Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A New Holiday Battle...

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on November 22, 2008

The Holiday Season officially kicks off Thursday with my personal favorite, Thanksgiving Day. My wife and I will gather with family, eat some turkey, watch some football, and enjoy our favorite holiday traditions.

But there is a power struggle going on within our clan over just where the holiday celebrations will be held this year – and with whom.

This is our first holiday season as grandparents, and that is a joy I cannot properly express. My 7 month-old grandson (did I mention his name is William?) has given us renewed holiday spirit the likes of which we haven’t enjoyed since our own two sons were toddlers looking amazed beneath the tree on Christmas morning.

But our family is a bit more spread out now. Our married son and his family live on the Cape. They have expressed a desire to experience their own holiday celebrations this year, skipping some or all of our traditional family gatherings to start their own traditions.

That’s nice. Misguided, but nice.

Just who do these new parents think they are? They have the first grandchild on either side of the family, and decide they will dictate where and when the holiday celebrations will be? Sorry – that’s our job.

You see, we have earned our spot in the family pecking order. These young people haven’t paid their dues yet. There should not be any leapfrogging over those of us who have put in our time.

Almost 30 years ago my wife and I were the newly-married parents of the first grandchild on both sides. This made us very popular. Our presence was requested – read that to mean expected – at the traditional gathering of each family at holiday time.

Concessions were made as to schedules so we could bounce from one family celebration to the other. For years we took our kids on a hectic holiday tour, visiting relatives and friends and usually eating two holiday meals. And for years, we complained about it.

We tried to cut down on holiday travel. People can come see us, we reasoned. But we had a small home, and elderly and handicapped relatives for whom travel was simply too difficult. The mere suggestion we “alternate” holidays between the families was met with disapproving stares and teary-eyed sad faces.

But when my son was a year old, we informed my family we would not see them Christmas Day. My mother was hysterical. My grandmother, to whom I was very close, called me to her hospital bed early in December saying she had to ask me something.

“Please don’t take our baby away from us on Christmas,” this saint of a woman cried to me. I folded like a cheap suit, and promised her I would work something out. And I would have fulfilled that promise – except she died that Christmas morning and our celebration was decidedly muted.

As the years went on and people got older, we eventually gained in holiday status by virtue of our longevity. We bought a bigger house, and began hosting dinners for both families. It took a while, but we got there.

Now we find our status prematurely threatened. Our son and his wife are trying to pull a bloodless coup. With virtually no time served, they are expecting to move into Most Favored Nation status. This would be the political equivalent of Barak Obama totally skipping the presidential primaries, but still expecting to be nominated at the convention.

Our kids live in a condo not large enough for the entire family. While we have tradition on our side, they have a powerful tool in this fight – our perfect grandson. They know full well there is nothing in this world we wouldn’t do for Will (what a great name) and that we would never put our needs and wants above his having a wonderful Christmas.

So we wait and see what will happen. Strategic and top-secret negotiations will no doubt take place. Both sides seek a peaceful settlement.

Maybe we did it wrong all those years. But remembering my grandmother always convinces me that in the end - it was worth it.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist, and – in case you hadn’t heard – has a grandson named William. You can send him holiday advice at aninsidelook@aol.com.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Teacher Who Made A Difference

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on October 25, 2008

As voters throughout the area prepare to pack the polling places Nov. 4, I have to wonder: Why don't people get this involved and excited when it is time to participate in their local government?

The obvious answer is - they didn't have an Al Nuttall.

Ever had a teacher who greatly influenced your life? Al Nuttall is a former long-time teacher at Norton High School. If people want someone to blame for my involvement in local government, then Al is their man.

Mr. Nuttall taught social studies - and nearly everything else - during his many years in Norton. He coached several sports, ran the school-sponsored recreation program, and was a student favorite.

In my senior year, Mr. Nuttall taught a course called "Modern Problems." I'd like to tell you I took his class because it sounded interesting and challenging. But in truth, it just sounded a lot easier than math or science.

In that class, Mr. Nuttall introduced us to the politics of government. We studied how the Miranda case changed law enforcement in America. We learned about discrimination and the disgraceful resistance to racial equality in this country. We were exposed to political extremism and topics I knew about, but never really understood.

We also learned how our local town government worked. We studied Town Meeting and the issues facing it in that year of 1974. We learned of the role of selectmen, school committee, and finance committee. It all sounded pretty boring - until Mr. Nuttall decided to bring it all to life for us.

He set up a mock Town Meeting, completely run by students. Some of my classmates were selectmen, and they took positions favored by that board. Others were finance committee members, arguing the opposite position. The issue was what raises should be given to town employees.

The mock Town Meeting audience was the student body. The actual Town Moderator, the late Joseph Yelle, came to run the meeting. I played the role of Finance Committee chairman.

The debate was actually very intense, as both sides argued hard for their position. I don't remember which way the "town meeting" actually decided. But Mr. Nuttall made sure we all learned the rules, how to be recognized, how to treat others with respect, and how to make and vote on motions.

A week later, the recreation budget was up for debate at Town Meeting. As a newly-registered 18 year-old senior, I went to the meeting with Mr. Nuttall. He told me if I cared about the program, I needed to go and support it.

After a resident got up and spoke against it, the chances of approval seemed dim. With Mr. Nuttall's words ringing in my ears, I stood and was recognized. I spoke of the program, how it helped kids and was important to the community. People seemed pleased to hear from somebody who actually benefited, and the budget was approved overwhelmingly.

Mr. Nuttall couldn't stop smiling.

A week later I was called to the school office. I was a bit nervous - that is hardly ever a good thing.

In the office was the principal, Mr. Nuttall, and Town Moderator Yelle. Sensing my confusion, Mr. Nuttall told me the moderator had something to ask me. "I'm looking for a young person to serve on the Finance Committee" the distinguished and dignified Mr. Yelle told me. "Your teacher thinks you would be a good choice, and so do I. What do you think?"

I was probably the first would-be appointee ever to say he needed to go home and ask his mother first. But I did accept, and that led to 15 years on the Finance Committee, six years as a selectmen, 34 years of attending Town Meeting, and eventually having the honor to serve in the moderator position once held by the man who first appointed me.

But none of that would have happened without Al Nuttall, as I said when I spoke at his retirement dinner years later. I told all the people at that gathering that Al Nuttall had made a real difference in my life. And now I've told you.

Everyone should have an Al Nuttall.

BILL GOUVEIA is a local columnist and the Norton town moderator. He got an A in Mr. Nuttall's class. You can reach Bill at aninsidelook@aol.com.

Guns DO Kill People

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on November 1, 2008.

In this country and this state, we protect children. We insist they be strapped into car seats. We urge parents to make them wear helmets when riding bicycles. We regulate what snacks they can eat in school.

Yet this past week, 8-year-old Christopher Bizilj was allowed to go to a private gun club in Westfield with his father and fire a fully automatic weapon on his own. Not surprisingly, this weapon, designed for no purpose other than killing people, was too powerful for this innocent young child. Unable to handle the recoil, he shot himself in the head and died.

Now I fully admit I am not a gun person. I do not own one. I do not shoot them. I believe they should be heavily regulated - quite a bit more heavily than seatbelt wearing and bicycle helmets.

But I do not support eliminating all guns. I favor responsible gun ownership. I respect the rights of hunters, collectors and enthusiasts to own certain weapons. I back the right of individuals to protect their domicile and property by responsibly keeping a weapon in the home.

But gun shows where 8-year-olds are allowed to shoot Uzis? Sorry NRA - I definitely draw the line there.

While I do not necessarily support a ban on all guns, I see no earthly reason why anyone who is not in law enforcement or the military needs to own a fully automatic weapon. And it is disgusting and confusing to me when those who own them vigorously defend their right to do so.

We have the right to bear arms in this country. That should never be interpreted as the right to possess fully automatic weapons in residential communities. Any argument that it does is, quite frankly, absurd.

I know the gun lobby will spin this incident with this poor child. They will rightfully blame the instructor for lack of supervision. They will rightfully blame the parent for failing to watch over his child properly. They will rightfully blame the gun club for not having proper security.They will blame everyone and everything - except the gun. It is never the gun's fault.

You see, if they allowed blame to be placed on the gun it would be a threat to their industry, their philosophy, and their beliefs. Guns don't kill people - people kill people, goes the famous tag line. That is nice glib advertising, and it gets their point across quite well.

But dead 8-year-old children shot in the head by weapons that should only be used in war make a pretty serious point in the opposite direction.

Guns do kill people. So do cars, planes, and knives. We don't ban cars just because some people do not operate them properly and harm others. Why should guns be any different?

The answer is because they do not serve other purposes as well. People own cars because they make our lives possible. They transport us to and from places. They allow us to make our livings.

Automatic weapons kill people. That is why they are made. That is all they do. They are machines designed for no other purpose.

We are not talking about hunting rifles, or collectible muskets, or target pistols. You don't take an Uzi out deer hunting and gun down an entire herd in five seconds flat. So why in the name of all that is sane do we not ban these weapons across the country?

The NRA and others tell us there should not be bans on automatic weapons and hollow point ammunition. If you do that, they reason, then only the criminals will have them and the good law-abiding folks of this country will be overrun. Also, if you let them take our Uzi's, then they will come after our other guns next. You can't let "them" get a foot in the door.

That argument is as sad as it is wrong.We should ban automatic weapons. We should not allow them at gun shows where you don't need a permit to shoot them. We should more strictly regulate places where guns are shot. And if anyone wants to know why, we should tell them:

Christopher Bizilj.

BILL GOUVEIA is a local columnist and a staunch supporter of responsible gun control and healthy 8-year-olds. He can be reached at aninsidelook@aol.com.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


After watching the Sox come back against the Rays Thursday night, I'm exhausted. But I'm thrilled that at long last, the real baseball season is underway.

It may only last one more game, but who cares? This is what sports is all about, this is the payoff for being a fan. These are games that matter, this is intensity, and this is why I love sports.

CoCo Crisp's at-bat in the eighth inning was incredible. Ten pitches. Ten excruciating, painful, suspense-laden pitches. I was screaming at the TV with my youngest son, telling CoCo he could do it while never for a second truly believing he would. But he did. They did. it was wild.

Now I can't wait for Game Six tonight. I have a surprise 50th birthday party to go to for my secretary tonight, but I will be leaving early. I feel bad - but I will still leave early.

Some things are simply more important than others.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Angry Liberal

This column originally appeared in the Norton Mirror in August 2006 - but it remains relevent today!

Okay folks, step back. Secure the women and children, batten down any hatches you might have, return your seat backs to their upright position, and buckle all safety belts. You are about to hit some reading turbulence.

Today, I am one ticked-off Liberal.

I have never minded the political and social debates between liberals and conservatives. I’ve always thought a spirited discussion of the issues and philosophies of the times was a good thing for this country. And I have shared in trading barbs, good-natured and otherwise, with friends and foes in the past.

But now the mind-numbing and bigoted conservatism of those on the far right, especially those in positions of national leadership, has finally gotten to me. I’m not going to sit back any more and chuckle at their ignorant antics and tactics, or let them paint me and others as supporters of terrorism or valueless demigods concerned only with themselves.

To Dick Cheney, Ann Coulter, Karl Rove, and those locally who are disciples of their conservative brand of hatred and discrimination – your 15 minutes are up. We Liberals (and yes – we are still out here in great numbers) are no longer going to sit back and let you define who and what we are.

I’m so tired of hearing how Liberals are out of touch with mainstream America, how our values are non-traditional and un-American. That’s pure bull****, and those saying it for their own political advantage should be ashamed.

Liberals believe in individual rights and personal freedoms. These are the very principles that drove our founding fathers to create this great country. They came here in search of religious and individual liberties, trying to found a country where people were inherently equal. They were truly the first American Liberals.

You want to tell me my values are un-American? I ask you – what is more American than wanting to ensure equal rights for everyone regardless of their race, creed, national origin or sexual orientation?

You want to tell me that voicing my opposition to this war in Iraq is un-American and gives aid and comfort to the enemy? That is so stupid even those like you who are blinded by political power and ambition have to see it.

Liberals love this country just as much as you do, and they are just as quick to defend it when necessary. But we are not so arrogant and insolent as to think our American way of doing things is right for everyone. We see no need to force ourselves upon those who see or do things differently – unless they threaten us or our allies.

Every great empire in history began to fade when they decided they had to create their own vision of the world everywhere they went. Liberals understand that, and have trouble grasping that ultra-conservatives do not.

We reject terrorism and will battle it wherever it exists with the same ferocity and patriotism you possess. But we will not write a blank check to leaders who manipulate the terrorist threat to advance their political agendas.

We seek to allow people who love each other to marry – you do your best to deny them that right. We seek to give people the right to end their lives with dignity – you seek to control them and use them as political pawns.

I don’t question your love for this country – don’t you dare question mine.

The greatest leaders in this country’s history have been Liberals, and those currently in power aren’t worthy to hold their political sneakers. So spare me any more of this sanctimonious and pious garbage. You hold no edge over us when it comes to values or love of country.

To all you Liberal-bashers out there – Bite Me! We are a peace-loving people, but you really don’t want to make us mad.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Camping Never Gets Better...

This column oringinally appeared in the Mansfield News in August 2004.

I must either love my wife beyond all reasonable boundaries, or I am deathly afraid of her. No other reason can possibly explain my actions.

I am sitting here alone at a warped picnic table at 6:30 am in the beautiful woods of Maine. As I type my weekly missive, I am left to consider perhaps the greatest and most baffling question facing all of mankind today:

Why do people camp?

Those who have perused this space over the years know my position on this back-to-nature train of thought. If God had truly wanted us to sleep in tents, on the ground and outside, he would never have created hotels. This is known as the Holiday Inn Theory of Evolution.

Yet here I sit at dawn on a beautiful Sunday morning, fresh from my five-minute hike to what passes as a bathroom in these primitive surroundings, and I am alone. In the tent behind me my beloved tries to sleep despite my constant zippering and unzippering of the tent to retrieve some important item. The tent to my right reverberates with the ungodly snoring of my eldest son and his girlfriend. It must be her – males in my family never snore.

To be fair, I did offer to come along this year on the annual camping trek. It has been several years since I braved the wilds of Maine, much to the relief of our fellow campers. But my wife loves this unnatural activity, and since my son could only stay a few days, I decided she might welcome my company.

If you asked either of us this morning, you might get a different take.

I discovered this year that of the 40 or so camping regulars who make this annual pilgrimage, we are apparently the only ones left who sleep in tents. The others have invested in camping trailers or RVs, or rented similar equipment.

While they store their food in nice cupboards and place their perishables in small refrigerators, we live out of something less efficient and pleasant. Our dry goods are in stackable plastic bins secured to prevent marauding wild animals. Our perishables are stored in an ice chest the size of a small coffin. The highlight of each day is the trip to the local IGA store for life-giving ice.

Our site is on the shore of a beautiful lake, and the view is truly magnificent. Last night we had a perfect view of the rain and lightning as it quickly rolled over us, trying to thwart my son’s meager attempt at a campfire.

On our first night, my wife left with her friend to make a quick trip to the store. She returned three hours later, thus breaking the primary camping commandment: Thou shalt not leave Bill alone while camping (though she claims since my son and his significant other were here, there was no violation).

So last night I sat around a small fire, gazing longingly at my cell phone that refused to work up here in Moose Country. I spent much of the evening contorting my body in unusual ways, attempting to get my headphone radio unit into a position where it could receive the signal of the Red Sox game.

Now I sit here calmly watching while our friends climb into boats and head out to fish, another activity I have never really been able to embrace. I have been awake since 6 am, when a crow decided to locate directly above our tent and apparently begin broadcasting on the EBN (Emergency Bird Network). His shrill shrieks, in perfectly timed bursts of three, will be in my head for weeks.

I know my wife, who was delighted when I announced my intention to come along this year, is inside our tent now reevaluating that decision. I have a strange feeling that next year, when the annual camping trip comes up, I will be asked to remain at home and guard the family compound.

It will be a shame to miss that camping trip, but after all – duty calls.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fathers of the Groom - Unite!

This column originally appeared in the Norton Mirror in September 2003. When you read it, keep in mind one of my sons is now married, and the other...well, his doomsday clock is ticking! :)

When you are a parent, there are many opportunities to bask in your pride in the children you have raised. Of all those opportunities, perhaps none are more emotional and meaningful than when your child is married, and enters into that wonderful world of wedded bliss.

That is the time parents are officially recognized for their hard work in raising the child they are giving away. The father of the bride walks his daughter down the aisle, and has that special dance with his little girl. The mother of the bride is escorted to her seat of honor with all eyes upon her. The mother of the groom is also escorted, and has that emotional dance with her grown son. Yes, each parent has their well-deserved very special moment.

Except for the totally neglected and disregarded parent when it comes to most weddings – the ignored and seemingly forgotten father of the groom.

As you may have guessed by now, I am the father of sons. While none of them have yet gotten married (or even vaguely considered such a thing), I must admit it is one of the events I look forward to someday. Or at least I did, until I began contemplating a very sobering fact.

As father of a groom, I will have virtually no official place or chores in the average wedding. No real duties in the ceremony, no traditional dance at the reception, no shining moment of glory on that special day. While all the other parents have a clearly defined role and a starring moment, the father of the groom is relegated to a mere supporting role.

In fact, he is the appendix of the wedding party. He really doesn’t serve a purpose, and he can be removed with virtually no harm to the wedding itself.

The bridesmaids and ushers walk down the aisle. The maid/matron of honor stands next to the bride. The best man gives the ceremonial toast. They all are vital parts of this meaningful and special day.

The father of the groom does nothing. He wears a tuxedo for no apparent purpose. He is often mistaken for the caterer or the head waiter. He directs people to the restrooms and kindly declines to take drink orders.

Oh sure, he gets to walk down the aisle at the beginning of the ceremony. But he trails the mother of the groom, who is escorted ceremoniously by an usher. He isn’t even considered good enough to escort his own wife to her seat of honor. His only job is not to trip or step on her dress from behind.

I’m sure that in some ceremonies the father of the groom is tossed a bone. Maybe he gets to welcome people to the reception. Maybe he lights a candle on the altar. Maybe he gets to park cars at the reception.

But generally, he is ignored. He sits back and lets the other parents bask in the spotlight and the glow of this once (we hope) in a lifetime experience. He is shunned, the ultimate redheaded stepchild.

Oh I know this day won’t be about parents and glory and spotlights. The day will belong to the happy couple. It is all about them, their love, and their new commitment and life with each other. The day is all theirs.

That would be the noble stance. It is very easy for the other three parents, all of whom have their traditional moments-in-the-sun, to agree with that crap. After all, no one asked them if they were friends of the bride or groom, or slipped them a few bucks and told them to be careful with the new car.

If any of you faithful readers out there have suggestions to right this wrong and restore the father of the groom to his rightful place in the marriage ceremony hierarchy, please let me know. I’d be very grateful.

And take your time. Fortunately, my sons are in no hurry.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Little Anniversaries, Big Weapons

This column originally appeared in the Norton Mirror in December 2006.

Today is my anniversary. But please, don’t tell my wife. I’m counting on her forgetting.

No, it is not our wedding anniversary today. That comes in May, and will be our 30th. This is a different anniversary, one of those “little” anniversaries that you usually celebrate when you are a young couple, full of hope and happiness, gazing adoringly at each other and together into the future.

You know, the kind we older couples now mired in the reality of our lives scoff at and ridicule when we observe? Well, I no longer laugh and scoff. I have taken what was formerly a liability and turned it into an asset. I no longer forget these anniversaries – I use them.

Today is 34 years to the day that my wife and I first kissed. It was when we were in high school, and took place while standing at the front door of her house. Her youngest sister was having a slumber party in the front room that night, and our first kiss ended when one of her friends watching us in the darkness felt compelled to shout out “Eeewww, mush!”.

This is just one of the “little” anniversaries we have celebrated over the years. We celebrate the anniversary of our first date, the day we started going “steady” in high school, and possibly a few others we won’t discuss here.

Over the years, the observance of these “little” anniversaries has diminished quite a bit. Kids and life in general will do that to you. I always had to struggle and try to remember all the dates, not wanting to be the one to forget and seem uncaring.

But now, with our kids grown, my wife has a busy job and career. Oddly enough, she manufactures calendars. You would think that gives her a decided advantage on all things related to dates, but in fact just the opposite is true.

She is always thinking years ahead, and has to worry about making sure she has planned all the special occasions and dates for calendars well into the future. This means she often has no idea what the current date is, let alone what it might represent.

So the first time I gave her a card for one of our “little” anniversaries and saw the look of horror and dismay on her face as she realized she had forgotten, I knew I was on to something.

At first she tried to pretend she had left her card for me at work, but eventually admitted she had forgotten. The tearful apology that followed, along with the wonderful treatment I was accorded in the aftermath, soon had me over the disappointment of being forgotten.

But I milked it – boy, did I milk it. I gave her the sad eyes, all while telling her it really didn’t matter. After all, I told her, at least she knew that I still remembered and thus still loved her. Oh yeah, I was workin’ it.

From that day on, our “little” anniversaries have become little competitions. I always get her a card, and then give it to her just after the stroke of midnight when it becomes our anniversary. Sometimes she triumphantly pulls her own card out from under her pillow, with that smug look on her face that says I have not bested her this year.

But other times I see the look of consternation, and I know I have won. On those occasions I have gained the upper hand in our relationship, albeit for a very short time. I can see the pang of regret in her eyes, the guilt that sweeps all-too-briefly across her lovely face.

So while my friends and my children may ridicule these “little” anniversaries and the way we observe them, I merely smile knowingly. After nearly 30 years of marriage, I and others like me understand the importance of any edge we can possibly gain in our relationships.

Our next anniversary is January 7th. If you see me smiling, you’ll know she forgot. I’ve got my card all signed, ready to go.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Gay, Straight - Who Cares?

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on September 20, 2008.

This newspaper's recent series on how young people in the area perceive and react to gays has stirred a predictable pot of controversy.

Gay activists have applauded it. Conservative traditionalists have condemned it. And the overwhelming majority of folks simply yawned and went on with their lives.

They have done so not because the series wasn't interesting or well written, because it was indeed both. Instead, their reaction to the story merely reflects the reality of the situation both here and across Massachusetts.

Gay people are just no big deal anymore.

They are your neighbors, your friends, your family members. They have jobs like you do, pay taxes like you, and have problems similar to yours. They have their successes, their failures, and in most cases their lives are just as screwed up.They are no more or less interesting than the rest of us.

At long last, they have earned the right to be just as anonymous and ignored as their straight majority counterparts. Congratulations to them - I think.

Over the last four years homosexual marriage has been legal here in Massachusetts. Thousands of gay couples have entered into legal marriages or made their unions official in the eyes of the law. They have availed themselves to the rights and privileges previously given only to their heterosexual counterparts.

They have also been welcomed into the world of divorce, child custody battles, and the other less glamorous aspects of marriage we straight folks have kept to ourselves for so long. There is no taking the good without the bad.

But not everyone wants gay folks to become simply an accepted part of our social landscape. Some insist on trying to single out gays, to point out how different they are from the rest of us.

These good people with their "traditional values" insist homosexuals are seeking rights beyond what "normal folks" are accorded. They accuse them of seeking not equality but rather special treatment. They charge this newspaper and the "liberal media" with seeking to promote the "homosexual agenda".

Agenda? Wow - I didn't even know they had meetings.

I need to make a full disclosure here. According to the apparent rules of the prevailing political atmosphere, I am a Liberal. And even worse - I'm not embarrassed by it in the slightest.

I'm not sure which is considered worse today, being gay or being a Liberal. But it is now clear one of them is an actual choice, while the other is arguably not.

We all choose our politics, choose who and what we stand for. We choose our religions, our beliefs. And thank God we have the freedom in this country to do just that.

But choosing our sexuality? That hardly seems within our power. You can choose to perform heterosexual acts, but that does not make you a heterosexual. It is not what you do that defines your sexuality. Rather, it is who you are.

Homosexuality is not a crime - at least not in this state. Neither is it a disease for which a cure is available. It is not a political party, at least no more than conservative religious groups are.

The danger with our youth today is not that they will become too accepting of homosexuals, but that they will learn to hate and distrust people simply because they are different from themselves in ways kids cannot possibly fully understand yet.

We rightfully protest when other countries deny basic rights to women based upon nothing but their gender. Yet here at home we seek to deny rights to people we deal with every day for no reason other than their sexual identity. Is one really any worse than the other?

Does preaching acceptance make us weaker as a society? Does teaching discrimination and distrust make us stronger?

I was wondering - have I been guilty of promoting the Heterosexual Agenda all these years? Did I miss those meetings too?

What The Sun Chronicle series pointed out to me was the strides gays have made towards simply becoming ignored like the rest of us average Americans.

Sometimes you have to stand up for the right to be unnoticed.

BILL GOUVEIA is a local columnist. His writings appears here every Saturday, and he can be reached at aninsidelook@aol.com.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Purple Door

This column orginally apppeared in the Norton Mirror in 2003.

Early on in the relationship you are the Man of the House, the King of your Castle, the head of your family.

Then you come home one day, and your front door is purple. And now the world knows what you in your heart have known for some time. The King is dead. Long live the Queen.

Although most of my friends and acquaintances say it happened many years ago, for me official confirmation of my demise as pretender to the throne of my household came this weekend. Up until Sunday afternoon I was clinging to the pretense of power, putting up a solid front for the rest of the world. But now the symbol of my emasculation is emblazoned upon the front of my once revered domicile – that damn purple door.

It began last week, when my wife asked me (in that sly way that wives pretend to ask) what I thought about changing the color of the front door to our house. I reacted in typical male fashion. I told her there was nothing wrong with the color it was now, that I liked that color, and I did not want it to change. In my mind, thus endeth the discussion.

Then she asked me a trick question. She asked me what color our front door was. I scoffed at her ridiculous question, ignoring her knowing smile. I hemmed, I hawed, but she was not to be denied. I was finally forced to admit that I had no idea what color the front door of the house I have lived in for almost 14 years truly was. Damn those tricky females.

Despite this setback, I was adamant that the color not be changed. She said it was time to change it, and suggested black or purple. She says our house is grey, although the name of the paint color is Federal Blue. She said black would look good, but purple would really look wonderful.

I knew this was the time to stand firm. I said I did not agree, I thought the red (remember – red, I told myself) was the best color. I emphatically stated I did not like either black or purple, and would not grant my consent to such a drastic and outlandish change. It was out of the question, a bad idea, and I would not grant my needed agreement.

My wife looked at me in disgust, and told me I had no taste. It has been the same color for 14 years, she tried to reason with me. It will look classy and you’ll really like it when it’s done, she went on hopefully.

But it was no use. I felt like General Custer the night before Little Big Horn. I was calm, I was cool, and I was confident. The answer was no. Of course, I was smart enough not to state it as an order or an ultimatum. After all, 26 years of marriage had to teach me something.

My wife seemed to take it well. She shook her head, looked a little angry, but went on to bigger and better things. I swaggered off savoring the heady taste of my small victory, secure in the knowledge my red door was safe.

Then came the weekend, and work took me out of town. I talked to my wife several times while I was gone, and she couldn’t have been nicer. I was cautiously optimistic there would be no after-effects from the firm stand I had taken in turning her down flat.

Then Sunday afternoon I got home, turned my car into the driveway, and stopped short. There, glaring down at me like a maniacal giant jar of jelly, was my newly-painted purple front door. It was mocking me, and I knew in my heart I deserved it.

Oh, I went in and made the rather pointless complaints. I asked her why she painted the door after I said no. Her answer was simple and complete.

“I told you I wanted to do it”, she said.

I’m now telling people the purple door was my idea.

Feeding Grandpop to the Ducks

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle in December 2007.

The recent discovery of the cremated remains in a pond in Plainville turned out to be a simple thing. The woman’s last request to be scattered at the pond had been fulfilled, except instead of being “scattered” she was more “placed” in the pond, container and all.

After five years the container was discovered by some kids when the water level fell. They turned it over to police, who traced it back to the family.

While the story may have seemed odd to some, in my family it brought back memories of a similar situation that still makes us both laugh and shudder to this day.

Almost 20 years ago my wife’s maternal grandfather passed away. Grandpop, as we all called him, was one of the nicest men I have ever known. Deaf since an early age, he was a skilled engraver and artist with a kind heart and a gentle soul.

In his retirement years Grandpop would often walk to the park near his home. While there he would sketch people as they sat or walked, and every day he would feed the ducks populating the big pond in the center.

He went so often the ducks would recognize him and come running to greet him. His final wish was to be cremated and have his family scatter his ashes around the pond.

So it came to pass my wife’s entire family gathered together on a sunny Sunday afternoon to fulfill his final wish. Since disbursing remains in a public park is generally frowned upon, my dear late mother-in-law reminded us all to “be inconspicuous and not be noticed”.

Looking around at the assembled family members, I had to stifle a laugh. There were about 25 of us, all dressed in our Sunday best. The group included a large number of children, three wheelchairs, and my rather large mother-in-law carrying an urn.

I can’t be sure, but I think someone might have noticed us.

Once we got there, it was decided everyone would take a turn spreading a little of Grandpop’s ashes into the pond as we walked around it. Wanting to get my turn out of the way, I stepped up and offered to begin the process.

If you have never had the opportunity to spread ashes, you probably don’t understand the consistency of them. I certainly didn’t, and was a bit surprised. I took the urn and shook a little into the water, then passed it to the next relative and stepped back to view the process from a distance.

As the procession continued to sprinkle and move along the water’s edge, I noticed the ashes floating back to the surface of the water. As I stood wondering if I should tell anyone, I suddenly realized someone else had noticed.

The ducks, who Grandpop had fed every day, were rapidly swimming in towards shore. Where we saw a solemn ceremony, they merely saw dinner.

Panic struck me. I quickly strode down, tapped my wife on the shoulder, and quietly said “Don’t get upset, but the ducks are eating Grandpop.”

Already emotional over the death of a loved one, my wife alerted the others. There ensued a wild period of splashing, yelling and distracting the ducks to the other end of the pond while others stood at the edge in a desperate effort to sink Grandpop to his final resting place.

We would never have forgotten Grandpop under any circumstances, but after that experience it was even harder. And we did learn our lesson.

When my wife’s grandmother passed away a few years later, we went back to the park. But this time we brought bread, and during the scattering the ducks had a more conventional meal on the other side of the pond.

Please remember to check the law and the local regulations before spreading your loved ones in any particular area.

And it doesn’t hurt to have a loaf of bread handy, just in case.

Bill Gouveia, who wants to take his remains with him, is a local columnist. He can be reached in this world at aninsidelook@aol.com.

Monday, September 8, 2008

It Ain't Your Mother's Ice Cream Parlor anymore...

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on August 30th, 2008.

I made a big mistake last weekend. I volunteered to go out and get ice cream for the family.

This used to be a fairly simple task. You took the family order for ice cream or sundaes and made the trip to your local ice cream parlor. The most complicated part was remembering who wanted whipped cream and who didn’t.

But today things have changed. It is no longer enough to have a plain old hot fudge sundae or a simple shake. And the old-fashioned ice cream parlor has given way to a virtual ice cream assembly line, where strange and unusual concoctions are slapped together before your very eyes.

My wife’s new favorite ice cream palace is in the new Mansfield Crossing mall. Whenever I announce my travel plans might take me within a five-mile radius of this devilishly addictive place, my wife’s eyes light up the way they did for me many, many years ago.

But a trip to this ice cream nirvana is not an easy journey for this old-fashioned husband. You don’t just go to a window and order. The process is much more lengthy and involved, lacking only a credit check.

First, you stand in a line to get to a long counter. While standing you get to view the large wall signs that display the many offerings available for your gluttonous pleasure. And through the glass counter you can view the tubs of ice cream, complete with flavor names designed to confuse small minds such as my own.

In addition to the usual and boring chocolate and vanilla flavors, you get to choose from flavors like Cake Batter, Cheesecake, Sweet Cream and Cookie Dough. And then there is Orange Dreamsicle, Caramel Latte, Green Apple Gummy Bear and other varieties my tired eyes were too exhausted to peruse.

The wall also boasts of the signature choices, special products with catchy names. You can order a “Cookie Doughn’t You Want Some”, a “Strawberry Blonde”, or the Hollywood-inspired “The Pie Who Loved Me”.

When you order your ice cream selection, the young people behind the counter go into interrogation mode. What do you want with your ice cream? Would you like chocolate chips, or M & M’s, or Rainbow Sprinkles? How about raspberries, pineapple, or apple pie filling? Would you care for some Almond Joy, Black Licorice, or Malted Milk Balls mixed with your ice cream?

That’s right, I said mixed. Not only can you get these additional elements added on top of your dessert, you can get them chopped and mixed into your ice cream with near-surgical precision.

Using large metal shovel-looking devices, the employees slice your ice cream more than they scoop it. It is rolled and spread on a counter. Then all these extra choices are mixed in and rolled into a giant ice cream ball, and placed into either a large waffle cone bowl or a more standard dish.

But even the dishes are complicated. I discovered I could not ask for a small, medium or large. Rather I am forced to choose from one of their custom sizes known as “Like It”, “Love It”, and the overwhelming “Gotta Have it”. I admit to being uncomfortable ordering an ice cream and telling them to make it a “Love It”.

Once I finally get my ice creams and move down the line to the register, yet another surprise awaits. As I paid my bill, I saw a jar for tips. I dropped a dollar in the jar, and began to walk away.

I stopped when I heard someone yell, “Hey guys, we got a tip. How about a song?”

In a moment the entire working crew behind the counter began chanting a clever (if somewhat unenthusiastic) little jingle about their ice cream and service. I paused to listen, somehow feeling obligated since my unwitting donation had started this whole thing. Then I smiled politely, and made a break for the car and a clean getaway.

The things I do for my wife. I’m just too good to her.

Of course, I did eat my entire sundae. I forget what it was called. But believe me, I earned it.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist who has clearly enjoyed far too many ice creams. His column appears every Saturday, and he can be reached at aninsidelook@aol.com.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Mansfield Tragedy Ongoing...

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Saturday, August 2, 2008.

There are stories with happy endings, stories with sad endings, and stories that never truly end. The tragic tale of Rosie Shatz and Aaron Fine is unfortunately one of the latter.

On December 2, 2006 Rosie Shatz was a carefree 10-year-old girl riding her bike near her home. Aaron Fine was an off-duty Mansfield police officer driving a truck belonging to his landscaping business. They were both living lives of hope and promise.

But when the police officer’s truck collided with the little girl’s bike, both their lives ended – one literally, and one figuratively.

Rosie died that awful day, leaving her grieving family seeking answers they will likely never get.

Fine would be acquitted of motor vehicle homicide, but convicted of operating negligently and without the proper license. He was sentenced to two years in the House of Correction, but will serve only two months.

The emotional damage to himself, his wife and children, his parents and his friends has no doubt forever changed the officer and his family. Their answers are also difficult to find.

If Fine was a carpenter by trade, his future after prison would be quite a bit more certain. He would be free to go back to his vocation and perhaps find himself again in the work he trained for much of his life.

But he is a police officer, and by all accounts a fine one. A former leader of the local police union, his job performance has been hailed by many. It is a profession he loves.

“Aaron’s worked hard. He wants to be a police officer. That means more to him than anything else he would do”, said his father recently.

But he may not be able to return to his job.

That will be up to the Police Chief and officials in Mansfield, as they struggle to balance fairness to their employee with the best interests of the citizens and the department.

What is the right decision here? That is a tough call, and no one envies those who must make it. There is much to consider.

Aaron Fine made a mistake – of that there is no doubt. He did not set out that awful morning to kill a little girl. There was no evil intent here. It was a stupid decision with tragic results.

Who among us has never done something stupid that could have possibly endangered lives? But most of us got away with it. There but for the grace of God go I, the saying goes.

But Aaron Fine did not get away with it. He hit Rosie Shatz and she died. He cannot escape that awful fact, nor avoid the guilt and responsibility that will follow him the rest of his life.

Fine should serve his brief sentence, go back to his family, and do his best to lead a productive and happy life. He should not lose everything for this one horrible error.

But he should lose his job on the Mansfield police force.

Fair or not, police officers are held to a higher standard. They are the very symbol of law enforcement. They do not have to be perfect, but they simply cannot callously break the laws they are sworn to enforce.

Fine had a responsibility to know the law and follow it. He failed, and a little girl died. If he were to return, the credibility and integrity of the police department would be severely damaged.

Maybe Aaron Fine can be a police officer somewhere else. Maybe he can be happy in another profession. But if he returns to his job in Mansfield, he will forever be “that cop that killed the little girl”. Both he and the town need better than that.

Fine’s father told the Sun Chronicle “He cries about Rosie Shatz. He cries about the world. He is being brutalized, and he won’t let go”.

Aaron Fine needs to let go – of his pain, of his anguish, and unfortunately of his job. He made a big mistake. He must now move on and live his life.

Which is far more than little Rosie Shatz can do.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime town official. His column appears here every Saturday, and he can be reached at aninsidelook@aol.com.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Unethical or just dumb?

This column first appeared in the Sun Chronicle on Saturday, June 28, 2008.

This morning I would ask every registered voter in the Town of Mansfield to do something.

Please walk into your bathroom, look carefully in the mirror, and tell me – do you look as stupid as your town officials apparently think you are?

In an outrageous situation, Mansfield officials this week stopped a building project that had apparently begun despite one small detail: The money had yet to be approved by the voters.

Officials blamed the situation on poor communication that extended through several months, through multiple public meetings, and discussions between the town’s highest elected and appointed officials.

To review briefly, the school department wants to build modular classrooms to house an increase in students at a cost of $775,000. Voters face a Proposition 2-1/2 override next month for this and other projects.

School Superintendent Brenda Hodges, Finance Director Ed Vozzella and School Committee member Jean Miller say they were told by Town Manager John D’Agostino the money would be appropriated at the May Town Meeting and was not in doubt.

D’Agostino, Finance Committee Chairman Andy Gazzolo and Selectman Chairman Sandra Levine say the school officials misunderstood the funding timeline. They also claim they thought school officials were talking about the $50,000 design phase, not the actual construction.

In April, a contract was signed with the builder to proceed. Actual construction apparently began, all without the approval of the voters.

Selectman Levine says the mix-up was simply a use of words that did not jibe. “It was just a misunderstanding” the chairman stated.

Showing up to a wedding at the wrong time is a misunderstanding. Misreading your spouse’s supposed romantic signals is a misunderstanding. Coming back from the supermarket with French bread instead of dinner rolls is a misunderstanding.

Beginning work on a $775,000 public building project without approval is not a misunderstanding – it is a screw-up. A major screw-up. An inexcusable major screw-up that cannot be tolerated or simply explained away as a “misunderstanding”.

Mansfield town officials are now in a very difficult position. This preposterous situation can only be explained in one of two ways.

Perhaps officials were trying to get the townspeople invested in the project early so they would feel obligated to approve funding through an override or other means. If the project was already started and a debt incurred, it would be harder to say no. This would, of course, make the town officials sneaky and unethical.

Or it is possible these experienced, educated officials truly misunderstood the need for funding to be actually approved and available before a nearly one-million dollar public building project could be undertaken. That would mean they weren’t being sneaky or unethical – just dumb.

So which is it, Mansfield officials? Is this a case of politically unethical behavior, or just good old-fashioned stupidity?

Either way, it certainly doesn’t give Mansfield residents much reason to have confidence in their elected and appointed officials.

This is not someone misreading the fine print in a contract, or a complicated state reimbursement formula, or the misapplication of a complex law or regulation. This is an entire collection of Mansfield’s top financial officials doing a Keystone Cop impersonation over what should be the simplest of matters.

You go out to bid. You get a price. The voters approve the expenditure. You build the project. That is the way things work, the way they have worked since horses and buggies rode the streets of Mansfield. It is not rocket science.

Now this same group of town officials is asking Mansfield voters to approve a $3.2 million override, the spending of which they will oversee.

Does anyone else think there might be a small credibility problem here? A better explanation is needed, and quickly.

It may very well be this proposed override is necessary and a good thing for Mansfield citizens. Voters should not automatically decide to vote No on the override based upon this recent financial fiasco.

But boy, it has to make them think twice. If their town officials can’t handle the simple stuff, why should they trust them with even more money?

Of course, voters could say No – and then later tell officials it was all just a “misunderstanding”.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist who is always frightened when looking in the mirror. He can be reached at aninsidelook@aol.com.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Father's Day

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on June 14, 2008.

Tomorrow is Father’s Day, and across the area Dads are preparing for the onslaught of bad cologne, ugly ties, homemade cards and useful power tools that usually accompany this auspicious occasion.

Last Father’s Day was my first without my own Dad, and as a result it was a bit subdued. Tomorrow is also a ground-breaking Father’s Day for me, but for a much happier reason.

This year my oldest son joins the much-maligned Fraternal Order of Fatherhood club (FOF for short). With the birth of my first grandchild two months ago (did I mention his name is William?) my son Aaron is officially entitled to all the rights and privileges that come with recognition on Father’s Day.

His wonderful wife is planning a great celebration, complete with a trip to Fenway Park for a tour with son Will. I am sure his first Father’s Day will be both memorable and meaningful.

For me, this has put a bit of the spark back into Father’s Day. While I have no complaint with either of my sons or my wife when it comes to how I am treated on Dad’s Day, I must admit as my kids have gotten older the day has become something less than it was.

I miss the years when my young kids would trash the kitchen in a desperate attempt to make me breakfast in bed. It was some of the worst food – and best times – I have ever had.

As I type this column, to my left sits a pencil holder made by my oldest son in the first grade for Father’s Day. It is an aluminum can wrapped in paper and badly colored with crayon – but I have saved it for over 20 years now. It sits next to the decorated rock paperweight my youngest son Nate made for me when he was in kindergarten.

You just don’t throw that stuff away.

My lovely wife has gotten me some wonderful Father’s Day presents over the years, some useful and some unusual. My favorite is the year she gave me a toilet seat. I unwrapped it and stared at it like it was from another planet, not quite comprehending the significance of such an emotional and thoughtful gift.

When I questioned the appropriateness of her lovely gesture, she reminded me money was tight and we needed a toilet seat. I nodded solemnly, making a mental note to buy her a bathroom scale next Mother’s Day.

But this year I am excited for my son. He loves being a father, and seeing him get to experience the joy of being a parent has lifted my heart and lightened my spirit.

We are all influenced by our parents, in ways both good and bad. My son inherited my love of writing and my skill for placing my foot squarely in my mouth. But I’d like to think he also learned from me about being a father – both from what I did well and what I could have done better.

Nothing pleases and dismays us more than seeing ourselves come back through our children. We proudly note the similarities that make us smile, and gloss over the irritating traits we know full well they got from us.

But watching my son as a Dad is a great joy, one I had not really considered before. Welcoming him into FOF is sort of like taking him to his first ballgame. It is a right of passage for both of us.

My relationship with my Dad taught me to never hold back my feelings for my boys. I have told them countless times they will never be too old to kiss their father, and I tell them I love them as often as I can. I have always tried to be a positive influence in their lives, and with a few exceptions I think I have succeeded.

Now to see that all coming back in my son being a father to my grandchild – well, that’s one of the best Father’s Day presents I could ever receive.

Of course, it’s no toilet seat…

Bill Gouveia is a father, grandfather, and local columnist who wishes all the other Dads out there a great day tomorrow. Bill can be reached at aninsidelook@aol.com.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

I'm a Grandfather!

This column originally appeared in the Attleboro Sun Chronicle on Saturday, April 12, 2008.

I'm a grandfather.

It hasn't truly sunk in yet, but I am a grandfather nonetheless. And it is already one of the greatest experiences of my life.

Last Thursday my oldest son called to tell us his wife was officially in labor. Since the due date was not for another 13 days, we felt confident this was just a false alarm. But apparently no one told the baby about the due date.

Around 8:30 p.m. my son called again to say this was the real deal, and the baby would probably be born between 2-4 a.m. the next day. Coincidentally, that would be my daughter-in-law's 30th birthday. He told us to stay home, and when the time came he would call us to make the trip from Norton to Hyannis.

Then at 9:33 p.m. my phone beeped. It was a text message from my Aaron, my son. All it said was "Now!"

I ran to my wife, who is recovering from recent major surgery. I asked if she wanted to go and be there for the blessed event. She teared up and confessed she simply wasn't physically able to make the trip.

My heart ached for her, and I said I would stay home and wait with her. She looked up and said "Go Bill - if the roles were reversed, I'd leave you in a heartbeat for this!"

God, I love that woman. So I jumped in the car and sped off.

As I raced down Route 495 my mind was working overtime. Would it be a boy or a girl? The parents-to-be had chosen to be surprised. Most thought it was going to be a girl. I had steadfastly insisted it was going to be a boy.

I thought back to the night this baby's father was born. He took his sweet time and was three weeks late. My wife's labor with him had been relatively short, and all 9 pounds, 1 ounce of him had come quickly into the world.I remembered that night they handed him to me and said "Here's your son." There are no words to describe that feeling - the wonderment, awe and total joy. And now tonight, my child was going have a child of his own.

My phone rang at 10:14 p.m. It was my daughter-in-law's phone. I nearly drove off the road trying to answer it.It was Aaron. "Hey Dad", he said conversationally. I asked what was happening, and he laughed and said "You want to hear something pretty neat?"

Seconds later I heard the strong cry of a newborn baby, and chills ran down my spine. "That's your new grandchild," Aaron said with pride.

I managed to inquire as to the sex of the baby. My son - who is just way too much like his father - said "I'll tell you when you get here Dad."

I threatened him with grave bodily injury if he did not tell me right away. He laughed and said "Dad, just get here. That's your new grandson."

I asked him to repeat it. When he did, I proceeded to scream "I have a grandson!" as loudly as I could, while also managing to say I knew it would be a boy. I asked for the name, but he said he had to go and would see me in a bit.

When I got there I kissed my son and daughter-in-law, and then Aaron walked me over to the baby."Meet your new grandson" my son beamed. Then he looked at me and said "He's William - William George Thomas Gouveia, named after his grandfathers."

I heard nothing after he said William.

I was speechless (no small feat) and had to sit down. I had a grandson, he was beautiful, and he shared my first name. I was overwhelmed with emotion and love for my child, his wife, and their new baby son.

I have had much happiness in my life, but this moment will be special for as long as I live. I have a grandson, he is healthy and perfect, and all is right with the world.

Did I mention his name is William?

BILL GOUVEIA is a local columnist who - in case you hadn't heard - has a new grandson named William. Grandpa can be reached at aninsidelook@aol.com.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Learning the Election Lingo

This column originally appeared in the Attleboro Sun Chronicle on Saturday, March 15, 2008.

It is once again election time in the area, and our local communities are gearing up for their annual exercise in democracy.

While voters have been turning out in record numbers for presidential primaries and state elections in recent years, the level of participation in town elections has been much more disappointing. Some of that may have to do with a lack of understanding of the local process as compared to the state and federal elections.

So being the intrepid and fearless local columnist I am, I decided to try and help people better understand politics on the local level.

To that end, I thought I would help explain some common terms used during the local election season that might not be interpreted the same way outside our little area. Those who have been here a while no doubt totally understand them, but those without experience in local election lingo might find this helpful.

Therefore, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, I offer a quick list of local election and governmental terms and their definitions:

CONCERNED CITIZEN’S GROUP – a group of people working towards a political goal you agree with.

SPECIAL INTEREST GROUP – a group of people working towards a political goal you disagree with.

TOWNIE – a person who has lived in a community their entire life or 30 years, whichever is longer.

MEDDLING OUTSIDER – everyone who does not fall into the previous category.

POLITICIAN – someone who spends most of their time claiming not to be a politician.

DEDICATED PUBLIC SERVANT – a politician who is dead, retired, or currently doing what you want.

LEVY LIMIT – the amount of money a community raises from taxation which the state says is enough, the taxpayers say is too much, and the town employees say is too little.

TOWN MANAGER/ADMINISTRATOR – person who gets paid to take the blame when things go wrong, and direct the credit to elected officials when things go right.

COMMITTEE – a group of people formed to slowly beat the life out of all good ideas.

CHAIRMAN – the committee member who arrived late to the first meeting.

MUNICIPAL FINANCE – a system for handling money which contradicts all common sense and normal business practices.

POLITICAL AGENDA – a list of things a politician you do not agree with wants to achieve in office, and that you are determined to stop.

LONG RANGE PLAN – a list of things a politician you agree with wants to achieve in office, and you are determined to help.

TOWN MEETING – a system designed to make citizens think they have some power in order to perpetuate the real system in which they have little.

CANDIDATE’S NIGHT – an evening where politicians running for public office try not to say anything that might make you want to vote against them.

CLEAN CAMPAIGN – an election where both candidates agree to hide each others faults from the public.

OVERRIDE – something used to start and end political careers.

FRIEND – what a politician calls people who worked on his or her campaign.

CONSTITUENT – what a politician calls people who did not work on his or her campaign.

ACTIVIST JUDGE – a judge who issues rulings you disagree with.

PRUDENT JURIST – a judge who issues rulings you agree with.

AD HOC CITIZENS COMMITTEE – this is Latin for “Just Kidding”.

CAMPAIGN PROMISE – when a politician promises to provide something that either already exists, or is impossible to achieve.

LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE – what a politician says when he or she does not want to make a difficult decision on their own and make someone angry.

NEWSPAPER COLUMNIST – very intelligent, good-looking, well-rounded individual highly skilled at pointing out everyone else’s shortcomings.

Any questions? Class dismissed.

Bill Gouveia is – as you might have guessed – a local columnist. You can read his column here every Saturday, and reach him at aninsidelook@aol.com.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Open Meeting Law

This column originally appeared in the Attleboro Sun Chronicle on Saturday, March 1, 2008.

The Massachusetts Open Meeting Law is one of the most important statutes governing local municipal bodies. But there are serious problems with it that must be addressed.

More and more local governmental committees are subverting the law whenever they decide it suits their purpose. They do so because the advantages they get from their illegal actions outweigh the minimal punishment that accompanies their defiance.

Most problems with the Open Meeting Law lay in its enforcement and penalties. While the public and political pressure brought to bear on offenders may be intense and damaging, the actual price to be paid for violations is generally light and seldom imposed.

A case in point is the recent situation involving the North Attleboro Planning Board. That committee held an illegal executive session in order to discuss the operations of their office away from the prying eyes of the public.

They were called on it and reported to the District Attorney. DA Sam Sutter, elected largely because of his hard-line attitude on prosecutions, confirmed they had broken the law but did little else.

Sutter acknowledged the violation, but praised the board for eventually admitting their mistake and making the minutes of their illegal executive session public.

“The planning board took this action in a timely manner, and the harm caused has been remedied,” Sutter wrote in a letter on the topic.

With all due respect, the DA is absolutely wrong.

The harm caused has in no way been remedied. Reading the minutes from their improper meeting in no way mitigates the damage caused by their illegal actions, nor does it wipe out any advantage they may have gained.

Minutes do not reveal everything said at a meeting. It is more than possible the illegal executive session allowed planning board members to say things they did not want the public to hear. Then they release minutes which in no way reflect those comments, but the discussion may well affect future decisions.

So it is possible the planning board may have intentionally violated the law, accomplished their goal, then apologized and received no punishment.

That is hardly an incentive not to do something similar again. It also does not serve as any kind of deterrent for other officials and boards who may be considering similar actions.

In other words – violating this law and then saying “oops” is often an effective tool.

District Attorneys need to start taking Open Meeting Law offenses much more seriously. The legislature needs to strengthen and toughen the penalties for proven violations in order to discourage those who have learned the law has virtually no teeth.

Until violators start being hit with fines for their actions, situations like this will continue to occur. While no one wants to unnecessarily penalize well-meaning volunteers who give of their time to the community, this law is so important to the integrity of government that something must be done.

Otherwise we will continue to have situations like this and the recent one in Foxboro, where the selectmen and conservation commission appear to have flaunted the Open Meeting Law in a very public way.

As in the North situation, officials in Foxboro may well have already accomplished what they were after. No future apology or pledge to not do it again will negate that advantage or restore the right of the public to free and open meetings.

Will enforcing fines of say $100 per member per violation prevent situations like this in the future? Possibly, but there is no guarantee. At best it may make members think twice before agreeing to violate the trust placed in them.

The Sun Chronicle has reported the alleged violation in Foxboro to Norfolk District Attorney William Keating. What Keating will find and what actions he may take remain to be seen.

The big problem here is not that people do not understand the law, but rather that the advantages gained in violating it are greater than the punishment.

Until that is properly addressed, until district attorneys take violations seriously, the Open Meeting Law will remain more of a suggestion than a requirement for some local officials.

Bill Gouveia is a community columnist and a big fan of the Open Meeting Law. His column appears every Saturday, and he can be reached at aninsidelook@aol.com.

Monday, February 25, 2008

It Takes More Than Barking

This column originally appeared in the Attleboro Sun Chronicle on Saturday, February 16, 2008.

There is no one single reason why Mansfield is such a political mess these days. In fact, there are many.

But chief among them are the actions and behavior of Selectman George Dentino, the self-proclaimed “watchdog” of Mansfield town government.

Dentino claims to be looking to help solve Mansfield’s problems. If that is true, the first-term selectman has been a dismal failure thus far.

This is not to say Dentino is responsible for the childish, immature and unprofessional mess that is Mansfield’s government today. There is more than enough blame to go around, and enough shoulders on which to heap it.

But while others may have caused many of the difficult problems that plague this town, Dentino is responsible for something arguably worse.

He is preventing them from being properly addressed.

Dentino’s constant showboating at meetings takes up valuable time that should be spent constructively addressing their many pressing problems.

Being a watchdog is great, but if all you do is continuously bark, your value is lessened. A watchdog that runs and gets help is preferable to one who merely makes lots of noise while the home in question is being ransacked.

Dentino has made lots of noise, but accomplished little else. He blames this on his fellow board members and the Town Manager. But his failure to lead effectively is his fault, and he must face that truth.

Dentino is intelligent, articulate and honest. He cares about his town and his fellow citizens, and has a deeply ingrained sense of right, wrong and duty.

But he has yet to master the role of selectman. He seems to think it is about finding fault, assessing blame, and publicly scolding those responsible.

He is wrong.

A good selectman keeps his or her eye on the big picture. As a local leader, your goal must always be to make government work for the benefit of the citizens and taxpayers. That means getting results as a board, not individually.

In no way does this mean unethical or illegal conduct must be condoned or accepted. But it does mean adapting your personal style in order to be effective.

Dentino has succeeded in calling attention to himself and pointing out mistakes. He has also done an amazing job of alienating and angering the other four selectmen, who he needs in order to get any real change accomplished.

But he hasn’t made Mansfield better. He hasn’t brought about serious, lasting change. He hasn’t been willing or able to set aside his considerable ego and form the consensus necessary to achieve true reform.

Dentino constantly harps on issues in order to advance his goal of getting rid of the town manager. He asks public questions not to get answers, but to embarrass the administration. He seems more interested in making his point than solving the town’s problems.

Though supporters love his style, Dentino needs to learn to become at least as effective as he is abrasive. He needs to place substance above show. He and his colleagues need to learn to respect each other in order to cooperatively work for the betterment of the community.

Is Mansfield’s town government better or worse today than it was before George Dentino was elected? That is a matter of opinion and great debate.

But clearly things are bad right now, and there is no indication they are going to get better anytime soon. Some of the fault for that has to land in Dentino’s lap.

It’s not that Dentino is always wrong. He quite often brings up valid points worthy of discussion and action.

But his grandstanding and public inquisitions have to stop. The attempts at public embarrassment need to come to an end.

The sad thing is, Dentino possesses the talent, ability and desire to bring about necessary change in Mansfield. He just chooses not to do it.

“I’m a minority voice. That’s the way it’s been. I just live with it,” Dentino said recently.

Maybe he can live with it, but the people of Mansfield shouldn’t have to suffer for it.

Enough with the petty politics and political showmanship. Get down to the real business of government, and do it in a professional manner. Mansfield’s citizens deserve nothing less.

Bill Gouveia is a community columnist who has been known to bark a little himself. He can be reached at aninsidelook@aol.com.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Just a Game? Like Hell!

This column originally appeared in the Attleboro Sun Chronicle on Saturday, February 9th, 2008.

I was relatively okay this week after watching my beloved Patriots fall to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.

Then I read my friend Mark Farinella’s sports column in the Sun Chronicle on Wednesday. On top of everything else, that was enough to send me over the edge.

In said column, Mark advises all Patriot fans to “get a grip”. He decries the reaction of many of us to the devastating loss, and tells us all to get some perspective. He notes winning the game would not have fed the hungry, lowered our taxes, or meant a cure for cancer.

“It’s just a football game, people” Farinella’s prose relates.

Well, I have some equally good advice to my buddy who I covered local sports with more than 30 years ago:

Get over yourself, Mark.

I just love it when the sports media – both regional and national – gets on their high horse and tells all us lowly and ignorant sports fans we are taking these games too seriously. I find their preaching to be the height of hypocrisy.

These nice folks make their living covering games and athletic events. They are only able to do this because people like me care deeply about sports.

Without passionate and even obsessive sports fans, sportswriters would have no reason to do what they do. Without the dedication of this sports-crazed nation, Farinella might find himself covering local selectmen’s meetings and the annual gathering of the Chartley Garden Club.

We devout (okay, somewhat crazed) sports fans know full well the result of the Super Bowl plays no part in the lowering of our taxes, the security of our nation, or the well-being of our brave soldiers. We may not be as smart and worldly as some sportswriters, but we have figured that out.

There is no excuse for anyone to abuse their spouse, their pet, or themselves over a sporting contest – or anything else, for that matter. People who cross the line of acceptable behavior like that, regardless of the reason, need serious help.

And there is no reason for ignorant jerks to write threatening and insulting comments to sportswriters over what they have written or reported. Mark was right in blasting those who wrote such comments about Mansfield native John Tomase’s recent story in a Boston paper.

But sportswriters spend a lot of their time and energy trying to get us involved in the saga of our local franchises. They cover their every move, report on everything they do from preseason to the playoffs, and often delve into the personal lives of the players. They seek to make us care, become invested.

So when they then start preaching about misplaced priorities, it seems a bit disingenuous.

I read Mark Farinella because he is an excellent sports columnist. His understanding of the game, his style, and the way he relates to his readership make his columns interesting and informative.

But does Mark really want us all to become Los Angeles sports fans? Does he want everyone to leave Fenway Park in the seventh inning to beat the traffic? Following the loss, should we have had a parade for the Pats anyway, with signs that said “We don’t care if you lost”?

Good sportswriters take pride in being objective professional reporters rather than just fans. That is as it should be.

But for those professionals to look down their noses at sports fans and smugly remind them “it’s only a game” is irritating and insulting.

We know it’s a game – we are the people who make it possible. Without us shelling out our hard-earned dollars for expensive seats, exorbitant parking fees, outrageous cable television packages and overpriced souvenirs and memorabilia, these games would be played only in schoolyards.

Without us crazies, there would be no need for haughty sportswriters who like to think they somehow have a better perspective on life than we do.

So get over yourself, my friend. All I kicked this weekend was some perfectly innocent furniture.

This was not “just a football game”, it was much more than that. And remember – when we stop caring, you’ll stop working.

Bill Gouveia is a 34-year Patriot season ticket-holder and a certified sports nut, who happens to write a local column. He can be reached at aninsidelook@aol.com.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Chapter 40B Housing

This column originally appeared in the Attleboro Sun Chronicle on Saturday, January 26th, 2008.

For years now Norton town officials have been at the forefront of the fight to change Chapter 40B, the state’s affordable housing law.

They tried going to the legislature, rallying other communities, and even pressed their case in court. In the end, they achieved relief from the tough law the old-fashioned way:

They earned it.

For those unfamiliar, Chapter 40B exempts builders from local planning and zoning laws if they build housing with at least 25-percent classified as affordable. The rest can be sold or rented at market prices. But these rules only apply in communities where less than 10-percent of all housing is affordable.

Barring a late appeal, Norton will achieve the magical 10-percent threshold when the 176-unit Turtle Crossing apartment development is built.

That means developers will no longer be able to come to Norton and put too many homes on too little land to make too much money while helping not enough people. That is, until the building of new homes puts the town back under 10-percent.

It would be nice to think Norton achieved this goal out of a real desire to help its citizens live affordably. But the truth is Norton has greatly increased its level of affordable housing because of Chapter 40B, not despite it.

In other words, the bottom line is – this law works.

The very phrase “affordable housing” causes tremors throughout most local communities. It is often confused with “low-income housing”, when in fact they are two very different things.

Low-income housing is government subsidized housing intended for the poorer people in our society. Far too often it creates “projects” where people who either cannot get jobs or refuse to do so are housed.

There are sociological and racial overtones to low-income housing, both in real life and in the minds of much of the citizenry. Fair or unfair, true or false, the perceptions are at least as strong as the realities.

But affordable housing merely is an attempt to allow some relief for the mythical middle class. In many local towns, our children move out because they cannot afford to live in the communities where they grew up.

Affordable housing means they can purchase or rent at prices below the existing market. This is not intended as a hand-out, but rather a start. It is meant to create opportunities, not projects.

But developers cannot and should not be asked to create these opportunities out of the goodness of their hearts. While often pictured as greedy and soulless businesspeople – sometimes accurately – the fact is they have families to support too. They are in business to make money.

Communities often increase the minimum lot size to build a home within their borders to as much as two acres. Then when the developer builds a million dollar home to offset the increased land cost, they bemoan the effect it has on the tax rate and property values.

You can’t have it both ways.

Chapter 40B is despised by most area towns because it takes away their control. There are most definitely parts of the law that are unfair and distasteful.

But towns that have worked hard and made sure they have at least 10-percent affordable housing are exempt. Chapter 40B is a law they can avoid simply by doing what the law was intended to do – create affordable housing.

Almost everyone is in favor of affordable housing. But most don’t want to see it in their neighborhood. They always seem to think there is a “better place” for it.

Norton is no different. Many of the 40B developments in town have faced fierce opposition, almost all of it from the neighborhood where it was planned. Selectmen, zoning and planning board members and other officials have faced tremendous pressure and criticism.

But Norton didn’t just complain – it complied. The town worked with developers in an example of the public/private partnerships Chapter 40B was meant to create.

What this achieved is a better town, with more affordable housing, that has now regained control over development.

Not a bad result for a law no one seems to like.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and a life-long resident of Norton. He can be reached at aninsidelook@aol.com.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Great Time for New England Sports

This column originally appeared in the Attleboro Sun Chronicle on Saturday, January 5th, 2008.

As I sat in Giants Stadium last Saturday night with my son, I made sure to imprint the sights and sounds of this game in my mind forever.

After all, how often do you get to witness perfection up close?

I was a part of history last weekend as I sat high in the New Jersey night air, watching the New England Patriots complete the first ever 16-0 undefeated season in NFL history. It marks the first undefeated regular season since the 1972 Miami Dolphins.

Those Dolphins won their 14 regular season games and then swept three in the playoffs. To match that incredible feat the Pats will have to win their three playoff games, starting next weekend in Foxboro.

You have read about this amazing season from virtually everyone and every viewpoint by now. Every sportswriter and sportscaster in the country has weighed in on the Pats and their chances to join the Dolphins in immortality.

So please allow me to add another viewpoint – that of a lifelong Patriot fan, a season ticket-holder for 34 years, and someone who has brought his sons up to be certifiable sports fanatics.

In general, we Boston sports fans are a spoiled bunch right now. We have gotten used to success, and not just in one sport.

When I was growing up in the 60’s, the Celtics won the NBA Championship virtually every year. We took those great teams for granted. It was easy to be blasé about the greatness we were witnessing.

Today, the Red Sox have won two World Series titles in four years, after an 86 year drought. The Celtics have the best record in the NBA. The Patriots have won three Super Bowls in the last six years, and are favored to win yet another. They are on their way to what could be a perfect championship season.

I was going to Fenway Park when the Red Sox couldn’t get out of the bottom half of the league. I actually attended Patriot games at Fenway, and then spent the better part of three decades sitting on those ice-cold aluminum benches in the old Schaeffer/Sullivan/Foxboro Stadium watching some of the worst football the league has ever seen.

I tell you that not to sound old, but to illustrate why I am so appreciative of the situation we fans find ourselves in today.

The younger generation of Boston sports fans think we have a championship parade every two or three years at least. They go to a football stadium that is state-of-the-art in every way. They watch as their teams are in contention for the championship virtually every season.

It is not always like this, folks.

We are in the Golden Age of New England sports history. We are witnessing it first-hand. We are actually watching things take place that will be talked about by generations of sports fans who follow us.

We need to be aware of the history unfolding, and appreciate it while it is happening.

It is quite possible what is going on right now may never again occur in our lifetime. The stars have aligned, both on the playing fields and in the sky. This is a solar eclipse, followed by a lunar eclipse, followed by Haley’s Comet, followed by the Republicans controlling the Massachusetts Legislature. This is a totally unusual place in time.

So don’t just enjoy it, fellow sports fans – immerse yourselves in it. Go overboard, jump in with both feet, and totally commit yourselves to the great teams we have to enjoy these days.

Take your kids to ballgames or watch with them and explain what it is they are seeing. They may not get the full impact now, but later on they will tell their kids how they watched the great undefeated Patriot team of 2007. They will look back upon this time with a fondness only experience can bring.

Right now, the Patriots are perfect. And today is the perfect time for us all to make sure we fully experience and live the history unfolding all around us.

Bill Gouveia, who has never been accused of perfection, is a local columnist who can be reached at aninsidelook@aol.com.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Appreciating Freedom

This column appeared in the Attleboro Sun Chronicle on Saturday, December 29th, 2007.

As we head into 2008, there is something happening that scares me.

No, I’m not talking about the Yankees possibly signing Santana, or Rosie O’Donnell getting another show of her own. I’m talking about the truly scary stuff – like what today’s younger generation is prepared to sacrifice in the name of safety and security.

Increasingly the current administration in Washington has told us we need to sacrifice our individual liberties to ensure our collective security. We must be willing to forgo protections built into our system for the innocent in order to catch and prosecute the guilty.

We are told we must keep the Patriot Act, under which the government can investigate and detain just about anyone for just about any reason. We must accept that our library records may be studied by the government without our knowledge or consent.

There are an increasing number of surveillance cameras in our local school buildings. Police dogs are brought in to search local school lockers just to let the kids know it can happen. Breathalyzers are used indiscriminately at proms.

And yet, there is no great outrage among the younger generation – or the older ones, for that matter.

In this post September 11th world, we have come to accept these things as necessary to provide for our safety and security. Like longer lines at the airport, they are just things we seem to feel we must endure.

But I worry every day, not about what our government is doing to us, but rather what we are allowing it to do. I worry about a growing generation seemingly out of touch with the true meaning of freedom.

Freedom is not the right to live safely or securely. Freedom is the right to live as you choose.

While we all must conform to the basic laws of society in order to function, America has always been the Land of the Free. We are not the Home of the Safe, The Land of the Efficient, or the Home of the Financially Responsible.

The government does not – or at least did not – track our whereabouts at all times. Unlike other countries we have no state-sponsored religion. Morality is something to be interpreted here, where in other countries it is simply enforced.

Keeping track of our enemies, as well as those we think could become our enemies, is much tougher here than in the rest of the world. That damn concept of “freedom” keeps getting in the way.

Now, I am not naïve enough to believe things don’t have to change as the world around us changes. Security is certainly a necessity. Freedom is great, but a free individual who is murdered does not get to enjoy it for long.

Still, I worry about what our younger generation locally believes is their role in this world of ours today.

I know when I was growing up, we questioned everything. We not only pushed existing beliefs in areas such as science, we also questioned the rules surrounding us as a nation.

Maybe I’m just getting old and crabby, but I see less of that today. I see young adults who think it is no big deal for the government to check their library records. After all, if you have nothing to hide, why should it bother you, right?

Wrong. It should bother you, it should make you angry, and it should scare the living you-know-what out of you.

You can call all this the wild rantings of an aging liberal (as my kids do), but I disagree. If we have gotten to the point where defending freedom and liberty is a political position, we are already in more trouble than we think.

In 1776 Benjamin Franklin told the Continental Congress “They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security deserve neither liberty or security.”

Old Ben was right on the mark then, and remains correct today. I’m just hoping today’s younger generation pays him more heed than the older ones are currently doing.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist who, contrary to popular belief, did not know Benjamin Franklin personally. He can be reached at aninsidelook@aol.com.