Saturday, May 31, 2008

Please Ring Bell. Wait for Attendant.

I saw that sign on a house on Union Street in Norwich, CT., while out walking. I have to back up a bit and explain how I came to be walking on Union Street mainly because I cannot so easily explain the why behind the walk.

I've been aware that I've become stuck in recent months and don't have enough tricks to get unstuck. I've been been painting myself into a blacker, and tighter, corner with each passing day and wasn't having any luck getting out of it. I've always been in a hurry--not that I've had too many destinations when I set off. Falling in love and marrying the person I was searching for even when I didn't know I was searching for her made the 'last stop' of the day a lot easier, but the stuff from the time I opened my eyes in the morning was and has always been a little more intense than it needed to be.

The other day I decided I needed a guy. It didn't have to be a guy-but I needed somebody smarter than me. So, yeah, by definition, it could've been you. Ideally, I needed a guy to tell me it wasn't me it was everyone else-except then I wouldn't have had a lot of use for him and would have been back where I started, which Everybody Knows, (This) Is Nowhere.

I got really lucky and found someone who realized this time I was drowning and not waving and that between one liners was a somebody who needed a bit of help wrestling it to the curb. He may not be the guy, but he's a guy and that's a start. He had some suggestions on reading and what with my shiny new bifocals and literacy skills and all, I figured books were a good idea.

I've been looking for a reason to go to the Otis Library which was completely and utterly rebuilt, refurbished, repurposed, revitalized and reopened a few months ago (in a perfect world, you'd come over the rebuilt Laurel Hill Bridge, hang a right and drive on a newly paved Main Street to get there, but you can't have everything). I walked from my house near Chelsea Parade to the library which gave me a chance to spy, briefly, on all the other people's lives that go on in the Rose City.

As is the case across the country, with the credit crunch, there are a lot of for sale signs and more than a few foreclosure signs to include one on a multi-level, multi-family house that had two little tiny children (I'm guessing three, maybe four years old) struggling to peer over the banister on the third floor down the stairs at me with the biggest eyes I've seen in a while. But what I remember more than the size of their (brown) eyes was how dead those eyes were and cold. And I couldn't quite figure out how you could be working on probably your first set of big kid pants and already have caught the last reel of the flick of your life and know how it ends.

I don't think they could read yet and I hope they didn't read the foreclosure sign in front of their house that says anyone who shows up today, 31 May, at 1 P. M. with a cashier's check for $19,000 may be the new owner. The sign didn't say what happens to the two kids and whatever grown-ups are living there with them after the money changes hands. Maybe all of this would make a nice episode of those shows my wife likes to watch, like "Flip This House". Maybe this episode we'll let the camera roll and see what happens after the bright and shiny people are finished.

The Otis Library is really nice and the the thing that most impressed me wasn't technically in the library--and it was all the folks, kids, teens, tweens and young adults, out in front of it and actually coming in and out. We didn't have a lot of this in the old library. And there's an energy and vitality that spreads from the front door through the magazine and newspapers area, past the media room and the children's library. Sort of a proof of concept: Build it and they will come with the part of Shoeless Joe played, this time, by the Dewey Decimal system.

I'm really hoping that it's true and that it spreads from the library across the downtown area that has so many small businesses working so hard. I hadn't walked around in a long time and was really pleasantly surprised at how many places there were and how many smiling faces were in them. EOTO isn't strictly speaking just for kids, silly rabbit. It's how you rebuild a neighborhood one house at a time, one block as you can, until you've saved a street and then the streets that link to it.

It's a pebble in a pond but without the small stones and water. It's how, when you hike up Union Street, you see all different kinds of houses and when you get to #23, a breathtakingly beautiful house that someone is selling and that I would love to buy but have absolutely no reason to ever do so and even less money to do it with, there, engraved on the brass plate just above the bell, you read: Please Ring Bell. Wait for Attendant.
I'm developing the mindfulness to not wonder how long that wait for the attendant actually is.
-bill kenny

Friday, May 30, 2008

Stake Your Claim

I can't wait for this Monday's Norwich City Council meeting. It will be a long, and possibly hard, slog starting at 7:30 PM in Council Chambers, and while there will be other business on the agenda, make no mistake the big item in the center ring is the approval of a city budget. Probably like your town, we've spent a lot of time in the last six weeks talking to one another (and too often at one another) and to our aldermen (I'd say alderpersons but all of them are actually men so (this time) it's not thoughtlessness on my part) on hopes, dreams, aspirations and concerns.

For a one hundred dollar a month stipend (a piece), all six of the aldermen have listened to every word we've said and to our silences as well, and, together with the Mayor on Monday night they'll refine and redefine the City Manager's budget and we'll all be happy and then they can move on to some of the stuff they told us last fall was very important while running for City reevaluating the City Charter with an eye on bulking up language and carb-loading actual meaning, like adopting an actual code of ethics for all who work, paid and volunteer, on behalf of those of us who live in the Rose City, like reviewing the morale and practices survey of the Norwich Police Department released this time a year ago with an eye on implementation, like eliminating the pouting and posturing of previous City Councils who had private agenda at the expense of the public good. Very exciting and exhilarating words at the time.

Yes indeed, there's quite a lot to get done once the budget is approved. Unless we allow those who are not especially keen to actually accomplish anything to continue to hide in a haze of glib generalities, in which case, we can just keep muddling along I suppose. Kind of like where you live, I imagine--it's pretty much the same movie, a different cast but the same movie. Lots of heat, not so much light--a lot of motion but not a lot of movement.

I, for one, very much like the way the rose has replaced the period under the exclamation point on the logo that's on the easel in the council chambers. We still have the 'old logo' on the web site, but that's old news as soon we're going to establish a steering committee to create an advisory that will establish a commission to sort out what our first step could look like. It's easy to confuse talking about change with actual change especially when that's all you really want to do. If they make the Motionless Glide an Olympic event, we'll have to build a bigger medals podium.

But make sure the new logo is on it because when you don't have a lot of specifics, the more generalities you have the better, and don't forget generalities are actually harder to disprove than specifics. For instance, Norman Voles of Gravesend claims to have written all of Shakespeare's plays while he and his wife wrote all of his sonnets. Specifically, Mr Voles is 43 and, as we all know, there are records of Shakespeare's plays being performed for hundreds of years and see? Let's just hope, charter review and revision, ethics, a police review commission don't all wind up like Mrs. Mittelschmerz of Dundee. Mainly because I fear we would more easily embrace an elephant than the consequences of our own actions.
-bill kenny

Thursday, May 29, 2008

What letter comes after Preparation?

I can travel a few different ways to work and sometimes, because I like to think I'm foiling a stalker or predator, I vary the route (I also have a lifetime of working in ridiculously unimportant, nondescript jobs that would attract no attention so I'm the kind of guy if the bad guys kidnapped me, they'd let me go, after apologizing and giving me a few bucks for the trouble). I'm not ever going to have an adventurous job, so why not?

I can take a an interstate and then use a state road, more of a cut across to another state highway that takes me to work. The cut across was built about a decade ago as the Mohegan Sun was coming on line as a casino and the Route 2A bypass became a big deal (and it also enabled travelers to come from Route 395 to the casino or staying on it travel over the Pequot Bridge and hang the left at the intersection with Route 12 and head over on Route 2 to the Foxwoods casino (we have the Double mint Twins of Gaming (clever how the marketers eliminated the "B" and the "L", eh?)). If you wanted to save time, you could roll the car window down as you traveled over the bridge and throw your money into the Thames-but what would the sport of that be and where would we get the wonder of it all, if you did?

Not sure what the construction crews are up to on the by-pass but there's a LOT of heavy equipment and those huge mats and nets that they drag out when they are using explosives (lots of rock shelf on either side of the bypass) and my favorite part right now, but only because I don't have a two-way radio to turn off at certain hours, is the large orange sign that, in addition to talking about the two way radios and the blasting, tells me "Be Prepared to Stop" in large yellow letters on a cyclic basis.

It's okay-if a little less than romantic. It's like the sign on 395 just past the State Trooper barracks, across from the gas station that advises "Speed is monitored by aircraft." Yeah, but so what? Where's the shock and awe in that? How about "Speed monitored by dirigible." That would make everybody wish they had a sunroof or a front seat spotter just so they could keep an eye out for the Hindenburg (except we probably wouldn't drive slower, and looking out the roof instead of the windshield, there'd be more accidents).

So, how about on that orange warning sign we have something different like "Be Prepared to Tango"-no mean feat considering we are all sitting in cars and trucks and the Tango doesn't have a chair in its steps anywhere. "Be Prepared to Smile"--"Be Prepared to Rapture" (I'm not sure if you can use a noun, much less what, for some, is a proper noun, as a verb, but the Tango people didn't mind so I'm hoping the Rapture folks are cool with this). Or "Be Prepared to Boogaloo" (and there's someone on the shoulder handing out gold chains or necklaces with coke spoons hanging off them, platform shoes and elephant-leg bell bottom trousers). And, just how much preparation to stop does a body need in the first place? Right there, that little dot at the end of this sentence, that is a period which is a grammatical stop. No heavy nets, no orange signs, no yellow letters-just halt.
See? That was easy. Now where did this Hai Karate after-shave come from and who left this eight track cartridge in the front seat?
-bill kenny

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Apply cold compresses of crisp $20 bills and call me in the morning

We are a lot of things to a lot of people--the last great nation on earth, the shining city on the hill, the land of unbounded opportunities.....and, as we see everyday in the newspapers, a bigger and bigger pinata for people to whack and pick up the money that falls on the ground. Where there once accidents, unforeseen chains of events, simple twist of fate and Acts of God, there's a cosmic conspiracy and we're the victim. And someone will pay-someone must pay. Money fixes everything, except that hole in your heart where the values used to be--but don't worry, we'll find somebody to pay for that. We always do.

When I was a kid and you got hurt playing in a neighbor's backyard, you waited in your room until Doctor Alice Tyndall could see you (oh yeah, I'm so old, I grew up in an era when doctors made house calls, everyday. I know, sounds incredible-but it's true and they did, they really did.) and she'd check out the clean-up job Mom did on the cuts and scrapes (and Moms stayed home and Dads went to work, often on trains and they worked for the same company for decades or until they retired and when they retired they moved to Florida) and the next day, you were all better and went back out and played ball or tag in somebody else's yard again. Lather, rinse and repeat-but without the shampoo.

Something really bad had to happen before Dad decided to 'call the lawyer'. And as kids, you didn't have much of an idea what the adults were up to with 'the attorney' but you knew it was serious, because lawyers and courts were serious business.

Now, here in the Air Age, we have lawyers on speed dials and call them almost constantly. Ironically, and to me, paradoxically, we also have a very poor opinion of most lawyers, actually of most other lawyers--our lawyer we find to be a good person, for the most part, who works hard and fights hard to win. The other side hires shysters and cheaters-the ones that are always the inspiration for the millions of 'lawyer jokes' that circulate (though probably not in a courthouse, I suspect).

We invoke the law so often it has no sting and we have no fear. It's another Tequila Sunrise-bleh! What kind of drink is this? Quick get my attorney on the line -we'll sue the bartender, the manufacturer of the spirits, the ice-maker, the folks who made the glass and the people who built the bar where we had this drink that has scarred us for life!! We could be persuaded to settle for a million in damages and 2 million for emotional distress. My guy will call your guy and they can do lunch, okay?

It's so routine, so mundane, we have insurance to cover this stuff now and, as I read the other day, if you're a 'Deep Pocket' in a lawsuit, having a battalion of attorneys to do your bidding enables you to settle 'without an admission of guilt' that is cheaper than going to war in the courts and bleeding from the cuts of a thousand tort wounds. Some estimate over fifteen million lawsuits will be filed in state courts this year (that number sounds high-I think it sounds more surreal than real) and more often than not, they are settled and NOT adjudicated.

Innocence and guilt, what we grew up thinking was fundamental to any cause, is not even in the room. Responsibility and consequences went out with high button shoes. Right and wrong are relative (and not related to us, thank goodness) now that lawyers clean up small details when Daddy had to lie. This is the end of the innocence.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

You could be moments away from millions. Or I could. Click quickly and confidentially, or wish you had.

Someone once told me that in the video format wars of the early 1970's (Sony had Beta-Max and RCA had VHS, which stood for 'video home system') a deciding factor in one format overwhelming the other was amount of programming available (Apple folks can sing a verse or two into the present day when they quarrel about technical superiority with MS operating systems). Technically, the Sony product had it all over the RCA folks--but you couldn't fit a full-length movie on a Beta-Max tape and you could with a VHS.

Actually, more specifically, the 'adult' movie industry discovered VHS worked a lot better for their customers-and porn was, in essence, the 'killer app' for the first battle of formats in the Brave New World of Technology. In the last decade we've seen all kinds of innovations in personal computing, and advances in inter-connectivity. This electronic scribble is a reflection of those steps forward, and a bad example at that, but we have telemedicine; on-line project collaboration; distance learning; asynchronous programming and the list goes on and on.

So, what has been the Great Leap forward with cell phones, Blackberrys and Talking I-books? Spam, lovely spam. With egg, sausage, baked beans, bacon. Bloody Vikings. Actually, of course, that's NOT the one I mean. Poor Hormel, what kind of a Supreme Being would allow the name of their trademark product to be so abused? Actually, considering how often the missives I get seem to invoke Her/His Son's name, usually in the salutation, perhaps there's a darker reason for this than I've been considering.

Spam is is the killer app for all the confluence and convergence we possess in this wired world. The other species must be so jealous. Purists may argue that all the solicitations for mail order Viagra aren't technically spam. Difference without distinction, imho. And Pfizer, I don't know how The Lord feels about your Viagra TV campaign, but it's very fortunate for your lab-coated whiz kids that Elvis has left the building, thankyewverymuch, because I can't imagine he'd be too thrilled with what you've done with his tune. On the other hand, in light of its purpose, you might have borrowed something from "Girl Happy", but what? Certainly, not this one. Ugh. Three months before The Beatles record Norwegian Wood, this dog of a movie comes out and Colonel Tom Parker can't understand what happened to derail the gravy train. I guess Vernon and Glady's son wasn't the only one doing drugs, eh?

All that entrepreneurial opportunism and celebration of avarice and greed from Nigeria (and there were three million, one hundred and sixty thousand separate page entries on Google about this and only this many mentions on starvation in Darfur) and elsewhere is what we all think of when we say 'spam.' And I am taken with how nearly-clever so much of it is, in terms of weaving a narrative with real events, a plane crash or a horrible auto accident (usually the email has a url for the precipitating event, so I can 'see' how this note is all legit) and now the person writing has found money, boxcars of money, that they are keen to split with me(!)

Exactly how they have my address is a little flaky--the next time you get one of these notes, read it and see what I mean, and the spelling and grammar are always suspect. But they're funny, great reads and I save them and then send them as responses to other spam I get, because I cannot imagine these boiler room operators have ever heard of, much less signed, Lenny's 'missionary's pledge' (and thank you, Masked Man). It's like chaperoning a dance at Piranha Tech.

For a moment everyone is thrilled to be hearing 'back' even if Missa Darla (the one who uses 'my dear' at least ten times in her note) isn't actually getting my bank account number for the fifty million she wants to give me before croaking from the heartbreak of psoriasis or something even more awful. And that Army captain who is sitting on all of Saddam's gold he found in the hidden bunker and needs my help to get it back to the USA, for a sizable slice off the top (I've told this guy I'm leaving to go watch a movie, Three Kings, and that I'll get back to him 'straight away.' I always sign those notes 'sincerely, George Clooney', because doesn't he seem like a polite person who would sign things 'sincerely'?) eventually gets antsy and, on occasion, has actually flamed me for wasting his time.

I'm not petty and hold no grudges, but as soon as I get that T-3 line run into the basement and start my own boiler-room operation, I'm never letting that Army guy get the chance to send me a dime. Here in Lagos, we cannot be bought-only rented.
-bill kenny

Monday, May 26, 2008

Some Mother's Son

For a lot of us today, hopefully the weather cooperates as Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer with Labor Day regarded as summer's unofficial end. It's interesting how we've 'repurposed' two disparate and distinct observances and changed their message and meaning.

When I was a kid growing up (in the dark days of black and white TV and NO Internet) we called today Decoration Day because so many families spent some part of the day traveling to or at a cemetery honoring the grave of a fallen member of the Armed Forces (World War II, Korea and the ongoing Vietnam War touched practically every family). We've gotten so used to having a professional armed forces in this country we forget that for many years, actually until 1973, we had military conscription, usually called the draft.

Even back to the War for Independence, we had people who would volunteer, but conscription was a process to guarantee manpower. And the draft was only for men-there were women in some jobs in the Armed Forces (WAFs and WAVEs are the two I remember learning about and I'm sorry for forgetting the others), but certainly not in all jobs and they joined of their own volition.

We called everyone serving in the military back then 'our boys in uniform.' After the draft was eliminated in 1973 and both sexes were serving, maybe because we thought it sounded silly to say 'our girls in uniform', we instead said 'our women in uniform' and once we did that it made sense to also say 'our men in uniform.' Odd how we made men out of boys, eh?

Today's a big backyard barbecue day or maybe, if the skies permit, and you're in the neighborhood, catch an afternoon Double-A baseball game at Senator Thomas Dodd Stadium in Norwich where the CT Defenders host the Harrisburg Senators (the other Senators were in state months ago looking for primary votes). And almost everyone with a product or service to sell has advertising about their Memorial Day Specials. I guess that's okay and at some level is actually part of what today is about even when we get too busy to remember.

A lot of very brave and talented people sacrificed their lives for the notion of this nation so we could cook baby-back ribs or check out the deals at the car dealerships later today. And not just the very brave and talented--a lot of very frightened, flawed and ultimately very fragile men and women died in uniform so we could complain about the price of gas and politicians we don't like and how our favorite ball club is off to slow start again and worry about what we're gonna do with the kids when the school year ends.

If you're reading this, I can suggest another place you can go without having to get up from your chair or computer. It doesn't take very long, though, for those in uniform whose lifetimes have now ended, it will always be too short and I visit it everyday, especially when I think I'm having a tough time of it. It's not as poetic as the lines penned by a John McCrae, but it doesn't pretend to be. We are, after all, living in the greatest country on earth with a professional armed force that, if we work the TV and newspapers just right, we hardly ever need to think about, though today would be a most appropriate opportunity to do so but if you forget, that's okay. In a way they fought so that, too could be one of our freedoms, but Some mother's memory remains.
-bill kenny

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Man from Cheyenne Comes to the Whaling City

The region had a visitor last Wednesday, actually it was the Vice President of the United States, Mr. Cheney, as commencement speaker at the graduation of the US Coast Guard Academy in New London. You've read the news stories and seen the video clips and I think we all understand there was more going on than just a graduation of two hundred plus young people from college.

By all accounts, those who showed up to protest "The War" (it always seems like it should be in capital letters because that's how so many think of it-I don't (I use lower case), but when in Rome (or New London)....) were peaceful in their protected right to demonstrate (it was a bit more tumultuous last year as you may remember, though studies suggest few of us probably do) and that's as should be but as a dad whose daughter is a year away from her college graduation (Michelle doesn't go to the Coast Guard Academy), I feel for the graduates and their family and friends on what was, really, their day.

I write a letter a month, every month, to the President of the United States and to the Vice President, expressing my deep unhappiness at the current course of interaction in, among places, Iraq (and I offer my insights on other issues as well. You knew I would, right?). That's my right as a citizen and the men and women serving in our armed forces would be the first ones to tell you that's one of the reasons they serve (I spent eight years in the US Air Force and understand, even if I don't always accept, the concept). I should get a medal from the Post Office and my local stationery shop, but that's for another time.

It's not a game or kabuki theatre-it's the process by which and in which we live. Eventually, drifting back come letters, signed by people who are as unknown to me as I am to them, on behalf of one of the two gentleman, that thank me for my thoughts (and perhaps secretly wonder how, after fifty-six years of giving everyone a piece of my mind, I can still have any left) and assuring me the President/Vice-President appreciates my concerns, don't sleep in the subway darlin'/ don't stand in the pouring rain/if you're out tonight and you're on your bike/wear white, and all the other automatic closers we use in correspondence. Do I imagine a file with my name on it somewhere in an FBI building? Yeah, in the 'cranky old coot' wing, on the left side of the hallway.

But that's not what went on Wednesday in New London and having thought about it for a little bit (and as unused to thinking as I am, I now have a headache), I really wish we all could be more respectful of each other, especially at 'family moments' where a child is marking a major milestone in her/his life such as a college graduation. It's expensive and it's hard and it takes a lot of tears, toil, and long hours (trudging through six foot high snow drifts, uphill both ways, for five miles just to get to the kegger. I'm kidding!). I'm not sure if my child were getting a diploma, I'd be so mellow about strangers showing up to voice their unhappiness about a national policy at the graduation.

I grasp the concept of 'that's Dick Cheney's the Veep!' and, as such, the embodiment and/or personification of an administration with which some do not agree. According to The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, we are the government, too, so are there gonna be lawn chairs in my driveway or yours protesting our trade policy, or lack thereof, with Lesotho? I'm only asking because I wanted to clean out the garage next weekend and will need someplace to stack all the stuff I'm throwing out.

In addition to being a buzz-kill for a lot of very talented young people and their families and friends, I do think it's a bit rude, as some were quoted as commenting, to use the freedoms of assembly and speech to try to keep someone else from using his same freedoms. Not meaning to put too fine a point on this, Mr. Cheney is the Vice President of the United States of America. In the lives of those enrolled at the Coast Guard Academy and the other service academies (for that matter), he's a Significant Other. We can (and should) disagree without being disagreeable. So maybe that's the lesson learned from Mr. Cheney's visit.

Hand on my heart, with all the reports I read and TV clips I saw, what he came to say didn't stick in my memory-and that's okay because here's a link to his remarks. I'm NOT a twenty-one or twenty-two year old young person graduating from a military academy in wartime, so his words weren't intended for me as the primary audience, I suppose, but I hope all the other people who had words they wanted to say didn't distract or detract from the day's celebration that the Coast Guard Academy graduates had earned. And, just between us, when I saw the Vice President standing at the podium with that cowboy hat on, first thing that flashed into my head: I'm Thinking Arby's.
-bill kenny

Saturday, May 24, 2008


This doesn't have anything to do with the Democratic Party demolition derby for the opportunity to be elected President in November. I just flashed on that phrase the other day while watching news clips of Senator Obama last weekend in Portland Oregon with a crow so large all that was missing was a mixing table, some scaffolding for lights and a couple of giant beach balls and I've thought we were revisiting the "US" Festival.

From what I watched, the only thing missing was someone to warn the crow to 'stay away from the brown acid' and, if doused, to get to the first aid tent quickly. Sadly, with all the kids sitting in the studios at CNN, Fox, MSNBC and the Cartoon Network, you have to be a fossil like me to remember those days, which explains why none of those pretty prattlers came up with that line.

I don't want you to think I'm not interested in whom we elect as the next President because I very much am. And I'm unfazed that we've had a patch of uneven results in years previous. No matter which side of the aisle you sit on, let's face it, the icebergs on the starboard bow are the work of a lot more than just Global Warming and we've all played a part. Don't be shy: when you buy a ticket you get the whole ride so step up and really step in it because the rest of us seem to have already done so. Let's just hope we don't track it across the Rose Garden.

However-let's also agree that with our current flavor of democracy, 'Big Races' and 'Big Issues' get all the ink and all the TV news time but it's the little nuances to our lives--the how many kids in our third grader's homeroom--when was the last time the street in front of the house was paved-what does a half gallon of milk cost now and how many jobs to pay for all of this are we working--that's where the road and sky collide. Does that make a State Senator this November more important than a Congressman/woman? Is a first selectman as important as the President of the United States? Who can more immediately change the quality of your life, for better or worse?

We each have to make a decision on those questions and how we choose reflects how we view the world in which we live. I've suggested in other spaces and places that, for any number of reasons, we live now as circles within circles. John Donne is correct beyond his wildest dreams, and another Jon, Anderson centuries later and with more melody and music, suggested it can happen to everyone eventually. It's human nature, perhaps, to dream of a better world and to strive to make it happen, but it was a very old fossil Sir Winston Churchill, who counseled, "Do not let spacious plans for a new world divert your energies from saving what is left of the old." And sometimes, especially in our throwaway attention-deficit driven world, saving and remembering are lost arts.

Intending no disrespect to families who can trace lineage generations and centuries back to the same town and the same street, sometimes in New England (and elsewhere) too much past can keep us from getting to the future. Which is kind of funny because the expression we all know says 'the future will be here in a moment' which is wonderful advertising copy but not especially accurate. Today is the tomorrow we worried about yesterday. And when you want to best assure yourself that your reach doesn't exceed your grasp, you hold on tightest to whatever is closest--family, friends, the familiar. McMurtry's right, I fear. It's a real short movie, so don't get the big popcorn, we'll never finish it.
-bill kenny

Friday, May 23, 2008

Tinkerbelle, Lost Boys on Line One

Maybe it's because they're still rearranging the grocery store from the renovations that are still ongoing (I'm not finding the stuff any better now than I have been for the last couple of weeks; I still keep going to the 'old' aisles and discovering shoe polish where frozen food was). Or it might be a summer-time promotion, but I don't remember it from last summer and I've gone to this grocery store in the Norwichtown Mall for all the years we've lived in Norwich (from, I guess, when it was an ordinary store; i.e., before it was made into a 'super' store able to leap over tall newspaper reporters with glasses in a single bound).

The store has constructed a giant (let me try that again to better capture the actual size and give you a better sense of the proportion, GIANT. Much closer) display of Pepsi soda products as you enter it from the 'mall' side (in and of itself, a whimsical notion. The 'mall' has a Dress Barn (just me or in light of the exaggerated expectations about weight and size with which we saddle women, is this an odd choice for a store name?), a GNC, a Chinese restaurant, a nail and manicure place and a dollar store and more than twice as much empty floor space as occupied.) and my inner child practically wept for joy when I saw it.

When I was six, I thought there was nothing cooler than a tree house. As a matter of fact, until knee replacement surgery three summers ago made it too difficult to contemplate, I might still think that. But if you can't have a tree house, a fort is nearly as cool. We're talking a tall fort and a big one, too. I didn't know Pepsi made something called Brisk, or what it was until I googled it, and they also make something called Tropicana Twister soda that is so far from a day without sunshine that Anita Bryant would cry in frustration.

By using those brands and all the other sodas that Pepsi makes (I'm not sure anyone needs a cola with more caffeine and who-knows-what in it so you get spun up even faster, but the Pepsi folks make one, or more than one for all I know) and stacking the twelve-packs higher than I am tall (I'm five feet and nine inches tall) on three sides of a rectangle, the store has built a fort. I've been in the store three times since I noticed the fort on Saturday and all three times there have been guys, and only guys, in the display area.

Ladies, so you know-we could have gone to the soda aisle, assuming we could find it in the new store arrangement (it used to be near something called 'prepared food' which I think is a bit creepy; technically, for some species, we might be considered unprepared food and I don't find that notion comforting in the least), but as long as the soda fort is there, unless and until we men shoppers tear down the walls of this Jericho of Carbonation, us guys (we guys?) will buy ALL of our soda right here at the fort.

Pepsi underwrote a Michael Jackson tour. I mention that in case you thought about threatening to send Nana or Tick-Tock the Crock in for us as you near the check-out. Look what happened to MJ when he left Neverland. No amount of clapping will get us to budge from this spot and both Tiger Lily and Mr. Smee fully agree.
-bill kenny

Thursday, May 22, 2008

By the pound or by the piece

There's an ongoing discussion, mostly in newspapers and news magazines, about the U. S. Mint still making one cent pieces. Most of the time we call them pennies, but the official term the Mint uses is one-cent piece (the English have a penny). The latter term certainly came in handy for both T. S. Eliot, and George Harrison. It costs more than one cent to make a one cent piece and suddenly our Federal Government which has elevated spending money to an art form is concerned about fiscal prudence.

The 'why do we need a once-cent piece?' argument goes on and on and expands to cover the price of everything and the value of nothing and then we all grow quiet for a couple of years before, suddenly, the whole argument starts again. But, to me it leads to a larger question: how do we figure out how much things cost in the first place?

The answer, if you're an office dwelling dweeb like me is, of course, we don't, someone else does. As much as Groucho's little brother blamed those mean, old capitalists for all the evils in the world, communist grocery stores had prices, even when they had no products to sell. So it seems there's a lot of forces that come into play in order to price a good or a service, be it a can of creamed corn, a gallon of gasoline or a dental crown.

Some goods are sold by the pound, such as seedless grapes or chicken breasts and other services, such as legislative lobbying and lap-dancing are sold by the iteration or even the result.

Traveling on Route 12 yesterday, away from Groton towards the Pequot Bridge, I passed a white sign with black block letters telling me (and all drives) "Fine for Littering-$219" which is certainly a memorable figure, as I've retained it, but also one of those 'how did you get to that number?' situations for me. Does the fine include the cost courts or are those extra and what if you represent yourself (and how do you do that when you're charged with littering? Does the state bring in a CSI unit, with a Gil Grissom of Garbage dusting for prints, or TAFKAP?)

Tell me the fine is a hundred dollars or a thousand dollars, I think we all have less of a problem accepting round numbers, even if the process of creating those nuumbers is equally obscure -but when you come up with a crooked number like 219, you should also explain the process to assuage the anxieties of munchkins like me. And the $219 covers throwing a soda can out the window, or a case of soda-or just the plastic ringy thing that holds six cans together?

Does the court have an express judge for ten items or less thrown, hurled or dropped from a moving vehicle and if someone is charged with littering for flipping a cigarette butt from her/his car (I hate people who do that, even as a former smoker myself ; use the ashtray, you ash hole) is it pro-rated? Is there a difference in the fine if it's a filter cigarette, or a menthol? And what about that couch I saw? Perhaps the discarder couldn't afford to pitch the ottoman as well.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

C U L8r

I went to Catholic grammar school taught by the Sisters of Charity before they consolidated (? merged? rightsized? combined?) with other orders. Growing up in the Diocese of Trenton we were all aware the Sisters of Charity, based right up the road in Elizabeth, New Jersey had been founded by Blessed Elizabeth Ann Seton and that she was practically single-handedly responsible for Catholic schools.

In the school I went to, and maybe the catholic schools where you live do it as well, it seemed (even as a small child) the most important subject, aside from religion (duh) was penmanship. We learned cursive (I've heard British people call it 'joined together' a turn of phrase I quite like) and we were taught the A. N. Palmer method where the letters flowed from one into the other and words resembled more a work of art than a written communication.

One of the tenets of the A.N. Palmer method (in pursuit of its one, and one only, way to write) was the assumption everyone on earth was right-handed, or should be. If you were a child who happened to be left-handed you were S.O.L. which wasn't an acronym that Sister Thomas Anne used, but she knew what it meant, that's for sure. My middle brother was left-handed and was scolded and chided and ruler on the knuckles often enough that he became right-handed, sort of.

That I would learn a penmanship method allowing no dissent or disagreement in Catholic School strikes me now as deliciously ironic. I'm not sure what I thought about it back then except I imagine I feared I'd never learn the two ways to write a lower case t, depending on whether it ended a word or not. And I don't mean to suggest learning a cursive capital Q was anything like the Spanish Inquisition but it was close.

I mention all of this because in the computer age, with a bewildering variety of type fonts and colors and styles and built-in language and grammar checking software all of which could, at least in theory, assure us of perfectly written electronic correspondence, we have invented texting instead of emailing and/or phone calling as means to impede the very communications we purport to be enhancing and which geezers like me don't grasp, but Judy and Elrod, my children, and everyone in their generational cohort seem to embrace whole-heartedly.

Much of it doesn't seem to involve actual words or very many words. It's sighs and whispers, smirks and shrugs, grimaces and winks, all reduced to letters, numbers but mostly keyboard strokes, that sometimes I have to turn my screen sideways and upside-down to read, appreciate and understand. For years, I missed the meaning of LOL and ROTFLMAO and all the variants and variables and now that I've caught on to those, I get to wade through the valley of emoticons and understand when people are happy, ;-), uncertain ;-/ , or sad, ;-( and when they're telling me to go chase myself, ;-P.

I once had the most wonderful penmanship in the sixth grade, and somewhere I still have the A. N. Palmer Method Certificate of Excellence, signed by Sister May Immaculata, Mother superior herself to prove it (her signature left a LOT to be desired as I remember it). Now I need to have the hardest working opposable thumbs in show business, tapping in a frenzy of semi-Morse code to tell the peeps in my posse I'm ;-O to still be on the planet.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Horse Latitudes

When voyagers during the Age of Exploration traveled to the New World they'd occasionally and accidentally navigate courses close to the center of the Atlantic Ocean and become becalmed by weather where the winds lifted off the water instead of blowing across it, resulting in very little current. At such a moment, true sailing is dead.

Ships could be slowed for days or weeks at a time in what was already a long and perilous voyage because of the lack of propulsion. To conserve and preserve rations, most especially of water, ships' crews would often throw horses overboard, lightening the load by reducing the ship's weight and increasing the speed the ship might make in even the lightest winds. Of course, the sailors needed the horses when they reached the New World (why else would they have taken them?) so the choice really was about sacrificing a future in order to continue to have a present.

We are, depending on the circumstances, often those same Sailors and, some are the horses, especially when it's Hard Times in the Land of Plenty. Here at the Western World, we've had success in the past with a 'money fixes everything approach' (it certainly seems to fix most elections, doesn't it? Have some more sausage and beer). While Connecticut is located on the Eastern Seaboard, it is very much part of the western world and (about) a decade ago, to address flagging reading and comprehension scores on standardized testing of grade school children, our legislators in Hartford working with the State Department of Education created and funded the Early Reading Success Grant program.

The program was designed to assist school districts to fund full-day kindergarten, reduce the number of children in the lower grades (K through 3rd) and hire literacy coaches and tutors. In my part of Connecticut (and there are parts, my friend, whether you're from here or not; you'd recognize Fairfield and Litchfield Counties are different states (of mind) from Hartford and when you cross over the Connecticut River heading up the coast, it is a very different, and poorer, state, indeed.), where traditionally we've had more will than wallet, both New London and Norwich schools, challenged to successfully meet the performance benchmarks of No Child Left Behind law, are both recipients of Early Reading Success Grants. New London saw a bit more than $370,000, and Norwich slightly more than half a million dollars in last year's state budget (total program costs were almost twenty million dollars) from the program. That will not, it seems, happen again.

The same legislators who gave CT residents a graduated driver licensing law that so far hasn't reduced teenage driving fatalities, an unenforceable and unenforced hands-free cellphone driving mandate and who blew through a quarter of a billion dollar settlement from Big Tobacco on a plethora of programs that had nothing to do with smoking cessation or health issues of any kind, concluded, despite excellent intentions and sincere efforts, the Early Reading Success Grants weren't having a positive impact on testing scores.

Newspapers report the legislators had removed the program from the new state budget with the aim of developing a better means to track its impact on student achievement, but then potential state deficits and concerns about the worsening economic condition overtook the improvement plan. For the budget year that begins 1 July, the program has been 'defunded' which is a word whose meaning most of the children in need of the program could never guess but I imagine they could define the difference between a bang and a whimper. So from a well-intentioned program with poorly measured achievements to address a real and growing dilemma, we're now becalmed in a sea of red ink and surprised at whom we are jettisoning.
"Legs furiously pumping. Their stiff green gallop. And heads bob up. Poise. Delicate. Pause. Consent. In mute nostril agony. Carefully refined and sealed over."
-bill kenny

Monday, May 19, 2008

Jiggle the Handle

Somewhere in your house, either here and now or back then, you have a toilet that always runs. If you're lucky, you can just jiggle the handle to fix it. As kids growing up we had to reach a certain age before we heard it. Our parents could hear it from the driveway when they came back from the grocery store but we lacked that level of audio acuity. I'm thinking because we weren't paying a water bill (assuming we even thought you had to pay for water), we didn't pick up on the sound of money splashing and sloshing.

As a mechanically-challenged adult, whose children had the same hearing defect (so is it heredity or environment-I honestly don't know), I used to pray that all I needed to do was jiggle the handle when we had technical difficulties with a porcelain fixture in my house. I am the walking (in light of my bad knees, perhaps limping is better) embodiment of 'don't ask the question, if you can't stand the answer.'

Whether it's a running toilet, a kitchen faucet that almost-but-not-quite doesn't drip, a creaky step on the front porch or a check engine light in the car, I have routines masquerading as solutions that I can only hope continue to keep me from having to attempt real repairs. Remedies and repairs can cost money, always require thought, planning and execution, involve time and invariably have consequences (none of those are my strong suit). And that's if they work.

Then you also have to monitor the process and make sure the repair is a real and actual solution, otherwise it's on to bigger and better things. In my house, aside from lick and a promise patches, my wife is the wizard and I've learned to stay out of her way (I don't even know the names of the tools I will hand her (that's my job) that she instinctively knows she'll need to use to repair something even before she gets the lid off and really looks at it).

I think we may do a lot of our day to day living in the 'patch and pray' mode. We go to the grocer where food prices are up, so we try to buy smarter and failing that, we buy cheaper. There's more fat on the meat, or less meat in the meal or we go from fruit juice to fruit drink, but we're jiggling the handle and hoping for the best. We elect in our city, and you do, too, neighbors who promise to do their best for all of us and then we sit at our kitchen tables in the morning reading the newspaper all the while shaking our heads at what 'those people' are doing 'to us' never realizing us and them are the same.

When it's time to buy school clothes, a more reliable car, pay our taxes or develop a family or municipal budget, we can look at a sweeping long-term solution to our situation or we can apply the goldfish memory trick and nibble away at the edges while hoping someone, somehow, somewhere, will fix things for us because we can't (when what we really mean is we won't). My family, probably like yours, is living the way horses run: looking no more than one foot-fall ahead of where we are. Such are our lives in this Brave New World that we don't always see anyone else, and everyone else, running and living the same way.

Am I annoyed or frustrated (or both) that my utilities will cost more in July, no matter how many light bulbs I replace or how often I jiggle the handle? That my property taxes will go up no matter what budget my City Council adopts because they've gone up every year I've lived here? That the streets and sidewalks in my town, Norwich (CT), look more everyday like the Appalachian Trail? You betcha, and all of that is true to varying degrees for you as well.

But in my house and in my city, we look before we leap and then we look again, and then we look away and, finally we look elsewhere (usually for someone to blame for whatever it is we're too afraid to actually fix ourselves). We prefer problems that are familiar to solutions that aren't. And while I'd love to sit and chat with you some more about all this, do you hear water running?
Hang on, let me have a look. Jiggle it again.
-bill kenny

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Setting Free the Bears

Did you read where polar bears have been named a 'threatened species' by the US Department of the Interior? As a homo sapiens who has Animal Planet as part of my basic cable TV package, I think that's a good idea--I imagine if I were a penguin or a seal or one of the other creatures that polar bears eat, I'd feel differently, but then again, they don't get cable.

However (with a capital "H") I'm no longer amazed that anything (and everything) that comes out second best in a battle of wills with humans ends up on the threatened species list. In the interests of full disclosure, I probably should share that I'm the chucklehead, that when I say (or, in this case, type) polar bear, even though I recognize it's a large carnivore, always visualizes the polar bear the soda guys trot out around Christmas sharing a Coke and a smile with a penguin.

Probably just me, but I think we like the idea and ideal of harmony as something to listen to in Beach Boys records, as opposed to how to get along with everything else with whom we share the planet. I only mention that because we may be pushing this 'can your thumbs do this?' gambit a skosh more than we should and if we disappear from this planet tomorrow, what species will miss us? One in search of parking spaces will, of course, immediately, cash in, but not so much any others. Except, maybe the seagulls, since the ones I see regard dumpsters as TV dinner trays. I'm not sure they know how to find their own food anymore.

My point, and thanks for assuming I might have one, is, if you're like me, reading about the threat to a part of our eco-system is pretty much the same thing as doing something about it. (Even though, and I'll admit this, one has NOTHING to do with the other). Maybe today, because I'm thinking about bears, and wondering if they really can ride bikes or if that's just in John Irving novels, I'll have coffee in a paper instead of Styrofoam cup and hope the landfill handles the latter better than the former. I don't doubt that bears can be trained to ride bicycles, but since they don't have opposable thumbs, how would they ring the bell on the handlebars to get people on the sidewalk out of their way?

Speaking of getting people out of the way, except that it will conflict with watching Bones and House on TV Monday night, if you're in the area, it might be worth visiting the Norwich City Council meeting starting at 7 PM. Late last week the local newspapers had stories on the further adventures of the miracle of democracy or how there's been a difference of opinion (change of heart, actually) about the role and function (and existence) of one of the standing committees, Administration, Planning and Economic Development (APED), that had been relatively moribund since its resurrection by our Mayor after he was elected a couple of years ago.

I follow this stuff, because while I may not be from here, I'm from here now, and I subscribe to Jim Morrison's dictum, 'keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel.' I have way too much first-hand experience with exactly how we roll (baby, roll) around The Rose City, especially when we think/hope no one is watching (honk if you've got a municipal code of ethics, eh?). Since the election of a new City Council last November, APED has been making a lot more noise and, it seems, a darn sight more than at least two folks on the City Council would like. Could be quite a time-every day's the end of days for some. And some days you eat the bear and some days the bear eats you. Would you like a napkin endorsed by the WWF?
-bill kenny

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Things We Carry

If you don't read a newspaper on a daily basis or make it a point to catch regular TV news casts this may upset and surprise you, but our cost of living is rising rapidly. I'm assuming, of course, that you wouldn't know that from purchasing food, fuel, clothing, shelter or any of the other goods and services that are part and parcel of our lives here in 21st Century America.

I'm being somewhat facetious, but only just, because earlier this week was a news story (actually two news stories, one in each of our daily newspapers) that could have just as easily appeared in your hometown papers on the public utility raising its rates, as of 1 July, and at the turnout, and lack thereof, at a public hearing on the new rates.

English is a funny language-we grab for one word and another ends up in our sentences or in our headlines. Considering the variety and number of sources of information most of us have (at least I do) and the amount of explanation, the utility, in this case Norwich Public Utilities (NPU), has shared on the reasons for the rate increases, I think I've 'got it'. None of us live in a vacuum-all of us realize there's a level and degree of connectivity and inter-connectivity between events and occurrences in one part of the globe that has an impact elsewhere-and none of us wonder why-at least I don't think we do. I cannot claim to welcome a rate increase with a song in my heart (my cardiologist still says it's a murmur), but I understand the market dynamics and its impact on little, old me.

Permit me, as a NFH character (not from here) to note that if everything in and around the City of Norwich worked half as well as the NPU, our children's Connecticut Mastery Test scores would be the highest in the state; we'd have low or no crime of any kind (to include litter and thoughtlessness behind the wheel of a vehicle); we'd enjoy paved roads with adequate and well-lit sidewalks and our municipal government and its employees would have code of ethics (thought I'd throw that one in for you, JM).

As you can probably tell by my exasperation, we've got a bit of performance gap in all the areas I just outlined. But I have all the light, water and heat, whenever I want them at any time, day or night. The City of Norwich owns our utilities company, and ten percent of its gross profits go into the city's coffers as income. I know the fellow who reads my meter and have met the lady who sends me my bill and who has, on more than one occasion, explained it to me. We're all, more or less, on the same team at the same time. When I read a person at the hearing was 'flabbergasted' (used in the story to describe his reaction) at the proposed rate increases I have to wonder how low his threshold of flabbergastedness (or flabbergastosity?) must be set and where he has been for the last few months.

It all seems like something out the Home Star School of Shouting and Pointing with a major in Strongbad. Suddenly, with my apologies to Captain Renault, we're 'outraged (I tell you, outraged!') to learn that there's 'gambling going on in this establishment.' And no matter how thick the fog, or how many other gin joints Ingrid could've walked into, we, in Norwich and elsewhere, will always have Paris (Hilton, in Texas). And when we pretend to NOT understand the inevitable, it is, indeed, the start of a beautiful friendship with our street corner pharmacist.
-bill kenny

Friday, May 16, 2008

Tomorrow Never Knows

This time last week my wife and I were traveling to Maryland, with all but one of my brothers and sisters and our mom, to bury her brother, our Uncle Jim. He was a year and a day younger than Mom, which means she knew him her whole life.

Growing up we knew Uncle Jim, too. He and his wife, Aunt Dot, and their three children, Patsy, Michele and Dori spent their summers at Harvey's Lake, Pennsylvania and after a false start (of sorts) in the Poconos, we, too, ended up in a summer house on The Lake (as we called it). Uncle Jim and his family lived in Kingston, Pennsylvania, about twenty-five minutes from The Lake all year round and we arrived from Central New Jersey after the school year ended in early June.

My mom and Uncle Jim were city kids-they grew up in New York City. They had many brothers and sisters though not many grew old with them. Anne died years ago from cancer, John from the after effects of a stroke that left him a shell of man in his middle thirties and dead before he turned forty and their youngest brother, Paul, died from leukemia or cancer (I'm not sure I ever knew exactly) in California at home with his large and loving family surrounding him.

Mom's husband, my Dad, died of a heart attack twenty-seven years ago, and left three of my brothers and sisters, the oldest barely in high school, to sort out a world turned upside down that Mom managed to put in order. Uncle Jim's wife, Aunt Dot, who always said 'mayan' when she meant 'mine', died suddenly four years ago. Their children and my parent's children each made their way in this world as best they could.

My wife and family used to see Mom and some of my brothers and sisters at least once a year at Christmas when Mom still lived in Princeton and we would drive down. That seemed to work out okay when our kids were smaller but as they got older (and more significantly, as I got older) the long drive, the house not your own, the people you were related to but didn't know very well, all combined to end that annual jaunt. Not that long afterwards, Mom, having gone back to work after Dad died (since her charming smile didn't pay the mortgage) and now retired, decided that New Jersey in winter had lost its charm for her and she flew south, nesting in Florida.

I've seen my brothers and sisters sporadically in the years since-assuming, as we all do, that there's plenty of time to say whatever needs to be said and to do whatever needs to be done. Uncle Jim's passing has persuaded me otherwise. Almost forty years ago, I was thick as thieves with Patsy, Michele and Dori (Uncle Jim called them his 'Pat, Mike and Ike' and it echoed with me as our two children are named Patrick and Michelle and you can guess what I call them) but waiting at the funeral home this time last week, I realized how many decades it had been since we last saw one another. Standing alongside my youngest brother Adam, whom my son, Patrick, strongly resembles, I watched as each of the three girls (in my eyes; all three are women, of course) crossed the threshold, saw Adam, and smiled, thinking it was me. And when we each realized what had happened, the pain of lost opportunities and the echoes of unspoken words were nearly as real as the sense of loss at the passing of Uncle Jim. When we attempted to console one another, for just the briefest of moments, we were back at the dock on The Lake when the most serious issue was who would water ski, who would spot and who would drive the boat.

There are so many incidents and accidents that shape our lives and make, and sometimes unmake, our paths to becoming who we are. Uncle Jim influenced family and friends by being who he was and where he was. He didn't make a difference in my life-he was a difference. I watched his sister, my mother, hurt like I'd not seen in many years and saw a look in the eyes of my cousins, his daughters, that I know well but had hoped I'd never see on another's face. Uncle Jim's passing left a hole in our hearts-but the good news in that pain is because we can feel it and do mourn him, we are still alive, especially for one another and for whatever tomorrow brings.
-bill kenny

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A rose by any other name

I used to skip lunch because I didn't find the time for it. Not that I had so much to do, or was so good at doing it, but I was just too disorganized to make the time. In recent years, when you look at me, I don't look like a guy who's missed too many meals (I'm not overweight, I'm under tall. There's a difference).

I had a routine when my wife was working in a shop in the Norwichtown Mall and I would pick her up and we'd go home together. While I waited for her, I'd hike over to the supermarket and make myself a salad at their salad bar for my lunch the next day. Lots of lettuce, tomatoes and sliced peppers, some cut up grilled chicken and I had a lunch that I never had to worry about growing cold.

Then my wife's store closed and she stopped going to work (only fair, they stopped paying her) and the grocery store shifted to the premade salads (which are great but you have to watch the 'best by' dates carefully. Actually, that's true of more than just salads. I am grateful we don't have those dates stamped on our foreheads). And then the prices on those salads went through the roof (and don't give me the 'rising price of gasoline' explanation'; this is six months ago) and I've started to get a lot pickier (more picky? more pickier? I don't know what the word is, you decide) as I've conceded that, as a Type 2 diabetic, I have to 'do lunch' on a more regular basis.

The thought that for all those years, undiagnosed, what I called my evil twin Skippy (my imp of the perverse) was nothing more than a hypoglycemic reaction, is disheartening. Yeah, I know it sounds better than ascribing my behavior to Skippy, but it lacks romance and danger. Besides, Skippy used to scare the bejabbers out of friends, family and coworkers (I made up one of those three; when I was a kid, my imaginary friend, Marty (from the Triple R Ranch), ran off with another of my imaginary friends), who would have chosen demonic possession over blood sugar levels given the chance to guess the reason.

Now I eat these sandwich kit lunches. You know where the folks who want you to give your bologna a first name have a small roll and sliced luncheon meat, a slice of cheese and some condiments all of which you make in a pseudo-foil lined tray that you nuke for seventy seconds and suddenly it's lunch. I really like the sandwiches (I keep putting an 's' where the 'c' is supposed to be in 'sandwich'. I wonder what Skippy is trying to tell me?) except I've discovered when you keep the kits in the refrigerator, the rolls get (sort of) damp. And, and I realize these guys made their name in lunch meat but c'mon, there's a lot of sliced meat--let me repeat that, there's a LOT of sliced meat. As for cheese, there's one 'slice' (if that's what you call it) that's about an inch and half wide and five and half inches long. Seems like a waste of time putting it on all that sliced meat and the wet roll.

The cheese and the mayonnaise are made by the same company, who are actually the parent company of the sliced meat guys, but the guy repping the mayonnaise is doing a great job of representing, far better than his cheese-eating fellow traveler. I pride myself on getting the sandwich I make to look like the one on the box though I'm not sure if there's any value to that and I feel better that I'm doing something good for myself, as long as I don't try to think too hard about what actual good might be. Normally, it ain't over until the fat lady sings, but today she sent this little kid. I have the feeling his first name isn't S-K-I-P-P-Y.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Approaching, then Approximating, Zero

I drove past a realtor's office today that was closed and for sale. I found it intriguing the firm handling the sale of the realtor's office property wasn't the realtor, but someone else. It reminded me of the used car dealership I passed someplace in CT, where 82 becomes 80 before joining up with 34 on the way to New Haven, that had all the lights on, and the pennants strung in the lot but no cars for sale.

It must be bracing to be that good at what you do. We've all seen this happen: the only item left to sell is the display model of the product (so awesome is the demand in exceeding the supply). I'm always impressed by people who say to the clerk, 'I'll take it off your hands but I'll expect a discount' (because it's the display model, it seems). Not me-I'm adding a premium to the price, perhaps doubling it and, if met, I'll treble the price because once the display model is sold-I have NO more of the item at all. Why should you get to solve your problem at my expense?

So for me, I'd be sitting in that real estate office, with all the lights blazing--even though I have no property to sell except the one I'm working in. Talk about approaching the abyss. And what about the used car dealer with no cars? The curse of success! Ideally, he should/would have gotten a car in trade for every car he sold, thus maintaining a balance and equilibrium. I don't know what happened-perhaps someone without a trade-in, but keen for a car, showed up, and insisted on purchasing one. So much for the spirit of Take a Penny/Leave a Penny. And now, the fellow who's so good at selling used cars, is a victim of his own success. He's out of business because he has none left to sell.

Would this carry over to, let's say, the unemployment office? So successful are they at placing people seeking a job, that everyone is working--which means they no longer need to. Suddenly the people who work in the unemployment office are the only ones whom the unemployment office is serving. And what kinds of positions do you find for people who have been working to find other people jobs? I suppose we could devote an afternoon to a celebratory parade honoring their success at placing everyone, but logistically, when would people be able to march or attend? They'd all be working.

We have "sin taxes" on cigarettes and liquor and the like, with the theory being if the "sin tax" is high enough, people will stop buying the item and, as a result/reward get healthier. Except what goes in the hole where the money from the "sin tax" was? Or is it syntax? Never mind. You see my point, right? Nothing succeeds like success, we always say-so to reduce that expression, to an equation, we could write nothing = success. What was it they taught us in algebra, about the values on either side of the equal side being the same, thus, success = nothing. I'm not sure that's what we were intending or was it? What if someone misheard and thought the expression was 'nothing succeeds like excess'? Do you feel better is we then write excess = nothing? And if someone tells you if you believe that, they've got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you, how will you drive there to buy it? And how will we get the time off from work?
-bill kenny

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Ruthless vs Rootless

As countries go, the USA isn't particularly old, especially in comparison to some of the nations of the Orient or the traditional "Great Nations of Europe". This July 4th, we'll celebrate our 232nd birthday. But the nation we are now and the nation we were when we told the most powerful nation in the history of the world (at that time) to go stuff itself, the United Kingdom, are very different nations.

We are different, obviously, in the size of these United States-back then we were thirteen colonies with about two and half million people clinging to the coast of the Atlantic Ocean on the eastern shore of the North American continent. Look at us now-over 300 million of us occupying a nation that sprawls from the Atlantic to Pacific (Gee, the traffic is terrific) and beyond, when you count Alaska and Hawaii.

And we, the people, are very much different from those traipsing around here in 1776. To start with, we no longer own one another (always a positive development) and all those over eighteen (and not 21 and not property owners) are eligible to vote (whether or not we do is another matter, sadly). And while we are one of the more diverse countries on earth (I like to think that means each of us has been told to go back to where we came from at least once in our lives), we have paid a price for no longer living in a snow globe.

You can read the same studies I have on how many houses we'll live in, how many different jobs we'll work, how many different schools our children will attend. I won't bore you with excerpting from those reports (which are nearly as numerous in number as we are) except to note that biologists tell us in the course of seven years we renew every cell in our bodies, so perhaps we shouldn't be as surprised that the country we grew up in is, by the time our kids are adults, very different than when we were their age.

Alexis De Tocqueville who intimated the United States was as much an idea as a nation-state would, I'd like to think, be pleased with what we've done in the 160 plus years since he finished Democracy in America (and I dug up the University of Virginia's version not only because, I, too, am cavalier about history, pun intended, but the sections on American Life in 1831 and race, help place that America in a larger perspective to where we are now.

We seem to spend so much time fixated on what we don't have and who we aren't. We look at our national leaders and regret that 'he's no Abraham Lincoln' or 'she's no Eleanor Roosevelt' and forget, in their time, neither were they. Besides, more often than not, we can use a little more Millard Fillmore and James Garfield (and I don't mean the concert venue or the cartoon cat, but you knew that, right?) in our everyday lives. If we mourn not living in heroic times, it's not because we don't have enough heroes-maybe because we don't have a large enough frame of reference to realize who they are. Stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive (if you can) and meet me in a dream of this hard land.
-bill kenny