Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Her face, at first just ghostly, turned a whiter shade of pale

Every morning I try to lean forward and greet the day in as positive a frame of mind as I can summon here in The Brave New World. It can be trying sometimes to enjoy this moment when so many of us like to use the past to explain why the future will not work.

I didn't grow up in New England, or Southeast New England (as folks from New Hampshire and Vermont have told me this area is called. I don't have the heart to share with them what people I know from Maine call them) so I'm not sure how much of this Eeyore frame of mind is a result of environmental influences or how much is hereditary. But when I think of how New England came to be settled, and the resolve and resolution and optimism those voyages required, I'm not sure it's not the former rather than the latter.

You know who I mean-the donkey from Winnie the Pooh who has, ummm, slightly lower expectations on the prospects of success than Kanga, Rabbit or Tigger. I love his cartoon voice and his ability to see the glass as half-empty. Of course, from someone whose favorite food is thistles, perhaps it's too much to expect wide-eyed optimism.

Except, why not? The day is exactly as long (seconds, minutes and hours) if it's drudgery or if it's excitement. Why choose unsalted crackers and unflavored gelatin when you can taste the color of the rainbow, or at least contemplate tasting it.

I bought regular gasoline last night (they were all out of extraordinary, I guess) for about three dollars and eighty cents a gallon (I hate that point nine razzamatazz) and the man with the Hummer (not the little one--there's a marketing concept, eh? A Little Hummer. Now there's a marketing genius. Not the big skyscraper, the little one) is pumping premium into his vehicle and I finish first (of course). I drive a Subaru Forester and it is NOT superlative on gas mileage but it's okay and that's not why I bought it but it does better than his vehicle so I'm thankful for that. It seems, from what I could understand of his muttered imprecations, someone from an auto dealership (or perhaps the manufacturer) has imprisoned his family and is holding them hostage to coerce him into buying this behemoth that he is 'going broke just keeping in gas! Because I don't know why I drive it, y'know?' Actually, I don't know-but thanks for sharing I think and I hope you get your family back soon.

I don't imagine anyone anywhere is happy at the cost of fuel or food or clothing or housing or [insert one or more commodities here] but this is our life and we make it what it is, or it happens beyond us in other people's lives, and we have no voice and no choice. The Hummer guy was a believer in 'them' [what are making all the money from 'us', I guess] and I didn't have the time to ask him who exactly the 'them' is. The next time I see him, or someone like him (and to people like me, Eeyore always all looks the same) I'll ask him and pass it along to you and that way two of us can be on the lookout for 'them'.

Actually, I won't be-I have only today in which to live, to laugh and to love. I have no idea what happens tomorrow and there were things yesterday I could regret but cannot repair, so I'm done with that day as well. Today is the next day in the only life we have, so face it and embrace it. We've got bees to count and clouds to sweep. And exactly 86,400 seconds to get it all done in.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Every Girl's Crazy 'bout a Sharp-Dressed Man

I have excellent taste in clothes. I hate to brag but I wanted you to know and appreciate that as the achievement of a 56 year old man that it truly is. Again, today, a work day, I am impeccably attired, which, considering how unkind Nature and Life have been to me in the course of the years in the looks department is just this side of amazing.

Actually, as is true for a whole generation of men across the planet, I have no clue as to what goes with what and why or how. My wife who has a brilliant sense of style and taste, despite being married to me, worries about all the clothes in my house, for all of us who live there.

I spent eight years in the United States Air Force and have attempted on many occasions to use that as the excuse masquerading as a reason for why I have no sense of color or style, except I didn't have any before I was in the Air Force, had very little while I was in and got out with no appreciable improvement in any aspect of my lifestyle or personality.

Left to my own device I will buy shirts and trousers that have nothing in common except their production is a result of the Industrial Revolution arriving in some third world nation someplace. My sense of style in neck wear is solid colored ties, mostly black because I think they go with everything, and white socks to complete the look. It's been a number of years, decades, actually (come to think of it) since I've been allowed to shop for myself. And I think we're all better people because of it (at least those of us in the Northeast with whom I most frequently come into contact).

My wife selects all my work clothes and lays them out each evening. We've advanced in recent years because she no longer needs to explain to me why she chose a particular tie or why I should use a specific tie clasp for it. I think she finally realized I was listening to her the way a dog listens: mumblegrumblestumble MY NAME mumblegrumblestumble something about the couch and stay off it, leaving the seat up and more mumbling. At the end of her presentation, there would be a big sigh and she'd head into the living room with the look of a person much put-upon. I'd be left to admire clothing I had but the dimmest recollection of buying, trying to recall what she had told me about how to wear it.

I can choose my own play clothes, from the clothing she's bought for me. How much trouble can I get in? More than you (or I) might otherwise imagine. There's always a moment, after I don the casual shirt and the khakis or jeans when I just don't know if 'the look' works. I can stare into the mirror for an hour and it won't help. She, on the other hand, can, without looking up, get to the heart of the matter and set me on the path of sartorial splendor. To this day, in light of all of her talents and abilities, I'm hard-pressed to imagine what she saw in me when we met. She must just like the challenge. Not to mention this iridescent and international emergency orange open-necked shirt that's visible from space. I bought this myself-what do you think?
-bill kenny

Monday, April 28, 2008

the Difference between Brother and Bother

It was a quiet story last week, but it's a part of the form of government we've chosen and it's included in the overhead. The CT Secretary of the State released a report on the number of deceased people who are still listed as registered voters. I think we're looking at a challenge to bookkeeping rather than a conspiracy and that's pretty much what the news stories said.

Having helped bury a parent a very long time ago, I can recall the bewildering number of notification forms and advisories we all filled out at the time-in my family's case, all of this was compounded by the fact that the parent who died, my father, was Senior and I was (still am?) a Junior. Were there people we should have notified, and didn't? Yeah-the state motor vehicle folks who mailed a license renewal to my mom some time later-she probably didn't need that reminder and I suspect none of us notified the Mr. Met Mailing list that Dad was gone. To this day, every once in a while, I'll get a piece of mail that (to my mind) is clearly intended for my father who would now be in his middle eighties were he still alive.

So much of what we do in our everyday lives seems so automatic that I'm hard-pressed to imagine a system that might better help local voter registrars keep track of all of us (and when we register to vote, but then can't seem to be bothered to do so, I'm not sure we're helping the process). As I said, I don't think as I read the news release, anyone connected to the Secretary of State's office was suggesting any form of hank-panky, just that there's some free play in the accounting system. Maybe we could hold mandatory block parties once a month and take attendance? If you're going on vacation, you must bring a note from your travel agent? I think we're doing the best we can do and that considering how free-wheeling we Americans are in settling and resettling, the registrars do the best they can to keep track of us.

I don't know about you, I always assume when I stop seeing people I'm used to seeing that they've moved (if I've even noticed that I don't see them anymore. I'm not the most perceptive guy in the room, even when I'm by myself). People could be in witness protection, I suppose, though making new friends is probably not high on their 'to do' list; I just don't assume the worst and I don't think any, or many, of us do. We could probably check with the telemarketers and see who hasn't renewed a 'Do not call' listing or ask one of the Nigerian spam mailers to double check or we could try a little harder to watch out for one another. Considering we're all each other has, it might be a good idea to keep an eye out and the porch light on. Just in case.
-bill kenny

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Carpe Diem

This was a memorable weekend in Norwich, CT, for close calls and public service-circle the dates so you can better remember them. You may have seen front page headlines in local newspapers and dramatic video on CT-based TV news operations on the HUGE fire in Norwich. The scope of damage and devastation, from the photos and imagery I've seen, is almost beyond measure. That, as I understand it, all the damage is property and there was (authorities believe) no loss of human life is on the scale of a miracle, and while I'm sure those who lived there are inconsolable at this moment on their loss, they, too, realize, they are fortunate to be alive.

I hope that feeling lingers because sometimes we forget how much good fortune we have, or have had, in our lives. I find it reassuring, not knowing anyone in the fire or directly affected by it, to read the news accounts on those helping to make things better and realizing less than a month ago many of us here in Norwich were scrutinizing annual budgets and support requests and weighing and measuring. Those were, and are, important decisions and the way we framed that discussion made sense at the time except.....(maybe?) We spend a lot of time every year, and not just here in Norwich, trying to put a price tag on people and services when we might be better off trying to place a value instead. And then, after we've stirred up one another we move on to other things until it's time for the next annual drill.

It's easy at any level of government to lament the perceived shortcomings or inefficiencies but this particular event really does justify the faith that so many place in our organizations and institutions. All the fire departments across Norwich, the paid firefighters and the volunteers responded immediately and enmasse, were courageous and effective (if not flat out heroic, a word we tend to use inappropriately far too often) and so, too, were all and every, emergency responder. For those, like me, who didn't have a family member or an acquaintance impacted in any way, it should be easy to see the value of those departments we have in our city and how they demonstrated, again, their importance in all of our lives.

Memory is a tricky thing. In the not too distant future, we'll revisit our discussion on buying fire engines, or reallocating our emergency response resources, and (again) instead of having a reasoned and reasonable debate where we all seek to better use what we have after attempting an all-inclusive review, we'll choose a lesser path and a lower road and have yet another variant of the petty bickering, name calling and personal demonization that so often, and too often, passes for public dialogue. And sitting silently watching us will be those whose lives were so profoundly altered this weekend by a personal calamity on such a public scale that you would think we'd all recall it. We have dates circled on a calendar but can't seem to remember why.
-bill kenny

Saturday, April 26, 2008


Sitting at the intersection of Lafayette and Washington in Norwich, CT, this morning as my light went green. Because my mother raised crazy, but not stupid, children I've practiced for years the art of 'three Mississippis' after the light changes before rolling ahead. This morning, again, counting to three (Mississippi) stood me in good stead.

An Obliviot in a mid nineties model of a four door Toyota, rolled through the red light, at two Mississippi, all the while chatting away on the cell phone clamped to his right ear. At that moment, he was only physically in the car, but was really wherever he and the person on the cell phone were having their moment. Piloting a mobile device weighing a ton or more (I have NO idea how much cars weigh but a ton reads pretty well. Does this SUV make my butt big?) with an internal combustion engine, and casual disregard for traffic signals and rules of the road (and common sense) to the contrary, this fellow is another Obliviot with whom we all share the planet.

When we reorder the universe and place ourselves at the center, when instead of realizing life goes on within you AND without you we see ourselves as the stars of a worldwide movie where everyone else is a walk-on, we've become an Obliviot. It's not a constant process or a one-time deal, but the more often we live without thinking, the harder thinking in our lives becomes and the easier the path to oblivion seems. As kids, our moms taught us to take turns but as grown-ups we practice that as 'me first'. Close, but different enough that the rest of us have to cope.

In a perfect world this morning, this driver could and should have had a misfortune befall him but the Larger World compensated for him and the worst thing that happened was I mentioned him this morning in this rant. Probability suggests he'll never read these words and even if he did he'll never recognize himself, and in my own way, I've become an Obliviot.

I'm 56 today and continue to grow old without growing wiser in any way. I keep bumping into the people I used to be without fully appreciating at many levels I am still those guys and that a part of me will always be those people. If we are truly the sum of our life experiences and of everyone we've ever met, I should have paid more attention to arithmetic in St. Peter Grammar School because I'm terrible at addition.
-bill kenny

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Comfort of a Familiar Problem

I attended a CT Department of Transportation meeting in Norwich City Hall Thursday night, for an overview and timeline on a project set to begin in about twenty minutes (or so if I understood the assistant project engineer correctly. Hyperbole alert: deadlines appear larger in blog commentaries than they actually are as reported in news accounts). In Room 318, also known as the Council Chambers, were HUGE renderings/schematics, stretching across the entire front of the room on three of the hardest working easels this side of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. At first I thought the schematics were rendered in 1'=1' scale but, of course, that wasn't the case. It's just a really big project-the one that the State DOT is starting in a couple of days, 103-255, that will last for two years and make life for folks trying to get off and on 395 at Route 82 (and for the people who live in that area now) a lot easier.

Did I mention this is a project the CT DOT is funded to do and which has a schedule, and a contractor and an info-line phone number and an email list server for updates and lots of other stuff? The folks from the DOT mentioned it (frequently), because (I think) they were hoping to make sure none of the (about) 85 people in the audience (for a minute I thought it was a Norwich City Council meeting with sewers on the agenda because we really turn out when 'they' get started on sewers, even if "I" can't figure out who "we" think "they" is (or are. I'm never sure about the verb either) were confused or under the impression that the other project, also known as the one with ZERO money for it, was also in play.

The CT DOT people used the project numbers, 103-255 (Route 395 & Route 82 intersection) and 103-257 (Route 82 alone). I found it easier to remember Dylan's axiom that money doesn't talk, it swears (Hi Mom. I nicked myself shaving; no cause to get excited) and remembered 255 as '2$$' and 257, as 'not exactly'. After about twenty-three minutes of overview and recapping of the project management timeline and some, 'if we ever get money to pursue this part, there will be much many more meetings because all we have is a really long drawing and no bucks to go with it yet' palaver, the very sincere looking person who spoke so confidently opened the floor to questions and all anyone asked was about the project based on vapor.

Someone even older than I and sounding like he was still a little angry about the expansion of Route 82 from two lanes to four lanes "back in the Eighties", chided the fellow in the front of the room about the state's insistence on how accesses and egresses for businesses on Route 82 were the cause of sudden changes in speed and how that change in speed was the root cause behind a LOT of accidents. The CT DOT team tracked accidents on a big chart that reported from January 2004 through September 2006 there had been 445 accidents on this stretch of Route 82 with 146 injuries resulting from those accidents.

The fellow in the front of the room looked like he might have been in high school, maybe, when all that construction went on back during those not-quite-so-good-old days. While I sat there, no one had a question or a comment on the project about to begin (the one with money, 2$$). Perhaps they did after I left and it's my fault for showing up. Es tut mir leid. What I listened to was inarticulate speech of the heart on a project that might never happen. Very much, Eliza, like that hole in a bucket, but strangely reassuring because, this, is where so many of us are most comfortable.

If the International Olympic Committee makes fretting a sport (and why not? They made badminton a sport. And how cool would it be if the IOC met in an IHOP?), there will be a stampede to the medals podium the likes of which will look like the intersection of Route 395 and Route 82, at rush hour, in both directions.
I'll be your Tarzan, you'll be my Jane. I'll keep you warm and you'll keep me sane.....too late, I fear.
- bill kenny

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Where Are the Snowdens of Yesterday?

Did you see the story in the newspapers about the young woman who is "Hannah Montana" on TV writing her autobiography? As I understand it, she's 15 years old. I don't imagine she has many memories of anything before her third birthday so how large a memoir should we breathlessly expect? Both sides of a 3 by 5 card? Should we camp out at Borders now in case they try to sneak it onto the shelves while we're not watching? Every generation throws a hero up the pop chart, and because I'm old, I'm allowed to offer the observation that in recent years, it's been quantity if not quality. And in the interests of full disclosure if it does turn out to be quality, my autobiography wouldn't fill one side of a small yellow stickie.

So how much news is noise, how much news is actually 'new' and how do you filter the real from the surreal and NOT surrender to the temptation to just let it wash over you? For a generation or more, the word 'discrimination' has had a bad reputation for a very good reason, but each of us discriminates dozens if not hundreds of times every day. How you decide what you wear is a matter of decision making (not for me; I ask my wife who actually has me so well-trained I don't have to ask, she just puts the stuff out. I am the oldest of her three children (I only have two), and much older than our son, if you follow my drift). We make decisions on what we eat and what we drive and so on, so it stands to reason we sort out our sources of information in terms of what we feel most comfortable in processing and how we apply it to our lives.

Some of us (mostly folks my age and about a decade younger) are TV news folks, be it CNN, Fox MSNBC, WWE (okay three out of four) while for those my children's age, it's not even 'the Internet' it's email and text messaging.....that's how our progeny get the news, so roll over Beethoven. I realized not that long ago my children do not wear watches, unless, they're visiting their aging parents, because they now know their decrepit Dad gets freaked out when he notices they check the time by looking at their cell phones. It never occurred to me there were clocks/watches built into these things, though, of course, there are. What isn't these days?

I'm pretty sure in the next struggle between good and the forces of evil, if we can persuade the Evil-Doers to thumb wrestle, our kids will save the world because, thanks to texting, they have the strongest thumbs since the Roman Emperors were serving the Christians to the lions back in the Coliseum. I have a cell phone that allows me to take pictures, record videos and browse the Web. I am tres cool, nichts wahr? But if I wanted to do most of this stuff, I'd have to seek out someone my children's age, tell them what I was trying to do and they would have to do it for me as I have no ability to do more than get the phone part of the cell phone to work (and only if I know the number-yes, it has a phone book and a voice dial and no I don't know how to make any of that work).

That I take this device with me everywhere is just another part of the mosaic of befuddlement I have created as a defense against most of what the world hath wrought. But it's good to know, I guess, that if I saw Hannah Montana scribbling away on a 3 by 5 card, I could, in theory, shoot video of her and post it to YouTube, assuming I had someone point her out to me. I would never confuse her with Big Footed Bertha, Yossarian, so don't go there. Ever.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Mouse Police Never Sleeps

As cities and towns across Connecticut, and the country for that matter, struggle to develop budgets, define spending plans and refine tax collection and levying strategies for the 'next' fiscal year, facing dizzying energy cost increases and disappearing real estate property values, we seem to grow a bit more weary and surly with every passing day.

In Norwich, CT, where I live, there's been a murmur of discontent at a budget for next year, carefully crafted and explained, that didn't remain flat, with no tax increases. This, despite the aforementioned fuel cost increases that serve as a catalyst for so many other cost increases in both our private households as well as in our public agencies. If I'm paying (today) $3.70 a gallon for regular gasoline I'm not sure how I expect the public school system, with its fleet of buses, to NOT budget and spend more in fuel as well. Or why I get angry when the Board of Education, or the police or other public safety officials, in accomplishing due diligence while working with the City Manager on a budget, forecast higher prices and greater costs. To me, it's like yelling at the TV meteorologist on Thursday night for telling you it looks like rain for Saturday's picnic. Dylan is right, you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows but it is helpful to know if it's sandals or snowshoes on Saturday.

In a year in which we will elect a new President, we have a lot on our plates, both internationally as well nationally. Some of us have had the opportunity to work and live beyond our current addresses and to realize there's a world beyond our own front door (something many of our international friends have suggested disapprovingly Americans aren't really good at grasping). Maybe that's how I can look at the price of gas in Norwich, CT, and know in areas of Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany, it's in excess of $7.25 a gallon (in fairness to Elmore James 'It Hurts Me, Too' but I keep my sense of humor when the person at the next pump kvetching about the gas price is filling up a Hummer. But it hurts to do that, too.

I watched a Norwich City Council meeting Monday on cable access (I really wish more municipalities would stream video through their servers so we, you and me (but especially me) could watch more easily who/what we elect and pay taxes to support in action, but that and those pony rides for my birthday are going glimmering again this year I fear). Norwich and its residents were trying to create as written rules, some of the limits to the more informal styles in how we live with one another. One man's ceiling is another man's floor and while I say 'news', you may say 'tomato' (or Dan Quayle, but that's another vegetable, and a story for another day), which brings us to how loud is too loud and when is it and who gets to say. For all the talk I hear of a Global village I heard references to 'ethnic music' by one speaker which I didn't quite grasp; sounded like some very old Long John Baldry. The discussion many of the residents had with one another and their alderpersons on how it is we all get along (or not) with one another will continue until at least July before any City Council action on a noise ordinance happens and by then, maybe no, or other, action will be needed as we work to get better at seeing one another as others see (and in this case, hear) us.

Boards of Education are struggling to educate our children and grandchildren in what seems to be an infinitely upward spiral of needs and costs with only finite budgets and resources. More of us, to include yours truly, are graying and as part of that Pig in the Python, the original Baby Boomers, I want everything I've always had (and more), but I don't want it to cost anymore than it did when I was a kid. And so do you. We used to walk six miles up hill, both ways in the snow to go to school, or at least that's what it sounds like to our progeny if we can get them to take off the headphones or put the cell phones down long enough to talk to them. Like our parents and theirs before them (and theirs before them), we lament about 'kids these days' and hope the education factories we're building and funding can keep them otherwise engaged and off the streets until we're old enough to retire and move to Arizona or wherever the good life is this week.

We became the very people we promised ourselves we'd never be. Our parents would be very proud, if they weren't laughing so hard.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Running, Jumping and Standing Still

I passed someone last night in the mall, heading for the card store to see if 'they' had 'any Earth Day' cards left. Today is Earth Day, so I'm not sure if anyone makes a Happy BELATED Earth Day card for those who didn't think about this until day before. I also wondered about counter-intuitive, since most of us receive a card, read it, and then throw it away. It's the last part In connection with Earth Day observances I would find interesting until someone showed me a shiny object and then I'd be distracted. I've teased a lot about my own diminishing attention span and how it has changed--I SAID I WAS TALKING ABOUT, jeez! Concentrate willya? It's not always about you. ;-)

Sorry. I've never had the chance to do that before and couldn't resist. Besides it underscores my point which was….oh yeah, how attention spans are growing shorter no longer from generation to generation, but within a generation. Killian and company, spin merchants of the first order in the opinion of many (especially themselves) have assembled a funny, though simultaneously sad, white paper on line (making it an ether paper, I think) entitled, The Post-Literate Era: Planning Around short Attention Spans.
It's not a very long or a difficult read but it is a little scary.

I'm not a big math guy (I'm not even a little math guy, come to think of it) but 120 minutes is a lot more than seven and those are the minutes we spend, on average, watching TV and reading (slow down and up the count, okay?). As you'll realize, the Killian folks look at all of this through the prism of who they are (persuasion professionals) and how they can better do what they do for their potential clients. Considering how good they are, I'm more grateful everyday the guys at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue kept their Vision of a New World Order in house and didn't hire these guys to hawk it to me. Where would I have put all those WMD pogs and ball caps?

So are we really living longer or does it just feel like we are because we're not paying attention? I'm not sure we have the time for a discussion on this, or even the interest. I attend one or more municipal meetings a week and in practically every one there is a moment when you see it on the faces in the front of the room, people lose the thread of the meeting, and have lost sight of whatever point the speaker is/was/trying to make. We keep moving forward during these meetings, because this brain cramp doesn't happen to everyone at the same time.

It's not just local politics-watch C-SPAN (go ahead, I dare you) when the house members stand up in front of the locked-down camera 'late in the evening'
though the speeching always makes me think of zzz's rather than the letter before k. We at home have no way of knowing (because the cameras aren't allowed to zoom in or out, pan or tilt in any way (=move)) how many are actually in the House or Senate chamber when your elected representative launches into his Tale of Brave Ulysses, but sometimes the speaker is dangerously close to being carried out on his shield than carrying it himself, so to speak.

We can do it at home, to one another. In your next conversation with your spouse, your child, yourself in the mirror just try to keep track of where the starting point of the conversation was, and where you ended up. Sometimes it's the journey and sometimes it's the destination. To be somebody or to do something. In life you have to make a decision: to be or to do. And Spike Jones wanted to sue TNN? Wait'll Milligan gets here. And Peter, Blake called and said keep your day job.
-bill kenny

Monday, April 21, 2008

I was dreaming of a steel guitar engagement

Do you have trouble getting started on Mondays? Yeah, me too. It's a bit embarrassing as I have close to no life and have been known to come into work every day of the week (in recent years I've cut down to only coming in on Sundays over the weekend, mainly because the love of my life has projects for us on Saturdays) and yet Monday is such a challenge.

When I got up this morning, I had a fragment of a dream, or a thought while I was asleep (not sure if they're one and the same thing) about Pericardium but I don't know why or what its meaning might be. Heck, I wasn't actually sure how to correctly spell it until I looked it up and now I'm still not sure.

I don't think it was on my leftover 'to do' list from last week since getting into med school and deciding to be a surgeon wasn't on the 'to do' list either. Maybe it's akin to Monty Python's Eric the Half Bee, semi-carnally and all of that, Cyril. Or not. The dictionary defines a mondegreen as 'a word of phrase resulting from a misinterpretation of a word or phrase that has been heard.' Which is how we have remarks like "I led the pigeons to the flag' from "I pledge allegiance to the flag" or (one of my favorites, from rock and roll) "Excuse me while I kiss this guy" from Jimi Hendrix's Purple Haze. Actually that one makes Pericardium practically benign in comparison, even if I don't know what it's about.

But back here on Monday, and trying to return to the routine (meaning that if you have a life whose rhythm is other than Monday to Friday you still have a Monday, just in a different place of the week), it sometimes is like trying to tap-dance with diver's boots on. Don't know about you, but I have a small army of distractions building up in one of my frontal lobes, even as I type this, that's causing me to try to look over my own shoulder to hurry this along. You need to read faster so we stay in sync, or something.

I've been doing this 'get up/get dressed/get to work/get home' drill for way too long. When I was a kid, I thought being a grownup would be a lot more fun than it's proving to be. Staying up as late as you want, having soda with dinner, driving a car-all of that sounded pretty cool to me (actually it still does) but all the other rigmarole that you go through to be allowed the chance to do that stuff! I just had cold cereal for breakfast and again, there was no toy in the box. Why do we adults permit this? If anyone needs a prize in their cereal every morning, it's grown-ups. What a gyp.

No wonder so much of our everyday lives is goobered up. We create laws and requirements when we're crank, and tired, or when it's Monday and we make each other live by those rules every day of the week. What if Pericardium was supposed to be an accordion and I was supposed to sign up for lessons today? Jeepers, Wally! Where is that Cat Detection van when we really need it?
-bill kenny

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A machine so advanced it runs on blood and it works on chance

There are so many wheels within wheels in the lives we live that trying to separate one from the other is just about impossible. Everything is so linked and in so many places at so many levels that adjustments you make in one area of one aspect of your life have consequences and echoes that you don't often see or feel immediately, or ever. It wasn't that long we started to hear huge news stories on bio fuel production. There were serious and lengthy pieces in newspapers like the Christian Science Monitor and the NY Times, in the pages of Forbes and Newsweek and you saw a nod to the ubiquity of the story when there were (photoshop) pictures of farmers sitting on Massey-Fergusons and John Deeres in the amber waves of grain wearing the head coverings we normally see on Saudi sheiks. Sure was a good idea 'til greed got in the way .

Meanwhile Saturday afternoon regular gasoline at the Citgo near the Stop & Shop in Norwich, CT, was $3.67 (nine/tenths, cannot disrespect the fractions, my friend) and, as we've discovered, when demand dictates price (the unfunny Marx brother, Karl, stumbled onto this one), the market can be driven in one direction by a small precipitant. So now that we have folks who make fuel out of grain competing for corn and wheat and oats and soy with the folks who always bought it before, if you've been to a grocery store lately you know what happens to the prices of those items made from those crops, or those whose animals are fed those crops. So it's just as well as it's getting too expensive to drive to the store as we can't afford to buy anything once we get there.

None of this is of any solace, of course, if you're in the "Third World" (I believe you get there by making the second left at the first light) and you and your family are going to bed at night and waking up in the morning with the constant companion of gnawing hunger not because the planet doesn't produce enough food for all the bipeds who on it but because there's not enough money to incentivize the successful feeding of everyone. Everything gets to this certain dimension, winds up on a customer's plate and then gone.

Do the things we do, or don't do, in Norwich, CT, matter to you, where ever it is you are? I'm not suggesting at some John Donne level of the bell tolling, but more practical magic-are we all in the same boat or in boats that are in the same ocean? Do you wonder about where the next life-altering great idea is going to come from? In all the centuries we've walked the planet since getting up out of the primal ooze, those ideas have arrived, so that's not my concern. I'm more worried about the when because I'm thinking maybe it needs to be sooner rather than later. We have other distractions in my neighborhood and maybe you do, too. Do you have NFH issues where you live? NFH standing for 'Not From Here', which has had a bad name ever since the natives watched from afar as the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria dropped anchor in a forgotten harbor over five centuries ago. How is it we've forgotten that everyone is from somewhere? It seems to me, we (not just in my here and now, but yours as well) can use all the brains, hearts, hopes, prayer and help we can get and not waste a moment more checking out one another's pedigree (or behind if that's how it's done where you live) to see where we all come from.

But as I said, that could be just me; after all, I'm not from here. But, like you, I am here now. And I'm a week shy of being here for 56 years on my way to who-knows where to do who-knows-what and it gets lonely on the way and I've discovered people who can use some cheering up and bracing. And it's not any real work, it's just taking the time to hear them when they speak and to listen to their silences when they don't. We, although perhaps not yet in Norwich, CT, but hopefully, where you are, are so much smarter together than alone, it seems silly to not work together. There's safety in numbers when you learn to divide. How can we be in if there is no outside?

"And when the mighty chains of darkness had me on the ropes, everyone said 'quit now'. That's when I found hope." And hope is a four-letter word.
-bill kenny

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Long-Distance Runaround

Remember when people used to answer the phone? I'm older than you, so you may have to just trust me on this, they did. Including your local police, some of whom have joined the business and corporate and education monolith in voice mail. I always tell people I have an answering machine and not voice mail mainly because no one has ever explained to me what the difference is except that there is, apparently, a difference. Not to me-I just play back the messages and try to follow along.

I have callers, I'm not sure why but fear it's what passes for charm in my case, who will, on a day I'm out of the office all day (like last Sunday, 'Don' or 'Doug' I couldn't really tell which) leave a message and then call back later in the day, and leave another message to tell me they called earlier, are waiting for me to call them back and with a sense of impatience audible in the message that 'it's important'. Oh. Thanks, especially for that last part. I had assumed because it is, after all, me that you're calling, until you made it clear, that your phone call was mundane, hum-drum, routine, run-of-the-mill; but now alles klar. However, as I don't think you've grasped, I'm still not in the office. Sorry. (It must be magic living at your house.)

Admittedly that's not quite as daunting as those mazes of phone paths that have me pick me a language when my call is first answered. I'm always tempted to pick an other than English language because I could really use the practice, but I wouldn't do that if it's my bank, or my pharmacy, or my car repair shop. What would that leave me? Mom? 'Oedipus, call on line two-I don't understand what they're talking about- it's all Greek to me'. Then the automated voice goes through a menu of options so vast I always lose track of why I called and what the first seventeen options on the menu are. I have now reached a point where I wait for the voice command that asks if I want to talk to a real person (but that's not the phrase, at least not in English) and then I push the "pound key" (I guess so named because I pound on it). I don't care who the person is, even if it's a janitor who answered the phone as he walked by to go on break because the ringing was irritating him.

The phone at the time of its invention and worldwide implementation was hailed as a marvel, bringing people together and revolutionizing the process of communication. Set in today's 'what are you lookin' at?' pace, we would have Alexander Graham Bell, as he did on 10 March 1876, dial Thomas Watson (how cool would it be to have a phone number like Murray Hill 0-0001? Except that was probably Bell's) and have the phone answered with "Hi, this is Thomas Watson. I'm not in the laboratory right now, but your call is important to us; but not so important that I'm actually here to answer the phone. After the tone, please wait until 1935 when Willy Mueller invents the answering machine and leave your name, number, and a brief message and I'll call you back. And you too, Alex, or Don. Or Doug. I mean it's important, right?"
-bill kenny

Friday, April 18, 2008

My Boat on a River

I drive past this sailboat every day, twice actually. I get the coming and going views and would probably miss it if it were gone, but it doesn't look it's going anywhere soon. It's not in the water it's in a vacant lot next door to some one's house. It appears to stand on its rudder (the thing in the middle; I drink water with some reluctance, everything else nautical is beyond me) though I suspect it's actually being held up in some form of a stand. It's pretty tall, the deck looks like it's ten feet off the ground and a decent length-this isn't an America's Cup Yacht or a Newport Sailing Sloop by any means, but it's a good sized vessel. These early April mornings are pretty good for shivering me timbers but I've never even been to Long John Silver's, so the John Masefield stuff is a stretch.

It's mostly blue in color, though the cabin seems to have aspirations of white, but
Two Years Before the Mast have taken the toll on the color-though speaking of mast, it doesn't actually have one. On both sides, assuming the next owner will want to paint it (her? Ships are 'she' right?) and making sure the hand is now forced, someone has painted on both sides "$995 OBO". I'm a bad person to incite with open-ended fuzzy phraseology like 'or best offer.' What if I knock on the owner's door with a recycling box full of cleaned soda bottles and a voucher for a dollar off a breakfast meal at the fast food restaurant about a mile away. That's my best offer, matie, gimme the boat (ship? When are boats ships and when are they boats? And how do you know?) but truth to tell, I don't know what this sailboat is worth, and I guess that depends on who is doing the wanting.

I have no idea how old the sailboat is (it's impolite to ask a lady her age, if, indeed, all ships are she) and I'm not sure if, like cars, there are model years involved. Did someone say to Ahab, 'you should hold on to the Pequod for another year, even if you don't catch that albino whale, take the tourists out on day trips, otherwise you're gonna get killed on the resale value.' Not likely, I suppose, and even less likely he'd have listened to that, or any, advice. Not sure
Brian Wilson would have been comfortable on board though I suspect he wouldn't have had to worry about the cook throwing away his grits or eating up all of his corn.

I'm not even sure the sailboat floats, but I want to believe that it does and could, and would, be as seaworthy as anything on the Thames, be it the river in Connecticut or the one through London. I would be afraid to sail
wooden ships on the Cuyahoga River, rolling into Cleveland to the lake even though I had a juke box graduate for a first mate (she couldn't sail, but she sure could sing. Farewell to you Danny F). Not sure what I'd do, but if I had a boat, I'd go out on the ocean and if I had a pony, I'd ride him on my boat. I wouldn't be all that amazed to encounter those well-known mariners, the Owl and the Pussycat. And if they had had a problem with their beautiful pea-green boat, rather than ship-hike, I would offer them passage aboard mine. And, perhaps, later I'd watch as hand in hand on the edge of the sand, they danced by the light of the moon, the moon. They danced by the light of the moon.
-bill kenny

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Pontiff and the Pride of the Yankees

I was on the treadmill in the fitness center while 9,000 people sang Happy Birthday to His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, on the front lawn of the White House Wednesday morning under a brilliant blue sky. It was very cool, even for this jaded and faded FARC of a used-to-be-altar boy. Having lived elsewhere in the world where people regard the USA as the 'land of unlimited possibilities', I've gotten a little too used to circumscribed horizons in recent years. When you've watched people behind barbed wire and armed guards, whom you learn later are political prisoners, step on buried land mines on their side of the frontier rather than live one more day in a Worker's Paradise, you get confused when US voter turnout continues in free fall, as if nothing mattered and what if it did.

And then as if from another dimension, because in a very real sense the Bishop of Rome is from someplace else in every meaning of the word, the Pope comes to America and suddenly white hair and soutanes are incredibly hip. First visit in almost three decades to the Land of the Round Door Knobs and the Catholic Church he leads and the one we have here aren't always one and the same, and I don't just mean in terms of headlines in recent months and years. I suspect, to the Pope, the USA is the most secular of his churches-all we may be missing (because I don't know for sure that it doesn't exist) is a sacramental drive-thru where you can get Holy Communion and a small order of fries (talk about a Happy Meal, eh?) on Sundays while heading to that early morning tee-time. Adds a whole new meaning to Casual Sundays with Holy Mother Church.

Three days in Washington D.C. and three in the World's Capital, NYC, is an eye blink in eternity, I know, and forever for all of those who are making this happen. It looks like, from checking their website, Eternal Word Television Network is providing coverage of the visit as if we were tuning into The Real World or The Hills (Do viewers of MTV even realize the "M" originally stood for music? It makes me wonder….) .

And this is obviously a weekend that nobody on the Yankee Stadium grounds crew gets to call in sick. Two games to include tonight at home against the Red Sox and his Holiness celebrating Mass from the infield (I suspect) near second base (but closer to Jeter than farther away if you get my meaning) on Sunday afternoon. I'm wondering, as a Yankees fan, how thrilled I should feel that the Bishop of Rome chose the House that Ruth Built and Mantle Filled. I'd like to tease Red Sox fans that he's in the Bronx and NOT in Fenway, but since the Bosox took two of three from the Bombers over the weekend, he may have decided the Yankees needed the help more.

And with Jose Molina coming up a bit lame, as Jeter did (come to think of it), maybe Brian Cashman should consider offering the Pope one of those three-day minor league contracts, just to get Yanks through to Monday. I would concede wearing the vestments, asking him to drag bunt in the late innings is probably out of the question (what would the Latin for 'hit and run' be? That's right, the Pope is actually German). If he shows up early at the Stadium on Sunday, even though the team is on the road, would he be allowed to take BP and what would happen if, after he makes the Sign of the Cross to start Mass, the Pope were to lean into the mike and say "Heute ich halte mich für den glücklichsten Mann auf dem Gesicht der Masse." He's a regular Gary Cooper, that Benedict XVI.
Put that in your bloody sock and smoke it, Curt.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Driving into work this morning, I started to informally survey the lawn signs, this being an election year where the office of the President and all of the congressional seats are up for grabs, with local legislative representatives also seeking votes. "The Season" in and of itself won't really get started until closer to Labor Day, because that's how we always do it. Between now and then we've got the kids finishing up the school year (what? Oh you packed your brood off to a boarding school in Switzerland? Isn't that special? Okay-some of us have kids finishing up the school year), there's the arrangements at work for scheduling and taking of summer vacation, all the planning that goes into that, the vacation itself and then the return home and back to the routines. The next thing you know the kid's are on their way back to school (what kind of a school has Heidi for a mascot? Oh yeah, I forgot) and we settle back in and it's practically Fall and the elections are at our doorstep.

It's possible we do more research on buying a car than we do on picking a President. I asked a woman the other day, 'how you gonna vote on election day?' She said she's gonna go for the man with the nicest tie." I guess when you don't know where you're going any road will get you there, and is it just me but as we travel along this well-intentioned route, is it getting warmer? I'm going to start wearing a lighter jacket, that's for sure.

As for the elections and lawn signs, the ones I counted this morning (and there are at least five different ways I can travel to work, so this is a snapshot from just one) that I suspect will make the most difference to our region have little to do with a candidate or a party. I'm talking about the forest of "For Sale" signs that have sprouted like toadstools after a rain shower. They dot every neighborhood and are on every street, sometimes on adjacent properties.

I've read about the sub-prime bubble bursting and the credit crisis and the For Sale signs serve as 'illustrative aid' for those stories, but they, are simultaneously, so much more. Like their commercial companions, the empty storefronts across and throughout New England, the For Sale signs signal the death of a dream and are a headstone for that dream. "Main Street's white-washed windows and vacant stores/seems like there ain't nobody that wants to come down here no more." It's been an article of faith since the Founding of the Republic that each generation leaves its successors in a little better, a little more comfortable, position, than it inherited from its parents.

Somewhere the Great American Dream Machine jumped the tracks and it looks like that 'winning streak' may be coming to an end. The sound of hope disappearing seems like that of cardboard boxes being filled up and sealed, of moving vans pulling away from the curb, of yard sales where the entire lawn is covered in cast-off possessions no longer a part of the Great Move, and of neighbors we used to see every day not being seen anymore. This is, I've been told, by someone who works in real estate, a buyer's market because of the variety of offerings and range of values. Is that consoling to those who are selling? I don't know.

My parents owned every home I lived in growing up. They didn't buy any of them, I suspect, to sell them later-they were homes not houses in which to live for now. And when I look at the For Sale signs in my neighborhood, I have to wonder 'was it something I said?' (because I talk so much and so loud and make so little sense) or something we all did (or failed to do). When you put a price tag on your dream and jab the spikes into the lawn, what does your heart do every time you pull into the driveway and see the For Sale sign. "Buy! Buy! Says the sign in the shop window. Why? Why? Says the junk in the yard."
-bill kenny

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Too Long in the Wasteland

I'm thinking we are the only species on the planet whose reach can, by design, exceed its grasp. Yes, I've watched birds on a wire miscalculate a landing-I've watched a cat misjudge a distance on a pounce and come up short, but life goes on for them. They don't sit on a branch, or under a table, and ponder the 'what if' of the situation. They don't get wrapped up in the memory of that lovely nest they built on the tree branch on McKinley or how they used to nap on that porch over on Meadow Lane. They aren't hostages of their own history.

We, on the other hand, seem to work overtime to develop ways that our past shortfalls can be used to explain our future failures. I've discovered in recent weeks as my town, Norwich (CT) has assembled a budget as I've done my own state and federal income taxes, that five years ago (or longer) were The Good Old Days. Check your notes, and see if that's true for you as well.

Do you remember how we struggled emotionally, politically, philosophically, back then (whenever 'back then' is for you)? How grey so much of our lives seemed? It's hard to remember a summer's day, isn't it?. When we talk about how bad things are now and how so much of what we want, as individuals, as residents of a municipality, as citizens, is beyond our reach, I find myself wondering 'compared to what?' As Dylan noted, "No one is free, even the birds are chained to the sky" so to me, instead of devoting any (more) time to bemoaning what was, I favor looking at what is straight in the eye and mapping a course.

In Norwich, we spent a not inconsiderable number of years acknowledging we needed to invest some significant money in our physical structures of the schools but the 'time isn't right' was the explanation always offered. Last year, the timing was right (I guess) and a bond request was developed and passed to expend about forty million (with a decent amount of state reimbursement of that sum, but let's remember we are The State so it's our money, just in another pocket of the trousers) to bring one of our two middle schools into the latter part of the 20th Century. I'm not being unkind when I say that-it's the nature of government-always a little behind at project inception and a bit more when the project is executed.

It's not been a very good 2008, to hear people talk. But when I look at my journals for the last decade, I'd argue it's not been a good millennium (so far. We do have a ways to go, I'll admit and nearly all of it will be without me) and that all we can do is all that we've done: get up everyday and do our best. Right now, perhaps, people are tired. Those whom I see on a daily basis look shop-worn for worry and wear and tear, myself included. Life is a contact sport after all and some days, it's badminton and other days more like Australian Rules football.

I attended a budget hearing last night in Norwich where fellow residents spoke to the City Council on the City Manager's proposed budget (memo to Pete: there were more than seven residents in attendance, especially since eight of them spoke. Why would your newspaper send the guy with no math skills to cover the budget hearings?) and the fear in their voices was more real than I've ever heard before. Yes, there was anger at the rate of increase and where the money was allocated in the budget and anger is something I've heard in Council Chambers in the last years-but the tone of fear was new.

For every resident who spoke of the fear of keeping a home, of being able to retire and continue to live in Norwich where they grew up and where their families are from, there were I have no idea how many who were too afraid to voice that fear or were too busy at second or third jobs earning the money they hope will make them a little safer for a little longer. In the Air Force we had a method to muzzle the brightest guy in the room (you won't be surprised to learn it was never used on me, will you?): after he or she had offered an observation or an idea, someone would ask loudly, 'if you're so smart, why aren't' you rich?' It never failed to kill the discussion, but, all these years later, I've never worked out the answer to that question.

Despite where we are in the spring of 2008, we still have so much, as individuals, as residents of Norwich, CT (or of your town, too) and as citizens of United States of America (some days a lot more united than others, I admit.) Some feel that can only mean we have that much more to lose so we start choosing fear over hope. I've spent too long in the wasteland, and concede that, but we have so much more to celebrate than to mourn. I'm not from here, but people tell me it's not like it used to be. They say I should have been here back about ten years before it got ruined by folks like me. Instead of arguing over how we got here and who's to blame, let's figure out how we're going to get to where we want to be and go there. You can use your hands to help a neighbor to help yourself or to make a fist and shake it at the moon.
We are all we can depend on. If not us, then who?. If not now, then when?
-bill kenny

Monday, April 14, 2008

Concrete Middle Fingers

Not to make you nervous or feel threatened, but I'm contemplating announcing the formation of my own religion this afternoon assuming it's a slow news day. I think the timing is right on this one. This is the church and this is the steeple. Open the door and see all the people. Where do they all come from?

My marketing folks are thisclose to finalizing arrangements to name peyote and licorice whips our religious drugs of choice (if the endorsement deal with Coca-Cola falls through) and intend to construct a backyard pool for baptisms and the occasional walk on water. I may be seeking donations to construct a video display screen for those, believers and non-believers, who pass by in the front yard, but more on that later during the sermon.

In fairness, as it is budget season across CT and here in Norwich, CT I should tell you I will expect a property tax refund, of course, for the religious exemption and please don't be surprised if small animals, stuffed and otherwise, end up on the altar of placation I'm putting on the sun porch, well, after I build one. Anything you'd like me to pray for while I'm sacrificing a squirrel? Just shout it out, but I ain't no Hollaback Girl, er, minister. When you sup with the devil, you need to have a long spoon. I carry my own.

57 channels and nothing on. Still. Weapons of Mass Distraction. Beyonce's possible baby bump wipes actual news off the front page. Just as well. We can't tell one another the names of the members of our Congressional delegation (and we have a small state; what about California?) but most can get at least two of the Three Stooges right. Mom is so proud. Except Mom is busy playing Grand Theft Auto, San Andreas meets Baghdad-where you get points for shooting pimps and cops. Somehow our kids know none of this is real-what they don't know is how much is surreal. Not forgetting Kay E double L oh Double Good, which is cereal.
-bill kenny

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Majoring in Recess

I came across a wonderful quote, from another Press Secretary for another White House, and another President, "The President has kept all the promises he intended to keep." What a crack-up! Is that great line, especially if you turn on that little boy charm, this particular Press Secretary had, with those big puppy-dog 'would I lie to you?' eyes.

How many of us get up every morning for the promises the day holds, or that we hope to redeem? And what happens to us as the day goes along? In most states, and it's true in CT, we spend three to five times more total on people in prison than on our education system. I think (=hope really hard) we Nutmeggers have fewer people in jail than in school, making the expenditure totals even more impressive, but I'm not sure.

I no longer have 'kids' in school. I have an adult daughter (she turns 21 in less than a month) at college. Her big concern right now is getting her license changed to the vertical format that visually indicated she's over twenty-one. I understand why this is an issue for her and know I do NOT want to ask about it under any circumstances. When she was 'itty-bit' I was amazed that I could have helped make someone so tiny. Her brother took my breath away when he was born in July of 1982--hours before the semi-final of the European Cup championships in Spain, the match between Germany and France. What a day, my wife had given birth to our son and the German national soccer team had defeated the despised French team.

Michelle was different-she was a girl and she was so much tinier. But she had this thing she did from the moment her lungs filled with air; she put her tongue on the ridge on the roof of her mouth and made this 'schnicking noise" as my wife called it. And that's how we knew she was hungry. Before she could see, before she could do anything-- she could do that. She was so small I could put her head in the palm of my hand and stretch her out and her feet came to the bend of my arm at the elbow. And now she wants to make sure bartenders realize three Fridays from now that she's old enough to drink. Yeah. I'm more than a little torn up over this but am learning to surrender everything but my serenity.

Actually my wife and I are lucky we had kids when we did (though I was too old for my son and way too old by the time my daughter went to school)-it saved us from schools today (not any given school system, but the process itself). I look at all the metal detectors-not (just) in our airports and government buildings; but especially in our schools. I read a story last week, or the week before, somewhere in Georgia about third graders who'd plotted/schemed/conspired against their teacher--the kids were nabbed with handcuffs, duct tape, a knife and no logical explanation of why they had this stuff. If I'd been their teacher, my transfer papers to another school in another town on another planet would already be on the Principal's desk. Earlier last week a middle school in CT went into a modified lock-down because a 12 year old brought a bomb from home. He made it from "instructions on The Internet" (gotta love that definite article). Walk down the hallway of a middle school just about anywhere and listen to the way 'the kids' speak to one another and realize there's only one place they can learn language like that and it's NOT at Berlitz. Gawrsh, Mickey! Is that the same mouth you use to kiss your mom?

We are in a culture where kids kill one another for the sneakers they wear-where we have twelve year old girls whose goal is to look like twenty-one year old women (thank goodness school lunch passes don't come in vertical format) and my generation was so pissed off at our parents. We really were hypocrites, I guess. All our folks had done was come of age when their parents had survived the Great Depression and fought a world war. And they who had grown up with so little wanted to make sure it didn't happen to us. And we took it all in and shrugged. When our kids have problems we buy them therapists and lawyers. Between them, they can sort it out and they both have billable hours. When I look at what we did with what our parents left us and what we've passed to our kids, I'm a little nervous about wondering if I'll ever meet grand kids.
What will I tell them?
-bill kenny

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Land of Sharpened Elbows

I like driving home from work during Daylight Savings Time because there's so much more daylight. On days I take the interstate, like Friday, even though the skies are grey (it was beautiful Thursday and about 66 degrees Fahrenheit and Friday was more like 51 and crappy. Typical April weather swings.), against a background of clouds, you can see the faint, rosy promise of buds on the branches of trees that line the highway. Soon enough, we'll be worrying about how much the air conditioning in the car lowers the gas mileage, because it's certainly warm enough for air conditioning and we'll have missed that moment when the trees explode.

Speaking of wasted gasoline. Personal (sort of) for the fellow in the early nineties blue long bed Chevy pickup in the supermarket parking lot. I realized you were following me to my car practically from the moment I stepped out of the store. That there were hundreds of empty spaces, but all farther away than mine, was the sole reason you trailed me. And here's a hint: when you're shadowing someone, turn the country music down so that most of it is audible only in your truck (I may have actually been able to hear it inside the store).

That moment where my key fob/door opener didn't seem to work, and I looked around to hear which car was bleating and then 'realized' you were waiting for me and so I gave you a wan smile, pantomimed a look of befuddlement (not that big a stretch anymore) and set off to the far end of the parking lot as I heard you burn rubber letting me know that I'd wasted your time? Yeah, all deliberate. That kind of stuff, the idling in the middle of the lane, the pull-over into the fire lane for ten minutes while your better half grabs the makings of the evening meal, all that razzamatazz gets up my nose. Sorry. but not really.

And then I get gasoline after leaving the market. The station has a relatively small footprint probably unchanged since the late fifties or sixties when it had what looks like might have three service bays and the gas pumps. When everyone is going with the flow, like those credit card commercials, there's enough room for four cars at the four pumps. When an obliviot parks off my driver's side door, eight feet from the pumps, leaves the engine running while he gets out and heads for the convenience mart all the while speaking on his cell phone, all I can do is shake my head.

In an era of three-fifty for regular, Speed Racer is buying cigarettes (I smoked almost three packs a day for twenty-one years, so I understand the addiction. But they weren't almost five bucks or more a pack, back then), and because they are so expensive, he buys them a pack at a time. Transaction complete, as he's leaving the store, he's lighting up and walks between the gas pumps back to his still-running car and off he goes.
The Rights of Man don't mean a damn now in the age of style.
-bill kenny

Friday, April 11, 2008


I think I get accused of being in my own world so often because I prefer it so much more. The movies I make in my head of what could happen are so much more vivid and logical (and dare I say artistic?) than real life, why spend anytime hanging out with Norman and Norma Normal.

Last night I attended a budget workshop of sorts, where the Norwich City Council, minus the Mayor, joined by the City Manager, the Comptroller and the Assistant Comptroller, sat down with the city's department heads and walked one another through the city manager's requested budget. I was a little disappointed in the turnout from those of us who pay taxes: Shiela, Andy, Marterese and me along with some guy who used to tend bar. I'm gonna start a rumor that we had pudding afterwards (and maybe they did. I really wouldn't know since I was there by a quarter of six, and it started at 6 PM (Norwich Time of course) but by a quarter of nine, and into the Board of Education's portion, my aching knees shared that they'd had enough and I crab-walked my way out of the hearing. Such is the life of a fallen Rockette, I guess).

Here's what I am pretending could have happened (dream along with me, please): The seats would be packed with people-thousands of residents yelling and hollering 'Bring on the next one!' (OK. At least enough people to fill the seats, if you insist on some reality) Since there were in 'real time' only two women and two men in attendance, in my movie, Shiela and Marterese knit as the guillotine does its work. Andy and I go out in the hallway and drag in the cart, rough-hewn wooden wheels clambering on the polished floors of City Hall and on the cart, sitting in a cage open to the elements on all sides, is a bedraggled department head pulled inexorably by the Two Yankers of the Apocalypse while Madame Defarge Squared knit.

The cart and cage are placed in front of the Council who are hurling pens and pencils, small notepads and cell phones with calendars through the bars all the while howling out budget questions in high keening voices like creatures of the Serengeti. 'And how many sandbags does the dump truck hold?' shouts one while the department director's eyes dart furtively around the room in search of any way out, but finding none. Another alderman demands, 'what about the lights at the Hamilton Avenue football field?' When the answers are incomplete, or mumbled or just non-existent, the Council members confer for a moment and then, as one, signify their displeasure with a unanimous thumbs-down. Me and Andy drag the caged birds and the cart back out into the hallway and, despite their protestations, push them down the stairs. Their screams echo in the hallways in the night and could melt a heart of stone but not ours. We turn our attention to the next cart and pull the luckless, lunchless little one into the Circle of Inquisition, Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down, and so it goes.

Now, that sounds like a really cool meeting, doesn't it? One that you're sitting there right now and reading about and saying to yourself 'By gum, they are colorful and vibrant folks what live in Norwich, CT. We never have such goings on in these here parts.' (or words to that effect).
It sure beats the stuffings out of what actually happened. There was a lot of polite conversation (but NOT all polite) that touched on everything but everyone in the room believes the budget, brilliantly assembled and staffed, is too much for many here in Norwich to pay in taxes this next year. But none of us can figure out how to do anything about it and none of us are ever going to say that out loud and disappoint everyone else to whom we are handcuffed. If this isn't the Abilene Paradox, jet fuel from peanut oil corollary, I don't what is.

So, can you blame me for NOT wanting to hang out in the conventional world? Black and white with shades of grey. Unflavored gelatin because we don't deserve any better with a hearty helping of paste for dessert. What harm can a little whimsy do? Makes the day go faster and the humdrum more palatable. Of course, if large numbers of folks who weren't present for last night's discussion show up Monday night in City Council chambers to kvetch, I fear me and Andy (and maybe the former bartender, Craig (I think his name is; I didn't recognize him without his List)) are gonna be loading carts onto cages all night long. I can tell you one thing: We are going to need more stairs.
And how do you like these scarves Andy and I have? They match our new sweaters (and they don't itch even a little bit). Guess who made 'em for us.
Gives us the greens of summer-Makes you think all the world's a sunny day.
-bill kenny

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Brilliant Disguise

Quick plug: tonight at 6 PM in Room 335 of Norwich City Hall is a Council-hosted budget workshop with the city departments and agencies who asked the City Manager for money. They get to make their case, and handle some (lots, I hope) questions from the alderspersons on the why behind the how much. Where you live probably has something similar in either form or intent. I'd hope that those who do most of the living in this city and who pay most of the taxes turn out (it's a really large room with incredibly tall ceilings-ridiculously tall, to be honest) and follow along in the copy of the budget they've downloaded from the municipal website, and take some notes that will help answer some of those questions each of us has on the budget. I already had one answered and am better for the experience. For those in Norwich, if you care, be there. Sometimes the things you do speak so loudly I can't hear what you're saying (or writing anonymously in the comments section of a local newspaper's online version of the story).

Speaking of newspapers, I came across a small story, five medium sized paragraphs (or so), from Baltimore yesterday that seemed to be about one thing, but was actually about something else. The story was a report on a surgery accomplished over the weekend at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, in which six different patients simultaneously received kidneys from living donors. The previous high (I think saying 'record' makes this whole thing sound cheap, don't you?) was four and I think the organ involved in those transplants were lungs (or not). Reads a little like a Stupid People Trick, I know. I'm not the kindest person in the world and that's the conclusion I landed when I jumped.

What I had started reading because I hadn't fully grasped the headline and what I had concluded the story was about before I read the last sentence was this was some kind of a perverse attempt at a book of records entry and how sad, etc. It turns out, the true story is much sadder.

The recipient and the donors were all related, but not to one another. That is, through a joke God or Nature played on these desperate people, the kidney of a relative, normally regarded as the (best and) first choice for a transplant candidate, was not compatible for them. But, and I mean with a great big B, But the prospective donor's kidney was compatible with one of the other people who needed one. What are the odds of that? And, moreover, what are the odds of having it happen six times? Tremendous researching and cell and marrow typing and testing (and more than a little prayer I suspect) went into creating this pool of six and six.

And, here's the punch line, I guess. The surgeries were done simultaneously (and the article spoke of the number of physicians and supporting staff and the operating rooms and equipment employed and deployed) so that after the transplant operations had finished, the prospective donor could not now change her or his mind. My brother could have just gotten the kidney he needed to live but I've decided my promise of one of mine to your sister ain't happening. And this synchronicity of surgery was the most linear and elegant solution the surgeons, who are (after all) there to tend to the flesh and not to the soul, could devise. Obviated any and all concerns about a double-cross and made everyone generous, albeit at knifepoint (more correctly, scalpel, I suppose).

All this time I thought it was our ability with tools, our thumbs, and our higher consciousness that separated us from the animals.
I want to know if it's you I don't trust, cos I damn sure don't trust myself.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Move over Timmy, June Lockhart is all mine

I had notes from two people in the last day, on different topics (and actually about different aspects of my life and interaction with theirs) that underscored for me, again (I need reminders as I'm getting a little thin in the grey matter department) how we are the sum of everyone we've ever met.

That said, these two people are, with apologies to Will Rogers, 'friends I've never met.' They were kind enough to invite me into their lives, though I neither knew that nor (had I known) appreciated it at the time. There was a joke when I worked in radio, 'assume the mike (microphone) is always hot', that I now have to wonder if I should sleep in a tuxedo in case I need to make a good impression on someone in a dream.

Because we are all connected, and inter-connected, on this ant farm with beepers (Dennis Miller is right, you know. Okay, he's a little crazy now, perhaps, but the insight was original and the observation terribly true) their kind words will shape and impact how I continue my bus ride through this life. I'm still stuck in an aisle seat, but the fog is lifting outside and the windows are pretty big and I might get a peek at where we're heading anytime soon now.

I was a big fan of a program entitled "What You Are Now Is What You Were When" (the original was very much a video of its time: big-lapel suit jackets with wide shoulders, side burns to the elbows; sort of That 70's Show without Topher and Ashton) and because of my advanced years, I've been able to synthesis a LOT of different people and their respective impacts and perspectives into my life to create who or what I am. It's nice to know even at this late date, course corrections are possible (and necessary).

I believe very much that you should be the change you want to see in the world (emphasis on the second person personal pronoun, since my 'best by' date has lapsed) so it was very nice to be on the receiving end of separate random acts of kindness. If I had a dog, today would be a day I'd pet him and not glare at him. Whether he'd return the favor is another matter.
What's the matter, Lassie? Is Kenny in trouble?
-bill kenny

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The (other) Rite of Spring

The newspapers are starting the 'countdown to the IRS filing deadline' stories this morning, which makes sense since there's a week left to file your federal (and state and in some places, city) income tax return. It's one way of knowing it's Spring as these stories bloom every year at this time. I was reading about how, again and as always, Post Offices will remain open very late next Tuesday evening so that procrastinators can still get their returns postmarked under the wire. Pardon my faded, jaded cynicism. Show of hands: how many do NOT know that next Tuesday is the tax filing deadline? That's what I thought-keep those hands up for just another moment. How many can guess what date next year's filing deadline might be? Gee, imagine my surprise. Those who can't figure this stuff out, even allowing for weekends and Patriot's Day (in Massachusetts) are the same folks who lose track of when Christmas is this year or when, exactly, they are having their birthday. Please.....

In Norwich, CT, last night, the City Manager shared his vision of the 2008-2009 budget and offered a verbal overview of about six minutes that suggested he's been mindful of the City Council's desires to keep the rate of increase (and all of us knew there would be an increase because the cost of goods and services continues to rise) at or below the consumer price index and he suggested that he had, indeed, accomplished that. I hoped last week that, before my fellow Norwichians (Norwichites? Roseheads? Rosebuds? I have NO idea what our nickname is, though I, unkindly, have had a few thoughts on this. Key West has Jimmy Buffett and Norwich has Edwin Land and Benedict Arnold) show up for the public hearings on the budget to offer comments that they will at least look at previous budgets, also on line, and glance at a newspaper so they have some sense of what things in the real world cost.

Actually, an educational opportunity happens this Thursday as the Council holds a budget hearing to, literally, hear about why the monies requested by the various city departments were requested and what they intend to do with them (I'd love to hear someone, anyone, from a department stand up and say 'we're planning on blowing it, the whole wad, on candy! Heck with the taxpayers! Gummi Bears and M&M's for everyone!' and then run out of the hearing room). It will be this Thursday, starting at 1800 (6 PM) in Room 335 of City Hall (the room with the ceilings higher than those in a basketball gym. How'd you like to heat that room? Good news, if you live in Norwich, we do and pay handsomely I'm sure for the privilege) and the first public hearing will be next Monday, 14 April, at 1900 in City Council chambers.

I learned a couple of things last night (attention, fellow old dogs! Yes, while my slipper fetching skills are non-existent and advanced years have made rolling over more of a chore than ever before, I, too, can still learn new tricks and so, too, can you). It's been practice, as I understood the City Manager, for municipal vehicles, to include police cars, if they require refueling after the public works garage has closed for the day, to buy fuel at a regular gas station (I have to believe there are economies of scale benefiting all of us when Public Works buys enough fuel for all city vehicles) and he hopes the PWD goal for 24 hour operation and accessibility of the pumps will benefit the bottom line (law of unintended consequences says one or more gas stations will have a tougher time economically as their fuel sales drop as the PWD pumps' use increases).

I also found out (actually this part I knew before last night) that city employees get paid every Thursday and that if you swing by City Hall early enough Thursday mornings you'll see a line of municipal vehicles (no observation on where the fuel they're burning while idling was purchased is necessary by me) waiting for the finance department to open so the paychecks can be distributed. The City Manager suggested last night shifting the procedure to direct deposit at a savings in excess of $30,000 in costs to the comptroller's office (and who knows how much of a savings in unexpended fuel and non-productive hours) and I hope all new municipal employees are placed in this system as eventually that will mean everyone will be direct deposit.

In my perfect world, before the public hearing next Monday, each speaker would be required to take a short three-question test on the proposed budget, or funding levels in previous years for particular programs. I suggest this because I have no illusions and even less intellect, but I'm willing to concede that I don't know what I don't know. I'm always amazed at the number of people with whom I share the planet who don't subscribe to this belief. They may not be experts in affordable housing, but they disagree with the findings and recommendations of those who are. They don't own a pet but are convinced that $610,000 for an animal shelter is too much. Perhaps they all stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night, unless they're too smart to fall for that old gag. I'm just trying to manage the level of acrimony we'll end up with here in the Rose City where so many of us not only know everything, but know everything better. Actually, and we're afraid to admit this (but welcome to Life in the West), what we fear is that we know the price of everything but have learned the value of nothing.
-bill kenny