Thursday, March 31, 2011

Same River but Different Tides

Sometimes life flies by. That's not a newsflash, but I sometimes forget just how true that is until the calendar and coincidence conspire to bite me. Twenty years ago today, I was invited into my boss' office in a building on the far end of the runway at Rhein Main Air Base (literally across the tarmac from the Frankfurt Flughafen) to be told we would be disbanded by the end of the calendar year and scattered like so many seeds in the wind.

"We" were an Air Force audiovisual detachment (some of us still gagged on our new 'combat camera' moniker) that had most of our personnel and inordinate amounts of our gear in places like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and elsewhere to support hundreds (if not thousands) of missions that were part of Desert Shield and Desert Storm. We had cleaned sand out of equipment that was supposedly air tight and from body orifices where chafe became a five letter swear word. But power scrubbing and steel brushes aside, we'd all come home in one piece less than three weeks earlier, just in time to be dismantled. It didn't take long.

The end of the Cold War and the reordering of a Europe that had existed since Patton's soldiers shook hands with Ivan at the Elbe meant NATO could hold a consolidation sale with lots of US forces in the overhead to be jettisoned. Not that I got to see it, but very shortly afterwards, all of Rhein Main Air Base, the busiest US airbase in the world, became a memory-the runway becoming, endlich!, noch ein startbahn fur den Flughafen.

I remember the Commanding Officer assuring me "the closure wasn't personal" and my assuring her it most certainly phucking was and how it was the violence of my language which seemed to upset her more than her news had upset me. Truth to tell I was numb from the roots of my hair all the way to my as--toes. I'd spent my life defining who I was by what I did and all of that was turning to ash before my eyes.

Over a decade and a half in what I thought was home was ending, and this moron wanted me to believe none of it was personal. Yeah, sure. And neither was anything that followed to include the narrowing of employment opportunities that meant my wife and I would live in the Land of the Round Doorknobs with our two children who were heading home to a place they'd never been before.

I remember again swallowing the anger and fear and that vaguely metallic taste I had in my mouth for months as well as the kabuki theater for me and my family as the slam-finish gained speed, if not altitude. Life imitate life as in recent days I couldn't do much for a person grappling with a similar shift of tides in a river in which she had spent decades except to offer my version of the same hollow words, knowing how little they help.

There's just so much 'one door opens when another one closes' pseudo-solace and cold comfort you can offer before not even you believe it anymore. But then you remember, yes, it was incredibly dark and all those things that seemed so important, well, they vanished right into the air. But that was almost a lifetime ago and now there's light all around with new (and different) hopes and dreams and maybe the realization that how we decide what our lives are to mean is perhaps when we finally define who we really are.

-bill kenny

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

There's Safety in Numbers

With apologies to whomever's online post I stole this from, there are 10 kinds of people in the world. Those who understand the binary system and those who don't. And you wonder why I have trouble when things get all mathy on me. Read on, McDuff or McDuffette.

This past Saturday morning's workshop with the Norwich Board of Education and the City Council filled the conference room at the Central Fire House. That's good news until you realize it's a relatively small room (it can only accommodate 55 people and of all the places in Norwich we might be tempted to 'jam people in' I don't think it'd be the Central Fire House) and, aside from a Bulletin reporter, that there was hardly anyone in the room who was not working for the school system or for the city administration.

It's disheartening in a city that saw its population increase by over 12%, according to the 2010 US Census, with over 3,750 students in Pre-kindergarten through high school (that doesn't include Norwich Free Academy), so few parents and/or residents were able to attend a session that may well define the tenor, tone and direction of not only this year's city budget but the manner in which future municipal budgets are developed.

I'm not suggesting the published report wasn't accurate in portraying a renewed sense of cooperation between those members of both elected bodies on Saturday. On the contrary, I can remember years when City Council hearings on the school's budget requests were shifted to a middle school gymnasium because so many people wanted to attend you'd have thought Governor Malloy was speaking.

Those days seem to be over and, not surprisingly, no one mourns their passing. The expression 'think globally, act locally' works only if we are, indeed, willing to act and accept the responsibilities of our actions locally. Let's face it, when we look to Hartford and Washington D.C., there's a lot more confrontation and a lot less collaboration on almost every issue we can imagine.

At the state and federal level, the attitude seems more 'for me to look good, you (the other side) need to look bad' always forgetting the dangerous part of the phrase 'zero-sum' is the former. And then we wonder why our national debt is at over fourteen trillion dollars and climbing.

To acknowledge we can't afford to do business in Norwich the way we always have is a blinding glimpse of the obvious, but based on the low turnout for so many public hearings on issues ranging from the City's Plan of Conservation and Development, through suggestions on improving the downtown revitalization programs to budget workshops like the one held Saturday, we have to do better at owning the future.

We have to get comfortable with the realization that we are the ones who make the final choices on our future and the paths we walk to get there. These are our children, our downtown, our neighborhoods, with our businesses, schools, police, streets and sidewalks (and the thousands of other moving parts that make Norwich, Norwich). No one else will care for them they way we should. We must stop waiting for someone to step up and, instead, become the someone who does. -bill kenny

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Years Just Flow By Like a Broken Down Dam

Right now, for me, this is the roughest time of the year. The calendar says Spring is here and when you look outside, you're inclined to agree. Except more often than not, as is the case again this year and this season, it's brisker and crisper than we'd like and the breeze is more of a shriek than a whisper.

Major League Baseball starts the 2011 campaign this Thursday afternoon at one for a season that will, as has been the case in recent years, end in November, which is way too long for anything other than a fantasy involving cooking oil, satin sheets and a lady named, well, I'm not allowed to detail any more of that in this space today (or any other).

I love baseball though I have close to no idea what kind of a Grapefruit League season "my" New York Yankees had and since the games don't count, I don't either. I've rooted for them most of my life, with a brief interlude emotionally elsewhere as I was entering double digits, when Joan Payson owned the New York Metropolitans.

I no longer root for Mr. Met for all the reasons, and many others, captured in Jimmy Breslin's meisterwerk, Can't Anybody Here Play this Game?-if you haven't read it you should. And no, it's not a book I'm sending to anyone in Afghanistan (though I suspect everyone could relate) because as I remember it, one potential reader is sort of a Padres fan.

But that's not really important-what is, I think, is that on Opening Day, everyone's team, whoever they are, is in first place. Every pitcher's earned run average is a Hall of Fame worthy 0.00 and you can't help but believe 'this is the year.' No one wins the World Series on Opening Day so, conversely, no one can lose it. And that's as it should be.

More so than in recent memory, this year we need all the optimism and enthusiasm we can gather, from whatever source for as long as we can keep it. Even if the weather were to dawn rosy-fingered and flawless tomorrow we'd still have a peck of troubles with which to contend. But between now and Thursday worrying about all of that is only going to ruin your anticipation of Opening Day.

All Opening Day should do is whet our appetites for the months ahead. We get from Point A to Point B in a variety of ways but in the same number of days. Whether we live them in hope or in dread is a choice we make and then must own. "Just give me one thing that I can hold onto; to believe in this living is just a hard way to go."

-bill kenny

Monday, March 28, 2011

New World in the Morning

Sometimes the easiest way to see how far you've come isn't by looking at the road ahead, but, rather, looking behind to see the distance covered. The challenge in government, as in so much else of what we do and who we are, is to see a beginning in every ending and another start even as we finish.

Today is a good example of important meetings in Norwich that, ideally, you'd want to attend all three but, because of time and distance, you'll have to pick and choose. Let's start at 5:30 in Room 210 of City Hall with a regular meeting of the Redevelopment Agency (it's Capehart, by the way) followed by the final public hearing on the downtown revitalization bond and program set for 7 in the Council Chambers of City Hall. There's always room for improvement and the plan is better now than when first offered because of comments and ideas from across the city. This is your chance to stop talking about making the difference and to be the difference.

At 7:30 in their offices at 5 Connecticut Avenue in the Norwich Business Park, the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments (SCCOG) holds a public hearing on the Long Range Regional Transportation Plan (FY 2011-2040). There's been a lot of buzz on resurrecting Route 11 in recent months, but reports on where the plan recommends concentrating efforts may surprise you (pleasantly or unpleasantly). Tonight's the night to make your voice heard.

Tuesday at four in the Central Office of the Norwich Public Schools' conference room, it's a regular meeting of the Building and Space Committee. With NASA winding down its operations, local efforts will become even more important though I'm not sure we can ever get a whole building into orbit. I'm hoping for a grant from the Sachem Fund to build the Ralph Kramden Space Center to launch my weather satellite, Alice. (We'll have to do it at night because it's easier to see the moon.)

At seven, there's an "important meeting at City Hall," in Room 335 (the routine and mundane meetings are usually held on the second floor) to show support for the Downtown Chelsea Arts District and the Norwich Arts Center. If you enjoy local performing arts, I suggest you attend the meeting because you should support these activities with your discretionary dollars. Unless we're also going to subsidize cat rodeos and dwarf tossing contests in an expanded definition of 'local performing arts' (and I've a suspicion that we're not), leave my money alone and spend your own.

At seven in the basement conference room of the Planning Department at 23 Union Street, it's a Special Meeting of the Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) of the Commission on the City Plan (CCP) to select a consultant to assist in the development of the next ten year plan (NAA; no acronym available).

Wednesday morning at eight in the Norwich Public School's Central Office conference room is the next NEXTT meeting (I didn't stutter). At seven PM in City Hall, no room listed but it's probably Room 335, there's an Informational Budget Forum or "Town Hall Meeting with Representative Chris Coutu (R-47)" with video courtesy of Comcast, perhaps. (As I recall both video and audio were the challenge when Governor Malloy came to speak).

The last meeting of the week is actually the first in the month of April, Team Norwich, on Saturday morning, beginning at nine o'clock in the Central Fire House at Ten Thames Street. And if I may be snarky (and don't dare say 'what do you mean by may?') in a city with the largest population in New London County, it would be nice if more than six residents showed up to interact with those whom we elected to city government. Sometimes it really is just the thought that counts, from now on.

-bill kenny

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Desperately Close to a Coffin of Hope

If history is written by the winners, and it most assuredly is, what should history make of the passing of Geraldine Ferraro yesterday from blood cancer at the age of 75. Ms. Ferraro was the Democrat's choice for vice-president with Walter "Fritz" Mondale on the top half of the ticket against the incumbent, Ronald Reagan in 1984.

The Reagan/Bush (H not W) slate carried 49 of 50 states that year (and barely won Mondale's home state of Minnesota), but the trail had been blazed if you will, the toothpaste was out of the tube and a start had been made.

I'm not sure the former Governor of Alaska would be thrilled to have anyone suggest that without Congresswoman Ferraro there could have been no Sarah Plain and Tall, but I think you can make a good argument for that being the case. In many respects what we are now is what were when, and when Geraldine Ferraro was on the ticket with Fritz Mondale, we were a very different country-not better necessarily, just different. Cue Word: again.

From my perspective of 58 years and eleven months, the slightly more than a quarter of a century since that campaign raged has gone by in a flash and the issues of that time have paled in comparison to the ones now facing us. What may be lacking are leaders of substance and character-though there's a school of thought that suggests persons are forged by the crucible of events in their lives, so maybe we're closer to having those who have The Right Stuff than I should dare to hope.

I'm not always good at seeing where we're heading as a nation and I get confused sometimes by what's going on in the other lanes as we all struggle to read the map. The only certainties I have sometimes is that I still believe if you work hard enough and never give up, you can become the dream you've dreamed (all evidence to the contrary) and that the light's always red in the rearview. Thanks for making a few more of those green across this nation, Congresswoman Ferraro.
-bill kenny

Saturday, March 26, 2011

THUG LIFE Meets Real Life

I'm at an age where I don't need to suffer fools gladly, or any other way. In many respects, I've retired from my chosen avocation, irresistible force to pursue the more sedentary pleasures of being the immovable object. I spent decades on the fringes of the rock and roll circus (I'd called shotgun in the clown car) which affords me a somewhat different perspective when watching the antics of the Hollyweird and Those Who Would Be Them.

I fell across a story about Chris Brown, a bully who beats women, or in this case striking his then-girlfriend Rihanna, who threw a hissy fit when Robin Roberts asked him about his life and times (and Rihanna) recently on Good Morning America, instead of shilling for his new album.

Not sure which title I enjoy more, "Forgive All My Enemies" or "Fans Are My Everything" to hear Chris tell it. My own imagination immediately latched on to a shortening of fire-truck (but as a gerund), and went downhill after that but I'm sure we have some lovely consolation prizes for such a talented and tattooed young man.

The whole 'here's what we want to talk about' fact sheet is such an established part of traditional show business and press agentry from the days of the studio player when Talkies ruled the earth. I've got to tell you, it's refreshing to me, as someone who last waded into rock and roll waters almost two decades ago (as those fact sheets started to surface), to see that even in disparate pursuits such as urban music, or as I like to call it, (c)rap, the softball question cheat sheet has emerged victorious.

That Robin Roberts, cancer survivor and (I've never met her) a seemingly classy lady could resist the temptation to whack Missy Chrissy with her stool and, instead, went straight at him (not that he'll admit it, but she did talk about his 'new album') to address various aspects of his life and career (that his audience, unless they are morons, must know already), I find very admirable.

Maybe because I don't have the physique for it myself, I've never understood how people assault one another or, in this case, how one person chooses to stay with someone who did this to her, repeatedly. I so hoped Ms. Roberts would bring Chris' ex in via satellite to address that obvious question, but you can't have everything. Perhaps when Rihanna is hawking her new LP (called, I believe, "A Hair Color NOT Found in Nature"). Here's hoping.

"Here we go again. It's so insane, 'cause when it's going good, it's going great. I'm Superman with the wind in his bag. She's Lois Lane. But when it's bad, it's awful; I feel so ashamed. I snap. Who's that dude? I don't even know his name. I laid hands on her. I'll never stoop so low again; I guess I don't know my own strength." But you can bet she does, Chris, and if she didn't, she sure as hell learned by now, didn't she? But it's okay, keep telling yourself it's all in the past because I love the way you lie.
-bill kenny

Friday, March 25, 2011

No Days You Can Borrow

I had a surprising appointment with my primary care physician yesterday. By surprising I don't mean he lept from behind an examining table or was dressed like someone from Jersey Shore (he tends to look more like an extra from Grey's Anatomy).

I thought I was heading for a semi-annual carotid scan (it's like a semi-professional rodeo rider without the horse but most of the horse$hit) but instead it was a "full" physical (the expression kept being used perhaps to differentiate from partial ones?). My least favorite part of these has always been right after I turn my head and cough and yesterday was no exception. I've gotten to the age that back when I was a kid I never thought people could reach because I didn't know anyone that old and now that I'm there I still don't know anyone that old. Except me.

I've collected quite an assortment of traveling companions as I spend so much time in the breakdown lane on the human highway. I have a posse of physicians, to include a cardiologist, an endocrinologist, (I realized mine looks and sounds like this guy and when I mentioned that my doctor this morning he agreed with me. I've no idea how I'll ever be able to go back to see him) a nephrologist, a rheumatologist and an orthopedic surgeon. On the reserve bench I have a gastroenterologist, a now-retired vascular surgeon and an opthamologist. I have enough wrong with me to keep them all gainfully employed.

I don't think either of us learned anything this morning we didn't already know, though speaking for me, I did find out more details about stuff I wish I didn't know how to spell. That expression about 'and the truth will set you free'? Not now, John, we've got to get on with this. I tend to use the ride back from the doctor's office to work as the decompression chamber. A couple of years ago, the news had been so upsetting one visit I had screamed all the way to the job and spent the afternoon with a sore throat.

Yesterday was more of a comfortably numb ride and I had taken the day off so I was making like Frost's hired man which afforded me the opportunity to marvel at how life imitates art. Less than a week ago, my brother, Adam, had offered a few somewhat whimsical thoughts on time and distance being relative functions of one another in this, the only plane of existence any of us will ever know. I didn't learn anything yesterday morning I wasn't expecting to hear; just a few intimations of what I had hoped to avoid a while longer.

Drawing a line under all the poking and prodding and reviewing the sum of all of my fears, I have a few more aches and pains than I had this time a year ago and now understand that there will be more in store whether I accept them or not despite the kabuki theater we're about to do in comfortable examination rooms across New London County. My suggestion: the nine o'clock show is completely different from the seven. Dress accordingly.
-bill kenny

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Blame Is Better to Give than Receive

One of my favorite expressions is "He who abandons a sinking ship that doesn't sink, needs to be a very good swimmer." Or at least look presentable in his Speed-O's and bathing cap. This is the time of year to be getting some laps in at the old swimming pool unless you can walk on water.

I've written about the six phases of a project: Enthusiasm, Disillusionment, Panic, Search for the Guilty, Punishment of the Innocent and Award/Honors for the Non-Participants. We use this model of dynamic interaction in our everyday interpersonal relationships (how quickly do couples go from 'we're thrilled we're having a baby' to 's/he forced me into this child' all the way to how the child, once born, is treated within the family).

Whatever we do for a living and wherever we do it, the same pattern holds true. We all cheered Digby when he volunteered to lead the team that would turn peanut oil into jet fuel, but once it was demonstrated that it absolutely, positively couldn't be done, all we could do was shake our heads and roll our eyes when Digby's name was mentioned ('I coulda told ya...').

Look to our nation's capital if you want to see a collection of people dedicated to the proposition that government of the people, by the people and for the people should go chase itself, Lincoln be damned. But, if you watch only one minute of C-Span it'll prove my point, all of them are so relentlessly polite and respectful to one another while being disagreeable in the most agreeable way imaginable. Thank goodness for The Loyal Opposition and My Distinguished Opponent. Whom else would we, currently in charge, blame for all manners of awfulness and illness if we didn't have The Other Guys and Gals?

During the last Presidential election, we couldn't give the party residing in the White House the heave-ho fast enough--and for good measure, we made sure the same party kept both houses of our legislative branch. By last year many decided that arrangement wasn't our cup of tea and went in a completely different direction. Sure, we picked a lot of 'Washington is the root of all evil' cats and kittens to replace the inside the Beltway boys and girls we had. And yeah, then we sent all those outsiders to Washington where they...umm...became...well, they became....oh dear. Next position, please.

All, or nearly all, of the 'issues' and 'hot buttons' that have driven our national discourse over the last three (and more) years are still with us like Banquo's Ghost. They've actually gained a few pounds and some fellow-travellers. We have more wars, less money, more anger and fewer reasons to be hopeful than at any point in my almost fifty-nine years here on The Big Blue Marble (I'm not suggesting cause and effect and would ask you refrain as well).

I'm sad not so much that we seem to have lost our way (an unoriginal thought we've often had in our two hundred and thirty-five year history as a nation), but that we're not inclined to want to find our way back to who we are. We decided, it seems sometimes to me, to settle instead of to continue to strive to succeed. It's as if we got to the Mississippi and said to one another, 'y'know, California and The West are fine ideas, but who really needs 'em?'

We don't even hear the cognitive dissonance as the gap between what we say and what we do grows wider. Vox Populi has been replaced with STFU and e pluribus unum is now rendered as nolo contendere and is usually part of a plea bargain for time served coupled with a weepy-eyed televised apology where we take 'full responsibility' whatever that means.

If our children ever figure out what we allowed to have happen to their dreams, they'll murder us in our beds and they'll be right but everything will still be wrong. You can break things only so often and only so badly before they cannot be made whole again. We may be nearing that moment, Armageddon, End Times, Oops!, whatever it's to be called. We will not have to worry about what the day after that happens is called because we will not be here to experience it. But don't worry, we'll blame somebody (just not ourselves) because
that's how we're wired.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Eating the Seed Instead of Planting It

I barely know my way around the produce department of my local grocery so you'll have to ignore (or try to) the presumption of agricultural expertise I'm attempting. Every spring my daughter and I have a go at a backyard vegetable garden--in some of our early attempts we often had bumper crops of weeds. Imagine how disappointed we were to discover no amount of salad dressing helped.

In more recent years, we've shopped for seed packages early and worked hard to prepare our plot prior to planting (say that three times fast; I almost broke my fingers typing it) and with enough water and work, we've had some delicious tomatoes, lettuce and other vegetables.

The key, we long ago realized, is in the seeds--having them, having enough of them, having the right kinds and taking care of them and tending them once they're planted and keeping an eye on them through harvesting.

Even though Norwich may not look like a garden or a farm, the value of seed, knowing when to save it and when to plant it, is still important and perhaps no one knows that better than the volunteers on the Sachem Fund Board who, in the last (almost) three years, have sown three quarters of a million dollars worth of seed (a 50/50 split between the City of Norwich and the Mohegan Tribal Council) across the city for forty-five different projects ranging from the Semiseptsentennial through the Norwich Winter Festival to the Otis Library.

You may have thought hard economic times had ended the work of the Sachem Fund Board but meeting last week, the Board decided to use the funds it still has (or some of them depending,on the size and scale of the projects) to again serve as an impetus for the economic, cultural and recreational growth Norwich needs to maintain and enhance in its efforts to become again someplace its residents wish to come home to.

Applications for the Sachem Fund must reach the office of the Comptroller by 4:30 PM, Monday, 2 May. Application information and details can be found on the City's website. Those whose initial applications are accepted will make presentations to the Fund Board Wednesday evening, May 11th and final decisions will be announced on June 1st. If you don't ask, the answer is automatically 'no' and for too long too many have felt there's a "No" in Norwich, so if you have a program and need help, you should apply for consideration.

The challenges facing the Sachem Fund Board as they begin their selection process are many, aside from the obvious, 'to whom should grants be given?' Gauging the impact of supporting one project over another, analyzing the return on the investment to the city and measuring the overall positive effect in enhancing our quality of life are all integral to the very reason why the fund was created and are important components in assuring the Sachem Fund serves its vision and purpose.

When you look at the budget of the City of Norwich in the last three years, it's more than three hundred million dollars, which dwarfs the three quarters of a million dollars in disbursements from the Sachem Fund. But don't tell that to the Chelsea Gardens Foundation, or to Artworks, or to United Community and Family Services, all of whom asked for and received money for people and programs we all use and from which we benefit. Sometimes, size isn't as important as knowing what to leverage for maximum gain and when.

It would have been easier, especially for the volunteers on the Fund Board, had they distributed all the available funds last May-but instead of eating their remaining seed, they've gathered it up and are looking for the most worthwhile projects in which to invest it. If you've always had more will than wallet, this is your time to stand up and stand out.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Other Bear in Berlin

I have no idea how long the American Forces Network radio affiliate in Berlin (West) Germany was called 'The Bear and the Best' but in all the years I lived on the cutting edge of the sword of freedom (should have told you to pack your waders!) that's what it was known as. And no, we're not wandering down (yet) another byway of my misspent youth, adulthood and dotage auf deutsch, though, based on our history together you'd be correct to assume that was the case. Besides, AFN Berlin signed off another lifetime ago, lebe voll!

Today is as good a time as any to mark the passing of another bear (lower case deliberate) in Berlin, Knut, the hard-luck polar bear this past Saturday. Knut, say the press accounts, led a short and sad life (of sorts) rejected by his mother at birth (his twin, also rejected, died). Knut was fed by hand by his trainer, Thomas Doerflien, who predeceased him in 2008.

His survival made him wildly popular (okay, not so much with PETA), inspiring tributes such as this one, whose use of the theme from Dallas utterly confounds me until it's followed by He's So Fine (note the similarity to My Sweet Lord? Zoology, current events and musicology all for the same low price, now how much would you pay? Doo-lang, doo-lang).

It's too bad Knut couldn't read because I'll bet he'd have gotten a real kick out of the order of the headlines in this report, though if the story is to be believed perhaps he'd have been more aptly named Randy. I'd always wondered about his Mona Lisa-like smile, perhaps I now have my explanation. And if that bothered you, let me share a site, courtesy of the always Pulitzer-Prize worthy wizards at People Magazine where tawdry and tasteless collide.

If the aliens arrive tomorrow, I want to hide all the Silly String, Chia Pets and everything published by what once was called Time-Life. Or they'll eat us hair and all. It's a fine line between Knut and cute and now I've crossed it. "Who would think a boy and bear could be well-accepted everywhere, it's just amazing how fair people can be."
-bill kenny

Monday, March 21, 2011

I Don't Mind the Sun Sometimes

Last week was Sunshine Week, no particular SPF was needed or recommended, but, in truth, every week should be Sunshine Week. If you're not seeing the level of transparency in your government (national, state or local), you need to speak up until joined by neighbors and friends who'll speak out to get it changed. When silence equals consent, too much has been surrendered.

This morning at nine, in the Rose City Senior Center on Mahan Drive it's a regular (I guess) meeting of the Senior Affairs Commission who last met in October of last year (they usually break, it seems, from November though March).

At 7:30, is a regular meeting of the City Council in City Hall and I'm delighted to see Children First Norwich on the agenda for a presentation (I'd hope) on what they do and how they're doing at it. Of course, having a website that does some/part or all of that would be nice too, but I can't have everything it seems. Speaking of which, I very much like the proposal to close off the connector street between Washington and Broadway that gets abused a lot by people as a shortcut, to facilitate the expansion of Monument Park (which is and which will always (sadly) be, needed.

I'd suggest for the Council's consideration, in keeping with idea of remembrance, working with the Public Safety Director, consider eliminating ALL parking on Washington Street that borders the Chelsea Parade. Almost fifteen years ago, two children were struck and killed by an automobile on Washington Street as they attempted to cross the street. At the time a lot of fine words were said about making the Parade safer for everyone, but nothing was done for anyone. This might be the moment to repair that omission.

Tuesday afternoon at three-thirty, in their basement conference room in the Central Office (across from the Norwichtown Green), it's a regular meeting of the Norwich Public Schools Board of Education Policy Committee. Later, at five, in the City Manager's Office (Room 219) in City Hall it's the Harbor Management Commission whose most recent meeting was in January, judging from the minutes.

And at six, in their offices at 16 Golden Street, it's a regular meeting of the Board of (Norwich) Public Utilities Commissioners. While also at six, in Room 335 of City Hall (= sit ALL the WAY Up Front if you want to hear anything), it's a special meeting of the Commission on the City Plan (Plan of Conservation and Development Subcommittee). They will also meet Wednesday evening, again at six and again in Room 335, for a second special meeting.

Wednesday, head for the Planning Department's conference room in the basement of 23 Union Street as there are back to back meetings, starting at 5:30 with the Reid & Hughes Committee followed at six thirty by the 751 North Main Street Committee (if we moved the former to the latter, we could have one less meeting).

In between, at six, in the Recreation Department building near Dickenman Field (across from the tennis courts) it's a regular meeting of the Recreation Advisory Board, who are undoubtedly well on their way to planning the Summer of 2011 Activities.

At seven, in their facilities on New London Turnpike, it's a regular meeting of the Golf Course Authority. Also at seven in their offices at 77 Main Street, the Norwich Community Development Corporation, NCDC, hosts a public hearing on the refinements and suggestions still being accomplished on the downtown economic development bond passed last November. It will be very fast, as I read the agenda, since it happens at "Mach 23" (sic; I live in a glass house and have no money for curtains.).

Oh bright early Thursday morning, 7:30 to be exact, in the NCDC offices that are probably still at 77 Main Street from the night before, it's a regular meeting of the NCDC Board of Directors. It seems like just yesterday Jeff and I would rail about the lack of public information about this organization and look at them now, sniffle. (Sorry. I promised I wouldn't get emotional.)

Thursday afternoon at five are a pair of meetings, both in City Hall. The Volunteer Firefighter Relief Fund Committee meets in a special meeting in Room 209 while in Room 319, the Historic District Commission will meet 'promptly' it says here (as opposed to some other way on some other day, I guess).

And Saturday morning at nine, in the Central Firehouse, it's an informational meeting and workshop with the Board of Education and the City Council on the 2011-2012 budget(s). I'm coming prepared to listen to reason-I'm hoping all the participants are coming to be reasonable. I always end up with a bad taste in my mouth."You never know just how you look through other people's eyes."
-bill kenny

Sunday, March 20, 2011

When I Step Out, I'm Gonna Do You In

Today is the first day of Spring and this has been a very nice, in terms of temperatures, weekend. Friday, there beneath the blue suburban skies, we flirted with seventy degree temperatures and ADD poster children as so many of us are, we've already forgotten about the freezing conditions we had in the not too long ago.

As I type this, I'm wearing my "I Probably Don' t Like You Either" tee shirt that everyone finds so funny, except the members of my family who bought it knowing I believe every word to be true. I've got on my faded and frazzled Nike black shorts with my David Peckham running shoes and look like a dumpster exploded. My hair, what there is of it, is all over the place as if I'd weekended in a wind tunnel and I haven't shaved since Friday. So what? I'm inside. Later today when we head over to Mystic for their Saint Patrick's Day Parade with the Red Hot Chili Pipers (they'll put the starch in your sporran) I'll be more presentable-I have my wife's word on that.

We all know the difference between inside and outside, or should. Friday near the William Backus Hospital on my way home I passed a fellow who looked like he was auditioning to be Papa Smurf's stunt double. He had a sleeveless sort of tank top in one of those colors of blue that you never forget no matter how many forks you jab into your temporal lobe. The trousers were almost, but (sadly) not quite, the same color. He had Ban-Lon black socks pulled up to his knees and those gee-I-wish-I-had-bought-Chuck-Taylor-Converse-sneakers. Since no well-dressed man will be seen in public without a suitable hat, he was wearing a NY Yankees baseball cap with green dayglo letters so bright George S, coming back from the Great Beyond, would've found him in a New York Minute. His exposed skin (and there was a LOT of it) wasn't so much very pale as practically translucent.

Every spring I hope this is the year we have a law mandating every residence must have a full length mirror and every year, Congress fails to act. Obviously, it's happened again. There's a saying in Irish households (see, you wondered why I had mentioned the Mystic Parade) that first one up is best one dressed. For the sake of all of those whom you'll meet today and every other day, take a nap in the afternoon but, please, make it a point to rise and shine early.
-bill kenny

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Scared that He'll Be Caught

This ends a tough week for anyone who's ever picked up, owned, or been named for, anyone in Alban Butler' Lives of the Saints. The main event, of course was Thursday, Saint Patrick's Day. I'm not sure everyplace on earth paints the median strips on main street green as part of the parade or adds food coloring to the beer (or gets into fist fights in New York's forgotten borough over matters of ethnicity and sexual preference) but let's face it, Saint Patrick is the 800 pound gorilla in the room for the month of March.

Which is too bad, because today is the Feast of Saint Joseph, husband of Mary (Mother of God) and (sort of) Jesus' step-dad. I'm envisioning an at-the-dinner-table exchange between the Son of Man (when small) and Joseph that has the latter offer a rejoinder such as "then go right ahead and ask your 'real dad' for a new bike and let's see what happens." And then I imagine The Curia or the Legion of Decency showing up at my house and slapping the cuffs on.

As a grade-school child I missed the subtlety that went into the talk-around as the Sisters of Charity explained 'the Annunciation' and when I got older and it smacked me right between the eyes, I admired even more the cool, collected response Joseph seemed to have had to all of that. Talk about Rainy Day Women #12 and 35. It's a pity we don't roll the Apocrypha into the Bible (sort of a VH-1 Behind the Book) and let Max Von Sydow have another crack at the Greatest Story Ever Told (as soon as legal gets the rights clearances squared away).

Today, the Feast of Saint Joseph, is when the swallows come back to Capistrano. I wonder if the village fathers paint the center stripe on their main street a shade of bird droppings white and grey or if they even have a parade (I think I'd steer clear of the beer, but that's just me). As urbane and world-wise as I like to think of myself, I love the story as much now as a doddering fool as I did hearing it as a child. I find it reassuring and, while my belief in a Divine Being fluctuates wildly (and how screwed am I if Her/His belief in me reflects my faith in Her/Him?), I hope (in a faint-hearted, wimpy sort of way) that Paley is right about the Great Watchmaker.

I say that, mindful (with apologies to Jackson Browne) that 'I don't know what happens when people die.' And in keeping with that point, I have known two very dear people who shared the Feast of Saint Joseph as their birthday. They are both from long ago, at the time when I knew everything (and everything better) when I worked for American Forces (Europe) Network and Bob was my first (and very best) boss in Radio Command Information (together with Sara, Marge and Brian) while Gisela was the record librarian of the most amazing (and amazingly organized) collection of vinyl in the world.

Bob was married to 'local color' as I was to be as well (GI's who married citizens from the country in which they were stationed; usually guys marrying women but NOT always). He and his wife, Erika, had no children but loved as if she were one, a stray dog they took in and kept all its life, Sandy. Erika and Sandy passed away pretty close to one another, leaving a hole in Bob's heart that never healed, filled with a pain of which he never spoke. Bob himself passed a number of years ago and I see him at this very moment in my mind's eye in a beaten beige long coat with a beret he wore in every kind of weather.

Gisela was my translator when the letter of permission from the Standesamt of Offenbach am Main (where Sigrid and I hoped to marry) arrived and I raced frantically from office to office trying to find someone to be my eyes (I was illiterate auf deutsch and vowed to never be that guy again). Gisela put her glasses on near the edge of her nose, and would read a line and then look over the tops to give me the English translation. I still recall the shine in her eyes and her warm smile as she reached the conclusion granting us permission and she clasped both of my shoulders and hugged me in congratulations.

I remember both of them today, maybe more so than Saint Joseph, perhaps because I don't know how many others remember them and I'm sad when I think about what happens to you when the last person on earth to know you dies. So today I tell a little of the story of their lives, as I knew them, to remind me to celebrate their lives and hope the day comes when we can laugh together about all of that and so much more.
Happy Birthday, Bob und Alles Gute zum Geburtstag, Gisela.
-bill kenny

Friday, March 18, 2011

Is anybody out there?

Today is the day every one has been talking about for months, if not moments. Okay, some of us have been talking about it only to ourselves but that's fine, since today is National Talk to Yourself Day. And if we've known each other for more than two minutes, you are well within your rights to suspect I may celebrate this every day, and, dammit Janet, I do.

This is not a shocking revelation as I owned up to it, publicly (or as publicly as whatever this is considered to be) some years back and so far, no one has attempted to place me under arrest though my development has lagged for years. From what I can figure out after studying the event page that alerted me to this, there's not a lot of scheduled activities which is good what with the weekend coming on and all.

I think a marching talking loudly band might be nice or perhaps we could persuade the Blue Angels to offer us a missing tongue formation as part of their talk-over to start the festivities. I'm wondering if anyone has invited the Governor (I can think of a former one who's probably free unless the Russians are celebrating Национальная беседа к себе день as well but maybe she can still squeeze us in.

And assuming he's back from rehab for keeps (though how would I know), perhaps we could get Marshall to say a few appropriate words, though I know he's much better at the inappropriate ones-if we're really lucky, it would only be a few words. What were we talking about? Oh yeah, Happy National Talk to Yourself Day.
-bill kenny

Thursday, March 17, 2011

It Was Death, Starvation or Exile

This is a day that, as full of Irish heritage as I am (along with so much else (maybe more?)), I get more than a little creeped out by the celebrations of all that is emerald even when it's not. There's a claim that there are more persons of Irish descent living in New York City than there are in Dublin, but I suspect that's a statement you can make without (nearly) fear of contradiction about almost every ethnicity who've come to settle here in the The Land of the Round Doorknobs.

Whether your tastes run from Danny Kaye singing Danny Boy to U2 through The Chieftains or Horslips and how you wash down your bubble and squeak, if you're celebrating being Irish or pretending to be Irish, or you just like to bathe with Irish Spring, hope the day is a good one.

When The Gangs of New York was making the rounds, I watched it like a deer in the headlights growing more disquieted and discomfited with each frame. Though I was already old enough to realize history is written by the winners and should have been old enough to know better, I learned of a past of which I had only suspected.

For cinema, the movie had more than an inconvenient truth or two about alternatives to the 'melting pot' (myth) explanation every child received as part of her/his American history classes in grade schools across this country for most if not all of our growing up years. (And I'm not just talking about Leo's accent.)

Instead what more of us learned as we aged was that we have as many dirty little secrets as we have truths we hold to be self-evident (and sometimes the former is also the latter but in that case is always unacknowledged). The stories of the 1863 draft riots in New York City during the Civil War were as well-known in their time as the number of leaves on a shamrock and the animus and enmity directed at 'the others' (of all stripes) is true to this day, a century and a half later.

As it happens, Patrick, maybe there's a deeper reason why you order the beverage you do when we dine out together-we just didn't know it. And whether you're marching down that New York City Fifth Avenue today or in any of the hundreds of slightly out of control celebrations across the nation that we tend to use to get us closer to spring, spare a thought for the Battalion de San Patricio five thousand miles from a home to which they could never return who became a Legion of Strangers to those who would have been their countrymen, but refused.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Circumstance Has Forced My Hand

In case you'd forgotten, we don't have an operating budget for this country for the fiscal year that began on the first of October. Instead, we've been dime-dancing with continuing resolutions (perhaps to forestall the next revolution), interim financing authorizations, while the two political parties we sent to Washington with our votes duke it out in the corridors of power.

The continuing resolution we are currently operating under expires this Friday. To tell you the truth, with all this Daylight Savings springing forward, take away four and carry the six stuff I'm not sure if it expires at midnight on what you or I call Thursday night into Friday or if it's Friday to start Saturday morning. Broke is broke and that's where we are.

Not that we've been paying a lot of attention here in The Land of Steady Habits where magic bookkeeping and vapor accounting kept us happy for decades in the statehouse until the international economic turbulence that swept away so much for so many in the course of the last two years finally did enough damage to upset all of our apple carts.

We've elected a series of reassuring faces and voices that intoned 'nothing to see here, move along' and we did-allowing state government and its good and services to grow larger with each passing year as the cost of delivering goods and services continued to escalate. Many who could afford to exit the state and set up businesses and lives elsewhere did so leaving behind the very young, the very old, the very poor and, increasingly, the very angry.

To review: no one has any money and fewer still have any inclination to offer up any more of what they have to help right the state's financial ship. Because of how Connecticut is structured, when the state catches a financial cold, its cities and towns risk having the Plague. That is where we are now in The Rose of New England as the various city departments struggle to do more with less, but actually need to plan on a way to do less with even less. Everyone from public safety through public works and public education are trying out recipes for a wish sandwich, where you have two pieces of bread and wish you had some meat to place between them.

When Governor Malloy came to town last week to speak to residents in Norwich City Hall about his budget proposals, the reception was about what you'd expect for a guest who wants his hosts to pay more for what they already think they are paying too much. Everybody, everywhere wants to see taxes lowered-no matter the tax and no matter the amount.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., said 'taxes are the price we pay for a free society' but for many, the irony of paying for something that purports to be free has worn very thin. The mantra at state and municipal budget hearings has become 'cut, cut and cut.' The alternate plan proposed by the residents seems to be to change the depth of the cuts.

The challenge for our local elected leaders in listening to what we tell them we want and in what we want to pay for in goods and services for ourselves and our families is that we contradict each other. When they ask us if we want more police in downtown, as economic redevelopment is about to start, or a return of resource officers to the corridors of our middle schools, we tell them 'yes' even though it's not a yes/no question.

If you've driven on many of our local streets you already know it was a hard winter and the surfaces show it. So the question to ask ourselves is how many potholes do we want filled before we start cutting teachers or laying off policemen or City Hall employees, or whatever your personal concern is, because make no mistake, we cannot afford everything we want and may not be able to afford everything we need.

The Norwich Board of Education has adopted a proposed budget that makes no one happy, from educators to property owners and parents with children to those on a fixed income. Expect the same types of request from other municipal departments to receive similar reactions from across the city. "We're all on our uppers, we're all going skint. I used to suck cigars now I suck polo mints. Art takes time and time is money. Money's scarce and that ain't funny. Millionaires are a thing of the past, we're in a low budget film, where nothing can last."

By attending weekend workshops with elected leaders, sitting in on public meetings of the various agencies and departments throughout the city, speaking to our elected leaders on the phone (they're in 'the book' yknow?), sending them letters or email and being willing to speak up and speak against and, sometimes for, a particular position or proposal, we all contribute to the betterment of the tenor and tone of public discussion on issues of importance for all of us. No one wants to raise anyone's taxes or force another family to choose to leave Norwich. But we cannot 'no' what tomorrow costs every time we look to the future.
-bill kenny