Friday, July 31, 2009

Somewhere a Sofa in Mom's Basement Weeps for Joy

I encountered a person today with whom I have a nodding acquaintance, as literal as it is figurative, who was pretty 'stoked to be back', and wondered if I'd missed him. Not since I had the scope repaired, I replied, as I always do just to see the blank look of zero comprehension in his eyes, knowing he doesn't get the joke but won't ask me to explain.

And then it was my turn to look blank as he shared with me, unbidden, that he'd been at Comic-Con 2009 in classy San Diego (thanks to 'Glory Hole Productions' because this could have been so much worse if you hadn't helped? Does the video war crimes tribunal have your address?). There have been forty of these annual get togethers (ka-ching!)-he may have mentioned that as he went on about a lot of stuff I can remember feeling odd about, since I thought all this time he was a grown-up. A little strange as a grown-up, but a big person in a big person's body, if you know what I mean. I didn't realize I actually knew one of these parodies of a person, with the dark and greasy hair, the small, nervous eyes and the sweaty palms who lives on a couch in his Mom's basement because to my knowledge, none of that is true in his case and yet.....

I dug around a bit on line, of course, and learned distressingly I think, per google, after typing in "comic con 2009", there were 40,900,000 entries located in 0.08 seconds while there 61,700,000 entrees for President Obama's health care plan located in 0.20 seconds. Two thirds as many entries, at three times the speed of thought for so many. The President doesn't have a cape, but we do live in a universe with a yellow sun. Jor-el would be so proud, I guess, though he really is the generation BEFORE mine and two before the President.

I enjoyed comics, when I was a kid. I am far more often childish now than childlike but sifting through the websites trying to understand the difference between graphic novels and comics and the thousands of shades of meaning between them, I was overwhelmed with the sound of commerce, as in big business, I was tempted to lie down. That was when I realized that was the purpose for the couch in the basement.

Thanks, Mom, for gathering up the Archie and Jughead comic books all those years ago and getting rid of them. Was Archie hooking up with BOTH Betty and Veronica? What was the deal with Reggie? And what the heck was that thing on Jughead's noggin? Here at Life's Rich Pageant, it's always worthwhile to pack an extra napkin and use it for the spot next to your mouth. On trash day, I'll drag the couch down to the curb and help load it onto the truck. Should be a hoot.
-bill kenny

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Whose Ox Is Being Gored or Bored

How we react and respond to broadcast and published news reports has a lot to do with us, and not necessarily with what the story is about or how it's presented (that said, you can see HUGE differences in the treatment of the same story when channel dropping between CNN and Fox). And while your mileage may vary, your perception of 'honest and fair' often has a lot more to do with you rather than with the writer or reporter.

On the national stage, the current health care debate (which seems to be more of a shouting match than a debate, or is that just me?) is driven in no small part by how much health insurance each of us has, or doesn't have. The impetus for 'reform' isn't motivated, necessarily, by a desire to make health care more affordable and/or accessible for people who already have it, but for people who do not.

If you are one of the (about) forty-seven million with no coverage, your interest and desires are in all likelihood very different from someone who has health insurance who, in turn, may feel very differently both from you and from someone who is unhappy at the cost or coverage he/she currently has.

Another example, this time at the state level. In Connecticut, the Governor (a Republican) and the State Legislature (Democratic super-majority in both houses) are still poles apart on a budget for a fiscal year that began a month ago. Each side has reached the inevitable conclusion that the other side is awful, uncaring and quite possibly eats bugs. Eventually they will come to a meeting of the minds somewhere between the Governor's 'principled' position and the 'citizen-driven concerns' of the Democrats. This happens all the time--doesn't make it a lot of fun just because it's routine, and there is something about familiarity that does breed contempt, I guess.

At the inter-personal relationship level, the song remains the same. If your significant other, business partner, golf buddy or employer were only as reasonable as you and I, they would do what we want, because when we say 'be reasonable' we mean 'do it my way.' In theory the purpose of language is to better define differences and distinctions but everyday and every way we get better and better at using language to obscure and diffuse. Sometimes less words can equal more meaning, ask Alice.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

G(l)ory Days

I wasn't ready for it when it showed up in the mail earlier this week. Yes, the mug of the slug in the mirror every morning that I shave, unless I let my face grow long, hasn't been smooth and youthful in many a decade, but since the aging has been incremental I've never been sentimental about it happening. I'm getting better, not older, I keep telling myself. If I live to be three hundred and forty-two I should be close to middling by then.

And then, YIPES!, there he was on the cover of the AARP Magazine, BRUCE!!!! Talk about Glory Days. I'm still not comfortable with having an AARP card in my wallet, and keep it under my auto club card, like maybe the tow truck operator would quibble about a senior discount (I should live so long). AARP is more than just a very organized lobbying group for the over-fifty is nifty set, based on the membership roles (almost sixty million people) it's a middle sized country unto itself.

Springsteen turns sixty in September-I do not recall growing old and I started to see him perform when he'd show up at the Rutgers College commuter Lounge, The Ledge, in my sophomore year, so that would make it 1971, so we're talking....a really long time. I feel it every day but I can't hear it in a single note he sings or the E-Street band plays and as I read the article in the magazine (and, yes, I entered the sweepstakes for tickets to his October show in East Rutherford and you needn't bother because I already used your email address, too) the emotions chased one another, competing with a lot of memories.

As much of the soundtrack of my growing-up years as the Beatles and Every One After made, and make up, the exclamation mark is Springsteen. Even now as an apprentice doddering buffoon, I can never imagine myself hanging with (Sir) Paul McCartney but can see cruising down Route 34 outside of Toms River's Richard's Cafe casing The Promised Land with a guy I once thought of as 'a Newark' (a greaser).

Strange Times in Germany story (and I have the poster from his first tour hanging up in my office). Sigrid and I went to see him in the Frankfurt Festhalle. I think we had third or sixth row seats-but more importantly the Be-Bop Ghost Dancer, BBGD, had a seat directly behind us-technically, directly behind Sigrid. I think I was standing up from the moment I got dressed to go to the show that morning, but BBGD only started dancing as the show began.

He was transported by the music, head nodding, feet shuffling, arms and hands doing a little boogaloo down Broadway weave. Good energy, lousy luck. He semi-smacked Sigrid on the top of the head, grazing her, and she turned around and looked up at him and made her displeasure quite clear. BBGD seemed to get her point and danced alone for a while but then, the music overcame him again and he popped her, again. Sigrid, whose appreciation of The Boss approaches her enthusiasm for a root canal, slowly stood up and made sure the sleeves on her blouse were pushed towards her elbows as she spoke slow and low to BBGD who was, by this point in his own world.

Like lightning, the love of my love thrust her arms straight-forward at a velocity I cannot describe and struck BBGD's shoulder blades with the heels of her hands with such force she knocked him heels over head, backwards, into the row BEHIND where he had been standing. He landed on his feet, on the beat, still dancing. From the look of rapture on his face, I suspect he still thinks Bruce had something to do with his levitation.

And maybe he did. He's been moving me for close to four decades and to underscore how we are twin sons of different mothers, the same week he made the cover of Time and Newsweek, I bought BOTH magazines. Coincidence? Didja hear the cops finally busted Madame Marie for telling fortunes better than they do? Just summer gossip, don't believe a word of it.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Perhaps there's valet parking in Harvard Yard

Tonight in downtown Norwich, or as much of downtown as there is, at 6:30 in the Wauregan Hotel's ballroom is a forum that has the potential to be a poster-child for "things government can and should do" that aren't earth shaking and/or void where taxed or prohibited by law.

If the planners have their way, a cross section of the 'process owners' (bigspeak for people in charge of stuff) will sit with (to be hoped) an equal or greater number of shareholders (folks upon whom change is often inflicted) and try to sort out a consensus path of progress on the 'downtown business' challenges which many have over-simplified into 'Houston, we have a parking problem.'

I confess to not having a dog in that hunt or even being able to catch the scent. If I had a nickel for every time in the nearly eighteen years I've lived here that I had a problem finding a place to park, I wouldn't have enough to buy one of those gob-stoppers from a bubble gum machine. But from everything I've heard for years, parking in Norwich is like the weather, except people more often than not use even more colorful language to describe it.

In recent days, the amount of interest in talking about solutions has increased though whether that translates to fixing the problem depends on a lot of people putting aside personal and petty agenda to create a larger, more global means of incorporating seemingly small stuff like 'where should delivery trucks for downtown merchants be allowed to park when loading and unloading' into perspectives that may require addressing issues such as why are there one-way signs every which way all across Chelsea, to whom should a business go when they have a question on customer parking and where should everyone not named Kenny be able to park when they go to a restaurant, a pub or one of the other shops in downtown?

The forum is the result of a lot of folks, but a great deal of the heavy lifting was done by Bob Zarnetske, an alderman and a member of the Public Parking Commission who is also one of (at least) four people seeking to be elected Mayor this November. He has some curious beliefs on holistic (=systemic) solutions-and by 'curious' I mean beliefs not shared by others wishing to become the mayor. Head-shaking, hand-wringing and finger-pointing are the staples in the catalog of responses that many who've lived here for a long time use for issues that perplex others who aren't native to here.

I think it's funny that the one candidate, Mr. NFH (not from here), who gets tarred with the "He's an outsider" brush is the best hope for all the insiders to heal a self-inflicted wound with a long history. Of course, the danger then becomes that people prefer problems that are familiar to solutions that are not. Come early and see if some of us can help the rest of us. I'm told there'll be plenty of free parking-proving the Lord does have a sense of humor, though His timing may need a little work.
-bill kenny

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Quiet Week for Norwich Government

This time of year many of us either actually take a vacation or some 'me' time and cutback on the activities outside our homes and families. That's pretty much the case this week in the Rose City as the municipal meetings calendar actually has more cancellations than scheduled meetings.

The Redevelopment Agency meets this afternoon at five in Room 210 of City Hall. Of its nine members, five have expired appointments which is an oversight the City Council would correct in seconds if any of the RDA members attempted to drive through Mohegan Park, I suspect. The Redevelopment Agency is very hard-working, dedicated and remarkably honest with one another and the rest of us. And no, I don't say that about everyone, ;-).

Check out page two of their June meeting minutes and tell me the last time you heard/read of a Norwich citizen volunteer panel wondering as to what their function is supposed to be and how they can do their jobs better. If we had at least one elected body in Norwich with this degree of selflessness, we'd be a darn sight better off. And their plate is pretty full for tonight's meeting as well when you look at the agenda.

I'd hope to see one or more of their members Tuesday evening at 6:30 in the Wauregan Ballroom for the Downtown Parking and Business Forum organized by Mayoral candidate Bob Zarnetske. Sort of an outgrowth from a Public Parking Commission meeting, I think in a perfect world, all the folks who insist they have a speaking part in the economic redevelopment of downtown (and all of Norwich for that matter) should be in the same room at the same time so the merchants and businesses who have invested their own money and sweat in working downtown can explain what they feel is going well and what is in need of improvement.

I, for one, suspect the latter is a target-rich environment and wonder why the Public Parking Commission just doesn't tell the shop owners how much they love Norwich and how they hope things will get better. That should take care of everything, right? Except, as we all know, hope is NOT a plan. Only a plan is a plan and without the will to implement a plan, it's a wish you make with your heart.

Also Tuesday, starting at six, in their conference room on Golden Street is the July meeting of the Board of Public Utilities Commissioners/Sewer Authority. Norwich Public Utilities, as I'm sure you know, is municipally-owned and potentially the most potent single force for economic growth in Norwich. I say that in deference to Bob Dylan's observation that 'money doesn't talk, it swears', as they generate millions in revenues, whereas to my knowledge, none of the three or four dozen other development boards create any wealth at all.

As I said, a quiet week for meetings and perhaps if we get some nice weather, this would be the week to get out and about. Maybe take up swimming, or rafting, or boat-building, especially if the current trend of overcast skies followed by torrential downpours continues. If it stays wet like this the plague of locusts will have nothing to eat when they get here, making the bugs easy targets for the rain of frogs.
-bill kenny

Sunday, July 26, 2009

I Guess He Could Be Your Co-Pilot and Best Friend

Traveling yesterday afternoon, taking advantage of the nice day for the month of July (I thought it was scheduled earlier in the week, but I'm so wrong about this stuff so often), my wife and I were heading from Norwich to Waterford via Route 32 (we can go 395 but there's such a level and pace of traffic it wears me out trying to keep up with it).

It's not really the road less taken, though the volume of traffic pales in comparison to 395 which is just as well as it connects Norwich and Montville and New London as you travel around the not-so glamorous back entrance to the Mohegan Sun casino.

The only tricky part is just as you're hitting Quaker Hill, because 32 blends with an exit of 395 and I know from experience on both sides of the merge, it's not a day at the beach. For a driver on 32, the merge involves a reasonably extreme over-your-right shoulder scan of your sector, so to speak, as cars entering far faster than your speed are (in theory) trying to slow down as they merge and before they hit the traffic signal (or you).

If you're coming off 395 at this exit, all the turtle drivers are to your left and to make it interesting for both of you, at that traffic signal I just mentioned, there's always a lot of people making the right at the light which means they need to get into that lane, and if they cross in front of you, well, stuff can happen.

Which it did yesterday, but funny stuff. It was a guy in dark Saab, the sedan model (I think that means four doors, right? Anyway, that's what I mean) and he's looking to go straight and get into the left lane on 32 coming off from 395. There wasn't a lot traffic and it was a pretty easy maneuver.

So much so that I had more than enough opportunity to eyeball his shotgun partner, his dog, a big brown one, window rolled down, head out the window (I'd love to know what they are thinking about aside from 'here, kitty, c'mon Kitty') wearing wraparound sunglasses, just like his owner. For a moment, I was watching the SPCA version of the Blues Brothers movie. The part of a trimmer, and far more hirsute, Jake, played by the dog. My turn was approaching and as I put on my blinker, I murmured a short prayer, "Our Lady of Acceleration don't fail us now."
-bill kenny

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Art Imitates Life

The memorial services for Walter Cronkite had just concluded when the next reminder that we're not in Kansas anymore showed up. Politics Daily reported Friday that the current issue of Time Magazine (I was only vaguely aware that magazines were actually still printed; how quaint), based on a survey of some nine thousand folks, has concluded Jon Stewart is the most-trusted newscaster in America.

As a child I have memories of David Frost with something called "That Was the Week That Was" (listening to the musical salute to the state of Mississippi, circa '63, you realize this is the BBC version of the show). And we all remember Dennis Miller and others on Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live (I'll skip the 'back when it was funny' gratuitous shot, since it's on way past my bed time now and I have no idea if it ever was funny). My point is there's always been a tradition of these types of send-ups as entertainment and parody can be liberating and rebellious all at the same time.

It wasn’t coincidental that one of the first things Hitler and the Nazis did after seizing power was eliminate Fasching or Karneval observances from everyday German life. If there was one thing the gang who couldn't shoot straight knew it was that they didn't need or want anyone poking fun at them.

But in a country that televises poker tournaments and spelling bees on an All-Sports Network, and covered the death of Michael Jackson like it was the passing of Mary and Joseph's other Son, naming Stewart the most trusted newscaster in America is still quite a leap. Hand on my heart, I didn't think it would be Bill O'Reilly or Glenn Beck, but it says a lot about us, and maybe more than we can stand, that we'd choose Stewart. I'll just put it down to 'convergence' and grow more uneasy that the line between surreal and cereal narrows more by the day.

"Don't believe I'm taken in by stories I have heard. I just read the Daily News and swear by every word. I'm not one to look behind, I know that times must change, but over there in Barrytown, they do things very strange."-bill kenny

Friday, July 24, 2009

Idiot Wind

Because it's Friday and there's no holiday this weekend (except for my sister's birthday, today) and because I can (and you can help), let's declare whatever this economic toboggan ride, without the toboggan and the snow, OFFICIALLY over. I put officially all in CAPS so that it has some gravitas just like the talking mutton heads on television with the degrees from the Harvard Business School and the London School of Economics who sat there night after night and told us we were petting a kitty-kat with a racing stripe that proved to be a skunk.

Nobody we know invented Bernie Madoff-I can't even conceive of a hustle like that, my brain is too small to do it. Do you know anyone who was working a McJob and who bought a house with a 400K mortgage through a bank? Nope, me neither. For the longest time, all the reporting on the 'economic tsunami' could have been from Pago-Pago.

When the banks started going out of business, we began to take this seriously and got very solemn and sort of grim. We spoke about putting our shoulders to the wheel, reminded each other 'we've been through this before' (well, no, we haven't; our parents and their parents have been through this before) talked a LOT about shared sacrifice and vowed to 'pull together.'

So, in light of all the bickering and dickering, posturing, pouting and politicking in the last three weeks, from the
Grand Coulee Dame to the Capitol, the 'debates' that all sound like "I know you are, but what am I?"and the return to finger-pointing as part of the problem-solving matrix, I guess we're done.

Welcome to the New Prosperity, please insert forty cents for the next three minutes. You probably don't get that. At one time in America we had phones in glass booths on every street corner because we had no phones in our pockets. We could put coins in those phones, starting with a dime, and call people, Mrs Avery (I had honestly NEVER heard that version before)). We can't afford a return to the Good Old Days, so this will have to do. Especially since this is all there is.

This time last year, as a nation, we were falling in love with love. As is the case so often in personal relationships, there's a phase of the courtship where everything is endearing and precious and then as life grinds on, we find ourselves waiting for the shine to come off. The same habits that were so cute become irritations and annoyances and, if unchecked and uncorrected, grounds for growing apart and divorce.

We hold elections for office-seekers as if they magicians. Open the curtain and let the wizards' duel begin! Voila! Health care or poof! a balanced budget or Ka-zaam! an exit strategy. All with no money down and no easy, monthly payments. But when the house lights come up, it's always no more than two guys in bathrobes and pointy hats left on stage.

And a lot of unpaid bills. They wanted to be what we wanted them to be and we sure as heck wanted it as well. And none of it happened because none of it was real. "It's a wonder we can even feed ourselves."
-bill kenny

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The (other) Bikers

It's a lot different from when we were growing up and used them as essential transportation to get to and from the field (the baseball field, of course, what else was there for a kid growing up in the late Fifties and early Sixties?) or from friends' houses. You might start out with just you and Neil, and then go a couple of blocks and pick up Bobby and then all you headed across the development, to the new Levitt houses, where Tommy lived.

I'm talking about bicycles and as kids there was Schwinn and there was Royce Union, and not much else. These were big, clunky solid yoke metal frame bikes, with balloon tires and white sidewalls. You had a mousetrap in the back, and that's where you kept your glove, baseball inside of it, so that the pocket formed just right. Maybe your dad, or somebody else's dad would remember to get the little can of neet's foot oil at the hardware store and you'd work that stuff into the glove before putting it into the mousetrap.

Twenty-six inch tires on those bikes and maybe, if you had a fancy one, it had front and rear handbrakes, but ours mostly didn't-you just stood on the pedals hard and the rear wheel broke away and wound up sliding to one side or the other. You stopped all right. We all knew somebody whose folks had gotten them a bike with three gears, think of it!, but we didn't have bikes like that. Going up hill, you pedaled hard-if it got steeper, you pedaled harder. Screw up, you fell off and walked up hill holding the bike by the handlebars, feeling (and looking) like a dork.

I was thinking about all of that yesterday as the bikers, not Marlon Brando and The Wild One, raced across parts of France whose towns can only correctly be pronounced by having your adenoids removed. And again this year, one or more people have died along the route at the various stages, and I keep thinking 'nobody ever got hurt when we rode to Resko's house' and that was over an hour back in the day (it'd be like three days in 'now' time).

It wasn't until the LA Olympics in '84, sitting in Germany and watching the highlights of the games the Warsaw Pact boycotted, that I first saw Americans go ga-ga for the most European of sports, in my opinion (unless they make sulking an event). The oval track with the impossible angles of banking, the skinny tires that seemed to be made of solid rubber, the 'Disco in Frisco' skin tight speedo outfits and most especially those 'revenge of the Alien' head shaped helmets, all of it so aerodynamic I thought these guys could fly. Reading about the Tour de France, I learned flight wasn't the half of it.

I was aware of a Frankfurt am Main based Tour de France cyclist, Didi Thoreau, I think his name was (I have no idea as it turns out) and I couldn't understand how you could make a living as a professional bike rider. I had a movie in my head, where Didi is in Munich, perhaps visiting his fan-club (I'm sure he had one) and checks into the Munich Hilton which is right at the Munchen-Reims airport and as he checks in, what exactly does he put under "occupation"? 'Professional Bicycle Rider' And if the concierge snickers across the desk while reading it, upside down, in the ledger, does he offer to prove it with a bike strapped to his back?

Then in the late Eighties, Greg Lemond, an American from I have no idea where, not only became successful on the European Bicycle race circuit (that's hard to believe, isn't it; a circuit for bike racers? 'See you in Naples?' 'No, I'm training for the Bern Butt Buster, see you there.') he won the Tour de France (and why, by the way, is THAT the big race, or at least the one we all think we've heard of). Actually he won it three times, twice AFTER accidentally shooting himself. He recovered, but after those two victories his career seemed to go away (I always wondered where he'd been shot since we're talking a LOT of hours on a bike seat if you follow my drift. Where's that AFLAC duck when you really need him?)

How many times did Lance Armstrong win the Tour de France before most of it even realized it. And then all the great back story: the battle against cancer, the birth of the little boy, more bicycle races, more yellow tricots, Sheryl Crow, no more Sheryl Crow, the retirement and then the unretirement and now after four years, he's back on the bike in the thick of the competition, even though the battalion of announcers (and cameras-I love the mini-cam guys riding backwards on the motorcycles thisclose to the charging riders) covering the event are more often now noting with keener and deeper regret he will, in all probability, NOT win the race. And what does the winner get anyway? A permanent press yellow jersey? The opportunity to write 'winner of the Tour de France' on the hotel check-in form? Do you think Duna could do that?
-bill kenny

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

One-Trick or Not

I don't remember what the product is-actually, eventually I do, but when the commercial starts I can never recall the sponsor (it's for an Internet bank)-and a grown-up is sitting at a short table with two little girls of less than (probably) five years of age. He asks the first little girl if she would like a pony, and the child eagerly says 'yes' and the man gives her a small pony replica. Smiles all around.

The man asks the other little girl if she, too, would like a pony and she responds in the affirmative, at which point he makes a 'chck-chck' sound and out from behind this large doll house ambles a real pony, bridle and saddle. The child is delighted.

The first child not so much and we get some close-ups of her face as we hear the squeals of delight from other little girl. Eventually she screws up the courage to tell the grown-up very non-judgmentally for a child who just got double-crossed 'you didn't say I could have a real pony.' To which he quickly rejoins, 'you didn't ask.'

The announcer proceeds to read advertising copy about sneaky is as sneaky does, trust whatever the bank is to do whatever banks are about, grown-ups eat bugs or some such palaver. What I always come back to is the abject hatred on the first girl's face for all things adult. She isn't close to tears or a tantrum-she's close to homicide.

Either she is an incredibly gifted actress at such a young age, or the producers of the commercial didn't let her in on the joke and what we are seeing in the commercial is her actual animus, spontaneous and unrehearsed.

Sometimes when I follow the news even casually, I expect to see the streets of America littered with plastic pony replicas. We are, I think, as a people the most relentlessly optimistic nation on earth, perhaps unrealistically optimistic. I grew up in a USA that liked Ike, grudgingly extended equal rights to everyone, went in one generation from a chicken in every pot to two cars in every garage and which now finds itself, for lack of a more elegant term, flat-out broke.

The part that doesn't have me worried is that we can't fix what doesn't work, because two hundred and thirty plus years of our history tells me we can. What bothers me is will we choose to repair ourselves? We've conspicuously consumed just about everything this planet has to offer and its riches haven't come close to filling that hole in our hearts. And now the one in our wallet is even larger than that one.

We've conditioned ourselves to find solutions in fifteen, thirty and sixty second increments and ideas like universal health care, green-house gases, economic reinvestment, don't lend themselves to discussions or explanations that can be jammed in between the blue mountains of a beer can commercial and the soft porn of a shaving cream advertisement. It's not even fair to say we lose interest-we never had any.

Our whole lives guys in suits with briefcases fixed everything. We never asked, because we never wanted to know. We built armies, we went to the moon, we sold each other real estate everyone at the closing knew wasn't worth the money being paid for it, but no one got upset or concerned because the Suits were there and they were fabulous. We, too, were fabulous. Heck, everything was fabulous, unless it was brilliant.

And now the suits are shiny with wear, and in some cases, there's holes at the elbows and the sleeves are ragged. And the property we used to build the grand list to elevate the bond rating for the twenty-year municipal debentures we sold to finance the construction of the new transportation hub of the city that would increase all of our property values, well, bad news on that front as the sub-prime mortgage lenders who shouldn't have advanced us the money they didn't have in the first place are all flopping and twitching on the beach as the tide of prosperity continues to rush out and no one warned us about the undertow.

Except of course, we were warned, but we thought they were asking if we wanted a pony.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

It's NOT Progress when NOTHING Changes

Tomorrow and Thursday are the equivalent of the Super Bowl weekends for local politics here in The Rose City. Except it's kind of a Super Bowl where the East Squeegum Mugwamps take on the Waverley Whatchamacallits. Everything has a lingering previously-owned aroma to it and you cannot shake the sense of having seen the movie before, just with a different cast.

The Republicans, who seem to be in shorter numbers on this side of the Connecticut River than elsewhere in the state, will hold their party caucus and nominating meeting Wednesday evening in City Hall. There are in this election year, six Council seats, one Mayoral vacancy and nine seats on the Board of Education up for grabs; all but the Mayor's chair is a two year term.

There are currently two Republicans on the City Council. One, who returned via special election in April, will be (by all accounts) his party's nominee for Mayor-unlike four years ago when the Republicans endorsed the same person the Democrats had selected. The other incumbent Republican alderman is seeking a second term. And that, unless Divine Providence intervenes, will be it for the Grand Old Party and the Norwich City Council. That could be awkward.

In the case of the GOP, it may really be ‘if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten’ (Be careful, some consider that a definition of insanity). Because of the minority representation provisions within CT's elections laws, the next seven-person City Council may have no more than five from one party, so the Republicans have left themselves no room for error or loss. In light of their previous history and voter turnout, that's a very brave thing to do.

There are, as I mentioned, nine seats on the Board of Education (it's hard for me to think of local school board philosophy or policy as 'that's Republican' or 'this is Democratic') and the same minority representation requirements in this case allocate three seats to the Republicans who, may have, I've read found a (fourth) candidate (and a great person as well).

I registered as a Democrat after years as an unaffiliated voter mainly for the free pudding on campfire nights. Sadly, because of a tree shortage, campfire nights were discontinued almost immediately afterwards, but the damage is done and no amount of pudding will persuade me from remaining a registered Democrat, though neither I, nor the Democratic Party (large or small) seem to derive any benefit from our mutual association.

The Democratic Town Committee will have a candidate's forum at six o'clock Thursday evening in Council chambers at City Hall between the two current aldermen who seek the party's Mayoral endorsement. It's hard for me to understand how the DTC could have two people seeking the same office for much of this year (now in its seventh month) and never get around to holding so much as a single candidate forum until the night of the nominations. How does the expression go, 'it takes two to tango.' What dance is it when you dance alone?

We, the registered Democrats in Norwich, can finally start being in the 21st Century, albeit late, by making a choice in selecting as our voice someone who is NOT politics as usual and who would like us to consider, contrary to how we've functioned around here for decades it seems, that sometimes ideas are what drive public dialogue and not the public personalities espousing them.

I've lived here almost eighteen years and have long tired of explanations for toxic stasis that include expressions like 'we need community input' or 'we should build consensus at the grass-roots', as all of those are code for 'here's how we roll in Norwich; you need wait your turn.'

Back in the Clinton era when Yuppies in Humvees roamed the earth and all of America bloomed with new money festooned from cell phone towers--we never really reached spring here in Norwich. Yeah, absentee landlords could afford to put new plywood over the broken windows in the derelict buildings they owned downtown, but that's not exactly the Gilded Era. All across Eastern Connecticut, populations grew, personal wealth expanded, disposable income increased and none of that happened here.

The same politics that failed Norwich since the end of World War II continued to fail us as we entered the Technology Age and sat in the dunce's corner of the Global Village. We discovered the only difference between a rut and grave is the depth of our habits and around here our habits are traditions and that's not how you meet and greet the future.

If you care about Norwich, and you needn't be a registered Democrat to attend the candidate's forum at six o'clock, you should be in council chambers Thursday night and hear for yourself why all of us need to stop reading about our city's history and start making some for ourselves and our children. Together we can build a better Norwich and you can be there when we start.

-bill kenny

Monday, July 20, 2009

Norwich Meetings 20-24 July

This is a little awkward. This week's preview will contain ZERO meetings we might see one another at and none of that is your fault. I spent a reasonable amount this past sunny Saturday afternoon in the Emergency Room and Convenient Care areas of William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich.

The good news, when my three hour staycation was over, is I don't have H1N1. The bad news is I do have pneumonia. In the interests of public health and safety I'll be staying home and away from others, immediate family excepted (making it even more of a lousy deal to be related to me). Should you have a few extra dollars and a list of people whom you dislike, I will consider a few public appearances to kiss them full on the lips and see if they get sick. No guarantees, mind you, and ten bucks is ten bucks per person.

As it is, this a very active and (hopefully) robust week in The Rose City. What, exactly comes of all that activity remains to be seen, as is so often the case.

This afternoon, at four, meeting at 23 Union Street is the Design Review Board all of whose members' appointments expired over FOUR years ago-and do not get me started on their meeting minutes or agenda. Later, at 5:30 in Room 335 in City Hall, in its first convening, is the Hospital Advisory Committee which is the Mayor, and two alderman plus what will soon be four private citizens. They'll pursue development and ideas for growth strategies for the Norwich portion of the Norwich State Hospital/Brewster's Point Property. It's the former state mental facility and has been abandoned for well over a decade as everyone and no one came up with ideas for its reutilization.

At seven is a regular meeting of the City Council, with a sparse agenda, though you might disagree with that characterization if you have any positive or negative feelings about another five million dollar bond issue for road pavement.

Tuesday at 5:15 at the Buckingham Memorial, 307 Main Street, up the street from the Otis Library as you walk towards the YMCA (wait for it!) is a meeting of the Public Parking Commission and judging from the minutes of their May meeting- I suspect we'll see and hear a LOT more about the Intermodal Transportation Center that everyone is so keen to build for reasons though no one seems to know why. Later, at 6:30 in Room 210 of City Hall is a meeting of the Friends of the YMCA who are unflagging in their determination to reopen the facility. The impression I had when it closed in April wasn't a lack of enthusiasm, but of money, six and seven figures deep. In the best of times, a hard row to hoe but in these times, even harder.

At seven, meeting a short walk from one another which is only fair since in many ways they complement one another, is a regular meeting of the Commission on the City Plan at 23 Union Street (the application to operate a "Homeless Veterans Supportive Living facility" is on the agenda) and in the community meeting room (upstairs) at the Otis Library, it's a regular meeting the Downtown Neighborhood Revitalization Zone Committee whose name just isn't long enough in my opinion. (But who still do not comply with state law on publicly accessible meeting minutes a year after the public law went into effect.)

Wednesday afternoon at 4:30 in their offices at 10 Westwood Park is a regular meeting of the Norwich Housing Authority, who, it seems, have little regard or use for either minutes or agenda on the city's website. Later at 23 Union Street, and lasting into the early evening hours, is a triple-header of sorts. Kicking off at five it's a regular meeting of the Board of Review of Dangerous Buildings. This is the agenda, not the minutes of their 24 June meeting (and didn't some other citizen's panel, not that long ago, hold a meeting in "Art Form" and now it's on a list of blighted properties? What's that about?). Later in the same conference room, basically one right after the other, will be separate meetings of the 21 West Thames Street Committee and the 751 North Main Street Committee, both of whose memberships bears a striking resemblance to one another and to the Board of Dangerous Buildings Review.

In the middle of all of this is the Republican Town Committee Caucus at 6:30 in Room 335 of City Hall where they will solicit and endorse their nominees for Mayor and the six seats for this year's City Council elections but will, as is always the case, have nowhere near enough candidates to field a full slate. Because of CT's 'minority representation' provisions in the State Constitution, there must be at least two members of the Republican party on the seven-person City Council. And if their past is an indicator of their future, it'll be Peter Nystrom for Mayor (maybe specifics show up after the nomination) and Bill Nash for Alderman, and no one else (though I'd love to be surprised).

At seven, in their facility on New London Turnpike, is a regular meeting of the Norwich Golf Course Authority whose June minutes and July agenda are both unavailable.

Speaking of less than available, Thursday morning at eight in their offices at 75 Main Street, it's a regular meeting (I assume) of the Norwich Community Development Corporation, though I've no sign of an agenda or meeting minutes posted on the City's website and most certainly not on their own. It's just no fun anymore to tease about their lack of a web presence, especially in light of their charge as the city's redevelopment engine and agency and more especially since our taxes are directly and indirectly paying for all of this. Not sure how successful you can be at doing those tasks needed to foster economic development in Norwich when you can't employ and deploy the tools and talents the rest of the world already has, but it's comforting to know everyone means well. But that's all it is.

At six, up in their office at the Recreation Office in Mohegan Park is a regular meeting of the Recreation Advisory Board. They meet every other month and their May meeting was cancelled so here's their March meeting minutes, their most current work product.

Starting at six in City Hall, in Council Chambers, it's the Democratic Town Committee Candidate Forum and Talent Show. You don't think Alderman Mark Bettencourt can warble like Nelson Eddy on "Stout Hearted Men"? Or Alderman Bob Zarnetske can't dance like Darth Vader? Won't you be surprised! I'm kidding, of course-the forum won't be anywhere near that entertaining, but it will be the only time that the DTC members will have a chance to hear specifics by the two men on their respective visions of and for Norwich.

My feelings are well-known and I see no point in not talking about it now. If you live here, and your candidate for the next Mayor of Norwich doesn't have at least this much specifically outlined, you need to find someone else or you need to move. It's as true today as it will be next Friday morning, no matter who receives the nomination at the actual caucus starting at seven in Room 335 of City Hall.

I'm gonna spend a reasonable amount of time this week working on getting and staying healthy, which seems to take up more and more of my time everyday. Our city, and your town, works only as well as we who live there make it, and help it, to do. Roll up a sleeve and lend a hand, we all need all the help we can get.

-bill kenny

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Forty years is but a Moment

Forty years ago tomorrow, we walked on the moon for the first time. If you weren't yet born when that happened, you missed something, you really did. You can read a library of books on how much effort and coordination, time and talents and money such an effort took, and it's staggering, but here's the thing to remember from 'back in the day'.

Going to the moon wasn't the only thing we were doing as a country, as a tribe, a nation state on Earth. We had almost 450,000 men under arms halfway around the world in forests and fields of Southeast Asia in a war that was to be as divisive as any in the history of our nation and whose outcome left us saddened and sullen for a decade.

Nearly the same number of young men and women were heading to Upstate New York during this summer, actually in August, for what was advertised as four days of Peace, Love and Music and almost all anyone can remember, whether they were or not, is all the mud and the incredible performances by so many musicians, especially those whose flame flickered brightly from that stage and were then forever extinguished because of self-indulgence or profound bad luck.

Back at the moon walk, we on Earth watched around the world, with some of our younger brothers and sisters going outside to stand on the porch at Harvey's Lake (Pa) and look up at the moon to see if you could see the astronauts (if wishing could have made it so) as the astronauts seemed to skip and dance across the most desolate place we could imagine.

As a nation we were faced with challenges all around us-but we found the time, actually we MADE the time, to watch these extraordinary people do this extraordinary thing that NO ONE in our history had ever done before. And just as no man enters the same river twice because both he and the river have changed, there is no way we can ever be those people who watched by the dawn's early light what so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming. We did it then, and we can do it now--not because it's easy, because it's not, but because it's hard and because if we do not repair and restore our country, we will have no one to blame but ourselves when in another forty years we cannot remember anything to be proud of since the Moon Walk.

Don't Interrupt the Sorrow,
Damn right.
He says we walked on the moon.
You be polite.
-bill kenny

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Next time READ the Memo

For all the folks I pass with the bumper sticker (or all the insipid variations of it) "01.20.09-The End of an Error", time to break out the razor blade and take it to the bumper. President Bush is past tense, though you seem to have NOT noticed and thank the Lord and Greyhound, he's gone.

I never voted for him, despite the pomposity of the first guy, Mr. Animal Excitement as I like to think of him, who was his opponent in 2000 and the stealth charisma of the junior Senator from Massachusetts, I always remember him as The Senator Who Could Swim, in 2004. Maybe if the other guys had nominated a can of succotash I'd have considered pulling the lever for him, but, no, I just couldn't do it.

But here's the thing--whether you voted for him or not, threatened to leave the country and never return (yes, Alec Baldwin, I am talking about you and it hurts, a lot; sort of like watching you act, that you're still here), George W. Bush is NOT the President anymore. Get over it, you won. Heck, WE all won. Nothing to see here, move along. As much as I detest poor losers, I abhor poor winners even more.

Unless the bumper sticker is holding the Volvo bio-diesel station wagon together as your Birkenstock-shod gas pedal foot makes sure you never break the speed limit, get that election year artifact off the car. It's like having a Vote McKinley campaign button on your straw boater as you dance the black bottom. That 70's Show was the nineteen seventies, after all, and they had the decency to stop once they were no longer funny (eventually).

Didn't you get the memo on this stuff? More on point, didn't you read it? Do we actually need Department of Transportation and Highway Safety rules banning trite and no longer necessary or relevant adhesive messages? Does that mean if your child has children of her/his own, it's time for the "My Child Is an Honor Student at Ridgemont Elementary School" to come off the car? What do you think? And no, State of Washington drivers, you can't leave the "Fifty Four Forty or Fight" stickers on your back windows. But nice try.
-bill kenny

Friday, July 17, 2009

Glad I Packed a Lunch. Wished I'd Packed a Book.

It was a pleasant enough evening, I suppose. Yeah, there was a little bit of humidity but with rain clouds rolling in throughout the afternoon and into the early evening and storm clouds piling up, how could you be surprised. Could've done with more people, but then again, I have enough challenges with the ones I know now.

I'd mentioned Monday there was a reasonably important, admittedly inside-baseball, meeting tonight in Norwich's City Hall. It was a Campaign Finance-Training Seminar, held by the State Elections Enforcement Commission (SEEC), and you've already noticed the past tense of the verb (a literary device known as foreshadowing. Fiveshadowing is something posers use) so I'll bet you've guessed what happened next (sure wish you'd been here with all this good guessing, it would have saved me some time).

The SEEC sent an advisory on the training out across the state months ago to the two traditional political parties and their town committees, as well as to city clerks in the various municipalities, to encourage treasurers and other campaign officials to register for a training session at one of the four regional locations so that the presenters would have some idea of how many people they could expect in, for example, Waterbury, or perhaps later in the same week, in Norwich.

The incentive for attending the finance training is a rather severe fine and a stiff jail sentence if you goober up your candidate's campaign finance reports. This is the Land of Steady Habits, after all, and while we deplore cruelty and criminal mischief, our blood boils when we speak of crimes against property or involving money.

The word, such as it was, trickled rather than flowed in and through The Rose City (and elsewhere). Meanwhile back at the fort (Hartford), the SEEC, based on the spectacular lack of interest they thought was coming from this corner of New London County, among other places, canceled the seminar. Actually, not just here, but in ALL four of the planned-for locations across the Nutmeg State.

And they did as good a job of getting the cancellation word out, as the local municipal authorities had in spreading the word in the first place. As a matter of fact, the remaining session (no plural, but thanks for the thought) which will now be kind of snug since it's the only session, isn't until next month, in Middletown, which for those who like to ride or drive for distance is made to order, as it's equidistant (more or less) from all four of the towns originally slated to host the seminars.

Yeah, it will, with any luck, be a lot more moist and warm on August 10th, when the seminar, possibly, kicks off in Middletown, so dress lightly and use baby powder and dry not to step on anyone's toes or sit on someone else's lap, because quarters may get close. And complain only softly about how inconvenient this training has become. Make it a point to find a mirror somewhere in the municipal building so you can have a quick word with the person directly responsible for yet another yawn in the great sleepwalking exercise we too often call American democracy.
-bill kenny

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sometimes the Things We Do Speak so Loudly, You Can't Hear What We're Saying

Have you seen a police officer speaking on a cellphone in a marked police car while in traffic and wondered what the heck was going on? Yeah, me too. Should I feel chagrined that there's never going to be a moment when a policeman asks, 'have you ever seen a rebel without a clue talking on a cellphone, blah, blah, blah?' And that answer will be 'no.' Not really, but it's an idea.

I grabbed ten minutes of some most excellent outdoors weather yesterday at mid-morning and walked around the block of the building in which I work. Back in the days when I smoked (and boy did I, about three and half packs a day. I stopped, suddenly, on 30 September 1996 and never took it up again), it was customary to have a break for a cigarette in mid-morning and then again in the middle of the afternoon.

In a way, becoming a non-smoker, I screwed myself out of those pauses, though whenever I try to organize a pity-party about that I have to remember 'by quitting cigarettes, I lowered my chances of ever having lung cancer, emphysema or any other respiratory illness by a huge percentage.' Unless, of course, I get hit by a cigarette truck, in which case the whole thing's a wash, I guess. I'm lucky in that the people I work for will allow me to walk away from the desk (and regroup) though sometimes it looks more like disappointment than relief when I come back.

Anyway, out yesterday morning I noticed on the corner a pick-up truck in a no-parking zone, the engine running, blocking a fire hydrant. On the door, the lettering indicated the truck was part of the fire department's fleet. There was no one in the truck and there were no emergency lights flashing or sirens howling (or even a small fire burning; I always have marshmallows and a stick. Just in case.). I half-smile at the deliciousness of this kind of stuff, be it thoughtlessness or hypocrisy or just simple absence of concern for others, because I know if that were my vehicle, the windscreen would be covered with tickets for a variety of violations, all deserved.

Continuing down the street, maybe four additional car-lengths and at the curb in a real parking space, was one of those police ticket patrol cars (you know the kind; they're electric and look like they're on loan from the Lego-land Police Department) that resemble a moon buggy. I think in theory, they're a great idea in an urban environment for a city-in much the same way as I like the concept of a Segway for patrols. In real life, the cars look silly and police on Segways crack me up, and when they have the helmets on, as well they should, I almost pee myself laughing (I never claimed to be a nice person).

I'm always surprised when the ticket person, or meter reader as I call them, is a full-sized human being, though I'm not sure what they should be, and my surprise discomfits me. I couldn't resist-I mentioned the illegally parked fire pick-up truck to Officer Krupke. Perhaps, he offered, without bothering to make eye contact with me, the guy went inside the building a minute ago and will be right back.

Yeah. Welcome to Benefit of the Doubt, population: you, Officer. I told the police person there wasn't any part of that I was buying and, truth to tell, neither was he. And it was now two minutes since 'the guy' went into 'the building' perhaps like the bear, to see what he could see. Speaking of which, I offered, why not mosey on down to the truck and the fire hydrant and time just how long 'the guy' is absent?

That suggestion got me eye contact and a heaping side order of a 'what are you, a wise guy?' look that I took to mean now was a good time to tuck and roll in the dismount and disengage portion of today's lesson on Inter-Personal Communications with Public Safety Officials. As Bob Dylan once offered, 'wait only for my boot heels to be wanderin', but don't wait too long. And I figured it really wasn't warm enough for my tambourine to spontaneously combust so I called myself the breeze and desired 'back to the office' was as fine a destination as I could think of on too-short a notice.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

There, that Didn't Hurt, Did It?

Suspect this is NOT what the Reader's Digest folks were driving at all those years ago with their notes about 'more picturesque speech', but it's a whole lot easier to remember and more fun to read. Having read the news account twice and the summary of the actual study, I'm surprised it's not louder at Norwich City Council meetings-from the gallery, I mean. (Some nights it's a bit loud from the front of the room, and warmer, too.)

I'm not suggesting we should sponsor contests to see if we can peel the paint from the walls in Council chambers, in terms of the coarseness of the language, though that idea is tempting and oddly comforting. I'm just not sure we can organize the logistics of Council meetings so there's an even distribution on all surfaces as we move the citizens from side to side, and not just along the back wall near where I sit.

Of course, true confession time, I do think of some (perhaps) technicolor participles and anatomically difficult aerobic exercises, but I strive to NOT speak them aloud while processing those thoughts-at least not too loudly. Like many of us, I have had instances in the past where my evil twin, Skippy, (what my Imp of the Perverse tends to answer to) has confused inside and outside voice and my ears have heard my mouth say things that I had truly hoped would remain secret.

Now, if I can just work hypoalgesia into a sentence, ideally a limerick, it'll be a banner day.
-bill kenny