Joseph saying something like "then go right ahead and ask your 'real dad' for a new bike and let's see what happens." And then I imagine
The Curia or the Legion of Decency showing up at my house and slapping the rosary bead handcuffs on.

As a grade-school child I missed the subtlety that went into the talk-around as the Sisters of Charity explained '
the Annunciation' and when I got older and it smacked me right between the eyes, I admired even more the cool, collected response Joseph seemed to have had to all of that. Talk about Rainy Day Women #12 and 35. It's a pity we don't roll the Apocrypha into the Bible (sort of a VH-1 Behind the Book) and let Max Von Sydow have another crack at the Greatest Story Ever Told (as soon as legal gets the rights clearances squared away).

Today, the Feast of Saint Joseph, is when the
swallows come back to Capistrano. I wonder if the village fathers paint the center stripe on their main street a shade of bird droppings white and grey or if they even have a parade (I think I'd steer clear of the beer, but that's just me). As urbane and world-wise as I like to think of myself, I love the story as much now as a doddering fool as I did hearing it as a child. I find it reassuring and, while my belief in a Divine Being fluctuates wildly (and how screwed am I if Her/His belief in me reflects my faith in Her/Him?), I hope (in a faint-hearted, wimpy sort of way) that Paley is right about the Great Watchmaker.

I say that, mindful (with apologies to
Jackson Browne) that 'I don't know what happens when people die.' And in keeping with that point, I have known two very dear people who shared the Feast of Saint Joseph as their birthday. They are both from long ago, at the time when I knew everything (and everything better) when I worked for American Forces (Europe) Network and Bob was my first (and very best) boss in Radio Command Information (together with Sara, Marge and Brian) while Gisela was the record librarian of the most amazing (and amazingly organized) collection of vinyl in the world.

Bob was married to 'local color' as I was to be as well (GI's who married citizens from the country in which they were stationed; usually guys marrying women but NOT always). He and his wife, Erika, had no children but loved as if she were one, a stray dog they took in and kept all its life, Sandy.


Erika and Sandy passed away pretty close to one another, leaving a hole in Bob's heart that never healed, filled with a pain of which he never spoke. Bob himself passed a number of years ago and I see him at this very moment in my mind's eye in a beaten beige long coat with a beret he wore in every kind of weather.

Gisela was my translator when the letter of permission from the Standesamt of Offenbach am Main (where Sigrid and I hoped to marry) arrived and I raced frantically from office to office trying to find someone to be my eyes (I was illiterate auf deutsch and vowed to never be that guy again).


Gisela put her glasses on near the edge of her nose, and would read a line and then look over the tops to give me the English translation. I still recall the shine in her eyes and her warm smile as she reached the conclusion granting us permission to marry and she clasped both of my shoulders and hugged me in congratulations.

I remember both of them today, maybe more so than Saint Joseph, perhaps because I don't know how many others remember them and I'm sad when I think about what happens to you when the last person on earth to know you dies.


So today I tell a little of the story of their lives, as I knew them, to remind me to celebrate their lives and hope the day comes when we can laugh together about all of that and so much more.
Happy Birthday, Bob, und Alles Gute zum Geburtstag, Gisela.
-bill Kenny

Saturday, March 18, 2017

An Air-Tight Alibi

Even though Daylight Saving (not savingS) Time started last weekend, don't kid yourself about the quality of daylight we're getting, because we're not. I get up at night, in the wee, small hours of the morning to start on a day that, for the next few months at least will conclude for the most part in the light. And I am very grateful for that.

Not so grateful that I get all swoony about the necessity of getting up well before the chickens and any and all other livestock to earn my wage. When I was just a kid, it took all of my effort to wake up when I'd hear stirring downstairs as Mom and Dad started their day with breakfast together in the kitchen before my father drove to the train station to go to New York and mom worked on a dozen projects or more until it was time to get us all up for school or life or something.

I had no idea what being a grown up meant except you got to drink coffee, which I didn't like, and to drive a car, which I knew even before I did it, I would really like. I'm not sure I gave any thought to whatever else was involved but I don't recall it if I did. All I really remember was how long the days were when I got up to watch Mom and Dad get ready for the world.

Now, when I get home from work, I have barely enough energy to get out of the car, much less do any of the projects as a kid I assumed my dad was home to do with me. And yet, I carry on as do we all, perhaps more from convention than conviction. If you don't do it, who will? Assuming, of course, anyone would notice whatever it was got done, or was left undone, in the first place.

And here's the thing, not one word of what I've written so far has anything to do with what I will write next. I was just tuning up, like maybe eight plus years of this stuff on a daily basis every day wasn't enough of tune-up? Or a turnip? Even a trollop, or perhaps a trolley. A herd of Winnebagos, hell, we're giving 'em away.

In the afternoon daylight Thursday driving up Washington Street in Norwich, just beyond the Sweeney Bridge more on my side of the road than on the other was a pile of fur and what looked like strawberry ice cream with hair. I have no reason to believe it actually was. You guessed it. It was road kill.

But it wasn't until I had almost driven past the Driscoll House I realized it was probably the remains of the woodchuck who lived in the rock wall behind the church which bordered the Heritage Trail on the bank of the Yantic River. I have to tell you, I'm pissed that somebody took the time in a 25 mph zone that none of us ever pay attention to, to run down this animal down. Actually, I'm not sure why I'm pissed and that pisses me off even more.

I've seen him (her? it?) about every other time I walk the trail to the harbor (I never walk Washington Street because of the traffic) and he was always in a hurry to get to or from wherever it was he was to wherever he was going. Or vice versa. And now all his (or her) rushing is over. Bigly.
-bill kenny


   

Friday, March 17, 2017

Only a Mad Moonlighter

This is a day that, as full of Irish heritage as I am (along with so much else (maybe more?)), I get more than a little creeped out by the celebrations of all that is emerald even when it's not. There's a claim there are more persons of Irish descent living in New York City than there are in Dublin, but I suspect that's a statement you can make without (nearly) fear of contradiction about almost every ethnicity who've come to settle here in The Land of the Round Doorknobs.

Whether your tastes run from Danny Kaye singing Danny Boy to U2 through The Chieftains or 
Horslips and how you wash down your bubble and squeak, if you're celebrating being Irish or pretending to be Irish, or you just like to bathe with Irish Spring, hope the day is a good one.

When
The Gangs of New York was making the rounds, I watched it like a deer in the headlights growing more disquieted and discomfited with each frame. Though I was already old enough to realize history is written by the winners and should have been old enough to know better, I learned of a past of which I had only suspected.

For cinema, the movie had more than an inconvenient truth or two about alternatives to the 'melting pot' (myth) explanation every child received as part of her/his American history classes in grade schools across this country for most if not all of our growing up years.


Instead what more of us learned as we aged was that we have as many dirty little secrets as we have truths we hold to be self-evident (and sometimes the former is also the latter but in that case is always unacknowledged). The stories of the
1863 draft riots in New York City during the Civil War were as well-known in their time as the number of leaves on a shamrock and the animus and enmity directed at 'the others' (of all stripes) is true to this day, all those years later.

So whether you're marching down that New York City Fifth Avenue today or in any of the hundreds of slightly out of control celebrations across the nation that we tend to use to get us closer to spring, spare a thought for the Battalion de San Patricio five thousand miles from a home to which they could never return who became a Legion of Strangers to those who would have been their countrymen, but refused.
-bill kenny

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Dad's Perfect Day

Yesterday was an excellent day and unlike almost any of  5.435 that preceded it, I had to do very little for that to be the case. Since professionally I do something close to nothing, but different from the time before, it was a snap. 

Shortly after eight yesterday morning our son, Patrick, called me. That in and of itself made yesterday a good day but it became instantaneously better when he told me he was intending to propose later in the day to his lady love, Jena, and wanted a word of encouragement of sorts for on the way. 



As unaccustomed as I am to telling other people how to live their lives or what to do and when (was that thunder I just heard? Watch for lightning, please), what a joy it was to tell him how thrilled I was and am for him and her and though I don't think it's possible, I loved them both more than even before. 



"You say you want diamonds on a ring of gold. Your story to remain untold. Your love not to grow cold. All the promises we break, from the cradle to the grave. When all I want is you."
-bill kenny

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Penny for Your Thoughts

Here in the Land of Steady Habits, we will leave no stone unturned and no tern unstoned in pursuit of additional revenue streams as we lumber through another state budget preparation season that will, if history is any indicator, be marked by lots of posturing and pouting by whichever side's ideas aren't incorporated verbatim into the final budget.

I'm still stuck on what happens to all the money from the CT Income tax and the state sales tax, plus the revenue the state gets from the two casinos for doing I'm not quite certain what. Once the zeroes start to run together, I get dizzy but it seems to be a lot of money. however in order to live happily for the next twenty minutes or so, Governor Malloy's proposed budget is casting an even wider net seeking even bigger fish in revenue streams of every size.

Last May I came across an article in Forbes, entitled "25 Years, $13 Billion Lost: Connecticut Income Tax Continues to Fail," I think from the title you can guess it didn't have a cheery ending, but that was written before the Governor proposed in his new budget to double down on the deposit we pay for bottles and cans.

Connecticut has had a deposit on cans and bottles since 1980. Its proper name is 'container redemption program' and the categories of what may be redeemed have changed and expanded (a bit) in the course of the years. Sill not included, to my personal dismay, are those itty-bitty bottles of liquor, "nips," as they're called. I find it disheartening as warmer temperatures melt more of the snow that, in addition to crocuses, I see so many (more) empty nips bottles. They are everywhere, underfoot and unwelcome. I think they'd make a terrific addition to recycling.  

Container redemption or recycling, if you will, saves space in landfills, helps conserve materials, while giving some a project on weekends patrolling highways and side-roads picking up the discards and redeeming them to cover those margin trades that didn't quite work. Since 2008, all unredeemed deposit money has been "escheated." That's a fancy word for the state deciding  "what's mine is mine but what's yours is negotiable."

In other words, all unredeemed container money goes to the General Fund. Back in the day a cash-strapped then-Governor Jodi Rell and a State Legislature faced a budget gap and those unredeemed bottles and cans were too attractive to resist. Obviously, the cans and bottles by the side of the road that are getting picked up and redeemed have already had the deposit paid. But if they're never redeemed, that should mean there's a pile of nickels, soon to be a stack of dimes if the Governor and Legislature can agree, someplace sitting all by its lonesome. As you've probably guessed that's not actually true.

Fast forward to the here and now. When everyone responsible for creating the state budget does all the stubby-pencil addition and subtraction, income and expenditure figuring, a budget gap, much like Banquo's Ghost, keeps returning. One thing about old habits, they can be hard to break.  

Now you may think you just felt the price of your favorite bottled and canned beverages go up. Pshaw! Think of it as enhanced, because that's what your legislators will tell you. And if you don't recycle those bottles and cans to reclaim your deposit, that's okay too. As a matter of fact, The Constitution State is not so secretly, not only hoping you don't redeem the deposit, it's counting on it. Yep. That's how bad things have gotten.

You look shocked. I’d offer you some water but we know how that ends up. Maybe if you take a few deep breaths; y’know,
that gives me an idea.
-bill kenny


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Della Street Died for Your Sins

We've all seen them, those TV commercials for a product that "nine out ten doctors" endorse or "four out of five dentists recommend." I sit in my living room and wonder about the 'the other one,' the one who doesn't endorse or recommend.

So when I pulled the string on this story I thought about my own  (very limited) dealings with members of the legal community and have opted to withhold judgment on the tragically less than fortunate Stephen Guiterrez and his possibly manufactured by Samsung e-cigarette lighter.

Besides, when your client is accused of setting fire to his own car (for the insurance money? I couldn't find an account that told me the name of the client or the alleged reason for the crime) and your defense is spontaneous combustion, I have to wonder if showing up for closing arguments wearing a Donald Trump suit (if that is indeed what he wore, there's nothing in any of the reports telling me one way or the other) wasn't really calling out the universe. Turns out it answered.
-bill kenny

Monday, March 13, 2017

Give My Umbrella to the Rain Dogs

Driving into work the other day I passed a fellow (I assume; it was early, a bit nippy and lots of outer clothes were called for) taking a dog for a walk. My Uncle Jim divided the canine kingdom into two types, Sooners (those who'd sooner s*it than eat) and dogs. In my years on this orb, I've had no reason to revisit his position, so I don't know what breed this animal was, except small and hairy.

Actually, it wasn't much of a walk, as the person was carrying the dog. As a parent of two children, I recall when ours were more like lurchers; that's the larval stage preceding toddler where the child stands, wobbly-legged but upright, and the mass and momentum of the body dictate in which direction the tyke heads, with just about no control whatsoever. 

If you've been a parent, you know the feeling of your heart in your throat as your little one goes down in a heap and you hear that sharp intake of breath as they suck in as much air as their lungs can hold to fuel the scream that sounds like an air raid siren in Coventry or Dresden. Of course, you pick your child up as if you could barely hear their shrieks until you have them next to your ear. People in the next zip code can hear them but that's part of growing up.

I don't think the dog was crying (not I'm an expert at such things) so I don't get the point of picking the animal up. It has four legs, a low center of gravity and seems to be designed to traverse the planet using his paws. Heck, Tillman uses a skateboard and doesn't depend on bi-ped power to do much else, I suspect, but open the dog food tins. Don't get me wrong, I'm not angry at that dog-I'm not actually angry at anyone; but it's against the nature of things, to my mind, to not let natural systems be natural.

Having said that, and invoking the spirit, if not the intellect of Whitman (Walt, not Lowell) and Rousseau (Jean Jacques, not Danielle), I should concede I've tried the 'let nature be nature' argument when the snow falls or when the grass in the yard is need of a machete whack or two to clear a path to the garage. 

My wife, no less devoted to Rilke than am I to Davies, offers me the 'you had better do' glance in place of her once so welcome 'come hither' look and I realize that being a Sooner isn't just a demarcation of the Animal Kingdom.
-bill kenny

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Mein Geburtstag Mädchen

I wrote this many years for the woman I love on the anniversary of her birthday, It's the latter again today and I remain as in love with her now and still as I was on the day we met.

She can barely tolerate Springsteen and winces when I start on my 'Bruce at the Festhalle on His first German Tour' story which I will NOT recount today. She's convinced Bob Dylan cannot now, nor ever, sing and that goes double for Neil Young, because he also can't play the harmonica or guitar according to her. She was a devoted Barry Manilow fan at a moment in his career when he was so commercially sweet, my teeth ached listening to him.

Where there had been just she and a husband was to be also a son and then later a daughter. She raised them both, it's their father with the case of arrested emotional development, practically on her own since her spouse gave his time to total strangers, not for days on end, but for decades. And she never missed a beat in creating from a home and hearth a safe haven for them all.

Not even on the day he came home, on a date of this very month twenty-six years ago, to tell her that she and the children would be leaving the only home they'd ever known to move to a country on another continent, that, of the three, only she had been in (and that was twice for holidays). She never hesitated or looked anywhere else but straight ahead.

Adding to the degree of heart wrenching difficulty in a relocation of close to 4,500 miles was a landing in the area first settled by the Pilgrims at about the time of year they, too, had arrived (but she stuck the landing). And she was to discover being a stranger in a strange land meant swallowing the bewilderment, frustration, humiliation and indignation often created by disinterested petty bureaucrats who required a rain forest of completed forms before issuing her a card of one color, but called by another, in order to remain with her family.

She is the most headstrong person, if not on the planet, than at least in a specific house at an address in Norwich, Connecticut, despite some stiff competition in that department from a daughter who has her self-assurance and belief in her own abilities from her mother.

That child's brother has his easy ability to make friends with people he's just met from his mother and she is the reason why neighbors can abide her spouse, I suspect, since he came with her and she's wonderful so there must be something she sees in him (she does wear glasses, after all).

There's nothing she cannot repair or mend which is a skill that comes in handy because her husband has a gift for physical destruction that approaches an art form and she has as much patience as each project requires, even if all of them require all of it all the time. The number of events and happenstances that had to happen in a specific and given order, for this woman from Offenbach am Main to meet a dweeb from Central New Jersey and make his world stop completely is incalculable.

The life that she has cannot be the one she thought she was getting when she said yes a lifetime ago and it's certainly not the one she deserves. Sometimes the ride has been very dark (as in dunkel night time, a small child offered in Gerglish decades ago). If the power to make today, her birthday, a national, or international holiday, were mine, I would use it, but it doesn't make a difference to her that this will never happen. She does not miss what she cannot have.

I can only wish her happiness today, her birthday, and marvel, yet again, that she shares her life with me. I never had a girl who loved me half as much as this girl loves me. You gotta hold on tight to her. She's a real emotional girl.
-bill kenny

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Here's to the Drivers at the Wheel

The future arrives a little earlier this time tomorrow than it did today as we begin Daylight Saving Time. It seems to me in reading that link Benjamin Franklin may be perceived as having a hand in the development of DST. By this time tomorrow DJT will be blaming BHO for it, bigly. 

I'm never sure what to do with this extra hour of daylight I have--I'm equally at a loss as to what to invest the extra hour of sleep in at the moment in the fall when we move the clocks back. If only Bernie Madoff had expanded beyond money and into the time and space continuum, how much easier our lives might have been. Except in Arizona (most of) and Hawaii, seemingly. I'm quite taken with the "most of."

We're the only species, to my knowledge, who divides temporal moments into arbitrarily measured units. I'm especially impressed how all of us on the globe have agreed to use the same increments; none of this 'how many centimeters are in an inch or yards are needed to be a kilometer?' stuff. Sixty is sixty (at least for seconds) until and unless it gets to twenty-four (hours) though when we start rolling the hours into days and then months, the accounting gets a bit ragged.


Remember all the discussion and debate about the Social Security Lock Box a ghost of a Long-Past Presidential Campaign? Maybe we could use that for Daylight Savings Time as well. I think most of us across the globe have some form of it (hand on your heart, were you surprised to discover North Korea didn't observe it? Yeah, me neither. Perhaps the Dear Leader doesn't have a watch). 

I just gotta believe if we all put a little something into the kitty, a few seconds here and there, we'd have ourselves quite a tidy sum of minutes and hours we could redistribute to those who made a hash out of it the first time around. So what do you say, huh? 

You scoff, because you don't see a practical use for this saved time? Let's say, you want to go for a swim, but you've just eaten--one quick call to the DSTLBAC (Daylight Savings Time Lock Box Advisory Committee, 1-866-MIN-UTES) and there you go, catch a wave and enjoy. Unless you're a shark already in the ocean of course as I don't know if they have to wait after eating anyone or anything.
-bill kenny

Friday, March 10, 2017

A Limited Horizon

I'm named after my father. I've told you that before.

Perhaps that's why I'm so confident when I suggest even more so than either of my brothers, I truly am my father's son. I never really use the "Junior" that I'm assuming is still part of my name (and who or how is it decided some folks are "II" or "III" vice whatever the word would be? Thanks, Google) even though there hasn't been a "Senior" since almost thirty-six year ago when Dad died in his sleep of an attacking heart seven-plus months short of his fifty-eighth birthday.

Some years back as the month of April approached I became slightly more circumspect (for me) and mindful of where I was treading and heading as I became older than my old man now. Loudon Wainwright is an "III" for crying out loud; why not "Junior Squared"? And based on how much my brain hurts from that previous supposedly explanatory link, I think I don't like cartoons.

I was thirteen and we were at our summer home at Indian Mountain Lake in the Pennsylvania Poconos when I learned it wasn't my father's idea to name me after himself. Actually, I'm underselling that by a skosh. He told me in that still even-toned voice he had just as he was about to lose his $hit, that he would have never named me after himself because he hated me.

We already didn't get along, something my siblings and I had in common in our relationships with Dad, and I do recall not being surprised at his statement. I think I said something like I hope you feel better for saying that and then bracing for a backhand across the side of the head that was, and this was a surprise, actually a right fist delivered into the center of my face.

I guess the force of the punch knocked me out, or at least down, since I recall a moment of black and then sitting on the ground near one of the rock walls we built everywhere on the property. Kelly, my middle brother, always called them IP's, for Idiot Projects, and Dad had a summer's worth of them for us every day.

I was thinking about all of that and a lot more that was a lot less cheerful while in a pretty dark place emotionally Wednesday as I took the first halting (almost said doddering but that would give it away) steps toward conceding my race to stay forever young has run. I applied for Medicare online and it took moments and didn't hurt at all, which made me feel a little cheated, I think.

I applied because, in another 'he never got to do it' instance, unlike my Dad, I'm "in the window," even if some days I've felt like I was on the ledge. You have ninety days before your 65th birthday and up to ninety days afterward to apply, without penalty (typed like I know what that means) and I was sitting in the sweet spot (?).

I'm still working, or to be honest, I still show up at my place of employment and they continue to pay me (I have no idea when I ceased working, but so far, so good.) so Medicare Part A is all I applied for at this time while wondering what happened to that kid in the Pocono woods checking out the fallen leaves up-close while refusing to touch an aching jaw who had no intentions of growing up or old.

I also wondered about Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey, the survivors of The Who, whose glorious anthem, "My Generation," was close to four generations ago and whose every word we who were that generation knew by heart. And then I remembered close only counts in certain circumstances though I'm a little fuzzy on what exactly they might be.
-bill kenny

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Don't Be That Guy

Impaired (drunk, buzzed, whatever you call it) driving is a plague on our highways and nothing that you will next read here is intended to condone, encourage or excuse it. Any and all efforts to keep us safe, often from one another, are most welcome and in my case, pure charity.

When I wore a younger man's clothes, my major undergraduate project as New Jersey lowered its legal drinking age from 21 to 18 (not sure what the illegal drinking became), was helping develop a "bar guide" to New Brunswick for those Rutgers College students who were still in the Inquisitive Mode. I wish I remembered more about the project, but suspect I should be grateful I don't.

With that as a disclaimer, I smiled when I came across a headline on a news item I think will also tickle your funny bone: "Dash, Body Cams Show UCA Juggler Proving Sobriety to Police." Unless the student is enrolled at the Ringling Brothers College of Circus Artistry (it could happen) at the University of Central Arkansas, I applaud the aplomb with which he demonstrated his field sobriety.

When I look back at my days on the banks of the Olde Raritan, I fear my feats of derring-do far more often than not fell under the "take his keys, please" category so bravo to you, Gentleman Juggler, and best of luck working up to those three chainsaws!
-bill kenny

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Citizen in a Republic

When I opened my newspaper a few days ago to read Mayor Hinchey would not seek a second term, I thought about Teddy Roosevelt and his "the man in the arena" observation (in an era before women were permitted to vote and hold elected office) and how true, especially here at the most immediate level of government, municipal, in the city of Norwich, those words actually are.

They apply not just to our current Mayor or to the three single-term Mayors, as is she about to be, who preceded her but to all alderpersons, members of the Board of Education and those friends and neighbors who give of their time and talents to serve on the dozens of agencies, boards, commissions and committees (past, present and future) to make where we live as good as we tell one another we are.


Like Roosevelt's critic, I tend to offer unsolicited insights and critiques to those doing their best in the mistaken belief I not only know everything but I know everything better. I should have realized by now offering your opinion in a dogmatic tone of voice doesn't make your observation a fact but I’m a slow learner. 


I can take solace as such that around here, I'm not alone. Anatole France was correct, 'if fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing' but I'm more concerned we never forget Daniel Patrick Moynihan's observation that 'everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.' 

In recent months that’s gotten confused. And when that happens, we all pay a price because we have to correct alternative facts and gossip with real truth and then begin again. In every communication model, both the sender and the receiver have responsibilities, often simultaneously. 




When I don't understand something you’re saying, I have to work harder (as do you) until we both succeed. For me to simply blame you solves nothing and fixes even less, leaving us broken, bent and beaten and very angry as to how we got here. But it’s hard to resist temptation, isn’t it? 

The more willing someone is to do a thankless job, the more of us you’ll find willing to stand around and watch them work, never offering a hand and carping when the outcome doesn’t suit us. Then, when it’s election time, “gee, there’s never anyone new to vote for.” If you’re trying to figure out what causes that problem, we do. Meanwhile, thank you, Mayor Hinchey.

Ignorance is when you don't know something; arrogance is when you're proud of your ignorance.
We need a whole lot less of both. That we needed it thirty years ago doesn't make it any less important that we start today.  We can make and be the difference in our city-not just because we know we can, but because we know we must. Elections are fast approaching. 

If you’ve decided to stop watching and start helping, this is when you should step up and speak out.
-bill kenny