Saturday, December 30, 2006

If Christmas is for little kids and grownups -- New Year's is for those in between

This may explain why New Year's is so scary... for parents of a certain age.

"They think they're invincible!" That's the typical complaint we hear (and make) about our teens and post-teens. Or: "They think they're immortal." And the kids always hotly deny that they think this way.

And, of course, the teens and post-teens are neither invincible nor immortal. As tragic stories every New Year's Day make so painfully clear... but only to us... not to them.

I've thought about this a lot lately and I've come to the conclusion that we should believe the kids when they say they don't think they're immortal. Or invincible. They probably don't think much at all.

At best, they have a vague notion that they are safety-conscious, responsible people, the ones we've labored so hard to develop. And some of them really are.

Not that it would make any difference to the stoned zombie driving the wrong way on a one way street with no headlights at 4:00 am, or the drunk flying west up a hill in an eastbound lane in a pick-up truck now converted to battering ram.

That's the problem of having an imagination: Sometimes I use it. And I worry.

Sure, I was little better: I remember one New Year's Eve living out near where Christ lost His shoes, announcing to my horrified parents that I would be driving into the City to celebrate the holiday. In a snowstorm.

But as I remember the story, I didn't go. And I was... at least eventually... OK with that.

But the world changes: I've just dropped Oldest Son off at Union Station. He's going to the Sugar Bowl, in New Orleans, with stops en route in Springfield, Illinois and Memphis, Tennessee, picking up friends at each stop. Only the first leg is on Amtrak.

Of course, taking the train is better than driving... but we are talking Amtrak.... (Sorry, imagining again....)

And Middle Son has informed us that he and most of his far flung social circle are going to Champaign to ring in the New Year. They'll be driving. But, he informs us, somewhat surprised, that we weren't the only parents who have insisted that the group leave... and arrive... early. And stay put.

And Younger Daughter will insist on going somewhere, too. Anywhere. As long as it is not her parents' house.

Long Suffering Spouse and I will not be tripping the light fantastic in some swanky venue tomorrow night. After watching the Bears' game, our New Year's glamor will be confined to the TV screen -- where we will live vicariously, for another year, through the adventures of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. We'll wait anxiously until all the kids have checked in. This year, we'll probably have to wait until some time Monday afternoon.

Perhaps when our children have children of their own -- when they're all safe at their own homes -- maybe then Long Suffering Spouse and I can go to a formal New Year's Eve gala. If they still have them.

And then the kids could worry about us.


Friday, December 29, 2006

Dealing with teens, post-teens, and an alleged temper

I must begin by insisting that I am on most occasions a creature of sweetness and light, filled with the milk of human kindness, at peace with myself and with the world. Just like the picture above... isn't that pleasant?


That's how I must begin -- although others may claim that I may have something of a temper.

Of course, who wouldn't have a slight temper when the teens and the post-teens gather at the house for the holidays?

Surely I am not so far gone that I am not happy and grateful to see my children! No! But I would like, on occasion, to see them during the daylight hours. If this guy still delivered, he'd be more likely to see my kids than I am.

I liked to stay up late when I was their age, true; I stayed out all night a couple of times in college -- not while living under my parents' roof, mind you -- and I stayed up all night from time to time as necessity demanded. Finals, for instance.

Finals are long over... for the collegians... but the teens and post-teens are not resuming any sort of a day-night schedule.

We have given birth to a generation... of vampires!

OK, maybe that's not a picture of one of my children. But it would explain a lot.

So you have the scene: The teens and the post-teens are home. And they are sleeping when I am getting up to go to work -- they having only recently retired for the "evening."

There is no traffic on the roads. Many people have this week off. I have promises to keep and bills to pay, so off I intend to go.

But -- I think to myself -- why not drive? Yes, it's an unnecessary luxury, but I'm running late -- having stayed up far too late with the kids myself -- and it would give me an opportunity to drive Grandpa's car.

Grandpa's car is a 1984 Chrysler Fifth Avenue. A classic. My father took good care of it in his day. Sadly, I've never been able to get a car inside a garage and the paint job on Grandpa's car doesn't look even as nice as that in the exemplar at left.

But we have it. And it's supposed to be available for times like these... when the kids are home... and Long Suffering Spouse needs the van and the kids need access to a car... and this one would still be left for me.

It was only recently repaired.

Toward the end of the summer Oldest Son managed to navigate it into a parking space as radiator fluid from a burst hose trailed out behind him. I knew we would have to have it towed... but the Exchecquer being what it's been, I'd avoided that unpleasant task until circumstances forced the decision on me.

The car had to be moved when it snowed at the beginning of December. So we had it towed to the dealer.

The same dealer who drools over it each time it's there, mind you. A number of people associated with the dealer have offered to buy it. I had a letter from the dealer just last week making an offer. Why they won't fix it, therefore, I do not know. But this gets ahead of the story....

The car was fixed, but it was nearly out of gas when I picked it up. Indeed, the car hiker told me they'd put a couple gallons in to make sure it didn't run out while it was warming up.

Oldest Son hadn't left any radiator fluid or gasoline in the car, apparently.

But I filled it up and parked it... and three weeks passed. I've been busy. I've been taking the train like a good, ecologically-minded citizen.

But, just on this one morning, surely, it would be alright to drive, wouldn't it?

I went to the car... opened the lock... put the key in the ignition... and turned...

And nothing happened. NOTHING!

I was, perhaps, a trifle upset.


And I may thereafter have expressed myself in an uncharacteristically colorful fashion as I reentered the house and slammed the door and threw the keys at the floor.

Long Suffering Spouse was not pleased with me.

She was, however, anxious that I should leave the house, preferably before I destroyed it, so she suggested that I might take the new car -- the car we'd acquired -- also at the end of Summer -- after Middle Son totaled the car formerly furnished for the teens' use.

I thought about it.

But first, Long Suffering Spouse warned, I'd need to remove Middle Son's baseball equipment from it. He'd probably want to go work out whenever he roused himself.

That set me off again: Now I was on a rampage about kids sleeping in all day and staying out all night and expecting everyone to cater to their peculiar whims. No! I would not take the new car!

And I didn't. This all happened Tuesday and I made it here and even posted. In something of a snit as I look back on it.

Where have the daffodils gone?

And, as it turns out, I'd made the right decision.

What I did not realize, as I stood in the living room, at the foot of the stairs, having my little conversation with Long Suffering Spouse about the lying cheating thieving bastards who didn't fix... well, anyway, while I was declaiming, the teens and post-teens were awakened... temporarily... and they gathered in one bedroom listening in.

They all wanted me to leave, of course. I had interrupted their hibernation. But Middle Son didn't want me to take the car. His stuff was indeed all over it and he did have plans to drive to school and work out. Oldest Son also didn't want me to take the new car. Because he'd driven it most recently... and he'd once again left the gas tank


I don't know how many more heartwarming holiday stories I'll be able to share with you this weekend because I'll be busy making new heartwarming holiday memories with the family. So if I don't get back here again, have a happy... and safe... New Year.

Back after another bout with Boogaloo Bug

I thought I'd had my encounter with Boogaloo Bug when I joked about it in last Friday's post. I went home early and was pretty much useless on Saturday, but ready to face the challenge of Christmas Eve as scheduled.

I was, however, wrong.

I was laid low late Tuesday night. The difference between whatever little wimpy bug that hit me last week and the plague that struck me down in the wee small hours of Wednesday morning is about as pronounced as one can get... and this is as descriptive as I choose to make it... for which you are no doubt grateful. Wednesday was a complete washout. However, the fog began to lift yesterday... and I was able to work on a project I'd promised for the end of the year.

Which, for all intents and purposes, is today. And I may yet get it done.

In any event, I need to photocopy now and finish what I've promised to finish.

I hope to be back shortly.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Why we didn't take a Christmas picture this year

I'd mentioned in my Thanksgiving story how we'd taken a Christmas picture, as a family, every year for over 20 years, and sent it with our Christmas cards. This isn't one of them, but it conveys the general idea.

Some years were easier than others: Most kids, when they're little, will pose willingly for photographs. Sometimes it's hard to keep them out of a picture if they know you're taking one. But as they grow older that they become increasingly reluctant. Oldest Son was the balkiest of our brood -- and he never, ever smiled in a photograph. At least not on purpose. I think it has something to do with maintaining his street cred. It wasn't just in family pictures that he affected a constipated-looking grimace: I've seen pictures of him taken by school friends... and the look is the same.

I recently saw the proofs of his college graduation pictures: Grimace, grimace, grimace, grimace, grimace facing the other way, grimace... smile. "I only want one picture," I told Oldest Son after I'd seen the proofs. "Yeah, I know which one," he said, resignedly. "What happened?" I asked (meaning, how did the facade crack, even if only momentarily). "He said something funny and I didn't know he was still shooting," Oldest Son responded.

Ironically, last year was perhaps the easiest year for Christmas pictures since the kids were toddlers. We had a new digital camera so we didn't have to take 20 shots in the hopes that one would come out -- and the White Sox had just won the World Series, so I suggested that we all pose in White Sox attire. Everyone gladly donned Sox hats, jerseys, t-shirts... and everyone cooperated.

The digital camera represented a marked improvement over the old method. When I had parents available, my father took the picture. When my parents were no longer available, I had a brother-in-law take the picture. When he was no longer available, we had to resort to a timer.

That meant that one person had to run back into place after pressing the shutter. It may not have been as difficult as it was for this man to photograph himself. But we had seven people -- several of whom did not want to be in the same room with one another -- and we needed each and every one of them to not move or blink or scratch or scowl for an entire millisecond. Well, actually, if Oldest Son had merely scowled that would probably have been an improvement over the traditional grimace. But you know what I mean. And we had to shoot an entire roll of film because we didn't want to have to try and assemble the clan again. Some years we were hard pressed to find one picture in 24 that would serve.

After Thanksgiving I'd told you that we weren't able to take this year's picture on Thanksgiving because Oldest Son was leaving... with eight of his friends, all of whom had spent the night at our house... for California on Thanksgiving morning at 6:00 am. Older Daughter, though, was scheduled to arrive on Wednesday evening early, so we thought we might get the shot in then.

She didn't get in until very late, and we got no photo.

Then Older Daughter bought a car, and we were given to understand that she'd be coming up from Indianapolis to show it off on the weekend of December 16-17. Oldest Son and Middle Son would be home from college by then. This would not give us a lot of time to get photos done and in the mail with our Christmas cards... but it would still be within the realm of possibility.

But Older Daughter's plans changed and she didn't come. Long Suffering Spouse told Older Daughter that we'd just take the picture without her... after all, Older Daughter is allegedly on her own, living (as she sees it) independently, and out of school... but after Older Daughter hung up on my wife, apparently sobbing, we decided to amend those plans. The cards went out... eventually... without photographs.

But now it's Christmas Eve... and the entire family is assembled again: Surely now we could take the family photograph.

We were expected at my mother-in-law's for dinner at 6:00.

My mother-in-law called at 5:15 to tell us that my wife's sister had already arrived with her children and we should hurry. Oldest Son and Middle Son had begun their Christmas shopping after the Bears game ended, around 3:00, but they had just returned home, and were preparing to shower and shave and dress for dinner when this call came.

But we got there by 6:15 -- which in other years would have been very good. This year... not so much.

I delegated the task of assembling the photography equipment to Youngest Son. He is the only one who can work the video camera anyway and he enjoys the task.

So, after dinner, when the presents had been exchanged, I thought we just might get our Christmas picture. Long Suffering Spouse pulled out the digital camera to take a couple of pictures of our younger neices and nephews opening their gifts... but the battery was dead. That shouldn't be, I said, we always charge the battery back up before putting it away.

No problem, said LSS, calling to Youngest Son, "Get me the case. The spare battery is there."

But Youngest Son didn't have the case. "It's at home," he said.

So we didn't get our Christmas picture after all.

I was still fuming on the way home. "How could you be so careless?" I asked Youngest Son. "This is the one thing I asked you to do and you didn't do it!"

In truth, I probably used several variations on this theme as rather one-sided conversation. Eventually Younger Daughter spoke up. "Maybe it wasn't entirely his fault," she offered.

"What do you mean?" I asked -- probably in a loud voice because, if nothing else, I hate being interrupted in mid-tirade.

"I had the case," Younger Daughter admitted. The significance of the past tense was lost on me at that moment. But it developed that she'd taken the camera without permission, used it -- supposedly at her band concert in mid-December -- but who knows really where -- and she'd not put it back. Or recharged the battery. When Youngest Son went looking for the camera earlier in the day, Younger Daughter could only find the camera itself... and it turned out she may have thrown out the case, and the spare battery and battery charger contained therein, in the course of a panic clean-up of her room one evening that was designed to induce us to let her go somewhere with her friends.

Her friends who've no doubt seen the pictures Younger Daughter took with our camera and uploaded to her Facebook page.

Which is another sore point. But I'll stop here. I've ranted enough for one day....

Friday, December 22, 2006

Closed for the Holiday

Absent some sudden, irresistible inspiration, I'm out of here until Tuesday.

You're free to hang around, however, as long as you like. Browse among the archives if you're in the mood. Chat among yourselves. Leave comments.

Please don't spill.

Merry Christmas to all. Or Happy Holiday. Accept whichever greeting makes you happier.

More on Boogaloo Bug -- or -- how a Person of the Year tries to shamelessly manipulate the media

Last week I launched a new Holiday character, Boogaloo Bug.

Not a "feel-good" type of character -- on the contrary -- Boogaloo's the bug that seems to come to everyone's house in the Winter and make us sick. So he's a "feel-bad" character: He got Oldest Son the other day; yesterday, Youngest Son fell victim.

That's Boogaloo, looming above. No smart remarks, please about how poorly he's drawn. I never said I was an artist. You want an artist, visit Ben & Bennie.

Anyway, I've decided to launch a viral marketing campaign to spread the word about Boogaloo Bug.

Viral marketing for a virus, what do you think?

Now that Time Magazine has named me Person of the Year I figure it should be a snap for me to influence public opinion and turn Boogaloo Bug into a microscopic media star.

I can see the book and DVD royalties stacking up right now.

Or I may be hallucinating. Boogaloo Bug may have grabbed hold of me, too. Or it may have been all that Christmas cheer I consumed yesterday....

But just as soon as I regain consciousness, I'm going to start Googling Boogaloo Bug -- just waiting for that first reference to my little discovery that I myself did not make.

Another Unscientific Survey -- Your least favorite Christmas song

All the nice people here in the Blogosphere asked people to say which Christmas songs they liked most. Which ones were most special.

But... it's nearly Christmas... you've been listening to Christmas songs for a while now.

What song is really getting on your nerves? As always, feel free to explain your answer -- but keep it clean.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Help! There's a silly Christmas song stuck in my head and it's trying to get out!

From this morning's Quick Takes column in the Chicago Sun-Times:
News Item: British Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers threatens action against the "psychological effects" of the "unhealthy work environment" of stores where "incessant Christmas music" is played.
As I read this on the train this morning, another "War Against Christmas" rant started percolating in the gray matter... and then... I realized... the union might just have a point.

In most American cities, one radio station switches to all Christmas music, all the time, during the run-up to Christmas. In Chicago, that station has been WLIT FM 93.9, usually a soft rock station that plays in a lot of dental offices.

This year, WLIT switched to the Christmas format in mid-November.

Long Suffering Spouse has been listening to the station quite a bit in the last couple of days as the cookie making continues. We have hours and hours of Christmas music stored on the computer -- with no duplicate performances -- but the computer is in the den. We can turn the music up loud enough that it can be heard in the kitchen. But not when there are collegians in the den.

And when the collegians are in the den, there is no music. Unless it's music associated with a video game. Or during a commercial break in a sporting event.

So Long Suffering Spouse has been listening to the radio. Instead of a playlist that lasts 38 hours and no commercials, she hears maybe 38 songs. The same 38 songs. Over and over again.

Please don't get me wrong. I am second to none in my admiration for Bing Crosby.

But after hearing der Bingle ask "Do You Hear What I Hear?" for the 87th time I just want to scream, "Yes, yes, YES, already, I hear it!"

And when Brenda Lee is rockin' around the Christmas tree for the 902nd time, I begin to wish it would fall on her.

Or at least that she'd go get that pumpkin pie she's been singing about and do some caroling... somewhere else.

Anywhere else.

In fact, last night, as we were closing down the assembly line, Long Suffering Spouse mentioned the repetitive playlist on the radio.

Now it was late and I was tired. I certainly didn't do this on purpose. But something popped into my head.

"At least," I said, "they don't play Dominic the Donkey all the time."

"Which one?" LSS asked. It was an innocent mistake -- but now the song was in my head. I began to sing....

Hey! Chingedy ching,
(hee-haw, hee-haw)
It's Dominic the donkey.
Chingedy ching,
(hee-haw, hee-haw)
The Italian Christmas donkey.
(la la la-la la-la la la la la)
(la la la-la la-la la-ee-oh-da)

"Oh, that one," LSS said. "They did play that once."

Hey! Chingedy ching,
(hee-haw, hee-haw)
It's Dominic the donkey.
Chingedy ching,
(hee-haw, hee-haw)
The Italian Christmas donkey.
(la la la-la la-la la la la la)
(la la la-la la-la la-ee-oh-da)

"You can stop singing now," she said.

"I'm sorry," I said, and I meant it, too, "but it's in my head."

"I'm sure a lot of things are in your head," she said. "Keep this there, too."

Hey! Chingedy ching,
(hee-haw, hee-haw)
It's Dominic the donkey.
Chingedy ching,
(hee-haw, hee-haw)
The Italian Christmas donkey.
(la la la-la la-la la la la la)
(la la la-la la-la la-ee-oh-da)

"You really have to stop this," she said.

"I know," I said.

We were going upstairs. The lights were off on the main floor. The collegians, of course, were still down in the basement, playing video games. They only sleep during the day.

We were were walking up the stairs.

la la la-la la-la la la la la
la la la-la la-la la-ee-oh-da

"You can stay downstairs if you're going to do that," Long Suffering Spouse said to me, and she sounded sincere.

I followed in outward silence. Still in my head though....

Hey! Chingedy ching,
(hee-haw, hee-haw)
It's Dominic the donkey.
Chingedy ching,
(hee-haw, hee-haw)
The Italian Christmas donkey.
(la la la-la la-la la la la la)
(la la la-la la-la la-ee-oh-da)

And you can listen to Dominic the Donkey by clicking on the link. Then the song will be in your head, too.

Don't say you weren't warned.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Worst behavior in sports for 2006

This is Fred Mitchell's story in yesterday's Chicago Tribune. Please note the heavy emphasis on youth sports in this recitation of the year's worst sporting behavior:
The Positive Coaching Alliance offers a year-in-review "Bottom 10 List" of the worst behavior in sports, from peewees to pros, to stimulate discussion about honoring the game among parents, coaches, players and educators.

10. Moments from ending his stellar soccer career at the World Cup, France's Zinedine Zidane is ejected for head-butting an opponent who insulted Zidane's sister.

9. Cubs catcher Michael Barrett ignites a 10-minute bench-clearing brawl by sucker-punching the White Sox's A.J. Pierzynski after a collision at the plate.
OK, this one was just plain stupid. Entertaining, but really stupid.

8. Denver-area parents must break up a fight between coaches of opposing 7-and-under girls soccer teams, resulting in one of the coaches facing assault charges.
Seven and under! Are they even keeping score in a 7U game?
7. A football brawl between Miami and Florida International results in 31 player suspensions and the unforgettable image of a player swinging his helmet as a weapon.
And a Miami announcer, former Miami player Lamar Thomas, loses his job because of his colorful color commentary during the brawl.

These were the offending remarks, as quoted in an AP story by Tim Reynolds (posted on Yahoo! Sports): "'Now, that's what I'm talking about,' Thomas said as the brawl raged out of control. 'You come into our house, you should get your behind kicked. You don't come into the OB playing that stuff. You're across the ocean over there. You're across the city. You can't come over to our place talking noise like that. You'll get your butt beat. I was about to go down the elevator to get in that thing.'"
6. The Tennessee Titans' Albert Haynesworth is suspended for five games after stomping the helmetless head of the Dallas Cowboys' Andre Gurode, who required 30 stitches.

5. At a Philadelphia-area football game for 5- and 6-year-olds, a player's father allegedly brandishes a .357 Magnum during a dispute with a coach over his son's playing time.
I don't know whether this is a factor in aggravation or mitigation that it took place in the Philadelphia area. The reputation of Philadelphia fans is well-known... and apparently entirely deserved.

Brief digression, for illustration purposes: Middle Son is ushering these days at Bears games in Soldier Field. At a recent game a woman -- wearing the other team's jersey -- complained that she was being harassed by Bears' fans.

I'm not Security, he explained.

"Well, what good are you?" she exclaimed.

"Why don't you tell me what happened?" Middle Son was doing his best to calm her down; he could tell she was very upset.

"That guy over there --" she pointed -- "p*ssed on me!"

"I'll get Security," said Middle Son, and he did. (And, yes, the offending "fan" was ejected.)

When Middle Son told me this story, Oldest Son was also in the room. This was his take on it: "Imagine," Oldest Son said, "how much worse it would have been for her if she'd been in Philadelphia."

But that charming family vignette concluded, let's return to Mr. Mitchell's list. This one may be the worst of all:
4. When two high school sports stars are sentenced to 60 days in juvenile detention for a "prank" that left one man physically disabled and another brain-damaged, an Ohio judge rules the players can complete their sports seasons before serving their sentences.
What the heck was the justification on this? You wouldn't want their school to lose in the playoffs because of an error in judgment? It's OK to pause a moment here while you stop cringing.

3. A Stockton, Calif., youth football coach is caught on tape charging the field to level an opposing 13-year-old player who had just been flagged for a late hit on the coach's son.

2. A Corpus Christi, Texas, youth football coach is caught on tape attacking an 18-year-old referee who said the coach grew angry when asked to stop swearing in front of the 5- and 6-year-old players.
I know, I know. You're asking yourself, what the #$%*! was he thinking?

And the "winner" -- according to the Positive Coaching Alliance -- is:
1. A tennis father in France is arrested on suspicion of drugging opponents of his 16-year-old son by tampering with their sports beverages, one of whom dies in an auto accident while driving home after a match. The father pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight years in jail.
I suppose this has to be the worst because someone actually died... but that Ohio story is pretty awful.

Sports can build character and a sense of responsibility; I've seen it with my own children... but, sometimes, it's not just the kids that need the character development. The PCA wants to stimulate discussion, so let me pose the question: How do you keep the wackos out of your kids' sports teams? How do you address these issues with your kids?

Whatever happened to the 12 days of Christmas?

OK, it's Wednesday. Christmas Eve is Sunday and the cookies aren't done (though Long Suffering Spouse continues to make excellent progress) and the cards aren't mailed.

The cards are my problem. And I'm making no progress at all. For years I've used labels for mailing. I use them at work, too: Clear labels that take inkjet ink just fine thank you. I didn't change brands. I didn't change printers. I didn't change anything -- but the sheets from the new box will not line up. At all.

And why does everything have to be done by Sunday anyway?

Whatever happened to the 12 days of Christmas? They are supposed to start -- start, mind you -- on Monday. Christmas Day. That's only The First Day of Christmas. You know....
... this one?

But, no, by the time Christmas Day dawns, everything must not only be done, it's more than likely over. As it will be at our house. If we ever get anything wrapped.

Meantime, I have an evidence deposition to prepare for tomorrow. I can't believe it's going to go ahead -- I wouldn't produce the Defendant if I were representing him -- my case would be harder if the Defendant merely admitted liability and made me try the case on damages. I'd explain... but I really should be reading the file because I was just brought into the case and I don't know it yet. And I promised that I'd prepare a complaint in a new case for a municipal client by Friday... and I really need to start that too. And though I finally got (yesterday!)the settlement checks on a case I'd settled in October -- the one in which the carrier made a bogus attempt to try and get a subro lien paid out of my proceeds -- I do have to worry about how we're going to get through February. So I have to get my billing out.

Which means I have to catch up on my timesheets.

Which means I shouldn't be here blogging, right? Well, maybe just a little more later... if I get something done....

Another Unscientific Survey --

If this guy comes to your house, when do you open the presents he brings?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

My, your hair smells like insectiside, my dear

Excerpts from a New York Times article by Drs. Larry and Jonathan Zaroff posted this afternoon on AOL:
A 50-year-old woman was admitted to the hospital with complaints of severe weakness and difficulty breathing. She had been quite healthy until the afternoon of the admission, with no history of serious illnesses.

The doctors at the university hospital where she became a patient are known for using their brains. They also use their stethoscopes wisely, and observe closely how a patient looks.

On examination this one was sweaty and had pinpoint pupils, and her lungs were wheezy. But unlike physicians of centuries ago, doctors today do not regularly use their noses. (In the 18th century, doctors could make diagnoses of kidney failure, diabetes and liver disease by smelling a patient.) For this woman, the diagnosis remained obscure for the next hour as her breathing got more labored and she became comatose.

A tube was placed in her windpipe and she was attached to a breathing machine. Then an experienced nurse, with good sense and a good sense of smell, came to the rescue. The nurse noted that the patient had a peculiar odor, resembling garlic, most prominently from her hair. The unusual odor raised the suspicion of insecticide poisoning with organophosphates.

The patient was immediately treated with atropine and 2-PAM to reverse the effects of the poison, while blood was sent to the lab to verify the diagnosis. Each time she received the medications she woke and improved, but then lapsed back into a coma with increasing lung problems. Her skin was washed and her hair was shampooed several times with no lasting improvement.
So they shaved her head -- and she woke up just fine. And she remembered what had happened.

Seems she'd gone to her neighbor's house and let her neighbor give her a shampoo.
The neighbor, when contacted, was willing to bring in the shampoo. Chagrined, she showed up shortly, bringing two containers. One held shampoo. The other, a similar jug, contained an organophosphate insecticide. Both receptacles were the same size, the labels old and blurred.

I must have used the wrong one, she said, when told that her friend was just recovering from insecticide poisoning.

Organophosphates have a bad reputation, and quite correctly. They are extremely dangerous, even in small amounts, and are easily absorbed through the skin as well as the lungs. They poison an important enzyme, acetylcholine esterase, without which acetylcholine accumulates in the body, disabling muscles and nerves and important centers in the brain.

* * *

In this case, the patient recovered well, after the correct diagnosis by a nurse with a sensitive nose, proper treatment with drugs and the elimination of the insecticide by balding.
And it looks like I found this before MJ, May, or Dr. A.

Oh, that's got a meter to it, doesn't it?

Remember the reason for the season, sure, but this is ridiculous

Father Marc Pasciak, pastor of St. Symphorosa Church, would like
to see the 32 stolen plastic Nativity figures make
it home for Christmas. (Chris Sweda/Daily Southtown)

Maybe the Baby Jesus in the creche in Carol Angiollo's yard looked lonely. Maybe (maybe??) teenagers sometimes do stupid things for no reason at all. Whether there was a reason or not, someone added 32 Baby Jesus figures to Mrs. Angiollo's Nativity display this weekend, according to Stefano Esposito's story in this morning's Chicago Sun-Times.

Mrs. Angiollo took the extras to her parish church. That's the pastor, above, with some of the recovered figures. Some of the neighbors have already stopped by the church to pick up their missing statues.

And a note to the kids who pulled this prank: Don't try to put anything in the Angiollos' yard again. "I have a feeling my husband is going to wire something up," Angiollo said.

Landmines perhaps? Sure, nothing says Christmas to me like a festive holiday trip-wire....

Let's poll together on this

From Sunday's Quick Takes column in the Chicago Sun-Times:
A Zogby Interactive poll,, has found that only 5 percent of Americans are offended by the phrase "Merry Christmas," while 46 percent are offended by the phrase "Happy Holidays" when spoken by someone who is afraid someone else will be offended by the phrase "Merry Christmas."
That's already 51%. We only have a couple of days, but if we work on this hard enough, we can offend everybody by Winter Solstice!

A Holiday visitor for everyone

No, not this guy.

Ol' Tubby here only visits the homes of good little girls and boys.

That's discrimination, I say.

And even if he does come to your house, he stays for... what? A nanosecond? You can barely make out the prancing and pawing of any reindeer at all up on the roof -- and you put out cookies and milk and he takes maybe a nibble of one and a sip of the other.

Clearly, he's trying to cram too much into too little time.

No, we have a Holiday visitor who doesn't care if you're good or bad, young or old, or what church you attend, or even if you attend church at all. He's out there looking for you right now. And here he is:
Meet Boogaloo Bug, the Holiday visitor who always seems to stop by during the Christmas season -- and who always overstays his welcome.

Because he's not welcome at all.

Last night, in the wee small hours of the morning, Boogaloo Bug came to our house to visit Oldest Son. We found Oldest Son on the couch in the den this morning, TV on, bucket near his head... just in case he couldn't get where he needed to get fast enough.

We'd like Boogaloo Bug to leave now, before he visits the rest of us, too.

But I don't like the odds.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Christmas baking -- or -- Not that kind of support!

Long Suffering Spouse bakes at Christmas. In truth, whatever small status I may have in my community is based upon this. (That Curmudgeon is a self-important, pompous prig, but his wife bakes good cookies, so let's slate him for the parents' club. Maybe his wife will bake cookies for us!)

To say that my wife makes cookies is like saying that the Red Cross helps out a bit. Compared to my wife's cookies, store bought cookies are little more than compressed sawdust and sweepings.

My wife didn't make these gingersnaps. But her gingersnaps are among my favorites. Along with the oatmeal raisin, and the coconut squares, and the brownies, the hard gingerbread, the soft gingerbread and, when all these are depleted, the sprinkle cookies of various shapes.

Others like the raisin date bars or the wreaths or the Russian tea cakes, although I'll generally leave these alone. And there's others, but I never actually learned their proper names.

And she makes breads, too.

One of our old pastors used to wait by the window of the Rectory when he thought LSS might be delivering Christmas baking -- so he could intercept -- and keep -- all the breads for himself. The office staff knew what he was doing. He hardly ever came out of his office otherwise.

Since LSS has gone back to teaching full time, however, the baking window has shrunk dramatically. This year, the window opened this weekend.

That meant that a bit of planning had to go into the operation -- the giant sacks of flour and sugar had to be laid in and a lot of other things needed to get done first.

But this was also the weekend when the college kids came home. So we had four teenagers in the house. (Well, three teenagers and one post-teen.)

These aren't any of them.

The teenagers believe that they are helping so long as they don't actively impede operations. But Younger Daughter had six baskets of clothes, clean, dirty and probably in-between, in her room -- leaving none to be had anywhere in the house -- and Oldest Son and Middle Son brought home mountains of laundry each -- and expected Long Suffering Spouse to referee who whould have priority use of the laundry facilities.

And they do expect their meals, don't they?

And if they put their dishes in the sink... never the dishwasher, sometimes the sink... well, that's something isn't it?

I blew up a little Sunday morning. Youngest Son was present to catch the flak. I was trying to explain to him... my voice rising the whole while... but never loud enough to disturb the slumber of the sleeping collegians on the second floor... how Mom has limited time to get this done, and how we all have to pull together and provide support for her if she is to have any hope of finishing in time for Christmas. Long Suffering Spouse was in the room with me... probably wondering whether she'd need to go looking for the tranquilizer darts.

Youngest Son didn't bat an eye. I finished my little speech about the necessity to provide support for his mother and he immediately responded, "You're doing a heck of a job, Mom, I'm behind you 100%."

Friday, December 15, 2006

They're "out of uniform" and I'm late again

All my children have attended Catholic schools (and, no, these aren't any of them -- the accompanying illustration is brought to you through the miracle of generic image searching).

One of the many advantages of a Catholic school -- speaking from the parental perspective, you understand -- is the requirement of a uniform. When I was putting on the lovely maroon clip-on tie in 6th grade, I wasn't nearly as wild about it.

Not one of my kids has been required to wear a tie as part of a school uniform, clip-on or otherwise, although in high school the boys were required to wear ties on Mass days.

Uniforms eliminate a lot of arguments: There's none of those 'you can't wear those jeans' or 'cover your belly' discussions with your kids becuase they have to wear the uniform.

Except on out of uniform days.

Yesterday I made an appointment to meet a new client at her place of business. I asked her to come in early because I'd be 'in the neighborhood' dropping Younger Daughter off at her school for Band class at 7:00 am. I'd be there, I told her, by 7:15.

But I did not know that it was an out of uniform day.

So I neglected to build in time for negotiation.

"You can't go to school like that," shouted Long Suffering Spouse as Younger Daughter tried to break past our room and down the stairs before she could be seen. "Come here and let me see you."

Younger Daughter reluctantly complied.

I don't see how Long Suffering Spouse could have seen Younger Daughter anyway -- she must have just assumed that there would be a problem.

Which, of course, there was.

"No halter tops," said Long Suffering Spouse.

"I'm wearing a shirt over it."

"We got a letter from school. It's on the bulletin board. It says 'no halter tops' -- it doesn't say you can wear a shirt over it."

"Ma-ahm!" That's the two syllable substitute that teenagers use for "mom" when their blood is up.

But there was a letter: They have to send letters now because, when freed from the tyranny of the school uniform, the girls tend to, uh, overcompensate.

Eventually, Younger Daughter settled on a white t-shirt. That she apparently took from her little brother. A few years ago.

Long Suffering Spouse started to challenge this fashion choice, too -- but Younger Daughter carried the day with, "It's Black and White Day" (these being the school colors). And her pants were black.

And t-shirts weren't specifically mentioned in the letter.

But I'll bet they'll be mentioned in the next one. And if she didn't get a detention for her t-shirt, she probably got one for being 15 minutes late to Band class.

I really hate out of uniform days.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Oddest family chore so far this week

I went to the bank to deposit money into Oldest Son's checking account.

That's not odd, you say: When kids are in college, parents often have to provide financial transfusions.

True, I say, but it wasn't my money; it was his.

Well, you say, that does make it a tad unusual... but why is it odd?

Well, you see, he needed to close out his on line poker playing account, and this was the check that came from... what? The off shore casino? I couldn't really tell. It came in an unmarked envelope. On flimsy paper. (Remember flash paper? It wasn't quite that flimsy... but close.)

I couldn't help think about all the parents out here in the Blogosphere with young children. Can they even imagine themselves performing any such errand?

I thought the situation was quite odd. Now you top it: Not gross, not grim... just odd. What's the oddest errand you've performed this week?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

OK -- I bit the bullet

I'm -- reluctantly -- in Beta.

The little invitation screen popped up when I went to sign on this evening... and after the hassle I had earlier this week, I figured I'd better jump. Who knows what Google might do to me next?

No one but blogspot users should see any change as a result of this.

But for those of you Blogger users not ready to make the switch: Don't try to log into Blogger to leave a comment! Click on other -- leave your name and URL and we'll all be able to jump to your blog just as easy as before... easier maybe.

Give it a shot right now -- leave a comment to let me know you can.

Instant update:
Right now the top of the page is all messed up and I see brand new errors in the Sidebar -- about what I feared when I set this up....

In a few years he'd be suing to have the picture removed

Patrick Agin (pictured above) likes to dress up. This is the picture he wants to make his "official" yearbook photo.

The school said no.

Now Agin's mother is suing to force the school to change its mind.

The school says he can't use this picture because it violates the school's "no weapons" policy -- a tough sell in a school with an armed Patriot as its mascot. So Mom's suit might just have a chance.

Now, I have some experience with teenage kids, so I'll try and translate my thoughts on this into the teenage argot: Dude, don't go with that picture, it makes you look like a total dork.

Job Interview

Sometime soon yours truly will be among the couple of hundred people interviewed for the office of Cook County Associate Judge.

The interview itself will be pleasant; the judges' committee that 'screens' the candidates and recommends two finalists for every vacancy is uniformly civil and polite... even friendly.

Unfortunately, I know this because I've done it so many times before.

I don't know which is worse: Feeling more like Lar “America First” Daly with each futile attempt, or the fact that I have to explain the reference to more and more people. (If you really want to know, follow the links.)

I guess everyone should have a hobby, eh?

'Twas the War Against Christmas -- Part II

From this morning's Chicago Sun-Times: Four year old twins send their letters to Santa -- but one comes back "with the notation 'Return to Sender, Insufficient Address, Unable to Forward.'"

Good thing that Fred Gailey isn't trying to defend Kris Kringle against an insanity charge this year.

And turning a few pages in the same paper, we find in this morning's Quick Takes column the following item:
News Item: "A hospital in England has told a group of Christmas carolers it may not do its usual seasonal round of the wards because of the risk of infection."
Because that Christmas Spirit may be contagious.

Happy Winter Solstice.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Time wasters

Are you an idiot? Take this idiot test and prove it find out.

For winter sports addicts: Play Whack the Penguin. (No actual penguins were injured in the making of this game.)

This I saw at CMHL's site: Save the Snowman (Hangman with a festive, Holiday theme... and it turns out that there are a bunch of videos and other nonsense in the lower right hand corner of the Snowman puzzle. I hadn't noticed that the first time.)

I guess I'm collecting. Got any more?

OK, Google, stop pushing me around!

Yesterday, Google put up the little buttons that would enable me to "easily" migrate to Beta. I eschewed the invitation.

I've been noticing the complaints on one site and another about Beta... mostly about Beta customers being unable to leave comments on sites like this one... problems that always are eventually resolved... but I'm in no hurry to take on a new set of problems.

I have enough already.

But today Google is getting back at me. I can't leave comments -- even anonymous ones -- on Beta sites.

Hey Google: Work out all your Beta bugs and then I'll go on the system. OK?

In the meantime, stop messin' wit' me.

Update -- 4:30 pm

Still unable to post on Beta -- but if you can, go to Ben and Bennie's and leave your own encouragement. Since I can't send mine in a comment, I'm sending good vibes into the ether.

You can believe everything you read in the newspaper...

...until you've been personally involved in a story that's reported.

I was thinking about this while reading the (always generous) comments to my "Blogiversary" post of last week. I reprinted my first post as part of my "celebration."

And there are a few things wrong with it... as some of you pointed out: Not everyone in the Blogosphere is a callow youth, sporting piercings and tattoos.

This was a most distressing discovery for me because -- if no one out here remembered Jack Benny, Bob Hope or George Burns -- I could just steal, uh, recycle their material and grow rich in the process. Hey, it worked for this guy:

But this erroneous impression of who was out here came from reading the papers: Blogging, I read, was for the Young People. And my initial experiences into the Blogosphere seemed to confirm it: I initially went on line so I could read my Older Daughter's blog while she was studying in Europe.

The questionable reliability of "The Media" is nothing new. Remember The Front Page? That's a link to the 1931 original; the movie has been remade over and over again since, most successfully in 1940 as His Girl Friday.

The story accurately depicts the intense competition -- and, uh, creative writing -- that characterized Chicago's many newspapers in the early 20th Century.

After my father died, when we were cleaning out the house, I found a small handful of fragile newspaper clippings from 1946... when my father's father, a fireman, died while fighting a fire. The clips -- from several different papers -- got the broad outlines of the story right... but my grandfather's age varied widely, as did the reported circumstances... even the name of my grandfather's brother, who came on the scene after my grandfather had been stricken.

I have not often handled high profile cases or been quoted in the press... but it has happened.

Once I was blasted, uphill and down, across the front page of the Sunday paper. Fortunately, it was Sunday paper in Joliet, not Chicago... and it could have been much worse.

I used to do insurance defense work. Sometimes that meant being hired to represent individuals or companies that were being sued. These would be our clients, just as surely as if they had picked us out of the Yellow Pages -- but it was the insurance company that paid our fees and I and my ex-partners lived in mortal fear of offending any carrier. The insurance companies that hired us did not want publicity on their cases -- and not entirely without reason: A highly publicized case can become a big dollar case. Of course, so can a case that receives no publicity at all.

So my ex-partners strictly forbade us to talk to the press. But, as a one-time student editor and reporter-wannabe, I knew I could speak "off the record." And that's what I did when the Joliet reporter called to discuss a case that was set for trial the day after the story appeared. He'd heard the other side of the story from the plaintiff's attorney -- a Joliet attorney -- and was thoroughly riled up. I had to educate him on the legal issues and factual problems in the case... but since I couldn't speak for attribution much of what I gave him he couldn't use. Where would he say he got it from? Independent research? All I could hope to do was tamp down the flames; I -- and my client -- still got scorched.

I know I saved that article (the reporter did send me a 'tear sheet' as I asked him to do), but I haven't seen it in 10 years. Maybe someday I'll come across it again.

I don't say believe nothing you read; I say read everything with a slightly skeptical eye and think about what may lie behind the words on the page. Or screen. Because sometimes the full story isn't reported... or it can't be reported, as in the example above. And don't rely on only one source for news... unless, of course, you rely solely on me....


And one more thing about that initial post. I said there that I would conduct this blog "[w]ithout worrying about telling the abosolute, unvarnished truth at all times because, you know, comedy is about exaggeration, not about careful reporting."

It's strange how that's worked out. I've changed names of people, and even some places... but I've wound up telling my stories pretty straight, as I see them anyway, without changing or enhancing the details. A lot of stories that might be too 'revelatory' -- something that would surely give me away if someone who knew me well stumbled on these essays -- have simply not been told. And I haven't made anything up out of whole cloth. Yet.

Perhaps I'm just lazy.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The news intrudes at Christmas party

I was in a cab on my way to a Christmas party last Friday afternoon when I heard that there was a "hostage situation" at the "Ogilvie Transportation Center" in downtown Chicago.

It took me a split second to translate from Official Speak to Common Usage. The bulletin described a train station officially named in honor of a former Illinois governor, Richard B. Ogilvie. Ogilvie was actually elected Cook County Sheriff and County Board President -- as a Republican -- in the 1960's. (Things were different then: In the '60's Cook County Republicans were only an endangered species; they are now similar to the ivory billed woodpecker... recent sightings mean the species is probably not extinct -- but no established population can be found.) Ogilvie helped secure passage of Illinois' first income tax and he lost his re-election bid. Whether you find cause and effect there is entirely up to you.

It's probably not because of lingering resentment over the income tax -- most of the people who use that building every day have probably been subject to the state income tax their entire working lives -- but nobody ever actually calls that building the "Ogilvie Transportation Center."

Instead, the building is usually called the North Western Station, just like the building that previously stood at that site. If it were still the place where the North Western trains came and went, that would make sense.

But there is no Chicago & North Western Railroad any more. It was merged into the Union Pacific more than a decade ago. And the North Western trains had been operated by Metra for some time before that.
The news report on the cab driver's radio did not provide more specifics, except to add that no trains were going into or out of the City.

That was going to complicate the commute home for a lot of people, but not for me. I take the Blue Line.

I'd been doing arbitration duty on Friday, so my cell phone was off. I thought about turning it on because I knew that as soon as my mother-in-law heard the news she'd immediately conclude that I was one of the hostages... and she'd be on the phone to my Long Suffering Spouse... who would then call me. I don't think that's wishful thinking on my mother-in-law's part; I prefer to ascribe it to a natural fatalism. But I was already three hours late to the party and I just wanted to at least get there before being summoned home.

This party was being given by my ex-landlords. They've been very nice to me and I was pleased to be remembered with an inivitation to their annual Christmas shindig.

When I arrived, though, I found that the hostage situation was very much the topic of discussion. I learned that the gunman was holed up in a law office and that lawyers may have been shot. Someone observed that, if lawyers were really being shot, the story would probably be reported as a feel-good story for the holidays. Lawyers are only slightly more popular than the ebola virus -- but we know it, and humor, and often dark and cynical humor, is one way in which we cope.

I figured I'd better turn on my phone. It rang immediately.

"Where are you?" Long Suffering Spouse demanded.

"At a Christmas party in Lakeview. Remember?"

There was a slight pause while she remembered we had indeed talked about my stopping at this party. "Oh," she said, "but how are you getting home? My mother said all the trains going into and out of the City are stopped."

"It's just the North Western trains." I could have said Metra Union Pacific, which would have been more accurate... but would have required translation. I assured her that I'd be home at a decent hour... and I was.

The Sun-Times this morning has a number of stories about the shooting, from an eyewitness account of a survivor, to stories about the victims' families. It is truly heartbreaking stuff... and all because of an unhappy client.

Over the weekend my wife reminded me of one truly scary ex-client that I had. But I told her that if all the crazy disgruntled clients shot their lawyers, it wouldn't be news any more. The fact that this made national news shows just how really rare it is that an angry ex-client goes to this extreme.

I'm not sure that this made her feel any better.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Local pride -- or -- You really go, girl

The launch of Shuttle Discovery, originally scheduled for last night, has been postponed until the weekend.

When STS-116 does lift off, however, it will be carrying a native-born Chicagoan, Joan Higginbotham. That's Ms. Higginbotham, below.

Ms. Higginbotham is a 1982 graduate of Whitney M. Young Magnet School here in Chicago. I, for one, am thrilled to have my city represented in outer space.

After all, our political system and most of our politicians in Chicago and the County of Cook seem to be completely out of this world -- but, seriously, I am happy to see a fellow Chicagoan take this trip into outer space... even if the mission is only to rewire the International Space Station.

You're no doubt sick of the phrase "you go, girl"... well, Ms. Higginbotham really will.

But Ms. Higginbotham is not the first astronaut with strong Chicago ties. At left is Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to venture into space (in 1992, aboard Shuttle Endeavour).

Dr. Jemison (she's a medical doctor too) was born in Alabama... but she moved to Chicago at the age of three and graduated, in 1973, from Morgan Park High School, on the South Side (at age 16!). So we can claim her, too.

And, as an aside, Dr. Jemison not only was an astronaut, she played one on TV, too. Here is a picture of Dr. Jemison as "Lt. Palmer" on the one and only episode of Start Trek: The Next Generation in which she appeared ("Second Chances").

Some may think a foray into sci-fi TV might trivialilze or diminish her own very real accomplishment, but Dr. Jemison said in a 2005 CNN interview, that she found inspiration for her life's work in the original Star Trek series: "What was really great about 'Star Trek' when I was growing up as a little girl is not only did they have Lt. Uhura played by Nichelle Nichols as a technical officer -- she was African.... So that helped to fuel my whole idea that I could be involved in space exploration as well as in the sciences."

Besides, it didn't hurt Stephen Hawking's career any.

And I can think of yet one more astronaut with connections to the Chicago area: Captain James Lovell, USN Ret., of the Apollo VIII and Apollo XIII moon missions, runs a restaurant in north suburban Lake Forest with his son, James A. Lovell III.

I saw Captain Lovell at a Welcome Home ceremony for Navy reservists a couple of years ago up at Great Lakes. He was one of the speakers and, he quickly noted, far from the most important... because two of the other speakers were winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor.

But that's a story for a different day. Today, let's wish Joan Higginbotham and her Discovery colleagues Godspeed, shall we?