Friday, March 27, 2015

Cuurmudgeon takes a vacation -- Part III

We took two cars, stayed in two hotel rooms, but Long Suffering Spouse and I were together the entire trip. Confused? Well, hang on.

You'll recall, of course, my insufferable bragging about the careful, logical, analytical way I planned our accommodations for this Florida adventure. No detail was too small. I even printed out detailed, turn-by-turn instructions from Google Maps, which promised to get us to our hotel in 17 hours, 47 minutes.

These were the maps and directions I left on a chair in the living room of the Curmudgeon manse when we finally got underway.

And that, Dear Readers, was the least of my failings.

By the beginning of that first full weekend of March, we knew that Youngest Son was scheduled to pitch on Sunday afternoon and again on the following Friday. I had hoped for a Thursday start, perhaps, so that we might have a more leisurely journey home, but at least we were armed with the facts.

Youngest Son had been ill during the week preceding the Florida trip -- fever, hacking, wheezing, congestion. He called me on Monday of the week we were to leave informing me of this malady and, essentially, demanding that I give up the identity of the secret pill or potion that would instantly restore him to good health. As if there was one. From our distant vantage point in Chicago, Long Suffering Spouse and I feared pneumonia, or bronchitis at least, and urged Youngest Son to seek medical attention. He ignored us, of course, at least at first. Perhaps he consulted with the team trainer.

By Friday, the day he was to leave (by air from Milwaukee) -- and the day we were to leave by rented car that I would pick up Friday afternoon -- I was still unsure of his health. I texted him to inquire whether he actually made it to the airport bus. He texted back that the bus had just left campus for Milwaukee's Mitchell Field. Twelve hours later he would text again, to confirm touchdown in Orlando. This made me feel even better about not flying.

Even the weather cooperated... sort of. Winter Storm Thor was pulling out of the Southeast as Friday dawned -- but my wife was petrified by horror stories of persons stuck in their vehicles on I-65 overnight (a lot of celebrities and pols among them, heading for Selma and the 50th anniversary remembrance of Bloody Sunday). There aren't a lot of choices for people driving from Chicago to Florida: The best route is to take I-65 to Nashville, turn east on Interstate 24 to Chattanooga, then turn south on I-75, all the way into Florida, land of the endless toll roads. Stranded motorists were still being pulled from cars in Kentucky -- there had been nearly two feet of snow in Louisville courtesy of "Thor" -- and Long Suffering Spouse was worried that the roads might not yet be passable when we got there.

By this time, however, I'd adopted the stubborn, inflexible mindset of a World War I general. We were going over the top as scheduled no matter what. I was certain that the road would be cleared in time for us. On this one point, at least, I was proved right, ultimately, but our discussions about the likely driving conditions did add an extra layer of tension and confusion to our final preparations.

I took Friday off to prepare for the trip. My wife worked a full day -- and then some -- because, she said, she could not leave her substitute (Mrs. Lork) without stuff to keep the kids busy. She had assignments. She had contingent assignments. She created punishment assignments if the kids got unruly. And she wrote out d-e-t-a-i-l-e-d instructions. She'd been working on these all week -- and she still wasn't finished late Friday afternoon.

Meanwhile, I took our second car to Younger Daughter's house -- she needed the car to watch our house during our absence -- with the expectation that Younger Daughter would then take me to the Blue Line so I could get to O'Hare and the rental car. Both Younger Daughter and Long Suffering Spouse were concerned about using public transportation to get to the rental car place... but you really can't drive up to one of these places in your own car. How do you get out? Everywhere you go is either a gate or a row of spikes that will shred your tires should you foolishly try and back up. No, the train and the shuttle bus was the best plan -- such a planner I'd become!

What I couldn't plan, of course, was the duration of Granddaughter No. 1's nap. Younger Daughter and Olaf are in the process of housebreaking Granddaughter No. 1 -- and she's doing very well indeed, I can tell you -- but it has complicated her schedule. On that particular day, she didn't go down for her afternoon nap until late -- and she wasn't yet awake when I arrived (already later than I'd wanted).

Readers of this blog will readily understand that one cannot simply bundle a toddler, newly awoken from a nap, into a car and take Grandpa for a ride. Wait! Grandpa's here? What are you doing here? Well -- the child was happy to see me (it's my blog and you'll just have to take my word for it) but there had to be a delay before Younger Daughter would even consider trying to get Granddaughter No. 1 into her coat. So we lost more time there.

Eventually, though, we could go. Granddaughter No. 1 was upset when I jumped out of the car at the River Road train station, but I was finally back on the plan.

I didn't realize how cold it would be shivering on the platform at the River Road station. The wind was whipping and -- this is the story of my life -- there were four trains from O'Hare before the first one arrived heading toward the airport. Eventually, however, I got the car -- a 2015 GMC Terrain. It had all sorts of gizmos and whizbangs on a very spaceshipish-sort-of-instrument-panel that I had no clue how to operate. Still, a dim thought worked its way into my consciousness. Perhaps, I thought, we could connect the i-Pod to the vehicle and listen to music. That might be nice.

Younger Daughter and Granddaughter No. 1 were at my house when I brought the rental home. This was not part of the plan. I forget why they had come. Granddaughter No. 1 may have insisted. But I seized on the opportunity to ask my daughter how to connect the i-Pod. Not only could I do that, Younger Daughter told me, but I could hook up the cell phone through the car, too. She was trying to show me how while Granddaughter No. 1 climbed into the vehicle, situated herself in front of the instrument panel, and began pushing random buttons and twisting knobs. I'm not sure I absorbed the lesson very well.

I am sure that it was dark out by the time Younger Daughter and Granddaughter No. 1 were gone and Long Suffering Spouse and I were ready to hit the open highway. "Are you sure we shouldn't wait until morning?" asked Long Suffering Spouse for the 80th time. But Field Marshal Curmudgeon would hear none of this. We had a hotel room in Florida Saturday night which we could not possibly reach if we left Saturday morning. No, although we were hours behind schedule, The Plan Must Be Followed. "Do we have the I-Pass?" asked Long Suffering Spouse -- that gets us through toll booths in Illinois and Indiana, although (as is not particularly surprising) not in Florida -- and I answered in the affirmative. "Are all the bags in the car?" she asked. I answered in the affirmative. "Did you bring a brush for snow?" Well, no, I said, we're going to Florida, remember? "Bring a brush," my wife said, "we don't know what weather we will encounter en route." I was going to ask if she wanted me to bring a shovel, too, but I thought the better of it. If I asked, she might have said yes. "Where is the phone charger?" she asked. "I don't know," I answered. "Get the phone charger," she told me. I went into the family van and grabbed a phone charger.

Now, apparently, although I didn't realize it at the time, we have two phone chargers that plug into the family van. One of these is for a phone that we no longer have. Why this should still be in the van under the circumstances is not something I can answer. I can admit that I didn't check to see if I had grabbed the right charger or the wrong charger because I didn't realize there were two.

Long Suffering Spouse, however, figured it out mere minutes after we finally left. We had just gotten on the Illinois Tollway. The phone charger discovery happened moments after my wife figured out that I'd left the maps and directions in the living room. This was not the most auspicious way to beging a journey.

"Turn around. We are going home. We will leave tomorrow."

If Long Suffering Spouse hadn't said anything about leaving tomorrow I probably would have turned around. Probably. But Field Marshall Curmudgeon was not going to wait until first light Saturday to start the attack on Florida. We were leaving Friday as the plan required, no matter how late on Friday that might be. I didn't turn around. I was not a very popular fellow in that vehicle, let me tell you.

But -- like this story -- we kept going.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Curmudgeon takes a vacation -- Part II

Having had my bluff called on the Florida trip, there was nothing to do now but figure out how to make things happen.

I had one piece of hard data: I had the South Janesville College baseball team's itinerary, showing the addresses of the three different parks, in three different towns. With Google Maps I could readily determine that there were significant distances from each to each -- a half hour's drive or more. The logical conclusion from this was we would need a car for the week.

Having determined that we must rent a car for the week, then the question became whether we should fly down to either Orlando or Tampa -- our destinations were roughly in between -- or whether we should rent a car here and take it there. I'd done that once before, about 17 years ago, when we took a family vacation to Camp Lejeune. Marine bases are not traditional vacation destinations, but Penny's husband Carl was stationed there at the time (Penny was my wife's college roommate, you may recall) and they were able to rent a doublewide trailer on the beach where we could all hang out. I don't remember where we actually stayed on that trip -- at Penny and Carl's home, I assume, but I'm not certain. But there are two things I do remember. First, this was the most unspoiled beach I'd ever seen this side of the pages of National Geographic -- imagine an almost deserted beach on the Atlantic Ocean, closed to all but Marine officers and their guests -- and but for the tanks practicing maneuvers a mile or so behind us every day, it was as quiet as it was deserted. The second thing I remember is that, although we had nice weather at the beach, we had rain going to and coming from North Carolina. Lots and lots of rain. Buckets. Torrents. It made for an interesting drive....

But, anyway, we'd rented a van on that occasion because we did not think our family van up to the long trip. The old van did last a good six years more -- but now, as I planned for the Florida trip, that old van's successor -- our current family van -- is just about 11 years old. I didn't want to tempt fate. So I was receptive to renting a vehicle here for the drive.

I admit to a certain prejudice against air travel. I hate it. I hate the phony security (universal inconvenience makes no one safer). I hate the increasingly random pricing schedule. If I buy on a Tuesday with one eye closed I can pay x per ticket, but if I wait until Wednesday with both eyes open I might pay 1.5x or even 2x. Unless I caught the special on Thursday night between 11:00 and 11:15 p.m., when I'd pay .75x.

I can put up with the zig-zag prices, but then there are the extra fees -- like for checking bags. There was no way we could go to Florida for a week and have carry-on luggage only. For one thing, my wife and I would need to bring at least one computer -- she had grades to finish and I had to monitor my practice, such as it is. I had to have enough 'stuff' with me to operate from a hotel room in Florida at least as well as I could from home. Have you ever tried typing a letter on a cell phone? Cell phones are great for reading email -- but any task more complicated becomes well nigh impossible.

Oh, yes, the computer was another vacation cost: We had to buy the laptop for Florida. We had a laptop we'd been using -- but it was an XP machine and Windows (how I hate Bill Gates) recently decided to stop supporting XP. The still-functional machine was now useless -- unless I didn't want to connect in any way to the Internet -- and connecting to the Internet for business is kind of the whole idea when one travels. Now I have a brand new Windows 8.1 machine -- which is almost as good as the one I was using (yes, I'm sure it's a technological order of magnitude better in some respects, but none that concern a word-processing, email reading person like myself) except that it's not yet paid for.

I did scout out airfares, but once I figured out that the cost of flying would equal or exceed the cost of renting a car for the week, my heart wasn't really in it. I had to revive my membership in the National Emerald Club, but it seemed to me like I had made great progress in the planning of the event.

Not so to Long Suffering Spouse, however. "We're going to drive?" she asked. "The whole way?"

I explained the bases of my recommendation. Long Suffering Spouse was resigned to the inevitable, if not exactly enthused about the prospect. "What if it snows?" she asked. "We have to go through mountains. What if there's ice storms?"

Negotiations continued throughout that week. Long Suffering Spouse was paying increasing attention to The Weather Channel long-range forecasts (and these were becoming ominous). And there was one more thing preying on my wife's mind, as she announced one Saturday morning when Olaf and Younger Daughter and Granddaughter No. 1 were visiting. "Where are we staying on this trip? I'm not sleeping in the car!"

I hadn't attempted to book a hotel room yet, it was true. There were three widely separated baseball fields to consider, in a part of the country I didn't know at all (I'd been to a deposition once in the greater Orlando area, as I recalled for certain during the course of the trip, but that was for a single night and day -- the deposition was at the hotel). Cautious individual that I am, I was interested only in major chain hotels -- I'm sure there are wonderful places down there not affiliated with any major chain -- but how was I, from Chicago, supposed to ferret these out? Internet reviews? Please. Internet reviews are written by (a) trolls or (b) the mothers, spouses, and other family members of the business owner.

I tried searching within a radius of a certain number of miles from each park's address. A lot of places were already full up -- there were a lot of college baseball teams being rotated through central Florida in March for this never ending 'tournament.' Harvard was going to play there for a single game. No, seriously. The actual Harvard, as in don't-pahk-yah-cah-in-Hahvad-yahd Harvard. Harvard wasn't playing South Janesville, but still -- Harvard.

Anyway, we could assume that all the best places filled up first and we'd have to sort among the dregs. Again, this is why I was focusing on major chains -- eventually, I found one in Winter Haven, Florida that seemed to meet all the criteria -- major chain -- near one of the parks where the boys would play -- reasonably priced, but supposedly with refrigerator and microwave -- the picture of the typical room looked quite nice -- and there were no glaring troll reviews.

I announced my selection to the assembled throng. But, I said -- again, my native caution coming to the fore -- I would only book the room through Tuesday -- Sunday, Monday, Tuesday -- leaving us potentially at liberty thereafter. My wife was appalled. "We'd have to start looking all over again?" she asked.

"Well, yes," I began, "but at least we'd be in the area and could see for ourselves. And if we liked the place, we could almost certainly extend our stay there for the whole trip."

I could see Long Suffering Spouse building up to a major objection to this plan, but Younger Daughter chose that moment to interject, "That makes sense to me. When we went to Minnesota" (she and Olaf had gone there a couple of years ago for an extended weekend) "I wished we could have changed hotels. Where we were was nice, but there were other places we wanted to see but we couldn't get there and back to our hotel in time."

Long Suffering Spouse throttled down.

I booked the rooms. I suppose I should have wondered more at the no cancellation policy, but I was thinking that -- at that busy time of the year -- the hotels wouldn't want to hold empty rooms that they thought they were going to get paid for.

So we had a plan -- logically arrived at, the product of careful study of all known information, after due and careful consideration.

*Sigh*

We were about to learn -- again -- the wisdom of Von Moltke's maxim, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Curmudgeon takes a vacation -- Part I

We don't take vacations often in the Curmudgeon family -- at least not Long Suffering Spouse and myself -- as this essay, from 2006, makes clear.

Here's a link to the story I wrote about that last vacation, nine years ago. The story has 'matured' in the retelling, over the years, as all good stories should, to the point where (the way I spin it now) there's a Shoot On Sight Order posted at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix in case I should ever return again during Spring Training -- how we left Arizona in March 2006, one jump ahead of an enraged committee of the Chamber of Commerce, all decked out in parkas, and carrying pitchforks and torches, bundles of feathers, and buckets of melted tar.

Well, it really did snow as far south as Scottsdale, when I was in Arizona for Middle Son's first Spring Training. That's not exaggerated in the least. And my wife and I and Youngest Son and Younger Daughter wore every stitch of clothing we'd brought with us, all the time, all at once, because it was so darn cold there in the so-called Valley of the Sun. (Meanwhile it was in the 70s and sunny in Chicago.) The hotel didn't have heat -- who needs to heat a hotel room in Phoenix? -- so the only place we could get warm was in the rented van.

We spent a lot of time in that van in 2006.

That part of the story's not exaggerated either.

In the nine intervening years, I believe my wife and I have been out of town overnight on only three other occasions -- once for Older Daughter's wedding (in Indianapolis) and another for Oldest Son's wedding (in San Antonio). We did get to tour a mission on the San Antonio trip and, of course, we remembered the Alamo -- it's right in the middle of town, so you can't forget it, even if you try -- but I don't know if that counts as a family "vacation." And the third trip, to South Bend, for Oldest Son's college graduation, was certainly not a vacation (I offer this as proof) -- and we'd spent the night before the commencement ceremony sleeping, at least occasionally, in a dorm room. Most of the parents did -- there weren't nearly enough hotel rooms, so this was planned in advance. It's just -- well, you've heard of getting a mint on your pillow at a nice hotel? The pillow on my dorm bed was as thick as a mint, and not nearly as soft. I was still recovering from surgery at the time, and was terrified that the only available bathroom was down the hall. Still, we survived.

And time passed.

This spring turns out to be Youngest Son's last Spring Training as a college baseball player. He's a senior already at South Janesville College (the name I made up instead of using the actual school's name) and this year, as in the past three years, Youngest Son's team would be journeying to Central Florida, midway between Tampa and Orlando, for a never-ending 'tournament.' Most tournaments, in my experience have winners and losers and such. But this tournament is just a way to get as many teams from as many places playing each other as possible. My son's team played a lot of teams from Pennsylvania -- and one from Illinois. Go figure. So it's not really a 'tournament.' Still, it's an opportunity to play in reasonably warm weather, without having to first shovel the field (they do that often in Youngest Son's league), and it may be the actual last time this spring where the kids can play in nice weather.

Anyway, Youngest Son's team has gone down there during the school's Spring Break each year. The very secular South Janesville College does not concern itself with Easter in determining when Spring Break will come -- so it's not surprising that his trip has never coincided with my wife's Spring Break.

But, one night at home, somewhere around Valentine's Day, realizing this was the last time we could see the boy pitch in Florida, I said something to Long Suffering Spouse about how I wished she could get the week off anyway. And -- and this surprised me -- she said she'd ask.

And this surprised me more: The school said, sure, go ahead and go.

I must have been working from home the day all this happened. Perhaps I had a deposition somewhere out here and I didn't want to drive downtown. I have most everything I need to work at home anyway. I know I had gone to the store to buy a box of copy paper for my office -- I was going to be driving downtown at some point, obviously -- because I remember that I was in the parking lot of the store when my wife called and said (a) she needed something she'd forgot at home and (b) she had permission to go to Florida.

I went home and got it and brought whatever it was into the school and, who should I meet on my way to my wife's classroom but the retired teacher who'd already agreed -- just that morning, because everything happened just that quickly -- to substitute for my wife while we were away. "I'm so glad you're going," she told me, and I thanked her.

It wasn't long after that that it hit me: Everyone had called my bluff. We were really going to have to go to Florida, weren't we?

To Be Continued

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Banks do something else stupid... and, in other news, the Sun will rise tomorrow in the East. Unless a banker is put in charge of sunrise, that is....

After the Great Recession, when the banks nearly destroyed the national economy, you'd think that banks might be a little more -- I don't know -- cautious about doing stupid things.

You know, the next time the bankers destroy the economy one or more of them may actually go to jail.

But, apparently, I am ever the optimist -- failing to realize just how mind-numbingly stupid banks can be.

Today I went to my bank with the simple objective of depositing a check in my business account.

Now, you've been to a bank recently -- you know what they look like -- whether the decor is wood or marble, chrome or wrought iron, there are always four or five teller windows, and only one or two is ever open. A really big bank -- really big -- may have a dozen teller windows... with only three or four of them open.

No matter how many people are in line, right?

Even the grocery store knows enough to open a new register when the lines get too long. This will shock you, but I've actually seen this happen at the Post Office.

But never at a bank.

Well, this bank has some new, fancy wallpaper -- covered with slogans -- up on one wall now -- new since I was last there a couple of weeks ago (it's been a long time between checks for deposit, I know) -- and exactly no teller windows open.

Seriously.

This, by the way, was in the early afternoon. I hadn't broken in after hours or anything.

A banker walked up to me as I stood there puzzling over the complete absence of tellers. I didn't realize he was a "banker," of course. I took him for a greeter. A lot of banks have greeters these days. Just like Wal Mart, only younger. With the money banks make from nonsensical fees alone, they can afford to hire armies of greeters.

"Can I help you?" says the banker.

"I'd like to make a deposit." I gestured at the empty, closed teller counter.

The banker picked up on my meaning. He may have noticed the deposit slip and check in my hand. "We don't have tellers at this location anymore, sir."

This is still a bank, right? Some vestige of the good manners my mother taught me as a child prevented me from asking that question in the tone in which I'd have liked to ask it.

"I can show you how to use our ATM machine. Do you have an ATM card?"

"No, this is a business account," I said, "I don't have -- or want -- an ATM card."

"We have bankers handle all these transactions. I'll get you into see a banker as soon as one is available." He was carrying an iPad Mini on his arm -- maybe that's how he kept track of all the "bankers." Maybe he used it to play cards.

"We don't need dedicated tellers because we are cross-trained to do everything," he added.

"You do realize that that is the dumbest thing I've heard all day." My mother -- and my childhood -- have been gone a long time.

"Many banks are moving to this model," he told me, "but we still have some branches with tellers." He named one a few blocks out my way. At least it was still Downtown.

Somebody else came in at that point, also hoping to make a deposit. I watched the scene play out again.

"We're short-handed today. We have three bankers out with the flu." Well, we have had 50 degree temperature fluctuations here in Chicago in the past few days. That can get a lot of people sick. If bankers are people -- a mighty big if, mind you -- I suppose they wouldn't be immune.

Someone emerged from a cubicle. I don't know what he'd been doing in there. Undermining the economy, probably. But it freed up a live terminal for my helpful banker to take my deposit.

Finally.

On the way to my next errand, the craziness of what I'd just witnessed sank in a little. Banks are moving to a model that does away with tellers? What next? Grocery stores doing away with food? Auto dealers doing away with cars? A bank is a place where you put money in or where you take it out... and they are moving away to a model that does away with people who actually handle money just so customers can meet with a "banker" on each visit? Why? So the "banker" can tout the unsuspecting customer on the dubious virtues of credit debenture swaps or whatever scam they dream up next on Wall Street?

They say the Great Recession is finally over. They say the economy is recovering. But the banks... and the unjailed bankers... are still here. Innovating insanely. Don't count on the recovery lasting any length of time.

And start keeping your money in your mattress.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Curmudgeon goes to a funeral, comes away moody

My friend Steve and I went to a funeral yesterday. I wouldn't tell you whose it was -- that would compromise my anonymity -- and, frankly, if I described it, even, I'd give it away. So maybe I'll tell the story of why I felt I had to go some other time, when it won't be as easy to connect the dots.

The decedent had been politically involved. I can say that much. His eulogist said a lot more about that. A lot more.

And it was very entertaining. Very funny. Very impressive. But the man couldn't have been home much in the evenings.

He was divorced. I knew that. So many lawyers are, you know. I served a term in the state bar Assembly 25 years ago -- my father used to go to the conventions each year, up in Wisconsin, and my wife and I could have dinner and a couple of drinks with him and my mother.

The highlight of the convention, each year, was the installation of the new bar president. We've had a few women presidents since, but in those days, at least, they were all men. And at the big dinner on the last night of the annual meeting, the bar president would give a little speech and proudly introduce his family.

"Isn't that nice?" Long Suffering Spouse would say. "And each daughter is prettier than the next. But where's the wife?"

And my father would lean over and tell her. "See that one on the right? The youngest looking? That's the wife."

My father would lean over to tell my wife this so he could watch the horrified expression on her face as his message sunk in. He was very amused by it. "I think that's the second wife," he'd say, unless he said, "I believe that's wife no. 3." And then he'd add, "You have to spend a lot of time away from home if you want to be president of the bar association."

And that was just state bar politics. You can imagine how much time somebody involved in politics-politics must have been away from home. Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but it takes its toll on the family, too.

The decedent, we were told, was very proud of his family. He had a son and a daughter. His daughter he saw every day. I got the distinct impression he didn't see much of his son or his son's family. They live out East somewhere, and that surely explains some of it. Maybe most of it. But the eulogist, a nephew of the decedent -- making him a first cousin to the decedent's son and daughter -- made it a point to address the son's kids directly from the pulpit. "You don't know me," he began....

You don't know me? Well, my first cousins have roughly 30 kids among them and I don't know them all either. But the eulogist was with their grandpa every day for several decades, he said, as driver, as confidant, as traveling companion, as factorum -- surely if those kids knew their grandfather, they must have known the eulogist as well, right? Well, apparently not....

I have two grandchildren (a third is pending) and both were over at the house over the weekend. I don't suppose the house can be overrun with grandchildren when there are only two, but my wife and I weren't planning on quite so much family togetherness this weekend -- we have a ton of work to do if we hope to get to Youngest Son's Spring Training next week in Florida -- and we were able to accomplish very little. Although going home at nights put an effective kibosh on my political ambitions, at least my grandchildren may get to know me -- if I live long enough. These were heretical thoughts to have, I suppose, during a long eulogy suffused with prominent political names, but there you have it.

Steve and I were walking back to the car after the car after the Mass.

"Charlotte got one of those new iPhones," he told me. Charlotte is Steve's wife.

"Oh?"

"Yes," he said, "and she feels compelled, now, to show me anything that she finds interesting. Your new Facebook picture, for example."

Oh, that. As long as the grandkids were over, I made sure that their mothers got some pictures of the kids sitting on my lap. I put one up on Facebook as a new profile picture (in case you're wondering, Long Suffering Spouse doesn't want her picture on Facebook because she's a teacher). "Yeah, I saw she 'liked' it," I said. "I don't know," I went on, "maybe I'm being morbid. But I keep thinking I need new pictures for the tables at the funeral parlor. Just in case."

Steve laughed.

"You know," he said, "we used to go to weddings and take away ideas. I don't like this -- or I'd like to do that -- and we'd try and remember them for our own. Remember?"

"Yes," I said, as we pulled out into traffic, heading back home. "You're doing it at funerals now?" He grunted an affirmative. "Me, too," I said.

Friday, February 13, 2015

I've been meaning to put this up for years now....


No, it doesn't make any sense for most of my readers, as if I had that many, but Bee will probably be surprised that I figured out her deep, dark secret.... And, yes, this is a real place, on Touhy Avenue in Niles, just outside the Chicago city limits.

By the way, that featureless gray above the top of the building? That's what a February sky looks like in Chicago, more times than not.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Brian Willams gets six month suspension -- that ought to be just about enough

Brian Williams. Photo by David Shankbone.
NBC News anchor Brian Williams has been suspended without pay by NBC for six months because of the whoppers he's told about coming under fire in Iraq while riding in a helicopter. Twelve years ago.

Williams' story -- if not his actual helicopter -- had come under fire from various quarters for years, but the story unraveled completely only recently, when he repeated the account on the air, and all sorts of persons who had also been there that day came forward to refute it.

With this lie exposed, media vultures are now circling Williams' reports from New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, where he reported seeing human corpses floating by in the flood waters.

Meanwhile, the Twitterverse erupted, predictably, with mockery, some of it quite funny (more here):


TV news anchors imagine themselves as journalists, not performers, and the public likes to think so, too. The suits at NBC had no choice but to punish Mr. Williams -- his self-announced 'stepping back' being clearly insufficient.

But the suits had a problem. Williams had decent ratings. High 'Q' scores. He could get all grim and somber reading the news and sparkle in late night TV talk show appearances. But even in a forgiving nation -- and we are -- NBC could not hope to reconstruct Williams' popularity and credibility without a seemingly severe punishment. And, so, six months.

Williams can go into seclusion, or therapy, or both. He can write a book about his personal struggle to confront the lies he's told in his life and his journey toward honesty. It could even be a true account.

Meanwhile, NBC will try out multiple replacements for Williams -- and watch the ratings. If, in six months, after a couple of network 'sweeps,' NBC News ratings are in the toilet, Williams will be offered a chance at redemption. If the ratings hold, however, watch for Brian Williams hawking product on a cable shopping channel near you. Only not toy helicopters. That will be in his contract.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Curmudgeon thinks about heading to Florida for Youngest Son's last Spring Training Trip

One thing security consultants tell us consistently is that we should never, ever announce on line any plans to be away from hearth and home -- or post vacation pictures on Facebook or Instagram while we are still on the trip -- or do anything else that might tip off would-be burglars that our homes are ripe for ransacking.

But this is an anonymous blog -- very anonymous -- so I don't think I'm taking much of a risk in saying that Long Suffering Spouse and I are seriously talking about taking a trip to Florida next month to watch Youngest Son's last Spring Training Trip ever.

Youngest Son is a senior in college this year and he pitches for South Janesville College (at least that's the name I've given his school here) and, well, there's not much chance of his name being called in the 2015 MLB Draft. It's not that he's a bad player -- he's a very good player, and scheduled to be the number two starter on his team -- but his fastball has never broken 90 mph. These days, for a right-handed pitcher to get drafted, he almost has to have a fastball that hits the mid-90's with some regularity. Even Hall of Famer Greg Maddux hit the mid-90's when he was in the low minors. (Of course, it wasn't until he cut the speed to below 90 -- and allowed the ball to move -- that he began his climb to Cooperstown.)

But -- much as I wish it could be otherwise -- I think Youngest Son is OK with the prospect of having to hang it up after this year. He'll graduate on time (I think) and then do his student teaching and then, hopefully, start a career teaching school and coaching baseball.

In early March, when many of his classmates are scattering to warmer climes for the bacchanalian revels of Spring Break, Youngest Son and his teammates will fly to the greater Orlando area, there to test their skills against other D-III schools on actual baseball diamonds, in weather that should be appropriate -- and surely better than the freezing conditions in which most of their regular season games will be played. Spring in Wisconsin! It's a dangerous time -- can't run the snowmobiles across the lakes as much -- but you can tell the weather's changing because the snow falls less frequently. In each of the last three years, the team-building activity for the South Janesville Team upon its return from Sunny Florida has involved shoveling mounds of snow off their home field.

I want to see the kid pitch. I want to watch a game without worrying about frostbite. I want to go to Florida.

Surprisingly -- even though it would mean having to take a week off from school -- Long Suffering Spouse seems to like the idea. She keeps asking impertinent questions, though, like "how are we going to pay for this?" I don't have any good answers to such questions.

So we're talking seriously about traveling to Florida in March. And I run the risk of leaving our house open to burglars by announcing it here.

Of course, I used to think that no self-respecting burglar would ever take anything from our house. Just one look inside and most burglars, I thought, would turn and leave, possibly dropping a dollar or two as a donation.

But the house is less chaotic since Younger Daughter and Olaf and Granddaughter #1 moved out. Our messes are more localized now: The area around my desk looks like the nest of a giant Pack Rat -- and the dining room table is buried beneath papers that Long Suffering Spouse needs for school. Burglars would still be unimpressed with the shopworn conditions of our living room furniture, and the threadbare carpet, but might venture beyond hoping to find something of value.

Good luck to them.

Of course, all of this could still fall through. I guess I won't believe it can happen until it happens. But that's the plan under discussion right now.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Middle Son registers for his upcoming wedding; something begins to register with Curmudgeon, too

Middle Son is getting married at the end of May.

(Thank you.)

He and Margaret, his fiancee, were at Macy's yesterday filling out their greed list -- the selection ritual having been postponed a week by the Super Bowl Sunday Blizzard -- and Middle Son called from the store in the course of his ordeal.

"I see what you meant when you said I'd want to shoot myself in the face rather than do this," Middle Son began. Actually, I think I said I would gnaw off my right arm in order to get out of such an adventure -- a sentiment which did not endear me to Long Suffering Spouse at the time I voiced it, but there you are.

"I'm sorry for your troubles," I responded. I figured the kid would get around to the point soon enough.

"Yeah, well, I was wondering -- why would anybody need fine china?" Apparently, Margaret and my son had been given an enthusiastic sales pitch on the translucent virtues of fine bone china, but neither he nor Margaret could see any practical value in getting this sort of stuff. "I was hoping Mom would pick up," he confessed -- he did call the house phone first -- but Long Suffering Spouse was on that line with Abuela. Abuela had a full head of steam up about the pastor's latest outrage (which, as it turned out, was really nothing at all -- and I hate the guy). Long Suffering Spouse covered the phone for a moment long enough to tell me that Middle Son was trying to call, so I called him back on my cell phone.

I understood Middle Son's instinctive desire to speak with his mother on the subject of china, crystal and flatware. That's girl stuff, right?

Wrong.

I used to work in the local jewelry store, back in Boondockia, back in the day -- over 40 years ago now -- and, among my duties was delivering china and crystal and flatware -- and the occasional sterling silver tea service -- to local brides. I had inventory responsibilities, too, and sometimes -- though, obviously, I was never allowed to play with the diamonds -- I was obliged to pitch in on the sales floor and sell some of these fine gifts. I developed some definite likes and dislikes -- I even picked up four place settings of a beautiful, but discontinued, Hutschenreuther china pattern for my own 'hope chest' during the jewelry store's sidewalk sale my senior year of high school. My grandmother helped find four more place settings and the survivors sit, right at this very moment, in my dining room gathering dust.

I reminded Middle Son that I knew something about that stuff.

We chatted in circles for awhile -- I pointed out that, really, a wedding is the last time you can ever expect anyone to buy fancy stuff like this, stuff you will have forever, stuff you could never justify buying for yourself. I told him how, in my day, buying a place setting of someone's china as a wedding gift was a really good present, covering one's plate and then some at the reception. I went on in this vein, but Middle Son kept coming back to his original question... why would anyone need this stuff?

Well, I said, you might pull it out if you invite the boss and his wife over for a fancy dinner, or when you have a real, grown-up party with your close friends, or --

Middle Son cut me off. "You've never done any of those things."

"Well, no. But I could have." If the occasion ever arose.

Which it never has.

Long Suffering Spouse had waited out Abuela's latest indictment of the pastor by this time and came into the den.

She took over and covered the same ground -- Middle Son still couldn't answer that why question to his satisfaction. "I don't want a lot of stuff I'll never use," he said. "I'd rather have the cash." And we could explain all night that the cash will go away, but, looking into the china cabinet, even decades later, you can see proof of Aunt Martha's generosity, and be reminded how your college roommate bought four crystal wine glasses, and on and on for each object.

"Yes," said Middle Son, "but why would I want all that stuff I'll never use?"

And... slowly... I think slower and slower these days, I suppose... it began to dawn on me that the boy was right: The world has become an informal place. Sixteen ounce red cups have replaced crystal goblets, paper plates have replaced china (on state occasions, perhaps, Chinet might be used).

I don't know if that's a net gain or a net loss for the world. I miss the thought that, occasionally, even middle class people could aspire to a little glamor.

But no one, I think, misses the obligation of polishing the silver.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Curmudgeon addresses "the vision thing"

No, this isn't about George H.W. Bush -- or Hillary Clinton -- I'm not political today. This is about glasses....

I wear glasses. So does Long Suffering Spouse. But we wear them... differently.

Like most self-respecting middle-aged men, I have prescription bifocals. I've never quite figured out how to use the bifocal part, though. I can't wear my glasses to read -- and I read fine print for a living. I need the glasses to drive, though, and I wear them more or less religiously now whenever I get behind the wheel. Distance is my problem.

I have one pair of glasses. They are generally on my nose or in their case.

If I recall correctly, Long Suffering Spouse had prescription eyeglasses when she was a kid. She grew out of them. She has no prescription now -- but she wears glasses, too. She wears "cheaters" -- you know, the frames with magnifying lenses you get three-to-a-pack at Walgreen's. Distance is not a problem for my wife. She can count the feathers on a falcon emerging from the cloud deck. But she can't see anything close. Even though the kids ginned up her cellphone so that it shows jumbo letters when she texts, she can't read anything on her phone without first finding her glasses.

My wife must have a dozen pairs of cheaters. There's an unopened three-pack of new frames in our bedroom. Just in case. And there's a pair in the car she drives (so she can correct while she's waiting for someone), and in her classroom, and in her coat pocket. My wife has a pair of glasses squirreled away in darn near every room of the house.

And yet, when her cellphone dings, she can never find any of them. "Where are my glasses?" she will yell, as she fumbles helplessly with her phone. It's not a question; it's an accusation. I believe my wife suspects that I purposely conceal her glasses every time I come across a pair.

Because I have no idea where her glasses are, I will plead ignorance. "'I don't know' is not an acceptable answer," my wife will snap. If I am nearby, she will shove the phone at me. "Here. Read this."

I read the message. Generally, it will be from Older Daughter or Younger Daughter. My wife does not text much with her mother (although Abuela has learned to text, sort of, sending occasional messages to Older Daughter or Younger Daughter AND ALWAYS IN ALL CAPS) but I begin to think that Baby-Boomer-or-younger parents these days do not communicate with their teenage-or-older offspring except by text. At least initially. After a while, if the transcript becomes sufficiently lengthy or involved, someone may actually give in and use their cellphone as a phone.

No, seriously. I've seen it happen.

Anyway, I'll read the message while Long Suffering Spouse scrambles to find a pair of glasses. "They were right here," she will say to herself, but out loud, as she plumbs the depth of the chair cushions or moves everything around on the end table.

Long Suffering Spouse says I'm deaf because I don't always respond when she says something. But I don't always know for sure whether she's talking to herself or me. If I guess wrong -- well, I guess maybe she's right. Maybe I am growing deaf.

Still fumbling for her glasses, Long Suffering Spouse will switch gears from a running commentary about "I used them here this morning" to dictating an answer to the incoming text. If I'm in the same room (and I usually am if I've just read the text to her) I will pick up on the transition. (I'd better.) I key in the message as directed.

This can go on for awhile, with me functioning as reader and writer -- a scribe in the 21st Century -- depending on how long it takes for Long Suffering Spouse to either find the missing glasses or go in search of a pair in the next room. Sometimes three or four pairs will pile up in the dining room. It's a high-traffic area.

I lose my glasses, too, sometimes, but it's usually at work. Later in the week, and especially later in the day later in the week, I'll need to put my glasses on to see the computer screen.

My eyesight is changing: My focal length is getting shorter. Though the computer screen hasn't moved here at the Undisclosed Location, it used to be comfortably on the 'near' side of my vision -- but, now, sometimes, slips into the 'distance' side.

My eye doctor is unconcerned with my trifling complaints. He's a 'big picture' guy, a specialist and a surgeon. He's not peddling new lenses; he wants to know if my glaucoma has finally deteriorated to the point where he must operate to save my remaining vision. (So far, but for one impromptu laser session, I'm a great disappointment to him. I hope to go right on being a disappointment to him until we both retire. At least until then.)

So I'll put on my glasses to see the computer screen, but then I need to refer to a paper in my hand on on the desk. I have to take them off to read from the paper. Maybe, because I'm going from page to screen, I'll lean in closer to the screen while I type. While I'm not looking, I'm pretty sure my glasses burrow beneath another stack of papers or a file jacket. I've not actually seen them doing this; my peripheral vision stinks -- glaucoma, remember? -- but I'm pretty sure that must be what's going on because I can't believe that my glasses could get as far as they do without some means of self-propulsion. (It's not just my glasses. My cordless office phone does this, too.)

Even if I'm wearing my glasses, I will generally take them off to answer the phone. Don't snicker: You probably do it, too. I think almost everyone does. I have no idea why that might be. Even Long Suffering Spouse, who must have her glasses on to answer a text or make a call, will take them off when the connection is made. In that way, I suppose, our vision issues are the same -- but in every other way, they're different. A modern-day Mr. and Mrs. Jack Spratt....

Friday, November 21, 2014

Not just outraged about Bill Cosby -- I'm also so very sad


I liked Bill Cosby. A lot of folks did -- he was No. 1 for how many years on NBC? Even though I never met the man, I grieved when his only son was murdered -- even wealth and fame are no absolute defense against street crime.

It is impolitic to admit these feelings on the Internet at the moment, even in the past tense, because the only acceptable emotion now vis a vis the one-time Jello pitchman is supposed to be outrage. Bill Cosby must be a far-more gifted actor than the critics who panned Leonard Part 6 and Ghost Dad ever dreamed: While he was persuading Middle America that he was an inspirational family man, he was secretly soliciting, drugging, and then raping young women.

Why?

Couldn't he have obtained women just by flashing his winning smile and fat bankroll?

Some of the outrage is actually kind of amusing -- one Tweeter purported to "dismiss" the allegations against Cosby as "just another case of he said / she said she said she said she said she said...."

Every PI attorney has heard of the phenomenon of "jump-in claimants" -- how 100 people claim to be injured in a bus accident... when the bus couldn't hold more than 50 -- so it's possible that one or more of Cosby's many accusers is turning something consensual into something else. But jump-in claimants don't exist without a real accident.

Mr. Cosby's defenders, if there are any left, face an insurmountable problem: When six former altar servers independently accuse Fr. Smiley of groping under their cassocks in the Sacristy, Fr. Smiley's denials fall flat and his most ardent supporters look foolish. So it is with Mr. Cosby. There are just too many women coming forward. There are too many allegations. Even if some are false, it only means that some aren't.

There's no sugar-coating here.

But, still, I'm not just outraged. I'm really, really saddened, too.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The sad, desperate world of Clash of Clans

I'd seen the ads in the subway for some time prior to the baseball playoffs this fall.

The gentleman at the left was featured prominently in most of them: Gaze into my mustache and despair! read the caption on the poster.

Seriously? I admit I had to look it up in order to get the words right, but I at least remembered that this slogan was meant to evoke a famous poem. It's Ozymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelley, in case you're at all curious: "My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; / Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

Then came the MLB playoffs and the commercials -- hundreds of them, thousands of them -- for this stupid game. I watched and I wondered: Who would be goofy enough to waste their time on nonsense like this?

At a family gathering I found out: My sons had all downloaded the game and were happily destroying each other's villages.

"Can't you peacefully coexist with your neighbors?" I asked. "Can't you grow and prosper by trade or diplomacy instead of warfare? Must everything end in violence?"

My kids regarded me with that pitying look reserved for hopeless cases. They hated the way I'd played the one computer game of theirs that I had attempted (a few different incarnations, over the years, of Sid Meier's Civilization) -- "your turns take 45 minutes," they'd complain, as I built railroads and cleared forests and negotiated trade routes. "No, Dad," they told me, "this is just kill or be killed."

It sounded awful... but the kids were clearly enjoying themselves. And I have this iPad at home and you can only play so much Sudoku or Solitaire and, well, one thing led to another. I downloaded Clash of Clans.

I liked building up my village. I liked clearing the obstacles and setting up my gold mines and building defensive walls. It's hard to build up quickly, because you have to carefully husband your resources. (Either that or spend real money to buy "gems" that can be used to spur production. Well, that wasn't going to happen in my case.)

Still, I started to feel a certain affinity for my villagers, all of whom, apparently, resemble the nice young lady at right who calls me "Chief."

At first, she offered helpful hints about what to build first and where to build.

But all too soon, her messages became darker: "While you were gone, our village was destroyed by MetalMan" -- and, sure enough, I could watch a "replay," starting with my villagers fleeing in terror to the village hall for protection while my cannons and archer towers spat death at my attackers, only to be overwhelmed by force and numbers. Then my mines were destroyed and the builder's huts and resource storage units and, finally, my poor village hall and all the poor creatures huddled within whom I had failed by not upgrading my walls from wood to stone.

But, somehow, all my villagers survived. "We must build up our defenses!" my villager told me, but with no seeming bitterness. If I were them, I'd get me a new Chief pronto, one who could keep the invaders at bay.

But my villagers are stuck with me.

And now I perceive the true horror of their plight. I upgraded the walls, I improved the cannons, I strengthened the archer towers, and still the invaders come as soon as I move onto something else (you know, like work?), and each invasion is more terrible than the last, the attackers always just a bit stronger than anything I'd prepared to repel them, overwhelming my defenses and destroying the town hall where the villagers tremble in fear.

And it never stops.

As soon as I come back, they are made whole again, ready to keep building as I direct even though they should be moving out in droves.

After the village is destroyed, there is a breathing space -- a shield is set up (no thanks to me) -- that keeps the villagers safe for 12 hours or even 16 depending on the extent of the carnage. My villagers are behind such a shield now. But I don't have enough gold to upgrade to level 4 walls -- and if and when I do, stronger armies will come to knock those walls down, too....

Am I taking this a little too seriously?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Chicago's new Archbishop says he wants to listen -- Curmudgeon would like to talk

Incoming Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich (Reuters photo).

Archbishop Cupich, welcome to Chicago. May your time here be a blessing for the Church as a whole, and for the Archdiocese and yourself both in particular.

You have stated several times now that you intend to start your term as Chicago's ninth Archbishop by listening, which is nice.

But to whom will you listen?

There are millions of people in Cook and Lake Counties, many of whom are (or were) professed Catholics. You can't hear from us all or you'll never do anything except go cold stone deaf. If you don't starve first.

Some of the folks who will surround you in these early days will be toadies and sycophants. I envy you the sport you may have in exposing them, watching their heads nod enthusiastically up and down as you say increasingly outrageous things, then watching them wheel and pivot like a flock of starlings when you pull back. ("On second thought," you'll say, withdrawing some silly suggestion, and enjoy the fun as the bobbleheads slam on the brakes in their haste to retreat with you....)

Some of the folks you'll hear from in your early days will have nothing good to say about your predecessor, Cardinal George. I suppose that approach curries favor in some circles; I've seen evidence that it sometimes works, even among churchmen. Anyway, these naysayers will counsel you to undo anything they think that Cardinal George did, to pull the plug on that, to ban this, to revoke faculties to this group or that one. Perhaps some of these nattering nabobs of negativism (Wikipedia credits William Safire with that one, but you probably remember it, as I do, being uttered by Spiro Agnew) will be balanced, somewhat, in your inner circle, by those encouraging you to blaze your own trail (clever pun, no?) but trying to steer you away from changing anything they may consider as a favorite project or cause of Cardinal George.

I respect Cardinal George's intellect, though I've not always agreed with him.

He spoke once at a Chicago Bar Association luncheon that I attended. This was several years ago. His subject was getting public funds for private schools -- but his manner was so professorial and his talk so well organized that I lapsed into a critical listening gear that I at least have been able to find only occasionally since college. I disagreed with almost everything he had to say -- I am a great supporter of Catholic schools, but to remain Catholic, I believe our schools must remain free of the corrosive influence of public funding -- but the Cardinal made a reasoned, reasonable case. If this is how he speaks at luncheons, I can only imagine the force of his intellect when he really buckles down. (The second speaker that day was also impressed. And he'd been paying attention, too: This speaker came up to the podium and said how pleased he was not to be the most controversial speaker on the program. I'm sure you'll meet this individual soon as well, particularly when the TV cameras are on. The second speaker that day was the Rev. Jesse Jackson.)

I also respect Cardinal George for the graceful way he has carried the cross of his own ill-health. Like another of your predecessors, Cardinal Bernardin, Cardinal George has given us a healthy model of how to cope with life-threatening illness.

Of course, I'm still mad at Cardinal George for saddling us with a bad pastor this past year.

You don't have to agree or disagree with me, Archbishop, about whether my new pastor (of whom I've written here, here, and here) is good or bad. I hope, however, that you will come around to my point of view as soon as possible -- but, in the meantime, I think you can agree that the local parish priests are the most important clerics in the lives of most Catholics. The world is in love with Pope Francis because he is perceived as a good pastor, and being interested in being a good pastor. Your appointment is seen as proof that Pope Francis is trying to make his bishops and cardinals pastors first; you enjoy a reputation of being a good pastor. You now will have the responsibility -- the heavy burden -- of appointing men as pastors from a pool that is... limited. But good pastors will spur a rise in vocations over time. Keep in mind, Archbishop, that the Church grows by example, not by dogma or discipline or even good preaching.

God bless you, Archbishop Cupich -- and God bless all of us who today become your flock. If you'd like to talk some more, there's an email link in the Sidebar... and even if you don't, I may try and offer some additional suggestions at a later date....

Monday, November 10, 2014

Granddaughter #1 has moved out. We're coping as well as can be expected.

Which is to say, not well at all.

Younger Daughter and her husband Olaf and their daughter, my Granddaughter #1 (an occasional contributor here at Second Effort), moved out this weekend.

They bought a house in a nearby suburb. Their chosen real estate attorney managed not to screw up the transaction -- at least not so far as we've heard.

Tonight, then, Long Suffering Spouse and I go home to an Empty Nest.

If anybody had told me, two and a half years ago, that I would have had Younger Daughter and her husband underfoot for that length of time, I am reasonably confident that my head would have exploded. During this time I have (more or less smugly) recounted instances where Long Suffering Spouse became aggravated with Olaf for one reason or another -- failing to pick up after himself, for example, or eating as many meals as a Hobbit, or not getting out of the house soon enough in the mornings (Long Suffering Spouse and I had to wait for him to vacate the only upstairs bathroom before we could begin our morning ablutions).

I, on the other hand, was remarkably tolerant and understanding. At least, you can't prove otherwise, having only the self-serving testimony I've provided on this anonymous blog.

But, if there were occasional annoyances caused from living cheek by jowl, there was also Granddaughter #1. Both Long Suffering Spouse and I rather enjoy being grandparents. Even with the baby under our roof -- teething -- crying in the night -- we didn't have to get up. That was a job for Mommy or Daddy. I probably didn't change diapers more than a handful of times (I told Younger Daughter that I had done my quota with her and her siblings and I stuck to it, except in cases of dire necessity). In short, I was there for comfort and amusement purposes only. What a great gig!

When that child is happy, she makes a high-pitched shriek that is loud enough to set off nearby car alarms. More than once, I was sure my ear would start bleeding when she screamed like that. And yet, Granddaughter #1's shrieks are like Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky to my wife and me.

And now we won't hear them everyday.

Last night Younger Daughter and her mother were texting. This was the gist: Granddaughter #1 had swiped her mother's cellphone and called up a picture of me and her together. She started crying. Of course, many people have been sad when confronted with proof of their association with me. Some things are best forgotten. So that might have been all that was happening there. But Younger Daughter calmed the girl down only to have the child call up a photo of herself with Long Suffering Spouse. She started crying again. Younger Daughter said she was crying too.

"Me too," texted Long Suffering Spouse -- and I can vouch for the truth of her statement.

I interjected a text of my own in this sequence: "Me too," I wrote. But, then, I'm getting weepier as I grow older. If I live to see my biblical three-score-and-ten, I'll probably cry every time the Sun comes out from behind a cloud. Or goes behind. I'll presumably suffer from dehydration.

They had to move out. I know that. They have to have their own home. It's for the best.

But, today, it's also a little tough.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Another guest post from Granddaughter #1 -- a moving tale

Younger Daughter and her husband Olaf are getting a little concerned that their nearly two year old child seems a little behind in verbal communication skills. The words are coming, though, and occasionally now they are strung together -- "hi dog!" -- "bye bye Gwee!" (where Gwee is any nearby grandparent). Part of their concern is rooted in the fact that their child is so tall -- she towers over some five year olds -- so one naturally expects more in terms of verbal ability. I can tell that the child gets frustrated sometimes by her lack of verbal skills, too. But her writing skills have not suffered. With the advent of cooler weather in Chicago, I've taken to wearing a coat again in the morning. I found this note in my pocket today....

As you know, Grampy, Mommy and Daddy have been taking me to all sorts of places lately.

I'm used to going places with Mommy and Daddy -- stores (I can count on Mom to get me something every time) or restaurants (the spicy fries at Five Guys kill me, but Mommy and Daddy like them). We've gone a couple of times to the Shedd Aquarium, which is like walking through Finding Nemo only without listening to Albert Brooks. But lately we're going more and more to empty houses.

I like empty houses.

Most of 'em have basements and they're empty, too. I can run around in them -- and I do. I sure can't do that in your basement, Grampy. I've heard you say that most of the stuff down there belongs to Mommy and Daddy but I'll bet you and Grammy have quite a bit of stuff down there, too. Are you hoarders?

Anyway, in some of the empty rooms at these houses, if you squeal just right, you get an echo! That's the best. I think the grownups really like when I do this: Every time I make an echo and they're talking, they usually quiet down right away.

Most of the rooms in these empty houses have doors you can open and close. Mommy or Daddy will grab me, sometimes, when I do this because they say I'm going to close the doors on my fingers. They're stifling my creativity. You really should have a talk with them about this.

It has occurred to me that Mommy and Daddy are looking for a new place to live. That's OK by me. I think it would be a lot of fun to have a new yard to play in and new rooms where I can open and close doors.

But, Grampy, I'm a little concerned... most of the places -- well, OK, all of the places -- they've seen are smaller than your house. We barely fit in our house as it is. How are we all going to fit in a house that's smaller still?

Lately, Mommy seems to keep coming back to this one house. You and Grammy and my other grandparents were all there on Sunday along with the nice blonde lady that always goes with Mommy and Daddy to the houses they look at. She must have a lot of houses.

I heard Mommy talking. She said one room was for her and Daddy and another would be for me. And there was a third room, near the kitchen, that Mommy said could be a family room. Is that where you and Grammy will go?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Curmudgeon struggles to master online music player

Over the last few days here at the Undisclosed Location I've been fiddling with Pandora, the online 'radio' station that allows users to pick what they want to hear. More or less. (I'll come back to that part.)

Now I realize that all the cool kids have played with Pandora and probably moved on to other, more hip and trendy, streaming services. Sometimes I feel like I'm becoming like the old ladies in the (very funny) Esurance commercials....



But, whatever. I haven't felt the need to try any of the online services because I have such a variety of music available to me on my iPod. Back in the days when I had disposable income, I disposed of quite a bit of it in record stores.

When vinyl was replaced by CDs, I dutifully bought CDs of many of the albums I'd cherished on LP. (Vinyl is hip again, by the way. One of my nieces posted a picture of her brand new turntable and her very first vinyl LP purchase on Facebook the other day.)

Of course, I couldn't replace everything. Some things weren't available on CD and, while I switched in mid-series from vinyl to CD on one Time-Life collection, that left a lot of stuff available to me only on vinyl. And as time went on I no longer had disposable income... so my collection became pretty static.

Even with 5,000 non-Christmas songs, repeats start to grate after awhile.

So while I struggled to catch up with my paperwork here (I've just finished another big project which is why posting has been so sporadic) I thought I'd try and experiment with this new-fangled Pandora thing.

My review is mixed. While the music library available to Pandora is extensive, it doesn't contain everything, and it offers "suggestions," not searches. I couldn't search for One Hit Wonders of the 60s, for example. I was craving that shock of recognition -- to hear something I hadn't heard since 1974 on WLS or WCFL -- and, after a week of fiddling, I never really found it.

There's also a lot of dreck on Pandora. Live cuts and alternate takes are generally not as good, and certainly not as familiar, as the definitive recorded performances.

I'm not sophisticated enough to speak about the jazz channels. I know what I like and that's enough for me. So I won't offer criticisms of my samplings of 'channels' in that area.

But I do presume to know a little about popular music in the 60s and 70s. I looked at the Pandora 70s channel... and it was snow white. Growing up in Chicago, our radio stations always played Motown records and Philly soul sounds and our own Chi-Lites; Earth, Wind and Fire; and Curtis Mayfield right along with the Stones, Eagles, or Creedence Clearwater. Listening to the mix as suggested would be like listening to a stereo with one speaker blown: Painfully incomplete.

I had decided to try Pandora after listening to it in the chair at the periodontist's office. Somebody there had set up a Crosby, Stills, Nash and/or Young channel and while it included various permutations of those four musicians, individually and in various combinations, it also included songs by artists that were arguably similar. I thought that was interesting.

So I tried my own hand at this later in the week. I set up a Steely Dan channel, but the station veered off course with Hall and Oates and Seals and Crofts and whatever. I tried to rescue it by pressing the 'add variety' button -- I added Traffic to the mix because I wanted to stress the jazzy side of Steely Dan. After several cuts from Cream and Blind Faith (Steve Winwood being connected to Eric Clapton, get it?), I started getting Beatles records.

I begin to think that the only way I'll get Steely Dan records is to ask for Beatles cuts.

But I'm probably just doing it wrong. I don't understand the algorithm. And I get a little bit closer to becoming the old lady smacking hard candy with a hammer on her kitchen table, thinking she's playing "Candy Crush"....

Monday, September 08, 2014

Curmudgeon believes he makes a helpful intervention, but goes unrewarded

Yesterday, the first Sunday after Labor Day, really was Grandparents' Day. I suppose I would have known that if I'd been keeping up with my long-neglected Blog of Days.

I knew that my wife's school was welcoming grandparents yesterday. Long Suffering Spouse had photocopying and laminating to get done in preparation for classes this week, but she'd already told me about the grandparents' open house and how she didn't want to be there during that.

The light bulb started to flicker a little bit during the early Sunday Mass. Long Suffering Spouse and I were joined, for this occasion, by Younger Daughter and Granddaughter #1. During the Prayers of the Faithful, an invocation was sought for all grandparents.

Anyway, we got home and Long Suffering Spouse and her daughter and her daughter's daughter set up camp in the living room, in the front of the house. I was in the den, at the back of the house, on the computer, reading the comics online. Olaf, who had not joined us for church, stumbled down the stairs in search of coffee.

"Today is Grandparents' Day," my wife told him. "Are you doing anything with your parents today? You should probably call."

We tease Olaf about being a troll sometimes -- he is Norwegian, you'll recall -- and often with good reason. This was one of those occasions. He responded to my wife's well-intended suggestion with an unpleasant diatribe that started being about Hallmark holidays and went downhill from there. Although they've been very generous with him, our son-in-law has a sometimes-prickly relationship with his parents.

I could feel the tension levels escalating in the living room. I knew for certain that my wife was getting angry.

Without budging from my chair, I decided to intervene.

"Wait a minute!" I bellowed. "It really is Grandparents' Day?"

My wife, at least momentarily diverted from hurling any immediate verbal daggers at Olaf, assured me that it was.

"So, do I get presents, or what?"

"What?" That was my wife, instantly exasperated with me.

"Where are my presents? If it's really Grandparents' Day, shouldn't I be getting some major swag at this point?"

"No!" my wife said, rather sharply, I thought. "You're not getting any presents."

"Well, then, I'm with Olaf on this. Doesn't sound like a real holiday to me. Are you sure I don't get presents?"

I didn't get any presents. But the crisis was past.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Attack of the oxygen suckers

They're everywhere, you know. We lawyers seem to attract them, but they can be found in every walk of life, every nook and cranny of our daily existence.

An oxygen sucker is any person who demands -- and requires -- everyone's attention.

Every lawyer who's been in practice for more than a few weeks has a story of the client who provides maybe 1% of the lawyer's fee income -- and takes up 99% of his or her time.

No amount of hand-holding or reassurance is ever enough. Not only does the oxygen-sucking client sap the lawyer of energy and strength, he or she costs the lawyer money. Other clients, anyone who needs any attention, drift away, miffed.

Sometimes lawyers are the oxygen suckers.

Last week, while a colleague was on vacation, I agreed to be 'on call' for her office. My colleague had done her best to schedule all matters out of the week she planned to be out but she's a real estate attorney -- and emergencies crop up.

Sometimes the emergencies aren't.

Aren't emergencies, that is.

My colleague had a matter where the buyer's financing fell through at the last moment (this happens in 100% of real estate closings as far as I can tell, but my colleague assures me that the true number is much lower -- maybe only 90%). Anyway, my colleague and her client took the bad news in stride and rescheduled the closing -- with everyone's agreement, you understand, including the buyer's attorney -- to this Monday, when my colleague would be back in her office.

Somehow, though, the buyer's attorney decided, late last Wednesday, that this matter would have to close on Friday, before my client returned.

Now, it's true, banks can stall forever on approving a loan -- but then, when they fund the loan, insist -- demand -- that the closing come together in 24 hours. Banks are institutional oxygen suckers.

But, in this case, the bank still had not funded the loan. There was no "clear to close." The buyer's lawyer insisted, however, that he would have funding by Friday and that the sale must close by that date. His client was a single mother, he said, and prone to breaking down in tears because of the delay.

The delay caused by her bank, but whatever.

Here's the way this works: The real estate lawyers schedule closings when -- and only when -- the bank says it has money. When the bank puts that in writing. When the bank gives the "clear to close." In a disturbingly large number of these cases, even after the bank has said, in writing, that it has the money it "pulls the package" or the loan "gets questioned by the underwriter" and the money isn't there when all the lawyers and clients and Realtors (the only ones who actually make money from real estate closings) show up.

The buyer's attorney didn't have anything in writing. One of the Realtors -- his, undoubtedly -- understood that there was a "clear to close," but she also had seen nothing in writing.

That did not stop this man from calling my colleague's office five, six, seven times on Wednesday afternoon and another 25 times on Thursday morning, demanding that the closing proceed on Friday. After trying to move mountains to accommodate him -- the uncertainties of his financing notwithstanding -- my colleague's office had finally concluded that there was no way they could get an attorney to the closing and they told him that the closing would have to take place, as scheduled, as scheduled by contract amendment, on Monday. (I was covering another closing downtown, supposedly -- it ultimately fell through -- isn't that a surprise?) But he wouldn't take 'no' for an answer. He kept calling. He successfully sucked all the oxygen from my colleague's office -- her staff was actually feeling harassed -- and I was asked to intervene.

I said, sure, have him call me. I'd put him right. But my colleague's staff was so rattled, they couldn't find my office number -- even though I call over there nearly every day. Instead they gave out my cell phone number.

Now, perhaps, you're the sort of person who answers their cell phone no matter who calls. Me? I'll talk to my wife. Or one of my kids. Or if I've specifically told someone to call that number (because I'm not in my office). Otherwise, no. If I don't recognize the number, I don't pick up. I have voice mail on the cell phone -- I couldn't find a way to disable it -- which says, "Please don't leave me a message here. I won't listen to it. Call my office instead. I'll listen to the voice mail there. If you don't know my office number, you shouldn't be calling this number anyway, so just hang up." (That may not be the message verbatim, but it's close. My kids can't decide if that's hilarious or horrifying.)

Anyway, I ignored the unknown call when it came in -- and then I figured out who it must have been. A quick bit of snooping on the Internet gave me the attorney's email and I sent him a very nice, polite we're-closing-on-Monday-so-stop-calling note. I put my office number on the email.

Sure enough, he called me. Pouty. Put out. Hurt. "I'm sorry," I began, but he interrupted. "Don't say you're sorry because you're not. You don't care." OK, I said, I won't say I'm sorry. But we'll close Monday. And -- wonder of wonders -- the calls stopped. Mostly. He insisted that the closing be set first thing Monday (that would have been my first guess) but then he had to call to reschedule it to later in the afternoon.

Today the oxygen suckers were an out-of-state lawyer and a prospective client. I had talked with this dynamic duo in March -- at the request of my sister-in-law Josephine, really. Her husband, Ferdinand, is best buddies with the PC. I quickly saw why they get along. They both have the same sort of creepy, over-the-top, touchy-feely pseudo-religious patter. The good news for me was that the PC had his own lawyer in Pittsburgh and I talked with the lawyer -- who seemed relatively normal -- and I volunteered some suggestions for how they might proceed in the suit (which was filed here in Chicago).

A brief conversation with the PC was enough to reassure me that he couldn't afford his friend in Pittsburgh, much less the both of us. So I didn't mind that these two dropped off the face of the earth from mid-April until the last day of June. That's when I heard from the PC again. Had the lawyer called me? he wanted to know. Well, we both want to talk to you, the PC said, and we will. Soon.

"Soon" turned out to be yesterday. First the PC called, then the lawyer. Apparently the matter was up in court this morning and, they were wondering, could I wander over and ask for more time for them to do whatever they were going to do?

Well, I can beg and grovel with the best of them -- but I know an out-of-state lawyer can't represent anyone unless he is admitted to practice pro hac vice. Pro hac vice is a Latin phrase which means, roughly, we'll let you in once, but only for this case and don't even think of opening up an office here and competing for business with the rest of us.

Here is how a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. I knew that motions for admission pro hac vice used to be made to the trial court by local counsel. I knew, too, that the rule had changed so that these motions were no longer to be brought. I hadn't actually read the new rule -- I didn't care about the new rule because no one had hired me on as local counsel. The PC couldn't afford it, remember?

But -- if it would make Noche Buena dinner less awkward because I was helpful to Ferdinand's bestie -- I wouldn't mind being pressed into service to stepping up in court. I like to go over to court.

Still, I needed to know what to say. Did you ever get your pro hac vice appearance straightened out? I asked. Oh, yes, the attorney said. It took longer than expected, but all the paperwork was finally done.

The lawyer had questions, too. Do they really charge for an Appearance in Chicago? the lawyer asked. Is it one fee for all three defendants (the bestie, his wife, and their corporation) or do separate fees have to be paid for each? Just one fee, I said. That's a relief, the attorney said. (If the client can't cover the filing fees, how the heck is he going to cover anybody's bill... no matter how reasonable? But I didn't press the point.) The lawyer had served his Answer, he told me, but the Clerk didn't file it because he hadn't paid for an Appearance. And he was going to call opposing counsel and make sure he had the Answer, and let him know I was coming.

And over I went this morning.

That's when all the oxygen got sucked out of my day.

The case wasn't called. It wasn't called because a default judgment had already been entered against the PC and the other defendants -- a default judgment because nobody had appeared or answered or, apparently, made the arrangements he said he'd made.

And that's when I figured out I'd better look at the new pro hac vice rule. Because I was afraid the Pennsylvania lawyer really hadn't.

Hoo boy.

Yes, the rule has changed so that local counsel doesn't have to bring a motion to the trial judge -- but there still has to be local counsel. To an outsider looking at the situation... well, someone might conclude that I was supposed to be local counsel. And that would make the default my fault.

Oh, brother. I went into full defensive lawyering mode. I disclosed the default judgment to the lawyer and the PC, explained how it can be vacated (if somebody does something in the next 10 days or so it'll be easy -- after that it will be well nigh impossible), and pointed out that the out-of-state lawyer had either not obtained permission to appear in this case or misrepresented himself (and, more important, from my selfish standpoint, misrepresented my involvement) to the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. After explaining that he has to hire local counsel under the rule, I told the out-of-state lawyer that I could not be that person.

I gave a couple of reasons. I'm about to start work on another appeal -- this is true -- and it will take up a lot of my time in the coming weeks. And I said I can't afford any 'off the cuff' clients at this time -- I have a full book of non-paying clients already. This, too, is true. Sadly. I said there were other reasons besides, which I chose not to disclose.

But you know one of them: After today, if this lawyer told me it was raining, I'd run to the window and expect to see bright sunshine. I don't need to get teamed up with folks like that. I was diplomatic as hell (I think I was, anyway) but I left no wriggle room. I don't care if dinner is awkward on Christmas Eve. I have a license to protect.

But, in the meanwhile, all the oxygen got sucked out of my day.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Here's a cranky, curmudgeonly opening for you: I just don't understand these kids today.

And it's true. I really don't. In my day, a girl was married from her parents' church; then, in the fullness of time, if the union should be blessed with issue, the child would be brought to the font at the church where the young family has settled. But these "rules," if they ever really were rules, are increasingly observed only in the breach.

Case in point: Older Daughter was married five years ago this week. In the usual course of things, she'd have been married from the parish where she grew up and attended school, where her mother and I are members. But, no. If you were reading this blog in 2009, you know that Older Daughter and her husband Hank decided right from the get-go that the wedding would be at Hank's family church -- in Indianapolis. (In fairness, I suppose, to Older Daughter, it might be better to say that Hank decided and Older Daughter was brought around to his views.) In any event, the wedding took place in Indiapolis. (It's almost the weekend -- you can browse through the linked posts and back through the other linked posts linked therein and catch right up on your Curmudgeon Family history, even if you're a newcomer to this space.)

And when Older Daughter finally presented us with Granddaughter #2, the child was welcomed into the Christian faith not in Indianapolis, where Older Daughter and Hank continue to reside, but at my parish church. (I've been meaning to write about that, but I've been doing other stuff.)

Well, you say, Curmudgeon, that's your problem, but the rules still hold for most people.

And maybe that's the case -- I can't take a nationwide survey at the moment -- but I offer in response the fact that, at this hour, Hank and Older Daughter and Granddaughter #2 are on their way from Indianapolis to Chicago where Older Daughter will stand up as godmother to a baby boy born to my daughter's high school friend and her husband, a captain in the Air Force.

Those with a military bent may note immediately that there are no major Air Force installations in the Chicago area. There aren't even any minor ones. The reserve unit at O'Hare closed in 1999. My daughter's friend and her husband are, if memory serves, posted to some place in Maryland these days. They used to live in Las Vegas; I remember that much for sure. Bottom line, though, is that here's another case of a kid getting baptized at what is now the church attended by only one set of his grandparents.

And have I mentioned that Middle Son is engaged?

I probably haven't.

That wedding will be next May. His bride is from Michigan. The wedding will be at my home parish.

Which brings me back to the grumbling with which I started this post: I don't understand the kids today. If there's a new etiquette, I haven't yet figured out how it works. Or is it just that there are no longer any rules at all and we do whatever seems like a good idea at the time?

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

An article on shoe shines and flat fees sets the Curmudgeon off on a rant

The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin was sitting outside my office door as I closed up shop last night. I don't always take it with me on the train home, but I did last night.

There was an interview with the name partner of an insurance defense firm on page three; I won't link to it or mention the firm name. I have nothing against these kinds of puff pieces generally; the firm probably paid a pretty penny to some PR firm to pitch the 'story' about the firm's 25th anniversary. The firm will buy a million reprints (or, I suppose, in this day and age, digital reprint rights) and send it to every client and potential client it can imagine. These kinds of things happen all the time and there is nothing illegal, immoral or fattening about any of it.

And maybe -- I want to be as positive as I can here -- maybe this firm really has evolved from the way I remember it into something actually worthy of this sort of puffery. I try to think the best of everyone.

But when I read about the name partner bragging on providing shoeshines three times a week so that all the attorneys can look their professional best, I saw red.

"We dress up during the week," the name partner bragged. "Saturday is a casual day."

Did you get that? What a great two-sided slam: We're not like these other, sloppy, slovenly firms who have gone "business casual" except when lawyers go to court -- and our galley slaves row on Saturdays, too. But we let them wear khakis then.

Oh, yes, I remember this firm.

They had a handful of lawyers, back in the day, the two name partners and an ever-changing collection of associates, each with a staggering caseload -- or a caseload that would be staggering if the firm had any intention of doing any work on each file.

In MBA-speak, this firm had what are euphemistically called "alternative billing arrangements" with its insurance company clients. Flat fees. Like Earl Scheib painting cars, they'd defend any case, no ups and no extras, for one flat fee. The moment anyone actually did any work on the file, the profit margin on the case was nearly shot to hell. So no one there did any work on any file except when they absolutely had to.

The firm profiled in last evening's article wasn't the first to invent the flat fee concept. I was young then so I don't know all the details, but I think, at least in Chicago, that honor goes to another outfit, the one that the named partner not interviewed came from.

Judges hated both of those firms.

Around the time that this firm now celebrating its 25th anniversary was set up, the Illinois Supreme Court decided to impose "case management" on cases. Before these rule changes, some cases could linger nearly forever on the Law Division docket. Eventually, cases would be called, in desultory fashion, for trial. Sometimes a case made it out to trial because no one remembered to show up and ask for another continuance. Oh, these lingering cases were meat and cheese for flat fee lawyers. They might even "win" when the plaintiff could not be found or the doctor was no longer in practice or the witnesses had vanished like the villagers in Brigadoon. Most cases weren't like this. Many plaintiff attorneys pushed their cases diligently to trial; some defense attorneys pushed plaintiff's attorneys to push their cases.

But the Supreme Court was embarrassed that the average months-to-disposition time for Cook County Law Division cases (and cases in other Illinois counties) grossly exceeded the ABA 'standards.' And so case management was imposed.

That meant that every 60 to 90 days or so (the intervals are shorter now, and the scrutiny more intense), all the attorneys would have to show up and tell the judge what they were doing and how soon they'd be done doing it. For outside hourly insurance defense firms this was a boon -- a billable hour that even the skin-flintiest claim adjuster couldn't question (the court made us do it!) -- and for most everyone else it was just a nuisance. But for the flat feesters, like this law firm profiled yesterday, it was nothing less than a judicial assault on their profit margin.

A lot of times, in the early days, the flat fee firms blew off these 'progress calls.' They just didn't show up. This worked for awhile. But then the judges were told to take these 'progress calls' seriously. When judges began entering orders requiring counsel for all parties to appear on pain of default, we saw the beaten dogs these flat fee firms sent over.

To be honest, I never noticed if lawyers from this firm had shiny shoes. I don't think anyone else did either. You generally never saw the same associate twice. The burnout rate was astounding -- and entirely predictable, given that these poor mopes spent their days getting lambasted by judges for (a) not knowing their files and (b) not having done anything on their files. I never once heard a judge excuse a flat fee attorney's complete ignorance of the case being called because s/he had shiny shoes.

Answering interrogatories is a pain in the tochus in the best of circumstances. The kids at the flat fee firms were doing their discovery responses under threat of default, on a final 7 or 14-day extension, producing insureds for deposition in other cases in similar straits, and, of course, going back to court on still more cases and getting judicially reamed once again. And they had to do it fast, because they had a million other cases in similar shape. And they weren't supposed to spend time on any of them.

Sometimes plaintiffs or even co-defendants sought sanctions against these flat fee firms, and sometimes the court would decide to impose sanctions sua sponte (that's Latin for 'you don't even have to ask, I'm so pissed I'll do it myself'). That's when the flat fee firm celebrated in the current edition of the Law Bulletin would roll out the heavy artillery: The other name partner in the firm profiled yesterday would come over to court on a pacification mission. She would tell the judge that the lazy dog associate who had messed this case up -- it was always the fault of the associate, never the fault of the business model -- would be beaten severely or had already been fired or will have his dripping, bloody head erected on a pike in the firm lunchroom as a warning to any other associates in our firm to never, ever miss one of your deadlines again. If you had so much as a molecule of empathy in your bloodstream, you couldn't help but feel sorry for the poor schlub who was being thrown under the bus by this partner. Judges should possess more than a molecule of empathy; they often backed down. Some would even offer counsel -- you know, you really need to hire more people to handle all this work, they'd say -- and the other partner would say, yes, judge, we're a new firm and we're having some growing pains, but we hired three new people just this week. The judge would beam and the other partner wouldn't be obliged to acknowledge that these three new bodies replaced three others who had been kicked to the curb or who had fled in terror.

I don't believe I've ever met the partner who was interviewed in the Law Bulletin last evening. So maybe he had no part of any of this.

Maybe.

But, in the same interview, in addition to shiny shoes, the partner bragged about alternate billing arrangements with insurance clients. Maybe he and his other name partner have come up with some more realistic business models, or more realistic pricing at least, in the last 25 years. They probably have because they're still in business.

All I know is that, back in the day, firms like this created unreasonable expectations among insurance companies about how little it would cost to defend a case. In other words, they hurt all the other insurance defense firms' business even as they were angering judges, opponents and co-defendants alike with the way they weren't handling the business they had.

There's a lot to be said against hourly billing. Hourly fees can be terribly abused. But hourly fees are like representative democracy. Representative democracy is the worst form of government ever -- until you compare it against every other form of government ever tried by humankind. The hourly fee model is the worst legal business model ever -- until you compare it with flat fees. Even with flat fees and shiny shoes.