Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Revisiting the Space Between

This close to the Next Year, rather than rue and regret what has been, perhaps we might mentally better prepare for what is to come (assuming we believe ourselves to have some control over what is to come). I've met those who see themselves as hostages of Cruel Fate or an Indifferent Deity as if we had been plopped down on this orb and abandoned to our own devices.

I'm not sure I can articulate specifically or enumerate with any detail, but I respectfully disagree. Yes, we are each our own Captains, lashed to the mast of the ship that is our life, alone in an ocean of souls, but it's a big ocean and we've all found ourselves here somehow and, at least for me, coincidence isn't really going to ever explain the how, much less the why.

Thornton Wilder's The Bridge Of San Luis Rey may be his contemplation on the value of his own life, a speculation that there's a land of the living and a land of the dead and his belief (or hope) that the bridge between them is love. 

To his own question, would his death matter to God (Wilder was a veteran of World War I, with carnage and brutality never seen in the history of our species, who became in spirit, if not in fact, part of The Lost Generation), he was willing to ask the complementary question: how do we make our lives have a meaning beyond our own lifetimes?

Not the cheeriest of questions to ponder while the old year's days creep slowly to their appointed end and we embrace the next with the same wild-eyed frenzy we did the last, and look at how that turned out. And if the question disquiets you, what of the answer? "Between the idea and the reality. Between the motion and the act, falls the Shadow."

In New England, and across these United States, we are surrounded by memorials in stone, from monuments to buildings, dedicated to the selfless sacrifice of all those who have preceded us--who have set the bar, so to speak, for the rest of us to clear, each in her and his own way. 

Not all of us can be a general, but all of us can be generous. Not everyone of us will be President, but each of us can be present when a helping hand is needed, be it next door, around the block or halfway across the world. We each have the power to save the world, at least the small plot of it on which each of us stands.

Where could we be this time next year if we strive to be great at this time this year? We have a year to work on the answer and make one another forget the question. "The space between the bullets in our firefight is where I'll be hiding, waiting for you." Have a great start into 2015.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Beginning of The End

We've been here before-battered, bloody and bruised from too much of this year. We looked forward to 2014 with expectations that no decade, much less a single year, could have possibly fulfilled. and, really to no one's surprise, it didn't.

But we soldiered on. And okay, we are here at the threshold of the end of the old year and some of us who started on this sojourn have vanished along the way, but that's alright because that's what life really is, a series of hellos and goodbyes with pregnant pauses between and among different people.

You'd think (hope?) with our big brains, our command of language and our use of tools that we might be a bit better at carrying over into the new year a little more of the insight we gleaned from the old one, but it doesn't seem to happen. We get distracted by the bright and shiny stuff, not that we seem to do much with it and the timeless and treasured eventually becomes part of the scenery and the machinery. It hides in plain sight and we don't see it at all.

Tomorrow night's tolling of the (John Donne) bells at midnight that signal (and usher in) the Next New Year aren't a challenge or a warning, they are the turning of a page. Not the closing of a chapter or the ending of an age.

Nineteen years ago, tomorrow, those two remarkable cartoon creations, Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes, said goodbye forever as the first rays of the First Day of the Next Year were just peeping over the horizon.

They left quietly but with a prescient present that we can still employ to propel ourselves farther along long after the ball has dropped and the champagne corks have popped. There's a difference between childish and child-like that we would do well to remember when the confetti is through falling.

We're about to have a blank page to write upon-the moment to pen our first word is nearly at hand. Choose well-for all of our sake's-because for some of us that first word will prove to be the last one as well. Enjoy every sandwich.

-bill kenny

Monday, December 29, 2014

Days Off and Daze Off

I work at a job where I get time off in hours-sounds complicated and maybe it is, but not not to me. For every two weeks, I work (80 hours) I get a day (8 hours) off. I hadn't planned on huge amounts of unused vacation time but ended up with it again and having found myself deemed "not integral to the mission" back in October 2013 when the Federal Government temporarily imploded, I've now finally taken the hint and don't offer anything to anyone in the workplace at anytime beyond that for which they pay. 

Park Congregational Church, Broadway, Norwich, CT
Around Halloween, I did some calendar calculating and cherry-picked days and dates for my "vacation" time designed to consume my "excess leave" by the end of the year. I've been on vacation for just about ten days and will be on vacation through the first week of the new year. Despite that, I'll still end up "losing" vacation time but I'm not going to drive myself crazy worrying about it. Besides, I'm so close I can walk. 

Spaulding Pond, Mohegan Park, Norwich, CT
Understand the mind of the egotist whose musings you are reading. I hate going on vacation--I very much define myself by what I do (thanks, Dad), so days off are like being in limbo (though since I'm baptized, I suppose Purgatory is more accurate) or on hold. I'm not actually 'doing' anything so I'm not being anyone. To compound matters, at some point last week I've picked up a cold that's a lot of annoying sniffles bunched together so I can feel sorry for myself while I'm not doing anything or being anyone.

Flag Pole rack at Chelsea Parade, Norwich, CT
We had lovely weather this weekend (which is where the pictures you're looking at came from), warm and mostly sunny (okay, on Friday and Saturday; not so much on Sunday) so I'm bracing for snow since it is the end of December and we have pine trees NOT palm trees in New England for a reason. But if we were to get no snow I promise to try to be brave and not cry too much. This being on vacation is a hard job especially if you don't weaken.
-bill kenny

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Fidelis Ad Mortem

While I was out wandering around my neighborhood enjoying the last Saturday of 2014 with some of the best weather we've had all year long, a few hours away, sorrow beyond words was occurring in The Bronx as family, friends, fellow-officers and simply citizens sickened and saddened by the senseless violence that took two police officers' lives gathered to say goodbye to Rafael Ramos.

He, together with Wenjian Liu, was assassinated last Saturday. Ramos' life and sacrifice were celebrated yesterday by his boss, Police Commissioner William J. Brattan.  The Commissioner's words were eloquent and elegant at a moment of deep distress for his police department, his city and the family of Officer Ramos.

The sons of Rafael Ramos, accompanied by relatives, arrived for their father's funeral at Christ Tabernacle Church. CreditTodd Heisler/The New York Times
The last chapter in the story of how we treat one another has yet to be written. I suspect none of us alive today will be so when, or even if, that ever happens. Yesterday was another reminder of the wisdom that flinty New England native Robert Frost offered a generation before mine was born: "In three words, I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on."
-bill kenny

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Postcards from New and Next

Calendars play tricks by just doing nothing. The one on my desk in our computer room in the house is the sneakiest one of all. Without a word to anyone it has quietly reached the last weekend of 2014. We have no more Saturdays left in this year. Really wish I'd paid more attention but I didn't. Again.

Christmas 2014 is so past tense, some of us look away as we drive past light displays in our neighborhood at night because, well....let's face it, it's a little embarrassing. We've already gathered up the wrapping paper and ribbon and all the packing and shipping materials and sorted it out for the recycling bins (all of ours was emptied this morning making this the saddest trash run of the year, in my opinion).

A lot of us, inspired by what we understand the season to be about, headed to shops and malls to return what we got and didn't want or to gobble up a 'post-holiday' bargain. Or both. There'll be a raft of situations where your present proved to be a Cuddly Toy and so became part of The Great American Holiday Barter Bonanza. 

We can also stop wishing one another 'happy holidays,' which is a relief for many who know me and dread dying suddenly with a lie on their lips. And that's fine since I've always been upset with those who for 50 weeks out of the year cross the street to avoid me, will wish me 'all the best for the holidays', either unheeding or uncaring of the contradiction of the rest of the year. 

For those who celebrate something other than Christmas, or who don't celebrate at all, what do they make of this synthetic snow globe world we create (and then so casually, and callously, discard)? Are they impressed or discouraged by how quickly, like a fever breaking, 'normal' returns with all its petty frustrations and intrigues. 

Should they, and (most especially) we, spend more time and energy trying to make the 'holiday season' fifty-two weeks long or seeing what can be done to extinguish the last references to its actual origins? Ho, ho, ho. (Lather, rinse and repeat.) 
-bill kenny

Friday, December 26, 2014

Serial Kill-Joy

I eat cold cereal in the mornings during the work week. I realize, especially during the winter months, there's a lot of positives to be said about oatmeal, grits, Wheatena or Maypo, but I've never been able to eat any of them.

I can prepare hot cereals just fine and without hesitation. I focus on the tasks at hand--heat the water, pour it into the container and stir it around with the spoon until it has the consistency of wallpaper paste. So far, so good. Pause, dip the spoon into the container, remove and then slowly direct it towards my mouth. NO SALE.

I cannot be tricked into eating it, no matter how good it smells, no matter how much I 'know' after 30 days it'll lower my cholesterol, no matter how it'll warm me up from the inside and get my day off to a brighter and faster start. Nope. Here comes the airplane and you're the hanger......oh, it's yummy and delicious Maypo.... NOPE. Not happening. Not in this life and not in the next life.

As a matter of fact, I eat cold cereal without milk and sugar, without bananas or strawberries or anything else. Just naked, the way it comes out of the box--the way General Mills and Kellogg's (Kay e double L oh double good) made it.

I had a boss years ago tell me when breakfast cereals were introduced into post-war (West) Germany, Germans had NO idea how to eat them and poured orange juice onto the cereal, instead of milk and sugar. I guess these days it'd be 2% and Splenda.

My favorite cereal is and has always been Cheerios-just the way they are-NOT covered with yogurt or flavored with apple whatevers, just plain tannish (sort of) Cheerios, looking like bagel seeds. I never allowed myself as a kid to get enticed by the promise of a prize inside. I was in training even then for adulthood when all the cereals you eat have NO prizes. And if they did, instead of decoder rings and sea monkeys they'd offer rebates on medical tests and little boxes.
-bill kenny

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Countdown Ends

In some places, it's already tomorrow (just imagine the head start on returns). 
Except a lot of those places don't do that and that's okay as well because in some of those places tomorrow is Second Christmas, a day dedicated to celebrating with your friends and acquaintances (Christmas Day is for your family).

Not to worry that such a circumstance would ever catch on around here. Nope, no such luck. In the Land of the Round Door Knobs, money doesn't talk, it swears and time's a wastin'. We would never, ever, devote two days to a holiday when one day will do. 

I think we should enjoy what we have today and with whom we have it. Wherever your heart is, that's your home. And although it's been said many times, many ways, Merry Christmas to you and yours.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

It's A Wonderful Life

One of my favorite parts of Christmas, aside from amusing my wife and children with my well-intentioned but badly-executed attempts to gift wrap presents, is watching "It's A Wonderful Life". It aired last Sunday, but I resisted the temptation to watch the broadcast because we have it on DVD, so (in theory) I can view it at any time, along with the original "Miracle on 34th Street" (perhaps as a Fourth of July double-feature).

I was surprised to read when the movie was first released it was NOT hailed as a classic or celebrated for its art, but was seen more as a commercial and artistic failure. In the decades that have passed, as more of us have had an opportunity to look at its larger message and ponder the implications of the road not taken, the appeal of the movie has obviously grown and the perception of it has changed.

Christmas Eve can do that to you. When you examine your own life and think of all the choices you've made that have resulted in your being here to read this (or shake your head in dismay and move on to something else), you wonder how much is coincidence and how much is deliberate.

There were thousands of decisions that had to be made (or not made) in order for me and mine to reside in The Rose of Norwich. I cannot imagine how much my life has been enriched by those alongside of whom I've lived, with whom I've worked on all manner of citizen committees, agencies and boards.

I am who I am because of each and every person I have met on the path to here and now. I expect your story is very much the same. For some, knowing me has been more trial and error (emphasis on the latter) than either of us wish to admit. For others, a little contact goes a long way and absence makes the heart grow fonder (so they want to leave so they can like me). 

I lack the grace and style of Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey, though I've often tried to lasso the moon for the love of my life. I'm not sure I could stand up to Potter the way George did and that whole 'angel gets his wings' thing gets me confused. Child of the video age that I am, the first Clarence I knew growing up was a cross-eyed lion; sometimes the programs all get edited together, diffusing the meanings.

2014 has begun its final week—next Wednesday is New Year's Eve, I find myself, like you I would hope, looking forward to 2015 with confidence and not dread because of what we, individually and collectively, have triumphed over in the last fifty-one weeks. I hope in the days that remain of 2014 you and yours find a moment to look at where you are and how you got here and trials and tribulations to the contrary, to realize indeed, "
It's A Wonderful Life."
-bill kenny

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Every Breath You Take

I think I finished my Christmas shopping yesterday-I'm pretty sure assuming that all the stuff I've ordered on line is still on track to be here by Wednesday I am well on my way to being one pretty happy fellow.

I was out yesterday to scoop up something for my wife, and thanks to an "app" on my smart phone, saved ten dollars while so doing. Yay me! Of course, I'm not me if before I go to the shop that I have the electronic coupon for, I also go to a different store 'just in case.'

They didn't have the item at all, much less at a price better than the technology could have provided but they did show me even smarter apps for the dumbest of smart phones to include one that is so American, it made me smile.

Say hello to the Breathometer, as seen on Shark Tank (I love that part nearly as much as the show makes me want to throw up in my own, and maybe yours as well, mouth). Considering the going price for a DUI here in the Land of Steady Habits (fine + court costs + license suspension + insurance rate increases), at just $99.99 (plus 6.25% sales tax), it's a bargain in every box.

The in-store display is superlative, it really is. Those sharks knew they were on to something when the folks who came up with this item begged for financing. A thing of beauty is a joy forever, which is a LOT more than you can say about any hangover you're likely to get. Or, in this case, to avoid by not drinking to excess and driving.

I'll give the Breathometer this, it adds new meaning to the question of "how many bars do you have?" I'm thinking if you consistently hit two fewer than the number your phone displays, you'll get your money back in next to no time, especially if you drink a cup of kindness and chase it with a beer.
-bill kenny

Monday, December 22, 2014

It's All Dark

As my brother Adam pointed out yesterday, it's all blue skies and green lights from here until June, philosophically speaking (sort of). From now on when someone says 'run to daylight' you'll have just a little more everyday until you don't.

The image above is what the winter solstice sky looked like as a time lapse image last year. We really are surrounded by beauty if and when we take the trouble to look up and see it. Here's the really clever article I lifted the image from because I understood the picture but the words not so much.

Perhaps in honor of the winter solstice or (more likely) to help me remember I live in New England we had some, not much (and I'm not complaining either) snow yesterday morning while I got my steps in trudging to the market and back on a day where I was always going to see my breath no matter what time I was outside.

It's humbling, I think, to be reminded that there are greater things in the universe than ourselves and/or the latest iPhone (often the latter is regarded as an extension of the former which isn't quite as scary as vice versa). It helps us remember that when it's always darkest before the dawn, we don't have to hang on for quite as long today as we did yesterday.

Hope comes in all sizes and harmonies. On this winter night with you.
-bill kenny

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sizing up the Cotttage

I'm off for the rest of 2014. Technically speaking at the most extreme I'll be working fifty-one weeks of 2015 as I'm already on holiday for the entire first week of the New Year.

Maybe you do the same. When I take a bunch of vacation in one large dollop, I decompress from the life I lead as Work Bill-for me that's mostly not getting up at 0230 and rushing until I close my eyes shortly after 2200.

When I have the time off I sleep in until 0600 or  so (in fairness, I should tell you I didn't get up until shortly after 0800 on Saturday though it was a lot earlier this morning). Part of the challenge of having no life is inventing reasons to do things beyond the rut I've dug in my life. And when it seems to be as deep as a grave, that's a signal it may be too late.

I am almost finished with my Christmas shopping, or think I am. I cheated, and am not alone, I did just about all of it on line because I can't do the jingle bell jostle in the stores and malls anymore. I click on stuff and the money to pay for it comes out of accounts I've never seen and migrates to places I'll never go to pay for stuff I'd not yet experienced in real life. These are truly the days of miracle and wonder (I hope).

I'm wondering if my wife will have a project for me today, as she does on many if not most Sundays. She knows I'm home from work for awhile and will be very kind even when I'm less than successful in staying out of her way. She tolerates me flopping around like a fish on a dock because it's for a limited amount of time after which I go back to work and her life returns to normal.

I don't think she sees these interludes as a rehearsal for when I retire, though that is what they are increasingly becoming except for the playing checkers until I pass away part. So far.

I fear if/when she does she'll be considerably less good-humored about having me hanging out and around even if I offer to dig the garden and do the weeds. Especially as she might well ask for more. And as she will discover, I fear, my enthusiasm, emulating my abilities and appetites, continue to decline at a most precipitous rate.
-bill kenny

Saturday, December 20, 2014

I'm Hiding in Havana

Perhaps in honor of the anniversary of the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System, I should sport my I Like Ike button except I have no idea what anniversary it might be and I don’t have a button, just this picture of one (Cue Ringo).

After all, the only other thing we might commemorate is the failure of John Foster Dulles’ strategy to isolate and punish Cuba for choosing a form of government JF’s boss, the aforementioned father of the interstate, disapproved.

And the band played on or it did until this past Wednesday when the Worst. Marxist. Muslim. Kenyan. Communist. President. Ever. re-wrote American (and world) history

It was a pretty safe gamble, actually, since most of the people in this country who care anything at all about any kind of history are in the White House while those who think history has something to do with clearing your web browser so your spouse doesn’t find the porn sites are in the Senate.  

Poor Putin. Left at the altar as Fidel and Raoul bolt from the crash landing of the Crimea Caper. Between the international sanctions and the bottom dropping out of the barrel price of oil, Vlad the Impaler might want to reconsider the shirtless he-man look.  Every time I see that Horseback Mountain picture, I think he’s auditioning for this guy’s job.

Nope. As it happens, it took us fifty-five or so years to bridge 90 miles of water and to stop punishing a lot of people who had no role in what precipitated the punishment in the first place, assuming they were, in fact, even on earth when it began. 

For some, home for the holidays just took on a deeper and far more personal meaning. Meanwhile for others, it’s time to reach for the wipes and clean the fan blades.
-bill kenny  

Friday, December 19, 2014

Older than my Old Man Now

Today is my father's birthday. He would be 91 years old but he didn't live to see it. I added that sentence because if you knew him ( = he allowed you to see some part of his life) you might be more surprised than those who shared his hearth and home about the abruptness of the ending of his life story. And if you visited here on anything other a sporadic schedule would realize from the way I write and reference him that he is and will always be a presence in my life.

Probably not surprisingly our father-son relationship was strained. I smiled as I typed that word and I hope he would have as well. If I were to be honest and he taught me that if little else, I grimaced, but from a distance they look very close. They aren't of course or this entry would be much shorter.

I was the oldest of six children. As near as I can tell, he never was comfortable in his own skin with any of us. I assumed, ignorantly and arrogantly, that he and I clashed throughout the years I lived under his roof because we were so different. It took a photograph my wife took of him lost in a moment on the only visit to America she was to know him for that I realized, decades afterwards looking at a photo of myself with my head cocked exactly like his, that we were too much of the same kind. Aye, there's the rub.

Dad was 28 years old when I, his son, was born. I was thirty when Patrick, our son was born. I think I learned a lot about life from life itself but I chose to forget who had prepared me to be ready to learn at all. I'd like to believe had Dad lived he'd have enjoyed meeting our two children as much if not more than I would have enjoyed introducing them to him. It's part of the movie of my life as it might have been that I'm an expert at making (scoring the soundtrack has proven to be difficult, so far). As long as I don't have to script an ending yet, this should be cake, though I'm not looking forward to casting. 

Dad was the smartest person I will ever know though not smart enough to figure out the inchoate rage at life he carried with him every waking moment and that I inherited is both toxic and fatal. He found that out too late to help himself but in his passing he helped me to see it and, I'd like to think, make some adjustments, though not as many as I should/could, to better catch the second act of our children's lives. I'm smiling again as I type this time because I have an appointment with my cardiologist later today that helps me prove to myself just how much I have learned. 

Loudon Wainwright, to whom I bore a striking resemblance when we were younger (though I suspect no one ever told him he looked like me) offered an album and song not that long ago, "Older Than My Old Man Now", and for the thrid time since sitting down to type I have to smile. My facial muscles hurt, seriously. 

Some curtains go up while others are rung down. Christine Rice offered, "(T) purpose of life is to live, laugh and love." I'd like to think we are to light a match against the darkness without being consumed by it on our way to where we need to be. Happy birthday, Dad.
-bill kenny

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Smallest Coffins Are the Heaviest

There are days, I suspect, when God weeps over those deeds that Her/His followers do unto others on this earth in Her/His Name. I cannot understand a Divinity Who might countenance this kind of behavior, ever.

At least I hope those are tears because otherwise the only thing more despicable than followers who would murder in Your name would be You Who has organized a system of belief that leads them to believe this is what You want.

If You are as powerful as they say you are and that You want us to believe You to be, why don't You make them stop the killing in Your name. What kind of God would let this go on?

My boy builds coffins; he makes them all day. But it's not just for work and it isn't for play. He's made one for himself; One for me too. One of these days he'll make one for you. For you, for you, for you.
-bill kenny

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Our Collective Shortness of Breath

My head and heart were captured Sunday by a television interview with the mothers of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner. I was struck by Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin's mom, in conversation with Anderson Cooper who said, "(S)ome Americans don't understand the life (of black people), and they don't understand what we're fighting against. 

"I don't even think the government quite gets it, Until it happens to them and in their family, then they'll understand the walk." 

For me, a white sixty-two year old male, her words sound like both a cry of distress and a call for action. Sometimes what we think of as a complex issue, race in America, isn't really as hard as we tell one another it is because we too often have that conversation with people who look just like us instead of with those who do not. 

A friend last week offered an observation that stung because the truth of the answer reflects how close to the heart of the matter we each are willing to get: 
Are black men an endangered species?  No, because even endangered species are protected by law.

Assuming his point was intended to make me laugh and think (good luck with the latter) humor is sometimes our only and best recourse because if we don't laugh, we'd cry. And there have been oceans of tears shed in recent months because we are not willing to have "the talk" about the walled communities we are constructing separating ourselves instead of celebrating one another. 

I don't pretend to be the close to the brightest guy in the room, and my odds don't get better as the room size shrinks, but when I look at where we are in terms of shared ideals and universal values like 'liberty' or 'freedom' or 'justice' we grow farther apart in this country every day as each of those words takes on too many meanings. We are unable (or unwilling) to admit too much sadness is madness and while we each believe we know the path that must be walked, we wait for someone else to take the first step.

We reduce complex and intricate issues to slogans, shouted out car windows and slapped on tee-shirts and car bumpers because we lack the attention span to have a serious and sustained discussion on topics as straightforward as police and community relations.

Am I treated differently by a member of law enforcement than is a man half my age? What about a man of a different color? Some would have us inquire of the police but shouldn't we concerned about the deed rather than the doer? But we're not and we're not willing to talk about why we're not. 

In a world of convergence and instant connectivity, we're inundated by social media, citizen journalists, all operating without a safety net and without fact checking allowing us to pick and choose the version of facts that best suits us.

If you have a cell phone with a camera you can have a following. Each of us can create a 'news feed' reflecting a personal slant on the world to the exclusion of any information we do not like. When that happens I see 'news' that confirms my prejudices and beliefs-it doesn't make me smarter or or part of a larger world, but rather, more insular and set in my ways.

We have not become more aware of the world in which we are but a part, we have reinvented the universe with ourselves at the center (hello, selfies!) as we are more wary and weary of  everything beyond our keyboard and cellphone.

Mark Twain in another America but with the same problems we have today "a lie is halfway around the world before the truth has put its shoes on." In today's world, that lie has lapped the truth twice over and I have the Instagram picture to prove it.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Raise Your Words and Not Your Voices

I was shopping yesterday, actually I was assembling my salad for today's lunch. I have pretty much the same thing-three different kinds of lettuce (okay, two lettuce and one spinach; all the green stuff looks the same after awhile), tomatoes, as many different kinds of peppers as are offered (hopefully green, red, orange and yellow), cranberries, diced chicken and fruit-this time of year pineapples though I like it more when the offerings include strawberries and slices of kiwi.

On the other side of the salad bar was a woman with a face like bad weather. Very hard lines and very deep marks between the far edge above her left eyebrow to just to the left of her temple. The kind of face we all see all the time, very quickly and furtively and then we look away. People such as she are waiting for us to make eye contact with them because that will serve as just enough pretext to be an invitation for her to tell us exactly how it happened.

Except we, or at least I, don't want to know. Someone, somewhere walked into a door or a wall or a cabinet but all the time it was really a fist and it wasn't walked into at all. It was clenched and balled and speeding at them at the speed of rage and would have hurt them even more badly if they hadn't turned their head or ducked or perhaps just fallen down at first impact. 

I don't want to know not because I don't care, because I do, but because I can't fix her or change her or help her unless and until she wants to do this herself. Too many people stay with other people in abusive relationships and you can ask any cop or any judge but this time of year is always when you have the most and largest number of damaged people. Something about that Christmas magic which makes people who enjoy hurting other people want to do it more or more often, I've never understood which or why.

This is what I would have told her in the store yesterday but she wouldn't have listened. Maybe if you've come this far on the page because you think I'm describing you, maybe I am and maybe you'll read this and at least someone will get something out of yesterday besides me and all I got was upset.

Here goes: No one can make you a victim without your permission. Trust me on this one. I know all about it and deep down inside so, too, do you. Do not allow someone else to make you into somebody you were not born to be. You are allowed to be happy because you are a good person and nothing anyone can say or do to you can or will change that.

There are too many silent screams and broken dreams in this world. Stop waiting for the pain to end. It never will of its own accord. You have to stop it and once you start to do that, all the rest of us can help.
-bill kenny

Monday, December 15, 2014

Have You Thrown Your Senses to the War

I don't spend a lot of time on Sunday mornings watching the traditional Roundtable of Talking Heads with a Newsmaker programs that before you were born were a requirement of the Federal Communications Commission (whose #1 priority now is figuring out how to give multi-billion dollar corporations the right to charge whatever they want for internet) and its licensing requirements for so much "public affairs programming" as part of the license renewal process.

Today when a very few own just about all the mainstream media, so we get to pick a flavor of coverage more than the news itself, you never read/hear of a radio or TV station NOT getting its license renewed (hasn't happened in decades) so the Sunday morning TV programming is kind of like a broadcast equivalent of an appendix. It's there because it's always been there and no one knows why.

Yesterday I stumbled across a war criminal, sorry, no other way to type it as "former Vice President of the United States" just takes too damn long, Richard (yes, he really is a Dick) Cheney on NBC's "Meet the Press." He was outraged over the release last week of a scathing indictment of the Central Intelligence Agency's first decade of response to terrorism after the attacks of 9-11-01.

I've slogged through a little more than half of it-and that's about 50% more than has Mr. Cheney who popped up opposite Sweeney Todd's brother, Chuck. Mr. Cheney seemed perversely proud to have not read any of it while discounting all of its claims but and even prouder of results he claims the torture accomplished though no one else seems to have been able to prove any of that.

He always struck me as someone who wasn't an especial fan of reading but a big fan of whatever it took to get information and if that included torture, oh well, so I guess I should be glad he's remained consistent. That he remains unindicted is the part that concerns me now. He, and I don't pretend to know how many others, committed crimes in my name, confident they would never be discovered and if disclosed never believed and if believed never prosecuted for the evil incarnate that they were and are.

You should read this Mr. Cheney-and in light of the ass that I believe you to be, consider it a form of rectal rehydration while you wait for the International Court at The Hague to process and serve you. Actions have consequences, sir. We are what we do and what we allow to be done in our name. Not in mine. Never.
-bill kenny

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Echoes of Laughter Have Faded

As an oldest child I spend a lot of time fretting over what is and what could have been, often failing badly to see my role and responsibility in moving from the former to the latter.

Today is an anniversary of sorts for something so many of us couldn't grasp when when it happened, and, I confess, I still didn't "get" any better when we observed its first anniversary. Today, two years on, I don't think we're any closer to understanding except now we have numbers to argue about as well.

I'm not any smarter today than I was a year ago except to realize that I'm not any smarter. and am no closer to understanding now than I was then. Here's the words I offered a year ago-they remain as inadequate as they were at the time.

I cannot imagine how long this day is for a parent who suffered the loss of a child, a husband of a wife, a son or daughter of a parent, but I do know that today in Newtown, Connecticut, every one trying to heal will hurt again.

Everywhere we turn today will be accounts recounting everything that everyone will ever know about an unthinkable tragedy that happened one year ago today but
there is one thing we with all of our research and analysis will never know.

For a small town whose residents will always have broken hearts that can never heal today is just the next day in the unending tragedy that will only end when all memory of what happened has gone. And that will never happen.

Even if you have a problem with God, or in my case S/He with me, maybe a truce is in order so that you can remember the twenty-six angels who entered heaven a year ago today.

-bill kenny

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Brand New Toy

I was off yesterday for some medical tests in the wake of my visit two weeks ago to the Emergency Room. I started lurching when walking and slurring my speech, or was it vice versa?- and Sigrid insisted that we go to the hospital literally around the corner and down the street from the house and that's how we spent a Friday evening.

I'm smiling as I typed that because when I was looking for someplace for us to live when I headed over here first from Germany I was really concerned that the house be near a school. I found such a place and the kids attended the William Buckingham School, though they went by bus because everyone in America goes to school in a bus unless they can afford a limo.

Years after they graduated, decades more like it, the Board of Education closed the school (lack of kids) and tore it down. Now the same house, with our children no longer children, is close to the hospital which was there all along but that we didn't when the children were growing up. Go figure.

I've had these episodes before and the situation is always the same. I have a little harder time finding a word, spelling it correctly or remembering a sequence or even placing a name and a face together, especially when I tire. A lot of it, I suspect, is a product of getting old and a lot more of it (I fear) is the product of really bad choices made while in the process of trying to get old.

What can I say? Don't do as I have done. Except a lot of it was fun as near as I can remember and what's the point of the exercise if you don't get to enjoy yourself along the way. Speaking of which, I did enjoy an otherwise brisk afternoon later in Norwich watching the clouds thicken overhead as the meteorological stew required to generate cascades of snow as winter officially approaches bubbled and boiled.

Sigrid got me a toy for the cell phone camera and it provided me with hours of challenges in getting it to work and seconds of pleasure admiring the fruits of that labor. And it got me out of her hair for an afternoon as she continues to Christmas the house. Es Weinachtet sehr.
-bill kenny

Friday, December 12, 2014

This Is Your Life

For the most free nation on earth, we've had ourselves a rough couple of weeks in trying to explain to one another how freedom works. I'm a sixty-two year old white man who will not insult your intelligence by pretending to understand any aspect of every day life of a person of color.

Relentless pragmatist that I am, I would suggest I don't need to understand you, nor you I, as long as we agree that each of us has a right to be here and to be whom we are. That presumption and assumption has been sorely tested in the days just passed and I'm afraid tomorrow is not looking too good either.

The days of rage we have seen across the country in the last week, and there's more than anger I think involved there- there's a hatred of domestic tranquility (as the Founders called it) and the rule of law- speaks to something deeper and more ugly and ferociously fearful in those who are pretending to be exercising their freedom of speech (to include those on the other side telling them to shut up).

Murders in Florida, Missouri, New York, actually all across this nation are not now, nor should they ever, be who we are. I and mine are not making you and yours do anything or be anyone you do not want to be-and vice versa. We cannot join hands to rebuild battered and shattered communities when we keep them balled in fists of anger.

Stop looking out the window for who is to blame and turn, instead, to the mirror. No matter the gender, creed, politics, wealth or color, the reflection is and will always remain  American Skin. To be continued?
-bill kenny

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Big Ben Called It

We in the Land of the Round Doorknobs for just about 225 years approached the world and our place in it, as citizens of this nation and as members of the nation-state itself, with a boundless confidence and open heartedness that caused others to sometimes cringe.

In looking at the previous century and the two world wars that punctuated it, it’s hard to find a country who was a combatant in either conflict with less skin in the game than we. Some historians would offer suggest we were dragged into both.  I’m not so sure we were that selfless (or clueless) but I will point out lots of other folks were building and/or defending empires while we stood the overnight fire watch to make sure the world wasn’t set ablaze.

We could do anything and we often did everything.  We were the teenage among the aging countries and continents and we sometimes flexed and broke things unintentionally but we meant no harm and tried to do good as we saw it.

And then 9/11/01 happened. And we became these people.  Fear changes everything and every one. But as much as I’d like to recoil in disgust and horror reading the summary of findings, I have to remind myself to remember I was, and am, a part of all of that. 

Quite frankly, I didn’t care what we did (and may  still not care) even as we struggled in those very dark days-and when you don’t know where you’re going any road will get you there. We may be lost now, but we made great time getting here.

I wasn’t surprised to read press accounts where both former President George (W.) Bush and his Vice-President Richard (accurately called Dick) Cheney blasted the findings in the hours prior to the report’s release. Both always seemed to be in favor of torture and opposed to reading so I found reassurance in their remaining in character.

That we are reminded again that our belief in our own righteousness is more of an American Affectation than anything based in nature or fact shouldn’t be that discomfiting for us. That we now stand before the world guilty of the very things we accuse others of doing, but for the most noble of reasons, suggests to me some severe soul-searching is in order as our maturation process as a nation continues.

Winston Churchill who may have known us best in a relationship forged by the crucible of a World War once offered, “We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.” We have awakened now and need to realize we are those rough men.

In a world where nothing is certain we insist on a degree and depth of permanence that may no longer be possible to approximate much less duplicate. Poor Richard himself, Benjamin Franklin, peered, I believe into the same abyss into which we are staring when he offered, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Who we are is what we do.

-bill kenny    

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

When Your Presence Is the Present

According to the calendar, we are only slightly more than waist deep in that most wonderful time of the year where far more than just the halls end up decked with holly (and tinsel and different kinds of lights (all LEDs and flashing) and ornaments) and most of us wouldn’t know a fa-la-la-la-la if it bit us on the figgy pudding.

Because of the hectic head noise that is now a fixture of our Yuletide preparation for celebration, we end up staring at the trees often without seeing the forest. I hesitated while typing ‘trees’ lest it serve as a trigger that you have yet to get yours and that I've now added another chore to your to-do list.

Let someone else battle the mob at the big-box store in the midst of a.lot of manufactured merriment and mayhem. You and I may be better served if we can collect our thoughts and count our blessings instead of gathering up our purchases and pocketing our change. Recognition of the service and sacrifice of our veterans, and their families, can be poignant anytime but truly timely and appropriate during the traditional holiday season. Doing for others can help us refocus on what this time of year is about for so many, being with those for whom we care and who care for us. 

This Saturday at noon, please consider yourself invited to the Wreaths Across America (WAA) Day observances at Sacred Heart Cemetery to honor veterans during the holiday season. Wreaths Across America began over two decades ago when the Worcester Wreath Company in Harrington, Maine, first started donating and placing wreaths of the headstones of those men and women who are interred at Arlington National Cemetery. Their generosity continues to this day as they donate over 30,000 wreaths every year to communities across the country.

Wreaths Across America has a three-fold mission to Remember, Honor and Teach. Every year this national outreach coordinates wreath laying ceremonies on veterans’ graves on a Saturday in December (this year on the 13th) at Arlington in Virginia as well as veterans’ cemeteries and other locations in each of our 50 states, at sea, and in over two dozen cemeteries in other countries where US military members have been buried.

The American Legion Post 104 will conduct this year's ceremony starting at noon and while the attendance is always good there's always room for one more so you'd be no trouble at all. Seven ceremonial wreaths will be placed to remember all soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who served, honor their sacrifices, and teach our younger generations about the high cost of our freedoms. No matter the temperature and weather conditions, your presence will warm the hearts of the organizers and definitely put a smile on your own face.

Specially designated wreaths for the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine, and Prisoners of War (POW) and Missing In Action (/MIA) will be placed on memorials during a ceremony that will be simultaneously conducted at over 750 participating locations across the country. Neither we nor those whose sacrifice we are remembering are alone, and that's as it should be, and not just for the holidays.

I’ve attended the Sacred Heart ceremony and while I admire the power of words, I’ll concede I don’t know enough or the right ones to adequately describe an event that is a heart-felt and homegrown acknowledgement of the lives of our departed veterans (of all services and from every conflict and era of our history). It's a gathering and reflection of our community where we remember the fallen, honor those still in service and teach one another that freedom is free only with sacrifice. I’ll look for you Saturday at noon.
-bill kenny

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Still Doesn't Answer the "Does IT Stink?" Question

With my apologies to the childhood nursery rhyme I'm about to peremptorily plagiarize and ruin, for you, forever, "Twinkle, twinkle little turd, what people do is so absurd."

What is it the kids type? SMH (shake my head).
I'm doing it so hard right now it sounds like I'm priming a can of spray paint. I'm so hoping today no one in the animal species enrolls in Hooked on Phonics because if any other life form cracks the code, learns to read and comes across this article our days at the top of the food chain are not only limited, but over.

In my lifetime we've gone from innovators and pioneers such as Jonas Salk to whomever invented this stuff but if I were to be honest the inventor isn't my sole source of discomfit.

Show of hands. Who buys this stuff? Keep 'em up boy-o and let's make sure all of us get to eyeball you knuckleheads. Thanks, you can put 'em down now.
And in this self-aggrandizing, narcissistic 'dig me digging myself' culture in which we live, when are the selfies (or would we call them 'poopies'?) or Vine videos going to start to populate the social media we cannot live without?

No more calls please, we have a winner.
-bill kenny

Monday, December 8, 2014

Thoughts Meander like a Restless Wind Inside a Letter Box

I was impressed with how much smarter and eloquent I was a few years ago on this date and grateful to still have access to those words about an event that will haunt me and my generation for the rest of our lives.

If I need more than a dozen words to explain the importance of John Lennon and the music he helped create, and the other music he made possible, I'm too old and you're too young to be having this conversation. And since, chronologically, I got here first, you'll have to leave. 

I was born the year Dwight David Eisenhower was elected President. Rock and roll was either very rhythm and blues oriented (and called 'race music') or was so white it glowed in the dark with melodies from the Brill Building professionals as sung by any fresh face who showed up at the auditions. 

Little Richard's originals such as Good Golly, Miss Molly were covered and eclipsed by a variety of white artists and never enjoyed the success on pop radio station airwaves they should have, but the UK rockers had no way of knowing that. 

People like Sam Phillips and Sun Records helped change all that with Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and (of course) Elvis Presley. The seismic shock Elvis set off echoed half way across the world where tub thumpers, literally, who were part of something the British called skiffleattempted to emulate the American records they were hearing in the coffee bars and teen clubs.

The perspiring and aspiring musicians who spent hours trying to copy every chord change of every R&B song they heard had no idea that in the USA, the music to which they were so devoted had been co opted and to a large extent castrated by safe-as-houses imitators. Their world then was so different from our world now that words fail, which is why (perhaps) so many of us who came of age in The Sixties turned to music in the first place as a replacement for language.

If all you know of John Lennon is what you've read, you cannot imagine the electricity late night American Top 40 radio had when The Beatles were on. They built a bridge from the UK for every disaffected rocker to cross, and it mattered not if they could sing, Noel Harrison certainly couldn't, as long as they looked the part. 

The Liverpool lads stuck and stayed when so many others had faded away because they had talent and the ear of a generation who sought a voice while they, themselves, searched for the sound they had heard years earlier. They may have never realized they had become the object for which they searched-we on other hand never cared and embraced them as the Soundtrack of the World to Be. 

The Beatles 'broke big in America' in the aftermath of the murder of John F. Kennedy and I've never believed that was coincidence. They were the standard by which all other pop music was measured. It felt, for someone in his teens for much of their public career, that The Beatles had been around forever but when they went dark in 1970, they had been a chart presence for far less than a decade. 

Where there were four, only two are alive today. All of them spent, and continue to spend, their solo careers battling unreal expectations, measured by critics and fans alike against an impossible standard no one could match. With Lennon's murder thirty years ago, the death of the public John overshadowed the personal tragedy his two sons,
Julian and Sean, as well as the pain and grief his wife, Yoko Ono, and his first spouse, Cynthia, felt and feel every day of their lives, but most especially today. 

It's tempting when revisiting history to forget it can just as easily be written as his story because in this case, the band mate, the father, the husband were all walk-ons in the Beatlemania movie Mark David Chapman so abruptly and completely ended. 

For many who never knew the man, except through his music, today is a long day. There's little we can do except enjoy what he gave us while watching the wheels go round and round and wonder what might have been.
-bill kenny

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The First Day of Infamy

I penned this years ago. It's as true today as it was then. Sadly.

It was a Sunday morning on the East Coast seventy-three years ago today when the world as we knew it changed, and became the world we know now. Our nation which had struggled for over a decade to recover its economic equilibrium after a world wide collapse on a now-distant Black Friday was still righting itself when half a world away, in the early morning hours, war came to America. 

On this date, seventy-three years ago, the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor. Most of the rest of the world had long been engaged and engorged in what historians now call World War II as German tanks roared across Europe and through Northern Africa and the Japanese Co-Prosperity Hemisphere spread across Asia.

Elsewhere today on pages of newspapers large and small across this country and around the world, you can read recollections by those who fought and remembrances of those who died. But Pearl Harbor is more than history, it is our story. New England has a place of honor in America's maritime history and in shipyards from Bath and Portsmouth to Groton, we have long built the ships in which men (and now women) go down to the sea

Shortly after eight o'clock in the morning, seventy-three years ago today, the USS Arizona, taking a direct hit, sank in nine minutes killing its entire crew of 1,177 Sailors. When the attack on Pearl Harbor ended, eight Navy battleships had been damaged and four had been sunk. Also sunk or damaged were three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and a mine layer. Almost 200 (188 to be exact) U.S. aircraft were destroyed and 2,459 Americans were killed and another 1,282 had been wounded.

Some sailors were trapped in ships that had sunk. Two days after the attacks, rescuers found thirty-two sailors alive inside the USS Oklahoma, but it was far too late for those aboard her sister, USS West Virginia. Shipyard workers rebuilding the raised battleship discovered marks on bulkheads below decks to indicate some sailors survived for seventeen days after the attack.

All of those stories are part of the larger story of the United States of America, which after its own War of Independence, strove and succeeded more often than not to be in Splendid Isolation in the world community. Our involvement in World War I, while intense and decisive had been brief in comparison to so many other nations. That was to not be repeated in World War II.

Seventy-three years ago today, how Americans viewed the world changed. And as a result of the efforts of our grandparents and parents, after World War II, how the world looked at the United States changed as well. We emerged as a super power and leader of what we called for decades the "Free World." What we are today is all part of a world that came to be as a result of Pearl Harbor.

And we learned (again) another lesson: the price of freedom is eternal vigilance or as Frank Loesser wrote in 1942, "Down went the gunner-a bullet was his fate. Down went the gunner, then the gunner's mate. Up jumped the sky pilot, gave the boys a look and manned the gun as he laid aside The Book, Shouting Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition!"
-bill kenny