Saturday, July 31, 2010

Michael and Tim, Beware!

Ordinarily, I might have gone with either adding last names, or just using last names, Jordan and Tebow, since who am I kidding, I don't know these guys so where do I get off calling them by their first names? Except they're both hawking underpants-MJ, between golf tournaments and helping Charlie Sheen do the math on Two and a Half Men while having a Three Dog Night sleepover and Tim Tebow, who had an endorsement deal with Jockey before he'd signed to play American Pro Football with the Denver Broncos. Nice to see today's young athletes have their priorities straight-Ben Rothlisberger could take a page from Timmy's book. Actually, maybe a whole library, other than law...

Pikers, all of them! You want to make your brand of unmentionables MY brand? Here's the way to hop on the viral marketing express and flatten all obstacles in your path (assuming, of course, you can see them. I'm guessing tighty-whiteys over boxers, unless she had infrared goggles and something tells this one didn't. From the look of that image from the video, I think not). Doesn't look like she had the drawers with the relaxed fit waistband so unless she was using super hold hair spray, some of the money probably went to the hairdresser afterwards. Are you wondering why the newspaper disabled reader comments? Yeah, me too, kinda ;-). Bet there were some references to the surrey with the fringe on top, in a manner of speaking.

Seriously. Holy sensory overload, Batman! The thief could have had her name and address crocheted on the seat of the undergarment (I refuse to even think about an alternate location) and no one would have remembered reading it. What I'm not clear about is where the woman placed the money she removed from the register. And did she have an accomplice, perhaps a getaway driver wearing a sock (wasn't there a movie that had a stumblebunny bad guy who wore panty-hose instead of a stocking?). I'd be almost alarmed that any of this could happen where the waving wheat sure smells sweet when the wind comes right behind the rain, but the state's abbreviation should be reassuring.

I'm already wondering if we'll see an upgrade in the FOTL TV campaign unless they intend to try to piggyback on this 'torn from the pages of Crime-Stoppers Textbook!' incident. I'm thinking maybe a tattoo for the Grape or, perhaps, some branding for the Apple. Mom's advice about clean underwear in case you have an accident is getting harder to follow if you don't know who's getting what in the endorsement deals. On the other hand, I've never understood how long after the accident she thought they'd stay clean.
-bill kenny

Friday, July 30, 2010

Lying with His Eyes while His Hands are Busy Working Overtime

I'm not regarded by most with whom I share the planet as blood-thirsty, vindictive or vengeful. If they have an opinion on me at all, it's usually as some variant of road kill with hair on the Human Highway and when working for a complimentary description, they might say 'he doesn't have very smart opinions, but he sure is funny when he articulates them.' Today is different, today is not the same. Today, I'll make the action and take snapshots into the light.

Wednesday evening by sheer chance, I stumbled across the PBS presentation of the concert in the White House for the Library of  Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song to Sir Paul McCartney. Inveterate (and a lousy one at that) channel-surfer that I am, I had missed at least twenty minutes of the ninety minute special, joining it as Emmy Lou Harris was performing For No One, from The Beatles' Revolver elpee. I've always loved her voice but am not great at placing people in the here and now, so I had trouble sorting out at whom I was looking though I knew the voice. I didn't have that problem as Elvis Costello and Dave Groh hit the stage to offer versions of Penny Lane and Band on the Run, respectively that were transcendent. 

I was eleven (but almost twelve) years old when The Beatles performed on the Ed Sullivan Show. I had no older brothers or sisters to dilute my focus with Elvis or Peter, Paul and Mary. When they lept out of the RCA TV in the corner of the room, and its little 3 inch cloth-covered speaker, I still think four and a half decades later, I saw the face of God. If you are not of the generation that felt the earth stop the first time you heard them, with all due respect to whomever you enjoy musically, you have my sympathy and condolences.

There is no way to place the music of George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr into anything resembling a meaningful context because before them, there was no frame of reference, and after them, no means of comparison. It's like asking someone for an opinion about gravity or photosynthesis. They are forces of the universe beyond personal opinion.

I was joined while watching the show by our daughter, Michelle (yes, she's familiar with a certain song, as is the President of the United States) a college-educated young woman in her early twenties who can take any instrument and coax music from it, who grew up (as did her brother) with a parent who has collected thousands upon thousands of vinyl albums of every genre of music (since about 1963), lining the walls of our living room from the floor to the ceiling, around the entire perimeter of the room. 

Such is the appeal and power of the music these four (then) very young men made and that, even now, at sixty eight (?) McCartney still makes music (his band, on stage at the White House, was amazing and his ability to find people who can both complement his music and challenge him, simultaneously, is a gift) that speaks to our children, the way it still speaks to us, boring old fossils some of us are. I smiled so broadly I feared the top of my head would fall off. Every note, every vocal quaver, every harmony delivered exactly as I remembered it--as it has become embedded in the DNA of billions of us so that he dare not miss a line, or skip a beat. 

The only thing harshing my buzz are news accounts that the murderer of John Lennon is eligible for parole with those hearings set for early next month, and the Internet cottage industry that would like to discount any possible threat his release might mean to Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, or either of his children, Julian and Sean. Meanwhile back here on Earth among the six or so billion of us scurrying around, I won't ever forget Mark David Chapman and I doubt, if you're over age of forty, you will either. If The Beatles formed the soundtrack for our growing up years, wherever those years were geographically, what does that make Mr. Chapman?

Yeah, I'm the guy who'll answer 'plaid' when asked for my favorite color because I'm just too wishy-washy to make a decision, but I am relentless on where Chapman should spend the rest of his life (and then be interred after death). If that means I have to mail my 'I'm really a nice guy' membership card back to somebody, gimme the address and an envelope. I have the stamp-go ahead and cancel it. Like a lizard on a window pane.
-bill kenny

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sunset Doesn't Last All Evening

It's been sneaking up on us for weeks, technically for more than a month. The hours of daylight have already started to shrink and we're not even to August. The little boy in me (okay, very, very deep inside of me. Happy now?) always feels sad when I realize the getting dark after dinner part is starting earlier and earlier. 

It's not like I'm hurrying to clean my plate so I can be excused to go over to Neil's house and then down the street to Bobby's and call them to come out and play catch. Heck, if those two are in half the shape I'm in, by the time we get to the sandlot, it'll be pitch black. Life called on account of darkness. There's one for the stat books.

When I drive to work in the morning, not as early as Adam, who has that lucrative part-time job as a chicken waker-upper, but still pretty early, there's really no rosy fingers of dawn trying to pry back the cloud cover where the road and the road collide. It's dark, period and it stays that way a little longer every day, just as quietly as the days lengthened in the spring. 

As hot and humid as it's been here in Southeast Connecticut (I really hate when I break a sweat early in the morning not doing anything but standing in one place, inhaling and exhaling), I'll whine just as piteously (actually more so) in February when the snow's crisp and even and the temperature is hovering somewhere south of freezing. I'm the person who bitches if he's hanged with a new rope. But the seasonal dying of the light saddens me, especially as I age, because I see life as a measured commodity and don't appreciate reminders that it flows within and without me, especially the latter aspect.

One of the Facebook friends I have (an acquaintance, as are most of them, at best) was observing the other day how grey the skies were where they are right now-which I think is probably a kinder idea in the spring and summer than in the autumn and fall since during the latter many of us peer at the heavens warily and observe 'if it gets any colder, with this sky, it'll snow.' Because they are considerably younger than I am, as are most people on earth, I didn't comment on the slightly disappointed tone of unhappiness they had about the weather and its impact on their family working vacation. You can't be twenty on Sugar Mountain, but when you are, you should be kinder than when twenty isn't visible in the mirror anymore.  

Besides, having won an all-expense paid stay at the Miami of the North, Sondrestrom Air Base, Greenland, in the middle Seventies where in addition to triple digit below zero (Fahrenheit) temperature and winds in excess of  seventy miles an hour coming off the Polar Cap, we had twenty-four hour daylight that became twenty-four hour darkness, I always remember the day in late January when the sun was first visible over Mount Ferguson (not to be confused with Lake Ferguson, or Craig Ferguson for that matter) for no more than about three minutes (maybe), but we didn't care. It was Independence Day, New Year's and Mardi Gras all rolled into one, reminding us it's not always going to be this grey.  
-bill kenny 

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

If You Think I Mean You, I Do

(If this helps, and it won't, feel free to substitute the name of your town for the name of my town, even if you don't have a body of water bigger than a puddle.)

Dave and Dan were standing on the dock near the Howard Brown Park in Norwich, crabbing. They'd known one another for many years and had watched as their city, so bustling in their youth, quietly disappeared one business, one restaurant and one block at a time leaving nothing behind for anyone. For them, crabbing was a more than relaxation, it was a diversion to take their minds off their city's troubles.

Except Dave had other troubles as well. As quickly as he caught crabs and turned around to drop them into his twenty gallon catch bucket, one of more of the crabs already in the bucket would make a break for it. Dave spent almost as much time chasing fugitive crabs skittering down the dock and back into the river as he did fishing for them.

Dan took his crabbing at a very different pace. He worked with a small hoop net and bait cage, catching no more than one single crab at a time and when he did catch a crab he'd spend minutes turning it over, examining it from every angle, holding it up to the light, looking at the cheliped, the apron and the walking legs. Sometimes, after concluding the examination, Dan would drop the crab into a child's sand bucket that was his catch bucket and the most recent captive would settle down in the water coming to rest on top of another unfortunate crab.

At other times, Dan, when he'd finished examining his catch, would simply throw the crab back into river, rebait his trap and lower his hoop net over the side of the dock and resume crabbing.

As the hours wore on, Dave spent more and more of his time struggling to keep any of the crabs he'd caught in his dockside catch bucket, often first hearing the lid clatter as it was pushed off by one of the crabs, then chasing it down the dock before, with one final leap, it eluded his grasp and reached the freedom of the river. Dan watched Dave struggle, sometimes slowly shaking his head in sympathy, and, as the shadows grew longer in the afternoon sun, he offered his friend some advice.

"You're doing it all wrong," Dan said. Dave stared at Dan for a moment before finally pointing out, "It looks to me like we're both doing the exact same thing-so I don't understand what I could be doing wrong that you're not. Point in fact, Dan, I've caught a LOT
more crabs than you have but I'm not able to keep them because they never give up trying to escape and eventually get away!"

"Yeah," said Dan, "that's your problem. It's what you're catching."
Dave, by now, nearly furious could feel the gorge rise in his veins as he practically shouted at Dan, "how can there be a problem with what I'm catching?
I'm catching crabs-you're catching crabs. We're both catching crabs!" 

"True enough," Dan agreed, "but you're catching all kinds of crabs. I'm only catching Norwich crabs." Dave stared at his friend for a long time. "What do you mean, you're catching 'Norwich crabs?' What the hell is a Norwich crab and how could that possibly make a difference?" Dave demanded to know. 

"It's the most critical difference" said Dan. "With Norwich crabs, when you have one and put him in the catch bucket, if he tries to get out, all the other Norwich crabs hold on to him very tightly and keep him from ever succeeding."

When I was told this story some fifteen years ago, I thought it was extremely funny. It never occurred to me that it was also true. If we, and by "we" I mean you and me, whoever and wherever we are, don't learn to let go of the hurt and anger from previous failures and choose instead to reach for rewards, despite the risks, at our next opportunity, be it economic development, learning new things like clog dancing, or letting someone into our lives, this story goes from being very funny to being very sad all the way to being our last story and the one that becomes our epitaph. Trust me on this one.
-bill kenny 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

This, That and the Other

I was off yesterday to visit with one of my physicians. We go shoe-shopping. NOT. But he's a nice  person, very quiet and very small who always calls me 'buddy' in such a manner that you can hear both d's, which is quite a skill. I last saw him in April so seeing him again in November I regard as progress (yes, based on my seconds of medical school training). You doubt me? Okay, turn your head and cough. That was too easy.          

When you're off during the conventional 'work day/week' (you're working other than first shift) things get very weird because what you're normally doing is different than what you're currently doing. All the things you expect to be busy and crowded, because they are when you get to them on a Saturday afternoon, are very different when you're there Monday at eleven in in the morning. You know the feeling, 'been in the right trip, must've used the wrong car.' You better honk, my friend and always use those directionals when turning.

I wound up in the store that wants me to Save money. Live Better (though I've get to see any  correlation between the latter and the former, especially if you used to make the stuff they sell, until they found a cheaper off-shore supplier). This one had a TLE, Tire (and) Lube Express. Catchy eh? This is why it's so cool to live in the USoA, because we've all these snappy little acronyms like FYI and FWIW (I'm LMAO, you know that one, over LMDO, lick my decals off, though it hasn't quite resonated the way its sponsors had hoped.) WWJD? No idea. 

I'm not being stuck-up when I say I don't use the TLE anymore, because on a previous car I did until once, the drain plug wasn't put back in (I never attribute to malice that which can explained by ignorance, but I've gotten close) and then the next time, the plug was stripped taking it out and the TLE guys truly believed it wasn't their doing, though I knew no one else had played with my car's oil pan (IYKWIM, if you know what I mean). So I go my way and they go theirs.

Over the PA came the announcement "Mr. So and So, owner of a 1937 Mahogany Terraplane (I forget the exact model and it's not important), your vehicle is ready for pick-up at your convenience in the TLE ." Yeah, about that. If it's ready at my convenience, spare me the page. I'll get it when I'm damn good and ready to get it. And no pipsqueak (not my first choice of word, BTW) with a microphone and a public address system is gonna rush me. 

As a matter of fact, it's a really good thing the mass transit around here is so terrible and very much a crap-shoot, otherwise I'd take a bus home and leave my car in your service bay until I was ready to come and get , just like you told me in the first place when I dropped it off. Brat. But no worries, the feeling soon passes, the belligerence ebbs and I'm on the way out of the store.     

As I'm heading out, the fellow coming the other way holds the door for me (no need to, they're automatic and it tells you that in eleven or so languages on the doors, but it's the thought that counts) and I say 'thank you very much' to which, as we all know, the ONLY acceptable and correct response is "you're welcome." NOT, 'no problem."

I'm not sure how 'no problem' replaced 'you're welcome' in social intercourse here in the Land of the Unlimited Slurpee and the We Never Close Donut Emporium and Coffee Place. Between you and me, I don't care if it is a problem. We're not talking about the struggle to raise the flag at Mount Surabachi, and BTW, none of those Marines used that turn of phrase, that much I'll make book on. 

So when you hold the door for a curmudgeon like me and he says 'thank you,' your response is ......c'mon you know it, we just went over this material. Otherwise, you may want to pay attention to the announcement about visiting hours for post operative patients. And since we're putting people in wards alphabetically by injury, hope for C, for 'convenience' and not N, for 'no problem.' And don't get me started on Dude, dude.  
-bill kenny

Monday, July 26, 2010

This town, This city, This crowd (Norwich Meetings 26-31 July 2010)

We're more than halfway through summer and if you don't think so, find a glum-looking fifth grader someplace who's already sick of all the 'back to school' adverts on the tube and s/he'll tell you the next school year is just around the corner. Here in CT. we're about two weeks away from primaries for a variety of offices whose occupants we'll officially choose in November, but we want to get a  head start on not having choices so we'll start winnowing people out now. Should be quite the demolition derby-hope yours is as interesting, where ever it is you live.

Meanwhile at the 'back here on Earth level' of government, the one where our trash gets picked up and the streets get patched (after a three year study, plus minus six months), there's a plateful of goings on and more than enough for anyone who fears we're too little and sleepy.

This afternoon at five in Room 206 of City Hall it's a regular meeting of  the (Norwich) Redevelopment Agency whose chairperson was in the newspapers last week, which, I think, is good news because every proposal and plan can only be improved with debate and an open exchange of ideas. And if there's one thing the RDA has always been, it's a place for frank exchanges, as a look at their June minutes indicates (I'm not sure with two vacancies, that having four members present really should constitute a quorum).

Speaking of vacancies, there are plenty and many across a broad variety of boards and commissions-you can apply to be a member and become involved yourself. Your neighbors will thank you, though sometimes the 'thank yous' may sound like something else.

Tuesday afternoon at five, in Room 219 of City Hall, it's a regular meeting of the Harbor Management Commission, whose June meeting minutes have yet to be posted on the city's website. When the changes in state law went into effect on the first of July I knew we'd see a lot of interpretations of the word 'timely'. For what it's worth, this one is an epic fail (but it's not alone here in Norwich), and the Commission needs to do better. Do I even want to ask how the reopening of the Heritage Walkway is coming along? Suspected as much.

At six, in their offices at 16 Golden Street, it's a doubleheader, sort of, of the Board of Public Utilities Commissioners and the Sewer Authority, both of whom, or at least the activities they oversee, have also been in the local newspapers. I'm always saddened when we substitute emotion for facts, in any debate because we then try to substitute volume for logic but I seem to be almost alone in my unhappiness.

Wednesday afternoon at five-thirty in the Planning Department's conference room at 23 Union Street, it's a regular meeting of the Board of Review of Dangerous Buildings whose most recent posted minutes are draft minutes from their December 2009 meeting. I'm concerned about the public's ability to care while some seem to be opposed to our right to know.

The regular meeting of the Recreation Advisory Board has been cancelled-you won't find that on the main page of the city's website but it is on the Rec Advisory Board's page.

And finally, at seven, possibly a regular meeting but since none of their minutes since April are posted, who knows, it's a meeting of some kind of the Golf Course Authority in their facilities on New London Turnpike. I'm sure by Christmas, Whitsuntide at the latest, we'll know what went on at this Wednesday's meeting. Just keep checking back at the city's website, I know I will.

And at least for this week, there's nothing more left here to see.
And yet I hope to see you at something.
-bill kenny


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Picture Postcards from Near Prosperity

Coming out of the local market the other afternoon after buying my next day salad, as I headed to my car, was a fellow standing alongside of and leaning onto a Toyota Corolla, not the newest model but well-cared for. In front of the car, in display mode of sorts was a table with a hand-written sign that said "$40." It was a coffee table, a very white wooden table that came nearly to my knees and about three feet or so long.

I measure the heights of many things in terms of my knees. I've had three operations to replace one and half kneecaps making me nearly bionic but still moronic (and you'd think
Lindsay Wagner would friend me on FB at the very least? HA! Oscar Goldman stands a better chance and he doesn't even own a Select Comfort Mattress) and while I have motor skills challenges, I watch the knees, please, with ease. He wasn't interested in assaulting me with the table, but in selling it.

Last week as both political parties in our nation's capital maneuvered to stake out the best positions for the November Election on
extending unemployment benefits to those whose current benefits have been exhausted, Dave (I didn't ask if that were his real name. Situation reversed, I wouldn't have given me mine either) was doing what he had to do to keep his family from sleeping in that Corolla.

Dave has a job, okay
HAD a job, working for a car dealership in the auto body shop. He was especially good, he told me, in frame straightening and cold steel reconfiguration (all I know about cars, for the most part, is where the gas goes. Almost everything he said was an English I don't speak). You'd think as people held on to their cars longer, because they can't afford to buy new ones, the Daves across the country would be in decent shape, unless their dealers get squeezed by the banks whose money they use to buy the cars they try to sell us. When that happens, they lower their overhead and the Daves all hit the bricks.

It's odd how all those billions upon billions we gave to too-big-to-fail businesses and banks didn't do $hit for Dave, Janice, Bob, Ezekial, Jebediah and who the hell knows exactly who else among the many millions of folks across the country trying to make it as the flood waters of hard times just keep rising. He started coming to the parking lot about eight months ago he said, looking to chat up people after they'd bought groceries to see if they needed their sidewalks shoveled free of snow, or pathways cleared to their garages.

We had a reasonable amount of snow during the winter, though I didn't get the impression he'd made enough money to get the front tires on the Corolla replaced, as they were looking a little like the top of my head, if you follow my drift and he probably doesn't have the 'discretionary' cash to pay to get them rotated to the rear (I didn't think to look if he had perhaps done that. Maybe he did already).He looked like a bright man, just confused as to how he wound up at the place where the road and the sky collide on
risky home mortgage loans, which, I've been told, was the gasoline on the bonfire of vanities that has become a recession some say rivals The Great Depression.

The folks in DC, after they'd milked all the political capital out of whose fault all of this is (we never tire of Search for the Guilty, do we? I've yet to once experience how it helps us fix the problem, but I'm right there, fighting for a window seat in the clown car, when we're loading up to do some searchin'), finally extended the unemployment benefits. If they just do something about the people receiving them who'd prefer to be working,
that'd be something that could take all of us past November.

Dave's already sold off most of his living room. And when he shows up out here every couple of weeks or so, someone calls the local police to report him. He certainly doesn't have a license to sell furniture in the parking lot of
a broke-a$$ mall already devoid of businesses (they disappeared in the years preceding the economic tsunami that we have now) and it's just easier to move along, working the circuit and eventually coming back. He's got two kids, almost ready for middle school and no illusions they'll be going anywhere near a college or any other post-secondary educational institution unless they win the lottery.

It's the kind of scene my mom's father,
Grampy, used to tell me about when I was a small kid-grow men selling apples in front of skyscrapers in Manhattan and families, like his, learning to not want so they weren't disappointed when they didn't get. Every generation of American since we got started has done better than our parents before us so that our children will have it better than we did. In a way, it's the promise of that dream that joins us as a nation, no matter our color, gender, religion or politics.

I walked back to my car. I didn't need a coffee table and I couldn't persuade Dave to take ten bucks 'just in case' he ran into somebody who only had thirty, and drove off while my constant companion (I always have a Springsteen CD in the player of the car)
posed the question I know that if we can't figure out how to answer around here in the next couple of years, we may not be around to do any more figuring.
-bill kenny

Saturday, July 24, 2010

She Never Walked like Brando, Right into the Sun....

You learn something new everyday-I just wish after you learned it, you could be excused from whatever else is going on, get your parking validated, and quit while you're still ahead. Thanks to Adam's observations yesterday, I finally have the back story on my sister Kara's alter ego, Stella (not to be confused with my Imp of the Perverse, Skippy). I know she's a supporter of all modes of mass transit, so why not a Streetcar Named Desire.

Today is Kara's birthday, so many happy returns of the day and if anyone is able to have a happy day, it is she. Kara is the original low-maintenance person. As a child who was the firstborn of the second wave of kids my Mom and Dad had, Kara was about as easy-going as the day is long (July vice January in case you were wondering; and there's a reason, Jill, why I mention January and when we get there on the calendar, I'll return to that thought).

She and Russ, her husband, have three young men of various ages but of similar disposition, making a home for one another in the most central part of Central New Jersey and though I don't see them often (they have some of the best luck of anyone you'll ever know), they are a delight and always a wonderful improvement on whatever it is that's going on.

Before Kara was Stella, she was Clarabelle (there is NO point in being the oldest child, with all the embarrassing memories of every other sibling, if those memories are not summoned at the most inappropriately appropriate moments such as birthday celebrations) and this story would be even better if I could remember more of it.

I always tell people 'we grew up in New Brunswick', which is true-except for the preposition. We actually grew up near New Brunswick in one of the developments that sprang up in Jersey, as they did on Long (pronounce the G) Island in the decade of President Dwight David Eisenhower. Large tracts of land with easy highway access to the the Turnpike ('what exit?' 'Nine'), the Parkway (to the shore and more) and either the Pennsylvania or Jersey Central Railroads, were golden.

We lived in Franklin Township, on Bloomfield Avenue just off Easton Avenue and about eight minutes, by car (because you went by car or walked everywhere because the bus was sort of a joke, except the passengers were the punchline) from New Brunswick back before J & J reinvented the city in its image and likeness. For most of the late Fifties and all of the Sixties and Seventies, New Brunswick had Rutgers University and Johnson and Johnson.

Between them, they employed just about everybody except those, like my father, who got up in the middle of the phucking night every day of the work week and rode the train into The City (and I don't mean Linden, Elizabeth or Newark-though his train stopped at all of them), which, even then, was the Capital of the World.

Mom did the grocery shopping at the A & P and got prescriptions filled at the Kilmer Pharmacy in the Acme Market plaza (we never got groceries there) but all the kids' clothes came from PJ Arnold's in downtown New Brunswick and for shoes, she took everyone to (Bertha and Joseph) Gluck Shoes on Hamilton Street (I think), where she could get Stride-Rite shoes (with the all important 'cookies' in the insoles for growing feet) for both Kara and Jill, her younger sister.

I usually had my brother, Adam, and Mom would have the Dynamic Duo. Lost in the mists of (my) memory is exactly how Kara got tagged with Clarabelle--Jill, nearly two years Kara's junior and from the moment of her birth one of the three most intense people in this hemisphere (she has moved up in the rankings as well as weight class in the ensuing years) was, from her earliest age, given to the dramatic gesture, so much so that Mom called her Sara (Heartburn) an homage, of sorts, to a famous actress of my grandmother's era, Sara Bernhardt.

Gluck's Shoes, actually all retail clothiers, haberdashers, foundation garment and other retailers were unlike anything we have today, with people who waited on you, bringing you the articles you described and helping you with them. The measurement of a child's foot was too important to be left to a self-service operator-and each young clerk, usually a man, carried a Brannock and swooped in the moment you sat down, measured both feet, scribbled down the numbers and performed some kind of mathematical maneuver, disappearing into the back and returning with boxes of shoes. And that was that.

This particular shopping trip my sisters were more than a bit restive, though the specific reasons now elude me, and Mom was verbally nudging Kara who would dawdle and daydream over each new pair of shoes. 'Clarabelle,' she'd say, 'let's make up your mind.-we don't have all day.' (even though we did).

Jill hated being rushed and would fold her arms in front of her and scrunch her face up and furrow her brow to signal her unhappiness at the unfairness of it all, eventually provoking Mom to decide what shoes she was getting. That, in turn, created more drama, until Mom would bring her up short with 'Sara, keep going and there will be no new shoes.'' The three of them went through this every time they bought anything, anywhere. All of them knew how it would end, but the game had a life of its own and they went along for the ride.

This particular afternoon, the clerk, certainly eager to please, took to calling both Kara and Jill, Clarabelle and Sara, because, I realized with a start, that's what he thought their names were as Mom never called them anything else. Since both of them were used to Mom's nicknames, they saw nothing amiss and Mom never even noticed. As he was ringing out the purchases, a register with the round buttons where you put in the exact amount and little vertical canoe paddles (that's how they looked to me) popped up in the glass box at the top of the National Cash Register, whose clanging bell made the sale official, he asked me what my name was.

I was way ahead of him-'Ralphie', I said. And my brother, he inquired. 'Ralphie, too' I offered, a little too quickly and gave the game away as he realized he'd been made. Without missing a beat he handed my mother two Stride-Rite shoe bags and leaned over the counter to give both Clarabelle and Sara each a lollipop. Happy Birthday, kiddo. Don't take any wooden Stride Rites.
-bill kenny

Friday, July 23, 2010

A Lap Dance from a Nun

The title has nothing to do with this. Some settling of contents may have occurred during shipment and (thankfully) none of this is sold by weight. I don't remember what I watching on TV last night but when I stopped clicking (something our parents didn't have, the remote; in my house, it would have been flung so hard against the living room walls we'd have a dry wall contractor on a cot in the basement) for a moment (my thumb cramped up), one character on some show was asking another one 'can I give you some advice' so which the latter responded with 'I'd rather get a lap...' And it stuck in my brain. I feel better now.....

Our son, when he was small, would watch television with an intensity I found frightening. Many afternoons, on my way home from work, I'd swing by his Oma and Opa to pick him and Sigrid up and we'd head home together. When we arrived, he'd scurry into the living room, turn the TV on and be surprised (and somewhat disappointed), that the program he'd been watching in Sigrid's parent's living room was over or farther along in the story line than when he'd left their house. He reached a point where he'd demand to know if a show was 'echt oder video?' (real or video), where video was anything not live. I always feared the next question would be about life, because I knew the answer to that one.

I thought about that while watching an infomercial for yet another knife that allows you to cut through chain link fences, hardened locks, cinder blocks, car doors and airplane engines as well as tomatoes and is only available, for a limited time in this special TV offer. You, like me, probably wonder as you watch these ads (there was one on for a new pasta cooker that goes in your microwave and doubles as a Winnebago I think), 'how can they do it at such a low, low price?' And, for only the next fifteen minutes, they're doubling the offer!!! Sell my clothes, I'm going to heaven (alert those Sisters of Perpetual Motion).

Instead of the bailouts and boxcars of money we handed out for the last eighteen months for the too-big-to-fail companies, we should have kept the dollars for ourselves while pledging to buy as much of this 'as seen on TV' crap as we possibly could. Of course, our landfills and incinerators would be choking on it-and, Billy Mays would (in all likelihood still be dead), but imagine ALL the economic development we would have stimulated buying this stuff, especially in the packing and shipping industry (I think that's where the profit really is).

You don't need a juicer? How about a woman's intimate shaver that doubles as a trailer hitch? A steam cleaner that also launches sub-orbital reconnassance drones? Or a fake chamois that could have sopped up the BP oil spill AND cooked a four course meal at the same time? All we would have had to do is pay separate shipping and handling. But wait! For reasons that are never given, if we had called right now, the company would not only make one of those three easy payments of $29.99 for us, they'd have doubled our order!

Okay, we might not have affordable health care, but every household would have not one, but TWO silver bullets, perfect for making whatever the hell it is you grind up in there and gets consumed with obscene gusto on low power vhf stations in the middle of the night, every night somewhere in this great land of ours. And why try to read by the glow of the electric fire when you can put your brain on hold and take a vacation from life's woes and worries without leaving your seat. Mother Superior and her posse are standing by, so have your credit card ready.
-bill kenny

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Icarus Wasn't Alone

I get into trouble in my house for hooking the throw rugs Sigrid has as transition bridges between rooms with the toe of my shoes as I ramble and shamble from one room to the other. We have wall to wall carpeting, in much the same way as we had it everywhere we lived in Germany and I suspect the smaller rugs are just another touch of the home we abandoned as we've realized where we live now will always be here and never home.

There's no reason for me to hook those rugs. I know where they are and she's right, all I have to do is pick up my feet. Of course, I have yet to ever concede either of those points in the almost thirty-three years (this October) that we are married. Admissions to anonymous strangers on line in the vastness of the ether? Si. To the woman who allows me to share her life? Not so much. I'm a creature of habit-I've always done such and such in so and so a manner and sometimes something has changed and the result is different. Don't blame me-blame the result for not being constant. And mind your feet on the rugs.

I thought about this yesterday morning when, with my back to both windows in my office (if I set the desk up so I could see out the window, that would be my new full-time job: coast watcher), I heard a smack, something bouncing off glass (there's a tone and if you've ever heard it, you know what I mean) a noise NOT like that of anything bouncing off glass and then nothing at all. By the time I turned around, all I could see was a streak, actually more of a smudge, on the pane.

My office is five stories up-I like to joke 'up where the air is thin and the decisions reflect that' though I'm not so crazy as to utter that witticism whenever the people in charge are around (Mom raised crazy children, but not stupid ones. Okay, not ALL stupid ones). I opened the bottom part of the window (it opens out and up), and peered down. There was a black lump on the sidewalk five flights below.

I went downstairs to confirm what I suspected and didn't feel better for being right, though I was. A crow, a HUGE crow, had somehow, rammed itself head first into my office window instead of landing (perhaps) on the roof three meters over the frame and had killed itself (or perhaps stunned itself and the fall, most especially the landing, had killed it) and was now a mass of broken bones and black feathers strewn across the sidewalk, just enough to slow people down coming in or out of the main doors, but not enough to cause them to stop and reflect on, or care about, what might have happened.

There are crows, very large wingspan crows, on the roof. They share it somewhat uneasily with the seagulls who, centuries ago, followed the fishing boats back from their journeys in the Atlantic up the Thames River and who now live far from the ocean their DNA can barely remember. You can see them walking across some of the employee parking lots, finding things in the flatbeds of the muscle trucks so many people drive to work these days. A couple of weeks ago, I saw a seagull with a potato chip bag on its head, such was its need and greed, finally freed when others of the same feather flocked together not so much to help him but to steal whatever chips might still be in the bag and by so doing, finally pulling it from his head.

The crow who had landed on top of my building (the sign should go up in front one day next week; drop me a line and I'll send you a digital picture of it) had done so I have no idea how many times or for how long. But something changed yesterday at the last moment. The humdrum of the routine numbed the creature and the rut of habit became its grave. And for just a moment, despite the heat and the humidity, I shivered, thinking of all the times I've gone to 'auto pilot' mode in everyday situations without ever being found out and how sometimes NOT flying too close to the sun can be just as fatal as never having flown at all.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

And in the End, It Comes Down to Us

These are thorny days in The Rose of New England. As spirit-crushing and soul-wrenching as this Spring's budget formulation was, and how Draconian the reductions in programs and services seemed to so many, it will, we are told by city and state leaders, probably be even worse 'the next time around.'

We've spent decades chasing single bullet solutions--the rescue of the Wauregan Hotel, the construction of the Mercantile Exchange and the rehabilitation of the Otis Library to name just three. We have come to the place where the road and the sky collide. We cannot afford to stay where we are and if we don't move forward we'll fall farther behind.

Large investments of public money on public projects that failed to attract any private capital to leverage these capital improvements and expand into the private sector, leaving our city with pockets of pretty buildings surrounded by broken dreams and empty storefronts.

Last Saturday, at the Economic Development Bond Issue Workshop in the offices of the Norwich Community Development Corporation on Main Street there were less than a half dozen 'members of the public' in attendance-not because we who live here didn't know about the presentation, but because we didn't care.

Sixteen minutes after the first news story was posted on line by a local reporter, who sat alongside of me at the meeting, the trickle of 'this will never work' comments started to appear and continued, until by day's end, it was a flood.

All but two were from people most certainly NOT at the meeting (I believe) but that didn't stop them from having a (negative) opinion on a proposal about which they knew very little. A bigot, I'm told, is someone who slams his mind in your face. There's a little too much of that going around for my taste.

Between now and when this proposal is presented to the City Council for their consideration to place it on the November ballot for a public vote (it looks like there will be three separate questions for the three principal components) each of us needs to get smart on what this proposal is and what it is NOT.

I don't recall hearing the word 'hope' uttered once during the entire presentation last Saturday because (wait for it) HOPE IS NOT A PLAN. In the course of months of work and research, a team of people from a variety of fields to include real estate, retail, population trends and a half dozen other disciplines, examined prices and costs for infrastructure development, code-compliance assistance, utilities hook-up costs and reduced every aspect of their proposal to a simple and single question, what is in this for Norwich?

In 1934, in the depths of the Depression in Norwich, there were fifteen retail bakers, forty-six barbers, five billiard parlors, forty-two confectionery and ice cream retailers, eleven retail grocers, twenty-seven taverns, eight hotels, four theaters, thirty-two restaurants and an elevator manufacturer. A lifetime later, how much of ANY of that is still here, where did it go and why?

Don't let the price tag on this development proposal, about thirteen million dollars, frighten you-make sure you listen to what the return on investment is projected to be (and bear in mind, the projections are using 'worse case' numbers not pie in the sky, we'll be farting through silk, statistics) and then do your own math.

We all know the cost for failing to create healthy economic development and growth in Norwich--just look at the City Budget. Closed schools, eliminated programs, and a Grand List that has flat- lined. Seventy-five percent of the Norwich tax base is residential and that share is growing-NOT good news for anyone.

There's no use in looking to Hartford or to Washington-they have troubles of their own. The only people we can rely on are one another. If you've been wondering what you can do to help yourself, your family and your neighborhood, you're about to find out.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

You Are Someone Else

Maybe it's the unusually warm weather many parts of the country are having, in this, the summer of our malcontent--maybe we're just a little more brusque with one another and have a little less patience than at other times because, when you get down to it, these are NOT other times.

Social historians writing for contemporary magazines, ranging from Rolling Stone through the Atlantic and The New Yorker, have chronicled the outrage that practically every segment, 'demographic' is the buzzword used in poli-sci circles, we are feeling. We are Cranky with a capital C, if I may offer my own descriptive.

I know people who 'only' get their news of the world from a single platform of Main Stream Media, be it the New York Times, Fox News and/or every flavor in the rainbow from one to the other (and if you think those two are the polar opposites, then good luck telling me where to put these kats and kittens because all I can say is 'crazy, man, crazy').

I like chocolate ice cream (I'm probably not supposed to eat it, but I like it) but I eat other flavors, too. It's about more than freedom of choice of ice cream flavor-it's about NOT missing out and not getting a chance to sample every perspective. That's why I read/watch/listen to people with whom I disagree-to stretch my brain while trying to follow their argument. But lately we've been eating ice cream without spoons.

Everyone of us is in danger of reducing ourselves to rude bumper stickers, be we "Birthers" or Fellow Travelers--the only thing more pointless than putting other people in boxes with simplistic labels is allowing someone to do it to you. If all you think of when I say Whitman, is a box of chocolates, Forrest, you need to get another life, because I mean Walt.

I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the beginning and the end. But I do not talk of the beginning or the end. Song of Myself is a brilliant work of ironic observation and examination of the American Spirit because even the title is about everyone other than the author. It is about each of us, you and me, the Americans unborn at the time Whitman wrote it. And perhaps he penned it because he knew someday we'd need it.

We have too many words to tell us how we came to this place in the story of ourselves and too few to tell us how to go forward and go ahead. The pages are blank and so, too, are many of the minds who would lead us, leaving us to our own devices. Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I wear my crown of thorns on my liar's chair, full of broken thoughts. I cannot repair. beneath the stain of time, the feeling disappears. you are someone else; I am still right here. And if we've learned nothing else from our own history, it's that no matter how we fight, and we were reduced to national fratricide a century and a half ago, we are still standing and this, whatever, this moment of self-loathing and self-doubt, this too shall pass.
-bill kenny

Monday, July 19, 2010

You Tell Me the World's Changed (Norwich Meetings 19-23 July)

A quick check of history will confirm we do not live in the world's oldest or largest democracy, and some days, experience might suggest it's not the most successful but your (and my) mileage may vary on that and the argument can, and must, be made that our government (small 'g' deliberately for my friends on the left or right of every issue) works as well as we do and that like it or not, we get the government (small g, again) we deserve. Somehow, I no longer get the reassurance from that I once did, but we can, together make that right again.

One of the nicer things about small-towns is we have a better opportunity to know the neighbors who volunteer to help out on all the committees and boards that cities and counties across our country need to get things done. Yeah, the President and the Senators are important and terribly vital, but you won't find any of 'em on your city's zoning board of appeals if you want to be allowed to put that awning on the side porch.

All of that said, here in Norwich the meeting calendar looks like another postcard from beyond everyday. There are dozens of small groups working independently of one another, but in collaboration (not as contradictory as it sounds) to make and keep Norwich a place we want to come home to.

Speaking of home and those who protect many of ours, at five this afternoon in Room 209 of City Hall, it's a special meeting of the Volunteer Fireman's Relief Fund Committee.

At seven thirty in Council chambers, it's the second July meeting of the Norwich City Council. And for those who didn't attend last week's Public Works' presentation on the Sherman Street Bridge (= every other person in Norwich except me), that's on tonight's agenda as are appointments of people to ongoing committees, creation of a new committee to study sustainable energy sources, and, murmurings have it, perhaps there'll be information on funding local economic development that has City Hall creating conditions for private capital investment instead of just throwing taxpayer money at the flavor of the week project hoping "now we're really on the move."

Tuesday, why not make an evening of it? Begin at 5:30 with a regular meeting in their offices at the Buckingham Memorial Building (up from the library) of the Public Parking Commission, who, it seems, had NO June meeting at all. They'll be soliciting feedback on the newly instituted parking policies for downtown. I was going to offer some snarkasm about being careful where you park if you go, but I'm trying to cut down; especially since I just had a note from Jill B reminding me that the commission meets every other month so there was no June meeting (doh!).

At six, in Room 319 of City Hall, it's a regular meeting of the Personnel and Pension Board, whose members' terms on the city's website could use a bit of refreshing. And at seven, in the basement conference room of the Planning Department at 23 Union Street, it's a regular meeting of the Commission on the City Plan.

Wednesday morning (yeah, like you'd NEVER do that. Oh, you're eleven and don't know who The Beatles are. You, ageist!) at 8:30 is a regular meeting of the Southeastern CT Council of Governments in their offices in the Norwich Business Park. We'll always do better to think a little larger than just the city limits (see John Donne though I'm hoping The Situation has never heard of him) and organizations like SCCOG help us do that.

There's two other meetings on Wednesday, in the Dime Bank's Community Room at nine of the Norwich School Readiness Council which doesn't show up on the city's list of Boards, Commissions, Committees and Authorities (I feel your pain; I, too, am shocked) but the Council's website isn't exactly up to date either, and there's a regular meeting of the Integrated Day Charter School Governing Board at 5:30 in the school's media center. Their June meeting minutes are right here.

There is, if I'm reading the city's calendar correctly, a 7:30 Thursday morning meeting of the Norwich Community Development Corporation Directors in their offices at 77 Main Street, and you can send a request via their website to get a copy of previous meeting's minutes (and agenda) if you're attending. By all accounts, they have excellent coffee and 'fine doughnuts' (that's what I heard Saturday morning, Bob M, so you must be doing something right because we know our doughnuts here in Norwich).

And with a heartfelt belief that Cheerios really are doughnut seeds (if I could only get a seven or eight figure grant to prove it!), that will close this week's look ahead at Rose City meetings. See you at something?
-bill kenny

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Short Walk for Big Steps

I think it's been a hot and dry summer so far in Southeast Connecticut-not complaining (yet) because I'm also the guy who whines like a little girl when it's freezing and snowy in February around here, forgetting all about these days while crying.

As I work to walk my ten to twelve thousand steps a day, together with watching what I eat the best tools I have to manage my diabetes better than I have in many years, I wander across the town where I live, Norwich, on weekends visiting various neighborhoods, logging lots more than the desired number of steps and seeing situations and strategies that don't ever make my local newspapers.

Yesterday morning wasn't an aimless wandering (which I do so well, if it's ever declared an Olympic sport you'll find me at the medals podium) but a hike to what could be our downtown-we call it Chelsea and cynics suggest if you blink, you'll miss it, so I always keep my eyes wide open.

Walking down Broadway near Saint Patrick's, I was in time to watch the faithful exiting the cathedral after (I'm assuming) morning Mass, around 7:30, and start on their weekends in one instance as a driver made a u-turn in front of St Pat's, cutting off another car who angrily honked while the first driver flipped him off. In front of the church. I marveled-waiting for The Lord to smite somebody and realizing that's our problem these days, not enough smiting.

The houses on Broadway as you walk from Chelsea Parade towards City Hall and Church street go from massive and sprawling end of the 1800's architecture that's been reinvented in many places as multiple family dwellings to, the longer you continue to walk, smaller houses filled with people scuffling to hang on to their piece of the American Dream as in many instance houses on either side of theirs sprout for sale signs and show signs of abandonment.

It was our Semisepticentennial this time last year and many of us partied like it was 1849 and that hangover, combined with the sound empty pockets make when the money runs out, is all coming together now and no one is very happy about it, especially since we can't find anyone to blame (which is what many of us, and not just here in The Rose of New England, do better than anything else).

Probably like what happened where you live-our city council wound up putting together a budget that made bare bones look like the lap of luxury, much to the consternation of folks from just about everywhere, and the only saving grace in the exercise was the realization that next year's budget will probably be worse, in terms of paying for current programs and services much less adding new ones.

I was heading to a two hour workshop on Economic Development Bond Issues that I'll write more, lots more, about in the days and weeks to come. But no matter what's envisioned for this piece of New England's past, still looking for its niche in 21st Century America, it's already too late for the Taste of Istanbul restaurant as well as the flower shop and Wauregan Deli (they had reuben sandwiches to die for!) all three alongside of each other and all closed, the latter two in the Wauregan Hotel, an eighteen million dollar state funded renewal project that came with the obligatory assurance that 'Norwich is on the move.' Yeah, it sure is.

Even on Saturdays, the moving vans and pick-up trucks with cardboard boxes and the beater cars crammed with families who failed are rolling beyond the city limits, past the distressed houses, the abandoned textile mills sitting on contaminated property and the empty store fronts facing the litter-lined streets of a downtown with no one out and about on a Saturday morning except one dweeb, listening to James McMurtry on his headphones hoping like hell the song is wrong but fearing that's a bad bet these days.
-bill kenny