Monday, March 31, 2008

Feng Shui on 2-A

I drive pretty much the same route to work everyday. I'm not famous or important or a 'person of interest' who needs a motorcade, a bodyguard or to vary my drive to and from work. I'm a drone on my way to the hive, sharing the road with other drones heading to other hives.

Route 2A is a little tiny piece of road that connects I-395 in Montville with State Route 12 in Preston. I think, if I recall the history correctly, it was expanded after the Mohegan Sun casino opened and, in combination with the Pequot Bridge, is used by many visitors and locals as a connector between the Sun and the Mashantucket Pequots' Foxwood Casino.

I'm not always especially alert during the drive to or from work. I might not notice the bait and tackle shop down the street from Park's Place on Route 12, the hot meal hangout, unless it's painted electric yellow or someone sets fire to the big chum bucket in the parking lot. Routines of all kinds help breed decision by exception. I may not remember the kind of car parked in the driveway nearest the corner I turn into to go to the grocer, but if it's replaced tomorrow by a Rolls Royce or a fire engine red Lamborghini, I'll 'see' it.

So, listening to the Rolling Stones Channel (Channel 12) on my Sirius radio this morning, driving through the early morning darkness of Southeastern Connecticut, I glanced out the passenger window as I passed by the ramp for those joining us from I-395N and there it was, on the shoulder, facing the speeding traffic, a sectional sofa.

It was complete with cushions but I didn't see an end table or a matching lamp and a possible Ottoman may have rolled off farther off the shoulder but was nowhere near the couch. I must point out, the couch seemed to be placed on the shoulder, as opposed to just landing there as it fell from a truck or car trailer. Sort of an attempted oasis on an abbreviated highway.

The hard thing when you see something like this is convincing yourself it's real. It's not like at that hour I can ask the driver of another car, 'hey! didja see that?'. That driver, like me, is locked into her/his own world and unless I set myself on fire, he'll see that chum bucket more quickly than he'll realize I'm trying to strike up a conversation as we speed along. I have little doubt the sofa will be gone when I drive home in broad daylight this afternoon, though in Connecticut when people abandon car and trucks on highways, someone shows up with an orange sticker they slap on your windshield and the vehicle itself remains where it died for at least ten days.

The orange sticker tells the absent owner he/she has ten days to move the vehicle or it will be impounded and disposed of by those authorities 'duly constituted' to do so. The owner is in all likelihood responsible for the vehicle's current predicament, so I'm not sure the sticker doesn't tell them anything they don't already know. It goes on to advise (= warn) anyone tempted to help themselves to any part of the automotive roadkill that this is prohibited. I've wondered if you were 'shopping' for spare parts and apprehended, could you argue that you are illiterate and can not read the sticker? And does the judge then find you innocent of larceny but sentences you to six months of Hooked on Phonics, suspended after three for good spelling bee scores?

And what of the sofa? When I drive by this afternoon, will the orange sticker be affixed to one of the armrests, or perhaps to a seat cushion? What if a movement develops, and there's a coffee table alongside the sofa, or perhaps a magazine rack? What if a remote broadcast truck from HGTV is on the shoulder this afternoon and two burly men are wrestling with the sofa as 'Denice' or 'John', one of the members of the 'HGTV crack design team' (do not go there, okay?) directs them on how to place the sofa in relation to the highway as a work crew from the CT Department of Transportation prepares to widen the shoulder to better accommodate the love seat and complementary recliner?
Talk about putting the rest back in rest stop.
-bill kenny

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Like a lizard on a windowpane

Have you ever rolled through a red light before making a 'right on red' turn? Gunned it a little and told yourself 'it was still yellow' as you rushed through a traffic signal? Taken at least one more penny than you've left at the 7-11's and Cumberland Farms' stores where you get your coffee in the morning? These are (obviously) rhetorical questions-I'm not sharing my answers and I don't expect you to share yours. But, as I'm told old Irish grandmothers say, 'in for a sheep, in for a lamb', the point being (I think) where do you draw the line on the lie? When does the fib of convenience become something more, and perhaps something ugly?
Same sort of thing with honesty-public and private. I'm not sure the former isn't an extension of the latter, except sometimes we end up knowing a neighbor who becomes a selectman, or a representative (or some such) and as honest as he/she is in person and in private conversation, the public person seems to be different. My evil twin, Skippy, has explained to me that everybody lies and we're stuck in the middle, and I'd like to believe that but what if he's lying, too?

At the national level we have sincere, well-meaning people seeking to be the next President but meaning well and doing well are two different things and I fear we get confused a bit too easily, maybe because we want to. I like that, so far, all the leading candidates are 'talking about the issues' but with seven months and change until we pull the lever or mark the scannable ballot or cast the chicken entrails into the fire and make our choices known and our voices heard, when do you think we might hear specifics about what I'm told are the issues of our time?

As an example, how to make health care more accessible and affordable? We've already demonized lawyers and their class-action suits and punitive judgments in malpractice cases that's ruining health care and we've blamed chiseler and cheater doctors who defraud Medicare and insurance companies of billions of dollars and I'm not sure who's left to blame, but I'm sure we'll find someone. And meanwhile, in all the noise and tumult, we've lost sight of the national priority to fix the problem.

Same thing with the 'sub-prime crisis' which seems, to me, neither a banker nor a home-mortgage holder, to be an extreme case of how much lying is okay. As it turns out, when everyone in the negotiation has something to hide and does, other people (both borrowers and lenders) get dragged into the morass. It didn't seem that big a deal at the time of the paper signing, and yet here we are, stuck in the middle.

I'm not mentioning Iraq or Afghanistan (actually nobody mentions Afghanistan; it has become the Korea to Vietnam in terms of news reporting or national awareness or consciousness) because I'm not sure half a decade on we've fully understood why we went to these places and what we thought the possible outcomes might be. It's perhaps soothing to hear the leading candidates speak about what they would have done-but what's next and how do we, as a nation, get to there? '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 how my mom ruined my life.' Honest, officer, the light was still yellow. Ask my mom.
-bill kenny

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Gilligan, meet Hollyhock

Norwich had a distinguished visitor yesterday, and I suppose just his being in the Rose of New England was news (enough) and it's a bit selfish of me to expect that in addition to being news, he also make some news, but still.....

For Senator Chis Dodd, the senior senator from Connecticut, whose career took off after he was elected to Congress from the district comprised mostly of Southeast Connecticut, it was a homecoming of sorts and a home game politically after a pretty rough road trip in recent months. Senator Dodd had declared himself as a candidate for the Democratic Party nomination for President back in those heady days when it seemed almost everyone was running (on both sides of the aisle). I don't honestly know if he would have made a 'good' President though I liked his ideas on funding and financing college education (and with a child halfway through Eastern Connecticut on money she's borrowing, I admit to a certain bias), but the idea is beyond moot since the Senator really never seemed to get any traction and eventually withdrew.

That, for those he represents here in Connecticut, was and is good news, of course, since it means he can go back to working full-time for us in Washington (Can't claim to have liked that he enrolled one of his children in a public school somewhere in Iowa because he'd moved his family out there while he campaigned before the Iowa caucus.) and here he was in Norwich yesterday to offer us, as I read the news accounts this morning, a BGO (Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious). He thinks the proposed waste water treatment plant that Norwich Public Utilities wishes to build is a fine idea and a very worthy regional issue. And he continues to support the Inter-Modal Transportation Center (I'm a bit fuzzy on this one. Inter-modal suggests more than one type of thing, right? In this case, buses and cars and trains? or Planes? or Helicopters?). Both of them would be constructed on Hollyhock Island which is NOT at all like Gullah-Gullah Island but at times does remind me of where Gilligan hung out.

We have a place where all the South East Area Transit (SEAT, get it?) buses cross now, a big parking lot behind the once-old-now rebuilt Otis Library, below and beyond the Laurel Hill Bridge and rusted Providence and Worcester Railroad trestle (do you think the P & W will paint it, or at least clean it, before next July's SemiSeptennial? Me neither) which puts a LOT of travelers more or less downtown. The new bus station (sorry, inter-modal transportation center is just too unwieldy to keep typing, and too abstract to keep thinking about) will be across town, in essence in the confluence of the rivers and conveniently located next to .....well, next to the waste water treatment facility.

All of this is very worthwhile and to some sounds like a good first draft in need of a little more work and there are fine and dedicated people tweaking it, I'm sure. As it turns out, there's a little more time because Senator Dodd's visit on Friday wasn't to announce 'here's the money' or even 'here's some of the money.' He stood under a tent and explained to Norwich leaders what they already knew: both projects are really good ideas and he'll work to get both of them accomplished. considering the number of other options he could have taken, I guess this was a heartening gesture, but I don't really think it was news, much less front page news in the regional sections of both local newspapers.

Technically, and I hate to be a stickler, it wasn't news at all. He came up to Norwich to tell us he didn't have anything 'new' to tell us about these two projects and his announcement of 'nothing new' became news. I'm not sure if that's alchemy, but I think it involves mirrors or should.

Skipper? Yes, L'il Buddy, what is it? The Professor just figured out how to build Grand Central Station out of coconuts and Mr. Howell wants to have a threesome in the backseat of a Greyhound bus heading to Des Moines with Ginger and Maryanne. Somebody, quick! Call the newspapers and get that tent back up!
-bill kenny

Friday, March 28, 2008

Dubuque Blues

One of the amazing things about the Internet is that you can set off on a journey with no particular destination and eventually, you'll get there (nowhere at all) but what you see and learn during the space between can change the shape and color of your day. As I do on most workday mornings, having spent a lot of time in Central Europe when there was an East and a West Germany (how to tell them apart now? Think 'Trabant' and 'BMW' and which one you now see on the road) I visited the website of Stars and Stripes, a daily newspaper, at one time based in Darmstadt, West Germany, aimed at US Forces in the region.

As a result of winning the Cold War, the USA and NATO cut the operating overhead in the early Nineties and I and my family were part of that-and that's how I wound up back in the Land of the Round Door Knobs and more specifically here in the Nutmeg State. In the sixteen plus years since our retreat to this side of the Atlantic, a lot has changed in Central Europe to include the number of US military stationed in what a former Secretary of Defense called "Old Europe."

It's nice to take a couple of minutes scanning the online pages and read about places I'd spent a lot of time in during what now feels like another life: Heidelberg (yes, The Student Prince but he was conspicuous in his absence when I was there), Stuttgart, Hohenfels, Hanau (they're closing that all down and giving it up back to the civilian authorities who have no real idea what to do with it, yet), and Ramstein Air Base, the largest military airstrip outside the USA.

There was a story this morning on a variant to the Vietnam War Wall of Remembrance, in Washington D.C. that so many from across the country, and around the world, have travelled to see. There's a traveling version of the Wall that community leaders in Norwich hope to have in the region during the semiseptennial celebrations next July and that was sort of where I was mentally when the story mentioned a new online site that I clicked on (and hope you do, too),

I suddenly remembered a school chum, a prep school classmate and entered his name. There in the silence of the stone, he was as he appears on the Wall and a pathetically small amount of additional information. Roy and I were classmates for three years-fish out of water in a Manhattan prep school where we didn't belong with classmates who didn't let a day go by without reminding us of this. Roy's dad had been a Formula One driver in a long-ago Europe whose family had fled Hungary as the Soviet tanks crushed the dissident movement in 1956, making sure the Hungarian Revolution remained only a Revolt. Roy, his mom and (I think) a younger sister made it to shores of this country with not much more than they could carry and had to begin again.

My last name, actually, my father's last name and his association with the school made sure while I would never be embraced-I would, for the most part, be tolerated. Roy was not as lucky. with a last name that our WASP classmates couldn't seem to pronounce no matter how often and how loudly they tried, and a stoicism when harassed that infuriated them, he was a daily target for bump-into on the stairwell going up to gym built on the roof, or on the landing near the library on the second floor. There wasn't a day he wasn't picking up his books, knocked to the floor, by an 'accidental' collision that saw the other party smile as he hurried away. Roy put up with this and did and said nothing except to make an entry in a little note book he carried with him that would have the date, time and a one-line summary, something like 'Charlie Hardy punched me after English Lit on the way to math.'

In the summer after our junior year (or as it was called there, Form V), I left the prep school and never saw or heard from Roy or anyone in my class ever again. Yet, I can recall months later, though I no longer remember how, hearing Roy, who had also left before his senior year began, had stopped by the school in his Army dress uniform while he was home on leave. I'd always wondered about that-the courage it took to take rationed time, your leave, and spend some of it someplace where you had never been welcomed, basically to show those still there that you had survived, despite their animus. I wound up getting a look, some time later, of the Yearbook of what would have been our class, and there was a black and white snapshot of Roy with Charlie, Hardy's elbow resting on Roy's shoulder, wearing Roy's dress cover (his bus driver hat) at a jaunty angle.

Roy was three weeks older than I, I remember that as I type this. And I also remember the surprise and dull disbelief I felt less than a month after beginning freshman classes at Rutgers College to learn that Roy had been killed in action in South Vietnam. And I realized until earlier this morning when I came across the website, I hadn't thought about or of him in decades so while I had this chance and a semblance of grace still remaining, I said farewell to a part of my childhood that I've worked hard to keep locked up. Roy believed in what we were doing in Southeast Asia, though I don't ever recall him being vocal on any aspect of it. He left school to join the Army and die faraway and all alone, because that's how we all die, no matter where or when. And while his name is part of a wall, I'd like to think he's also part of a bridge from where we were to where we're going. If I pass through there again, I will be lucky.
-bill kenny

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Motives vs. Behaviors

I'm late getting out of work and promised my child I'd attend her school's orchestra performance, in which she plays violin. The speed limit is 35 which no one ever does so I'm moving along at close to fifty. Out of nowhere, or so it seems to me, a car comes up behind me, rides my bumper for a bit and then passes me like I'm standing still. Really flying--probably close to seventy(!) What a (insert your favorite expletive here). It was okay for me to speed, because I knew why I was doing it. It wasn't okay for the other car because I didn't know the motivation-all I saw was the behavior.

We do this to one another all day long. We judge one based on the other even though we don't know the correlation. I never attribute to malice that which can be explained by ignorance, on my good days. However, when I'm being venal or petty or mean-spirited (and to some extent all three of those descriptors can be used interchangeably, I guess), I'm in the game jumping to conclusions and making judgments, based on close to vapor. I rationalize it by realizing we all behave this way.

So, are we foolish when we hope those who seek to be our next President are better than this-that they take a higher road than we might? I don't know, I really don't. However, I will say that I get a little annoyed when one candidate who has repeatedly described a visit in an overseas environment a number of years as if it were a quasi-war zone, admit there has been some mis-statement in that description. I think the actual word used was 'misspoken.' What does that actually mean? I wanted to say 'I love you' and instead said 'you eat bugs'? Does it mean saying boll weevil when you meant to say medieval? Isn't 'lie' a more concise and accurate description of what happened and doesn't its use close the discussion with nothing left lingering better than a half-truth?

Another candidate offers his personal view on Race in America, a discussion we've avoided having here almost from the moment the first captured peoples were unloaded four hundred years ago. The American colonies didn't invent slavery-ask Moses and the Egyptians and it was the American nation that ended it-but what I'm curious about, in light of the remarks made by this candidate's minister that precipitated the Race in America speech in the first place, why does he continue to worship there and otherwise support a person whose behavior seems to contradict what his motivations as a clergyman should be?

There's a third candidate who, six months ago, was considered to be walking wounded and who, instead, has ended up as last man standing. He's the same now as he was then so what changed and why?

We insist that any child can grow up to be the President of the United States but our expectations for those seeking the office are so much more exaggerated and elevated than those we hold for the person who works in the next office or who lives next door to us. And yet we don't seem to either notice (or acknowledge) the contradiction or find it off-putting.
Sometimes the things we do speak so loudly I can't hear what we're saying.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Second Sitting for the Last Supper

The newspapers and television news reports have been filled for weeks with grim economic news of all sorts and on all fronts. We've watched the stock market, flop and twitch like it was auditioning for Dancing with the Stars. I have the same relationship with the DJIA, I suspect, as a squirrel or chipmunk on the side of a road has with the passing traffic: I can only imagine what might happen to me if I lose track of where I am and where I am in relationship to this creation beyond my understanding. Our reach may have finally exceeded our grasp, if I've understood anything of all of this.

I think I've sorted out who is to blame for it, and I'm chagrined to admit it is I. I'll let that sink in for a moment before continuing. Ready? Yep, it must be me (and maybe you, too). Here's how I came to that: on a national level, we've borrowed tons of money from each other, from banks and from other countries' banks for purchases we couldn't otherwise make. The belief (a fancy word for hope) was that when we sold whatever it was we were going into debt to buy, we'd make enough money to repay whomever we'd borrowed the money from with a smidgen leftover as a prize for our own enterprise.

Somewhere the "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a Home Equity Loan Today" express came off the tracks and now a lot of people who are owed a lot of money aren't sleeping well. Of course, neither are the people to whom they loaned the money. It seems some companies mapped their futures on all of this working out and assuming everyone would continue to remain one step in front of the repo man. For those in danger of losing their homes, this isn't funny at all-nor is it funny for the banks, and others, holding the mortgages on those homes since they'd prefer to remain in the money lending business rather than in the excess and unsold real estate business.

My part in all of this? I'm one of those folks who gets by. Puts a little, very little, away out of each pay packet for savings (actually I have it done automatically, because otherwise it'd never get done at all I fear) and who has enough to pay the bills and make more than the minimum payments on the credit cards. In my house we turn the dollar over at least once before we spend it and that's not a bad thing. I'm not sinking and I'm not qualifying for the Olympic Swim Team- you're probably in that same situation. (Quick tip: don't wear the Speedos. That 'banana hammock' is NOT cool; it's creepy.)

When I came home last night, I had mail from five different banks and credit card companies to include my own bank. Everyone wants to be my friend and I sorted through offers for credit cards that included one where I could put my own picture on the front (another dream fulfilled) with yet another offering me 10,000 or perhaps it was 100,000 points when I used it at Kinko's or Fed-Ex. I rarely need copies and I've never made so many copies I've paid for them with a credit card, but I appreciate the offer (I guess). A bank card offered me the chance or choice (I've forgotten which one now) to pick my payment date (I see your smile; yeah, I picked the same date you just thought of) and another allowed me to set my own interest rate, more or less. It's odd how usury never shows up in spelling bees anymore-have you noticed?

I didn't ask for any of the offers and I don't need them and I'm smart enough, finally, to realize I don't want them. I could have dropped them off at your house on my way in to work today, but I suspect you got them, too. If we play our cards (credit and otherwise) right, the recycling folks will have quite a haul on collection day, right?
"Another guru in the money /Another mantra in the mail."
-bill kenny

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I couldn't repair your brakes, so I made the horn louder

This time of the year, probably because we are all struggling with computing income taxes at the federal, state and (sometimes) municipal level, murmurs start to be heard about how the 'tax collection system is broken.' Connecticut is not the the only state that relies on property taxes to supplement income taxes (and actually had the latter long before the former) and it's not the only state that's having a challenging time balancing its books.

As a resident of a small town in Southeast Connecticut, Norwich, in the shadow of the two largest casinos in the world (whose appetites for basic goods and services is gargantuan and who serve as a magnet NOT only to tourista with ganz viel geld (very much money) but also to those luckless, lunchless, little ones for whom a slot payoff is a fever dream), I watch as elected leaders across the region try to do magic tricks with finite funds and ever-increasing needs.

I read this morning about a new idea--actually, an old idea being revisited by new faces in familiar places. Why not, suggested mayors from Bridgeport, New Haven, New London and Stamford, allow CT cities to add one percent to the states sales tax of 6% for local expenditures and expenses. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall suggested "(T)he power to tax is the power to destroy." All the accounts I read of the mayors' visit to the State's Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee suggest their reception was less euphoric that might have been imagined.

The quartet told the committee what the latter already know, what everyone knows (except perhaps a few aborigines in the Outback not yet weighed and measured and classified and categorized, but their day is coming): the tax system is broken. If you've ever paid a tax, you already knew this, right? (Personal favorite tax: when I buy soda in cans or bottles, there's a charge for soda, plus a nickel a container for deposit and then sales tax on the whole amount. I'm so petty I still can't understand why that happens. When I put the containers in one of the machines at the supermarket that makes the ferocious noise as it devours them, if I put 20 in the machine I get back a buck, not a buck plus six cents sales tax. It is, as Yul Brynner noted, 'a puzzlement to me.')

Instead of repairing the failing taxation system, the mayors want to take 'theirs', so to speak, off the top and use it locally to attempt to offer some relief to residential property owners now burdened with increased and increasing costs from every aspect of the private sector and close to the breaking point. From what I read, and didn't read, no one on either side of the table seemed to have any idea when they should all get together to fix a broken system or what any repair should look like. I guess because we're only Knee Deep in Big Muddy, it's only a problem if you're short and it looks like the waist is our next measuring point.

Forgotten, or at least unmentioned, is what we Nutmeggers did with the settlement the state received from the "Big Tobacco" companies in the late Nineties (actually 1998). The settlement was intended to provide a variety of services to those whose lives were, or could be, impacted by cigarette smoking and other tobacco related products. Except as it turns out, the settlement sort of burned a hole in our pockets. Yeah, the Governor and the State Legislature created a Tobacco and Health Trust Fund, but also spent a not insignificant portion of the money to fund local property tax cuts and eduction initiatives. Please don't be surprised-we all bought in on this, through omission and commission, and spent the money as fast as we could.

Sometimes we're goldfish-thirty seconds of civic memory and no more. We're just two lost souls, swimming in a fish bowl, year after year. Look in the mirror if you're wondering how we got to this point, and then look into your heart to see if you can map a way out. Diets always begin tomorrow and the generation after our children's children isn't here yet. Now's a good time to stick them with the check, isn't it? When I went back to the garage and the mechanic told me what the actual repair cost would be I was stunned and very reluctant to pay it. I wanted to know if there was another, cheaper solution. Turns out there is, nearly: it's four hundred bucks to fix my brakes, but for a dollar he'll make my horn louder. Coming through, beep-beep.
-bill kenny

Monday, March 24, 2008

All politics is local, especially when it really is

Your city or town probably has something similar and you may not have ever bothered to attend. Here in Norwich, CT, we (= the City Council, together with the Mayor and the City Manager) attempt on a quarterly basis to hold an 'off-site' with citizens beyond the confines and constraints of the twice-monthly city council meetings in City Hall. The first step, relatively straight-forward, is to find a locale in a targeted part of the city in which to hold the forum. The first one, slated for January that got knocked out by a snow storm, was in Greeneville and drew a lively crowd of hungry (for pizza) youngsters and very inquisitive parents and guardians who had LOTS of questions and 'look ups' for the alderpersons and City Manager (the Mayor was under the weather that night but should be present tonight).

As someone who's not on the Council and not a resident of the Greeneville area of Norwich, I was impressed with the communication and the comity that went on that night and expect no less for tonight's session, starting at 5:30 in the United Community and Family Services offices on Town Street (across from what's left of the Norwichtown Mall). I would not be surprised to learn from an alderperson that, despite the chill in the air that February night, it was a bit warmer in the room for them where they were stitting than it was for me, and that's fine.

One of the things we've forgotten, at all levels of politics it seems to me in this country is how to disagree without being disagreeable. It really has become a 'love me, love my dog' type of mentality. We see it in both major parties as they each develop candidates for the office of the President where we start out with high ideals and the best of intentions and end up for voting for the 'lesser of two or more evils.' I don't think that's how we did things when we chose Jefferson or Monroe and Lincoln, Wilson or Roosevelt but we've been reduced to this method for decades now, as near as I can tell and we don't seem to have very much from it.

We still use the 'talking at' not 'speaking with' at the state level as well, as here in CT, we're watching members of the party that controls both houses of the legislature so convincingly, the other party doesn't really need to show up, not actually get very much done as three or more of its own members start their campaigns for election to the office of the Governor. A seat currently occupied by someone so popular that yesterday when I asked five people whom I regard as politically connected who her most recent opponent was, two of them drew an absolute blank, even though one of them lives in the city in which her opponent is the Mayor.

So it's nice that we can be civil at the local level.
Maybe we're starting to catch on that if we're ever going to make our hometown (here for an hour, or your whole life? No matter, it's your hometown now) a better place, we all have to pitch in and learn to listen as well as to talk. If all we ever use our freedom of speech for is to complain, what will that get us at the end of the day? This is a tough area in the best of economic times and that's not what we have right now, so it's an even darker ride. It doesn't stop some of us from dreaming of a big celebration next year for the Norwich Semiseptennial or from plugging away on little things between now and then.
So tonight, if you live in Norwich, or if they've cut the cable to your house and in you're in the area or (call me a romantic) you'd just like to see what our variant of a Town Meeting looks like, stop in between 5:30 and 7:30 PM at the UCFS on Town Street and take the pulse of the body politic. I wouldn't be surprised if there's pizza as well and let's face it, a slice is nice-always.
-bill kenny

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Now, How much would you pay?

Not sure when the 'rules' went hard and fast on this but we seem to have always had a tradition in this country of haggling over the price of cars. Ironically, it's this back and forth about the price of cars that so puts me off of buying one. Whenever I've needed to purchase a car, I've asked my neighbor Eric, who's as close to being a friend as I seem to allow, who works selling cars, to be my salesman. He is very comfortable with this arrangement pointing out that many of us have a doctor and a clergyman and an investment advisor, so it stands to reason for a major purchase like a car, we'd have an auto salesman. In addition to his unrelenting honesty, I think I also appreciate his kindness in NOT mentioning I'm too stiff-necked to have a clergyman and too poor to ever need an investment advisor. I rely on him to do the best he can for me and his employer and for over a decade, I think he has.

I hate shopping anyway for anything at anytime. Clothes? Get five of the same style and color, as long as it's one you like that fits. Shirts, trousers, blouses, dresses-it's all the same. And ditto for shoes. There are rules about black shoes and brown shoes, if I understand my wife correctly (I rarely do on anything else but maybe this time?) so buy two pairs of each, one that slips-on and one that you tie up. Socks? Lots of white socks and lots of black socks. One of my heroes, Ray Davies, seems to always wear white socks, and that's good enough for me. If I'm going to a grown-up meeting, my wife will lay out black socks and insist that I wear them. How can you not love someone who knows you for whom you truly are and still loves you? Amazing stuff.

I don't haggle with the people in the grocery store, though there are times I wish I could or would. I'm buying Seabrook Farms creamed spinach yesterday and, per box, it's $2.99. I guess with the cost of energy going through the roof, there's the double whammy of the rising cost of cream and the rising cost of spinach to account for. So when I read in the New York Times this morning that in places like Home Depot and Best Buy it's becoming informal company policy to negotiate with customers on products, I arch an eyebrow.

I'm the kind of guy who would pursue the best possible price on Rickie Lee Jones' The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard (turns out this entry is an Easter Sunday item. Talk about moving in mysterious ways, eh?) but I picked it up yesterday in a Borders' store for $15.98 plus sales tax-the same shop two weeks ago where I bought Ian Hunter's Shrunken Heads. The two places I usually shop for music don't even have locations anymore for these two, or The Kinks, come to think of it, but do have bins for the Pussycat Dolls (and if we don't buy as much of this crap as we should, remember: the terrorists win) so I'm intrigued that I could go to a Home Depot and bargain for the best price on two by fours or concrete blocks or shingles. That, in my house, I'm not allowed to touch ANY of the tools because I don't know what to do with them, and can't tell the difference between tools, is of no consequence. American entrepreneurial ingenuity has moved the bazaar into the mall.

You may be tempted to sell your soul for thirty pieces of silver, but hold on-let's see if we get a better offer, okay?
-bill kenny

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Other People's Lives

On Saturdays, I ignore my 'here's what I should eat' regimen and go wild and crazy--relatively speaking, of course. I am nearly fifty-six and live in Norwich, Connecticut, so wild and crazy are comparatives and NOT superlatives. I tend to hit the snooty McDonalds, in the 'historic district' as Norwichtown is called (I have a movie in my head of Paul Revere, on a dry run for his ride from North Church, leaning over his horse to shout an order into the clown's head, at the gallop-through in the McDonalds that undoubtedly stood on this very spot in 1773) to have a McBreakfast of some kind.

The great thing about going by myself, since my love and life-partner is home and warm in our bed, is I can spread out the newspaper, the other one, the one we don't get home-delivered, while having a hash brown and a breakfast something or other and eavesdrop, so to speak, on the conversations going on all around me. Many of us here in SE Connecticut are quite passionate, which is also a polite way of saying 'loud' and, in my defense, NOT listening to other peoples' conversations is harder to do than drifting along. This morning, there was a reasonable buzz about the loss in the first round of the NCAA men's tournament, by the UConn men to San Diego. The result was an upset and that describes how many seemed to feel this morning though there were more than a few 'MA' (morning after) coaches who saw it coming. I guess they were prophets without honor as no one, except me, seemed to be listening to them this morning.

I was drawn to a conversation between two women, I'd guess in their late Twenties (by the repeated references to other persons in high school. Ladies, if you stumble across this on the ether and realize I'm talking about you, lemme tell ya: all of us old folks agree, high school sucked and you're best off to stop talking about it.) and I'm not sure if their lives have turned out the way they wanted, by the way they were dressed and how they spoke. A third woman, whom they knew, came into the place (restaurant sounds so funny when it's a fast-food joint, doncha think?) with a child who looked to be between five and eight (I'm not good with kid's ages; my wife always reminded me of the ages of our two; the names I remembered all by myself). A warmer, longer discussion on women all three knew took place complete with one recounting a story of how she had seen this person 'driving and I waved and she just stared at me as I crossed the street so I just said to myself 'bitch!' and the next thing I knew she was getting out of the car and yelling and screaming at me! What was that all about?'

(If we survive the 21st Century, the history of this hundred years may well be entitled 'What's That All About?' as most of us use this expression rather than 'huh? or 'wtfo!', both of whom had their moment.) The walk-in woman kept touching the hair of the child, very softly, as if to reassure herself that he was real and here and (I suspect) to remind him that this will be just another moment and then they'll be getting something to eat (remember when we were kids and going to McDonalds was a treat that either you earned or were surprised with? When did that all change and why?) as the other two continued to speak of high school bitch queens gone by and offered updates on where they are now (mostly trailers on granite shelves in Griswold is what it sounded like from where I sat). 'No', said the mom, 'they got back together after the breakup. I just saw the two of them in his truck.' Sort of a sobering mid-term on your life, if you think about it: late twenties/early thirties update and you're riding shotgun in some body else's truck. And we wonder why suicides are up in this country? Check the mirror.

I looked up to see another guy, even older than me, sitting by himself at a table, so engrossed in these three women's conversations, he'd stopped eating and had physically turned himself so as to better see them while listening to them. His own life was on hold as his breakfast grew cold so he could better experience, albeit vicariously, these other people's lives.
-bill kenny

Friday, March 21, 2008

Grammatical Bacteria

I'm not sure it's a scientific fact but it seems to be an everyday truth: people who have nothing to live for, will find something to die for. And then they'll want you to die for it, too.

How else to explain 'suicide-bombings' which many now refer to (more correctly) as homicide-bombings? More pragmatically, how can anyone defend against such a tactic? How could anyone NOT so inclined ever understand the logic and commitment such an attitude entails?

I was looking through some of my journals last night (you are surprised I keep a journal? No, I think not) and it's interesting where I was emotionally and philosophically, so to speak, six and ten years ago (those journals just happened to be on hand). I looked at concerns last night that I voiced at the time as if they were written by and in a stranger's hand. The expression says no one enters the same river twice, because both he and the river have changed but (and I don't pretend to be an historian, just someone who hears the clock of inevitability ticking ever louder), future generations, everywhere on the planet may come to see 09-10-01 as the highpoint of what we were and what we did, the crown of creation, charred to a cinder of memory in the fires following the events of 09-11-01.

We've been pretty good in the USA at picking up the pieces and 'getting on with it'. We've patched most of the holes in the physical structures and smothered the emotional holes with memorials and remembrances services. Cynics have suggested for many it's been 'business as usual' and some events seem to bear that out. The same men and women who are always called upon to protect and defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic, continue to be called upon everyday in every way . Meanwhile, we have REMF, surrounded by their coteries and courtesans, celebrating themselves as if End Days were the spring collection at Dolce and Gabbana.

If we don't create a successful strategy for all to share in the reward and not use class-colored glasses to view and divide our world into 'that's hot' and 'not so much', then we can stop fearing the lunatics who promise our bloody end and begin to fear ourselves as we become so hollow that we collapse from the inside. When words like 'duty, honor and country' are just grammatical bacteria with no more meaning than 'have a nice day' we will have become those whom we hate.
-bill kenny

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Snake Mittens

Americans, an annoying European explained to me decades ago, are people who buy things they don't need with money they don't have to impress people they don't like. God Bless America (even when we don't sneeze).

I'm a child of the novelty and the more novel something is, the more childish, I mean childlike, my sense of wonder becomes. We have a station on our cable system that, as near as I can determine, has nothing but infomercials (a word that didn't exist until the Eighties because there was no such thing) those long form commercials that look like an television show but sure don't taste like tomato juice, so to speak.

I missed their origins, being overseas toiling away on the Cutting Edge of the Sword of Freedom and all (actually, I was working as a radio and TV dweeb for the American Forces Radio and Television Service, not exactly the hardest duty in the military. If you were a jet mechanic or a tank maintenance grunt and forgot to tighten a belt, there could 'big trouble' in terms of loss of equipment or life. In my case, what would that be? I could miscue a record and the Russians might cross the Fulda Gap? I think not), but I suspect it was during the same Pax Americana that had the Secretary of Health and Human Services (a cabinet-level position) declare that ketchup in school lunches was a vegetable (as opposed to the level of brain activity needed to come to that conclusion).

I love infomercials. There's a series of them starring, though that's an odd word since the humans are props in these things and the Product is King, a bug-eyed woman. I apologize for that characterization, I don't know how else to describe her. Her facial expression is always in a semi-permanent state of astonishment at how many miracle drop cloths you can get for only $14.99 plus shipping and handling or how the Silver Bullet slices, dices and helps you make your own ammo from leftover cole slaw. Her incredulity knows no bounds--and my favorite programs have her in a 'studio audience' setting where she can share her joyous and ineffable delight at learning her latest product can be either a desert topping or a floor polish all in front of a highly enthused group of like-minded folks.

I also call myself a Child of the Sixties (sorry, Robert Klein) and a Yankee Junior but I can remember sitting on a coffee table in 'my house' which was an apartment in Elechester, which was in Flushing, Long Island, watching, on a little black and white TV as Jack LaLanne would pull a HUGE truck, with tractor, attached to a chain with his teeth to prove how big and strong he was. I did my four-year old interpretation of his jumping jacks, and sit-ups and all the other exercises he handed out to us in a fifteen minute show (even then, span of attention was a problem in the USA, I guess) all to the bemusement of my Mom. I said good night prayers to God in those days and knew He was all-powerful but suspected Jack could give Him a run for His money. And now, look at him. What is he? Something like two hundred and fourteen years old? And all he has left is this Juicer thing that looks like it might be a vegetable shredder except such an item would be neater.

It's not just that he drinks the juice produced by squeezing an orange, two Lima beans, a stalk of celery, a strawberry and what looks like a tennis ball, though that process is sometimes a bit off-putting, even on Thursday mornings at a quarter of three when the Jack has finally run out and I remember why I hate the taste of cola neat, but that he opens this little compartment where all the guts from all this stuff has ended up and then he eats that because it's so full of nutrients and that's the secret to how he's lived this long. Thanks for that tip, Jack. He's still wearing one of those one-piece black gym suits, or jump suits, that zip up the front, fifty years later, but now everyone, to include the folks seated in the studio audience, are all taller than he is, and he doesn't notice that. Is that part of the Juicer's legacy as well? And considering the shape most of us are in watching this stuff, how funny is the name of the product you want me to put on my Visa card?

I'm not giving Ron Popeil a pass or pulling punches on a guy like Billy Mays. Somewhere I still probably have the Popeil pocket fisherman I bought with my own money in the hopes my Dad would take me fishing, not that that ever happened. And Jerry, if I knew where it was, you could have it for your mentoring outreach since it has, obviously, little sentimental value.
With Billy Mays, I've never really understood the appeal of a guy who yells at me for 30 minutes. He calls it enthusiasm-I call it irritating, be it for Oxy Clean or the fake chamois, or those little skinny hooks that you push through drywall and that hold up to 7.6 metric tons or some such number. Didja notice how Billy never stands under any of the heavy objects Dick and Doof mount on the wall? His mother raised crazy (and VERY LOUD) children, but not stupid ones.
And the jury's still out on whether they'll support a Juicer and no, you don't wanna know how I would know that. The sun is not yellow; it's chicken.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Final Cut

Today marks the beginning, five years ago, with "Shock and Awe" that the liberation of Iraq began. There are too many articles in too many media to list or read on this anniversary but here's a place to start and someday over a root beer we can have a discussion on how growing up in the shadow of the Manhattan skyscrapers, across the river in Jersey, influences what newspapers you read and which ones you trust. Being almost 56 years old and realizing I've learned next to nothing about myself, or anyone for whom I care, I'm not sure what I think, hope or pray we might learn about ourselves as we look back at what is the first five years of the Last War on Earth.

I came across a reference earlier this morning to The Thirty Years War which, for a moment, I found comforting until I realized the name is a tag developed by historians long after its end and NOT by the leaders who provoked it or the soldiers who fought it. I couldn't help but smile to read in one of the descriptive summaries, I could choose the long or short version (I am assuming, of the narrative).

This will sound cynical, and I'd apologize for that, but it's not like you didn't already realize it, but even the critics of President George W Bush (and he has a had a few of those) would have to concede he didn't underestimate how this would play out, at least not when he described, five years ago, an enemy the likes of which the world had not yet seen. An implacable foe that would slit a woman's throat to advance its agenda. I'm not sure he didn't nail the landing in that description.

I don't know how to negotiate with sharks, and I've been to Sea World. I'm old enough, as I've noted on other pages, to see Southwest Asia as Vietnam with sand instead of rice paddies. Does that mean My Lai and LT William Calley have been replaced by Abu Ghraib and Lynndie England? That's not what frightens me so much as we're not ready to acknowledge that the 'monster label' we conveniently place on them, and others (actually, a variety of denigrating terms for everyone with whom we disagree) makes it easier for us to 'deal with them' and NOT have to interact with one another and own the consequences of those actions and inactions.

It took two decades longer to get here than Orwell feared in 1984, but that brighter tomorrow has finally arrived for this province of Airstrip One, and I just hope we live long enough to appreciate it.

When you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there. And while I love W.B. Yeats' Slouching Towards Bethlehem it is with growing unease that re-read lines of his poem: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world......Surely the Second Coming is at hand. " I wonder if he's drawn a map or created a souvenir book of where we already are.

The Rand Corporation has offered, online, a cleverly entitled attempt at a way ahead (use of the indefinite article is deliberate on my part) War By Other Means, that can perhaps be made into a motion picture to be shown at Redford's Sun Dance Film Festival or on Gore's Current TV, starring Sean Penn and George Clooney. Hell, we can watch it on a plasma screen in the back seat of a stretch Hummer limo while chatting about whatever with some BFF on our I-phone.
We don't know what 'victory' in this endless war looks like. Maybe it's the Stars and Stripes flying from a minaret on a mosque in Baghdad, but I suspect not. In the maze we've created as life here on earth, we keep moving the cheese. When we reach the day when we don't remember what life looked like before this date five years ago, or 09/11/01 or the Nairobi Embassy Bombing, or Khobar Towers or the USMC compound in Beirut, what then? Reboot?
There are too many homefires burning and not enough trees.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Every Man is Guilty of All the Good He Didn't Do

Have you ever passed a car on the interstate, four-way flashers blinking, hood open obviously in some kind of distress and said to yourself, 'that doesn't look good-hope they get help.' Maybe lost in the aisles of Mega Mart, you've come across a small child struggling desperately to recognize a mother or father's knees in the forest of trousered Amazons surrounding her or him and you've wondered if 'some one's gonna take that kid to the help desk?' How about this one at such a routine level it doesn't register: on the way into the office from the parking lot, you walk past the Taco Bell wrapper or nearly-empty Big Gulp soda cup. When there was food or a soft drink in the containers they weighed more than they do nearly empty and yet, it's at their new and lighter weight that they are now too heavy for someone to carry to the trash can. All you can do is shake your head as you walk by the detritus on your way into the building.

We, you and me, love to believe that 'government should handle it', whatever 'it' might be and however we define government. Perhaps there should be a national Department of Being Nicer to One Another (don't worry, I'm not looking for a new job) or a Bureau of Not Wasting So Much Time and Money on Stupid Stuff. These may be good ideas-on the moon.

Here on Earth, we have most of whatever assistance we need at the ends of our two arms-yeah, our own two hands. And, because of my highly selective reading of the founding documents of this Republic, I'm pretty sure I have immediate access to whatever else I might need, beyond my own physicality or family. I've always understood the purpose of government, at whatever level you'd like to have the discussion, to be about doing for us as a collective what we cannot do for ourselves individually. I've seen some folks suggest the only proper function of a federal government should be national defense/securing of our boundaries and borders. In the world of the 21st Century, I'm not sure our international interdependence hasn't changed how the latter portion of that might get done. But that might be a topic for another time.

All of us have so many facets of governance in our daily lives that we may have lost sight of who we are. I've heard stories for years, and it may be an urban legend (like 'we used to have a balanced budget') about an experiment that involved placing lab mice in glass containers and then slowly filling the containers with water. The mice, as would you or I, struggled to swim, to stay alive at any cost, as the water rose higher. At just the moment that the mouse, exhausted from the swimming, gives up and sinks to the bottom, thus drowning, the white-coated lab assistant would swoop in and pick the mouse out of the water and save it. Yeah, I can imagine how thrilled PETA was/is. Not the point and not close to the point.

This experiment would be conducted dozens of times in a week, for weeks on end, with the same result: no mouse was ever permitted to drown. But, and here's the interesting (to me) part: what the researchers learned, says the story, was that every rescue of a drowning mouse happened earlier and sooner than the time before. The mice, it seems, figured out (correctly) the sooner they stopped trying to save themselves, the faster someone would reach out and bring them to safety. Therefore, why try? The hand of Man became the Hand of God.

Our skills and abilities, time and talents, devoted for thousands of years to hunting and gathering and warring and colonizing and jousting and lute-playing and all the behaviors we have exhibited since becoming our own species, have atrophied and do so more everyday as we allow ourselves to become comfortable as components in the machine. I don't have to pick up that discarded coffee cup I passed last night on the sidewalk as I left a City Council meeting--Norwich has a Public Works Department to clean the streets. You don't need to make sure that lost child gets to the courtesy desk-one of the clerks in the shop can do that. and why else do we have Triple A or state troopers, if not to help a disabled motorist?

Of course, if we all thought that way we'd have nobody making breakfast this morning for those starting to get up from a night in the shelter. We'd have no one to run to help battle a blaze when the house on the corner caught on fire and the kids that are treated as spare parts by the parents who never wanted them are just fine as long as they stay out of sight. Just lock your car doors when you drive through the dodgy part of town-wouldn't want any of that to get into the car would you? And cheer up, what we don't have a government program to handle, we probably have a law to prohibit.

Whenever you feel proud of that we have done in this world-think of all that we could have done. Each of us is but one, but we are one and we need to prove Voltaire wrong.
-bill kenny

Monday, March 17, 2008

Themes like Old Times

This morning's newspapers, local, regional and national are filled with wire service speculation on why the presumptive Republican party nominee for President, Senator John McCain, was in Iraq this past weekend. Perhaps he was having sinus problems? Oh no, that's right. He comes from a desert state.

Perhaps he was there to see as best as he could what there is to see of what may be a major point of contention come this fall's election. I would assume we'll see whomever the Democrats finally agree upon doing the same thing. What's really interesting to me is how many others hitch their stars to a wagon that may not even be traveling in their direction. Press accounts speak of the number of Iraq government officials who met, were eager to meet or whom scheduling did not permit to meet, with McCain since all of them realize you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. It did seem a bit blustery in Baghdad from the footage I was watching.

I found the 'theme' for this year's election over the weekend. Presidential campaigns have used slogans and themes practically from the beginnings of the Republic. We've had chants of 'Van, Van is a used-up man' (that Ben Harrison had quite the ear for rhymes) through (one of my personal favorites) 'Fifty-Four Forty or Fight' (if you're living in British Columbia, sorry for the shiver. And by the way, why is that region called British Columbia anyway? Do you have the Medellin cartel there, but with flannel shirts and watch caps?).

The Reagan campaign in 1984, in a remarkable display of tin-ear, somewhat symbolic of the approach to almost all issues, ranging from AIDS through nuclear disarmament, attempted to use Springteen's Born in the USA as an anthemic rallying cry. The only guy who bought that sales pitch, as I recall, was George Will and that may have only been because that was the day his bow tie was on a little too tight. It would have made as much sense as Bob Dole using West Side Story's America. Maybe more, come to think of it.

Campaign themes became important when the Governor of Arkansas, William Clinton, was in the process in 1992 of unseating a victorious warlord who hadn't quite grasped the US economy had lost its driving wheel. Borrowing that most amazing hybrid of all bands, the California-British Fleetwood Mac's Don't Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow), Mr. Clinton didn't stop thinking about tomorrow for eight years (though, we were to learn there were other things he thought about with greater frequency and the International Fabricare Institute Association of Dry Cleaners considers him a saint).

I'm always impressed with how often auslanders can capture a notion better than natives. For many in the Seventies, The Band were the quintessential American Band, and Steve Simels, in Stereo Review, tongue only partially in cheek suggested they were the the only band who could have played at Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. The Band were from Canada, but we were to not be denied.

I bought Ian Hunter's Shrunken Heads Saturday and it alternates with James McMurtry's compilation, Best of the Sugarhill Years, in my car CD player at max vol. I can really crank it for a geezer. All candidates, and citizens, should rally round his track, Soul of America, which does so many things so exquisitely well you forget how cranky and crazy Hunter can be and often is.
It can be a cautionary tale perhaps, but there's optimism and redemption to those who dare.

"And them good old boys in their three piece suits
Feathering their nests while they're rallying the troops
They cut off the flowers, don't worry 'bout the roots
Eroding the soul of America."

Yeah them wild boys 'n' red, white and blue
Them wild boys gotta get the message through.
Come hell or high water, we're all rooting for you.
And let's rock the soul of America."

JP offers two bucks a share-quite a drop from Fifty-Four Forty (or Fight). Talk about a fire sale.
-bill kenny

Sunday, March 16, 2008

With God on Our Side

It's Palm Sunday, which is a major liturgical event across Christian calendars and, raised as a Catholic, still resonates with me decades after I decided I didn't need the Church, but like to know where the nearest one is, 'just in case.' It's Easter, you see, and NOT Christmas, that makes Christians, Christian.

The Son of God's birth and life weren't what allowed 'mankind' (and women, too) to be able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven; it was the sacrifice of His death, our redemption by forfeit of His life, that defines our religion. Faith and good works are one thing--laying down your life for what you believe is entirely another and so trumps any discussion on deeds as faith in action. I know I'm going to wish I had ended this right here. Just as I now know I won't.

In the New Testament, this was a Day of Days-a triumphant entrance, hailed as the long-awaited fulfillment of the Covenant. But, I've always wondered, since Israel was occupied territory and the Romans, beginning as a democracy but now an Empire, were in charge, what did they make of this procession and where were they? After all, they swept down on the Son of God in a matter of days, so they could have stopped him much earlier onwards. Perhaps cited him for overloading a donkey, or passing a religious pilgrim on the right in a school zone, or failing to slow down coming through a viaduct construction area.

I can just see the Roman chariot, the oscillating two blue torches flashing in the early morning daylight of the desert, with the centurion slowly dismounting and walking towards Jesus, lifting his visor as he stares into the eyes of the Son of God.
"Hello, officer," says Jesus. "Is something wrong?"
"Yeah, as if you wouldn't already know that, right?" says the centurion. "I don't suppose you noticed that burning bush back there on the left? You certainly didn't stop, Sir. I'd like to see your license, animal registration and proof of insurance. I see you're with Maccabees' Insurance-good people, have them myself, Sir.
Stay here please while I call this in....."
Or not.

And what would be different about our world, if God had sent his only Son to us now. In an era of instantaneous world-wide communications, wouldn't it have been easier, better, more effective and efficient than in the era He chose? It took the Romans how long to finish the survey of subjects and citizens they had just started when Mary and Joseph had started towards Bethlehem? I've never read how many were in that population, or how many languages were spoken in the Empire. Today, Jesus could have been in The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer or been added to a special edition of Hannity and Colmes (and Christ) bumping John McCain who has certainly used the Lord's name enough, or perhaps He could have been counting down with Keith Olbermann.
Or, in honor of all the times a pitcher after a strike-out points to the heavens, or a basketball player crosses himself before attempting a foul shot, Jesus could sit in with Chris Berman on Sports Center?
Maybe He should hold off on that until Good Friday when, as He carries His own cross up Golgotha, we can hear Chris exclaim, 'he could go all the way.'
-bill kenny

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Difference Between a Rut and a Grave

I'm not originally from SE Connecticut, or any part of New England. I was born in New York City and grew up in Central New Jersey ('what exit?' Exit 9 off the Pike, towards New Brunswick) and then lived large portions of my life in other peoples' rooms halfway across the world. I always think of Lenny Bruce when someone would ask me what I was doing and I'd respond with 'passing.'

I've lived in Norwich, CT, with my wife and then two young children since arriving from Germany in October of 1991 (it was a straight-up trade: Norwich got me and the Germans got a six pack of American Budweiser and two packs of Slim-Jims. And cash, lots of cash.) and set about rebuilding our lives. My children, nine and four years of age, had been raised in a German-only environment (their dad was planning on staying in his wife's country forever but then the USA won the Cold War and NATO had a going-out-of-occupation fire sale) and much of their earliest English came from TV and Disney movie videotapes ('right on the button' being a memorable early phrase my son, Patrick, used). For my children, public education was an important aspect of their integration and socialization into America. After all, I was the only American they knew while we lived in Germany and the pressure of always having to represent was starting to get to me.

My wife and I live, for the most part, alone in the house near Norwich Free Academy that we all moved into nearly seventeen years ago. It's a lot larger now, with Patrick having moved out years ago to lead his own life (and when Sigrid and I said goodbye after our first visit to see him in Boston, I cried for hours even though I understood it was my job to help him grow up to be his own person) and now with Michelle coming home on weekends from college (it's like visits from another planet and there's a hollowness when she leaves to go back to campus), my wife and I share the kitchen, bath and bed but otherwise have our own sections of the house.

I've had the same job, or at least the same employer, for all those years and she and I know the same neighbors and local personalities we always have (at least Sigrid does. I know them to see them and, if I'm lucky, I'll get a name right most of the time. Sigrid likes people while I like people to stay at arm's length). Our part of the street is pretty stable-I think the last time someone moved in or out, it was us. I believe folks farther down the street may still refer to us as the 'new neighbors'.

Connecticut is called the Land of Steady Habits, though I'm not sure it's supposed to be the compliment that so many Native Nutmeggers think it is. I've looked at the state's history and its politics and organization and not a lot has changed since Colonial Times. In recent years, almost simultaneous (but coincidental) with my family's arrival, this area has had to deal with gambling, in the form of, first, the Foxwoods Casino and then, later, the Mohegan Sun-two behemoth operations that have transformed every aspect of life across the region, but this hasn't really been fully appreciated by the tenth-generation descendants of the first settlers who like things as they are and aren't crazy about ideas that are NFH (not from here).

How our towns and cities are governed, who serves on the various committees and advisories that really color our daily lives, who gets hired to do what either 'in town' or 'for the town' is all strictly, but informally, controlled, just as it was for the last 150 years. It's like the Twentieth Century NEVER happened. We're not the Land that Time Forgot-we are the Land That Has Ignored the Passage of Time. You can spot new arrivals-they're the ones who ask those pesky 'why?' questions, and try as the rest of us might to NOT answer those questions, the people asking them don't take the hint and they don't go away. And tomorrow, damn-if there aren't even more new people and another batch of questions. Yesterday's big question involved firefighters and moved as inexorably and swiftly as any structural blaze from being about better business practices in support of public safety to the firemen of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. Guy Montag would NEVER be allowed to speak at a Norwich Public Safety Committee meeting, that's for sure.

"I eat my peas with honey/I've done it all my life.
It makes the peas taste funny/but it keeps them on my knife."

All we are saying is give peas a chance.
The difference, btw, is the depth of the habit.
-bill kenny

Friday, March 14, 2008

All Souls Day

I know, it's not November 2. I, too, have a calendar but on occasion I have a memory as well. As a kid, I understood Halloween was the American way of spelling Hallow e'en, and that stood for All Hallows Eve. As a FARC, I'm aware that, now called All Saints' Day, it's 1 November (and a Holy Day of Obligation). Growing up you knew better than to ignore The Holy days (automatic ticket to Hell), as the nuns drilled you on the checklists that are so much a part of being a Catholic (you can be a terrible person but don't miss Mass. You can be Mother Teresa but if you have a ham sandwich on a Friday during Lent, you're toast). Like being raised as if Battleship were some kind of a religion.

The day we all skipped over was the day after All Saints' Day, November 2nd, All Souls' Day. It's a day, Monsignor Harding used to explain to us to remember the souls of all the faithfully departed and to pray for them. The implication was that the departed souls not yet in heaven with the Church Triumphant, needed the prayers of us in Church Militant in order to transcend their status as Church Suffering and get to The Show, so to speak. I was never clear on how long in Purgatory a good person, but not exactly a Saint, might spend before getting promoted or how we here on earth helped make this happen.

The part that stuck with me was the idea of thinking about (and praying for) all the people in your life you'd ever known. I'm still a little unsure how much of an afterlife I believe in. As I get older, faster (everyday it feels), I'm getting concerned that I need to make up my mind and suspect I'll come down on the 'safer bet' side of the equation. After all, imagine the embarrassment of dying and meeting a God whose existence, during life, you doubted. Talk about awkward. Of course, brown-noser that I am, I'd point out 'I'm not H. L. Mencken' which should get me closer to a table away from the stove in the kitchen.

I always wondered about the souls who had died long ago, like in the Dark Ages and who had no one to pray for them (which is why All Souls' Day was a catch-all of sorts). That, in turn, led me yesterday, in on-line correspondence with an acquaintance, to think about all the people he and I worked with when we were in the same unit in Germany. We weren't there at the same time and I'm not really sure if we ever met in person (we could have, based on when we were both living there), but between us we covered about two decades of American Forces Radio in a world very different from the ones we now live in, he in Colorado and me in Connecticut.

We exchanged remembrances about Gisela and Walt; about Herr Loehr, in the record library, and the two women who worked in the library after Gisela retired, and the folks in the news tank and that, in turn, led me to those whom only I (perhaps in all of this earth) could remember.
There was Woody who was some kind of a biker crazy from Ohio (maybe?) who worked in TV Operations and Tim, a technical director, who dated a woman who married another guy on the staff. And Mike, who met and married Anne, an Englishwoman who worked in logistics on the third floor and who got out of the Army to set the world on fire as a comedian, never to be heard from again (Atlantic City can do that to you, I guess). There was Chris, who met his wife through my wife and me and with whom he had two lovely children. He moved them and himself home to California after she died of cancer decades too soon, leaving a hole in his heart that has never healed.

And the scariest thing about remembering all of these people, some of whom were friends when the definition was more flexible and forgiving than it is now, is what happens to them when the last person who knows them stops thinking about them? None of them have a monument anywhere, and there are no streets or city squares named in their honor (that I know of) and if we are, as a species, the sum total of our experiences and consciousnesses, what happens when the last person who remembers Walt Mateis passes from the earth?
Those of us with children like to think we live on through them which helps, except what about those whose children are gone, or who never were (Charles Lamb's Essays of Elia) and never will be? Faith is belief in the absence of proof and sometimes despite it. Sometimes each of us are one another's reason to believe.
-bill kenny

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Ghost of William Jennings Bryan

Large stories in both local daily newspapers here in New London County, CT this morning is the local Double A (Eastern League) baseball team has reinstituted the practice of collecting a parking fee for each vehicle that heads to Dodd Stadium to catch the CT Defenders in action. Back in the day, when the stadium first opened a dozen years ago, and the team was called the Norwich Navigators, the same policy led to lines of slow-moving traffic up and down the road through what we then called the Industrial Park.

An end result of this policy may well have been the delay caused by all the traffic forced 'The Voice of the Yankees', Bob Sheppard, who'd been brought in (to enunciate the first vowel?) especially for the inaugural game (the Navigators were a Yankee affiliate) to cool his heels in the back of the limo that was part of the arrangement to get him to Norwich in the first place and he didn't arrive at Dodd Stadium until the third inning. (For my part, I don't recall a limo driver holding a sign waiting for me when I arrived at JFK back in 1991. Obviously, I am the voice of cynical despair and not of human growth hormones, so no limo for lamos.)

That this kind of stuff makes the front page of one of the papers (above the fold) and the front page of the other's regional section is a testimonial to how slow a news day Wednesdays usually are. Bear that in mind if you're planning on invading another country, finding a cure for an infectious disease or announcing you're running for President (just don't do the latter at Dodd Stadium because they'll charge the TV guys double for the Ku-band uplink truck and engineers hate to pay for parking at an event they're covering and will bitch about it to the reporter all the way back to the station.) You could try doing all three at the same time, but I don't think you'll get any more column inches as a result though perhaps Geraldo will become your BFF or at least for the remainder of the news cycle.

Of course, you might want to consider that invasion thing carefully as it's not as popularly supported now as it once was, though from what I've been reading, it wasn't all that popularly supported then either. What do you make of this? "A republic cannot be an empire, for government derives their just powers from the consent of the governed, and colonialism violates this theory." Sounds a little bit like someone testing the limits of The Patriot Act, doesn't it?
Well, not really. Those are the words of William Jennings Bryan, he of Scopes Monkey trial fame, of the Cross of Gold speech, a three time candidate for the Presidency of the US, and former Secretary of State. He offered that observation as another President, William McKinley, led the nation into another faraway war, the Spanish American War.

He was quite the orator and you can check that for yourself, here, but if he didn't offer original and important ideas cogently and coherently argued and presented, we'd have no knowledge of him today (case in point: we all know or used to know Lincoln's Gettysburg Address but who remembers the name of the man who spoke BEFORE Lincoln at the battlefield cemetery dedication.....Edward Everett). So deeds are important and always will be, but so, too, are ideas and the ability to advocate for them, express and defend them.

And maybe it's just me, but stuck in traffic, waiting to pay for parking for a minor league baseball game, whether it's Limbaugh or Hightower on the radio, we seem to be suffering a dearth of original thinking and eloquent expression. And as we continue Slouching Towards Bethlehem (sorry Joan, WB Yeats had it first and best) and wonder why The Fates have chosen the destiny for us they have, Bryan's ghost suggests that "Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved."
-bill kenny