Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A very scary thought for Halloween....

It's a nightmare from which I'm still recovering. I'm barely able to type this out, my fingers are shaking so badly. Oh, the horror....

So, naturally, I'll share my terrifying vision with you:

In my nightmare the mid-term elections had been postponed... and all the attack ads were going to run for another week!
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Actually, the real nightmare vision is my desk, so I must curtail my blogging again today to try and move mounds of real paper.

Regularly scheduled programming... and reading... will hopefully resume tomorrow.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Travels with the Curmudgeon

Today is a glorious Fall day in Chicago and environs, the kind of weather that people think of when they think of Fall -- and which occurs in our area perahps on one or two days a year.

Maybe.

It's in the high 60's, maybe low 70's. It's breezy, but bright and sunny and I've been behind the wheel of the car all day... and shortly will be again.

Today I was out in Oregon, Illinois, the county seat of Ogle County, South of Rockford along the Rock River, due West of Sycamore (DeKalb County) along beautiful Illinois Route 64.

The last time I was in Oregon, in fact, more than five years ago, I took 64 all the way back almost to Chicago itself -- to First Avenue, or Cumberland, depending on which way you turn. But 64 goes almost all the way to Lake Michigan -- in Chicago proper it is North Avenue and, among other things, forms the southern boundary of Lincoln Park.

Today I almost regret not having a camera phone because there was a haunting picture I would have stopped to shoot just East of Oregon: A graveyard -- a small, country graveyard, marked by a flag and a handful of stones, surely no more than a half acre in size, and probably smaller than that, bounded on all sides by farm fields, with the stalks on the North and on the East not yet removed, waving in the wind. The grass in the small graveyard was all the greener by contrast to the surrounding fields. And there was no church in sight. It may have been a long-time family plot.

I had no time to investigate then. I have no time to ruminate now. I'm off to pick up Youngest Son from school, then Younger Daughter (who's serving out a detention), then deliver Younger Daughter to work.... Then I can come home and check my email and my messages from the day.

And why is The Curmudgeon on chauffeur duty you ask? Long Suffering Spouse got tagged for jury duty today....

To all those now utilizing or who may hereafter have occasion to utilize the highways and the byways of the Great State of Illinois, Greeting:

Younger Daughter did pass her driver's test and is now duly licensed.

You have been warned.

Friday, October 27, 2006

More on running. Or not.

All of my children have been athletes: Even Older Daughter, who is the least athletically inclined of the bunch, earned a JV letter. Even if it was in badminton.

Oldest Son and Middle Son played football and baseball throughout high school; Middle Son continues to play baseball in college. And Middle Son, in high school, was the one who looked most like I did when I was that age: Tall and weighing about as much as a sack of groceries. Which, come to think of it, is what Middle Son consumes at almost every meal when he's at home.

So I wasn't the fat kid who always finished last in the mile run in high school gym class.

No -- I was the tall, skinny kid who battled it out with the fat kid for last place.

And yes, just like in all the silly movies, there was always a fat kid in gym class. As I recall, I sometimes even beat the fat kid. (If the fat kid remembers differently, he can get his own blog.) Either way, our epic battles for last place were greatly amusing to the vast majority of our classmates, all of whom were finished, rested -- maybe even showered and dressed -- before we last two came plodding around that final turn. And, no, I wasn't a smoker.

It seemed like this must have happened three or four hundred times during my high school career. But that number may have been inflated by the subsequent nightmares.

Somehow (and I presume it's because my wife's genome overwhelmed my skinny little DNA), my kids can all run. Younger Daughter has been hobbled by shin splints. But she even likes running, when she can. Older Daughter has had a variety of foot problems and maybe she's the exception to the rule. But, with that possible exception, I could see any of my kids someday training for a marathon.

But never, ever me. I can't run 26.2 yards, much less 26.2 miles. And climbing stairs?


Shown above is an older photo of the Jackson Red Line subway stop. It's been remodeled since then. But the key feature of the photograph, for our purposes, is that yellow railing, blocking the escalator. Meaning the escalator is out of order.

This happens far too often. Mind you, I can get up these stairs if necessary. What gets me is when the next escalator, from the subway station to the surface, is also kaput. Then come the leaden legs. And the spots.

For years I had an office in a four story building. My office was on the third floor. We had no elevator.

It was an older building, with a lightwell in the center. An elevator could have been installed there -- and the morbid joke among those of us who worked there was that an elevator would be installed there someday -- with a suitable memorial plaque dedicated to the first of us to drop dead going up the stairs.

I didn't drop dead.

But I never made it from the ground to the 4th floor without pausing.... for awhile....

* * *

I suppose I could leave you with an old favorite quote, "I get my exercise acting as a pallbearer to my friends who exercise." Today, the Internet attributes this quote to former U.S. Senator Chauncey Depew (1834-1928); it seems to me I've seen it attributed to others as well.

But instead I'll leave you with a quick story.

In the mid-70's my late father was required to submit to what was called an "executive physical."

My father regaled me with an expansive description of the doctors' beautifully appointed Michigan Avenue offices, the deep carpets, the plush furniture, the soft lights, the tasteful artwork -- inadequate compensation, separately or together, my father said, for the poor doctors who were obliged to spend all day sticking their fingers into places on the bodies of middle-aged men which were ordinarily designed solely for egress. (It was the mid-70's. The executive clientele were overwhelmingly male.)


In the course of the examination, the doctor asked my father if he ever got winded or short of breath while running.

"Yes." my father said. "That did happen once."

"Really?" said the doctor, showing some interest now, with pen poised to record the details on the chart.

"Yes," my father said, "I was running for the streetcar one day. And I made it, too, but when I got there, I was short of breath. So I didn't do it again."

The doctor looked confused. "Sir," he asked, "don't you mean a train? Or a bus? There haven't been streetcars in Chicago since the late '40's."

"That'd be about right," my father said. "I think this happened around 1946."

* * *

Whatever you think of my little story, think kind thoughts about me tomorrow: I have promised to accompany Younger Daughter to the local outpost of the Secretary of State, there to take... the driving test.

Oh, my... technical difficulties (again)

I saw late yesterday how badly yesterday's post looks in IE 6.0 -- and how the Peace Globe seems to have pushed my Sidebar down to the bottom of the page.

If this is what you're seeing, you're using IE because it looked just fine in Firefox.

Honest.

Be assured however that I am earnestly attempting to fix things so that this poor blog doesn't look quite so bad in IE.

Absolutely no promises regarding results or outcomes are made or implied by the foregoing statement.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Curmudgeons don't run...

...although, if absolutely necessary, we may resort to walking at a brisk pace.

Image captured from the Chicago Tribune.

Thus you would search in vain among these hardy runners in last Sunday's Chicago Marathon for even the smallest glimpse of yours truly.

Here is a less than flattering photo of the winner of the mens' competition, Robert Cheruiyot of Kenya. This image is captured from the Chicago Sun-Times:


Mr. Cheruiyot was hospitalized as a result of a head injury sustained in this fall, but he has recovered.

Even with this mishap, Mr. Cheruiyot fared far better than did Pheidippides, the Athenian hero, who, in 490 B.C., according to legend, ran from Marathon to Athens to report the victory over the Persians in the Battle of Marathon. The story goes that Pheidippides reached Athens and announced the victory -- and died on the spot.

Wikipedia, darn them, says that there is no evidence to suggest that this ever happened... but I say: Why take chances?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Invitation to the dance


This image was captured for today's essay
from the Marti Weidert Studio website and the
link is therefore, what, a guilt offering?


I had to drive last Friday -- I mentioned that yesterday -- and my business purpose (if the IRS is reading) was to pick up and transport a file from the office for a client visit on Monday morning. (Too much to carry on the train.) Of course, there are always additional -- not alternative -- motives: Long Suffering Spouse had to leave with Youngest Son at 5:30 am for an all-day field trip to the Wisconsin Dells (she wasn't expected back before 11:30 pm), so I lost my ride to the train in the morning. But there was one thing of which I was certain: I did not need to drive to get home early to supervise Younger Daughter's preparation for the Fall Fling Dance at her all-girls school.

No. If there was one thing I knew for certain after I dropped off Younger Daughter Friday mornning (she's still getting her practice hours in, driving me to school) was that she was not going to Fall Fling.

Oh, I knew she wanted to go. Fall Fling was the last of the Grand Slam of Homecoming dances at the local Catholic high schools, two boys' schools, one co-ed school, and Younger Daughter's. At the start of the Homecoming Season, Younger Daughter had elaborate plans about who she'd take and who'd take her to which.

These plans fell apart when one boy in whom she was interested said he "didn't want to hold her back" and said she could ask someone else.

By the way, none of these conversations take place live and in person. All are conducted on-line, through the good offices of one or another instant messaging system. Teenage girls, however, do still talk to each other on the phone -- mostly about IM-conversations and messages left on Facebook "walls."

As blow-off lines go, I thought this one was better than one Older Daughter received at about the same age, when a boy she asked to a dance told her he had "to visit his grandmother." That sounds like the kind of lame excuse I would have come up with when I was 16. Awful.

But a blow-off line is still a blow-off line. And there was one boy who was going to ask her to one dance, but he couldn't possibly do so, even on an "as friends" basis, because of the treacly, cloying, really rather frightening messages left by his usual and customary girlfriend on her Facebook page. And his. (Cue the music from the shower scene in Psycho here....)

Anyway, Younger Daughter had no date to the Fall Fling. And the last day to buy tickets to the dance was last Thursday. Besides, she had to work until 8:00 pm. Maybe after that she'd go to the football game at Notre Dame High School. Maybe. And Friday morning, by the time Younger Daughter left the vehicle, I had reviewed all of this information with her and confirmed she was not. going. to. the. dance.

She called about 10:30 am. From the bathroom because you're not allowed to use phones at school. And she doesn't have a cell phone either; she'd borrowed someone's. (And if you want to turn me into DCFS over this, go ahead. I think I'm safe: Nowhere in the Constitution does it say that every high school student must have their own cell phone.)

As soon as I figured out that it was Younger Daughter calling, and where she was calling from, she launched into a high speed spiel: Somebody had decided not to go, and was willing to sell her ticket to Younger Daughter and could she go, please? She could call so-and-so to cover for her at work and she'd already talked to her boss who said if so-and-so couldn't cover she'd still be able to leave at 6:00 and she had a group she was going with and none of them had dates either so it was all alright now, wasn't it?

I began making motorboat sounds: But, but, but, but.... I was feeling poorly to begin with -- nothing to bother Dr. A or Mother Jones RN with, but a trifle punk all the same. Sore throat. Stuffy nose. And it was Friday. I just wanted to go home and rest.

For you young people who have stumbled onto this page: Just wait. I used to love Fridays too.

Now, only bad things happen on Fridays: Clients want everything before the end of the week. Heaven forfend that the fax machine should start whirring late on a Friday afternoon. That could be an emergency that destroys the weekend. And fatigue cumulates during the week. I consider it a victory now if I can make it to the 10:00 news on Friday night.

And a restful evening was so close to my grasp: Pick Younger Daughter up at 8:10 or 8:15 -- the varsity football game would already be well underway -- maybe she'd find no one to go with -- and I'd be done for the day. And even if she went, the game runs to 10:15, 10:30 at the latest. I'd be back at home by 10:45.

But a dance? Noooooooo, dances are open-ended. Sure, they end at 11:00 or whatever, but then the group has to go out and eat. And Younger Daughter was saying something about going over to someone's house after that... and everyone was staying overnight... and could she do that, too, please?

You recognize the psychology here, of course: Make two unreasonable demands -- the dance and the sleepover... at the home of people I've never heard of... while Long Suffering Spouse is out of town and out of communication. By making two requests, she'd count on me to cut the baby in half, and grant one request.

I saw it clearly.

And, of course, fell for it exactly as designed.

I played one last card. "How will you get there and come back?"

Younger Daughter named a girl who lived in the neighborhood. She'd drive to and from. She wasn't going to stay for the sleepover either. And everyone was meeting at her house anyway.

I knew this wouldn't pan out. It never does, particularly with Younger Daughter.

But I caved. Perhaps if I'd been feeling stronger....

* * *

It's 1:00 am or thereabouts. I'm maneuvering around some pretty extensive police activity at a nightclub on Milwaukee Avenue -- several squad cars and one unmarked. There's blue shirts and tac team guys all over and I'm not at all interested in finding out why.

I'm on my way to an address in Old Irving Park, an area through which I drive on a regular basis, when I have to drive, as part of my traffic jam avoidance plan. (Whether it really works or not is not really the point; I think it does.) But I've never seen the street to which I've been directed.

I'm driving because a call came in from Younger Daughter around 11:30 or so, shortly before LSS and Youngest Son returned from the Dells: Younger Daughter's ride had fallen through. She'd call back around 1:00, but it looked like she might need a ride home after all.

I didn't hear the phone ring at 11:30. I didn't hear the message. LSS and Youngest Son eventually roused me after their return and filled me in on what I'd missed. And then the phone call came and I was off. Again.

I drive around the neighborhood in a criss-cross fashion, almost ready to conclude that no such street exists, when I find it: A dead-end, half-block long street off Pulaski. I can't see the street addresses on the houses, but one house is lit up in the back and kids -- girls and boys -- are running around in and out of the light.

I pull to a stop. Younger Daughter emerges from the front door of the house, carrying her dress, wearing a pair of gym shorts and a t-shirt she'd borrowed from the girl whose house this was. "What happened to the dress?" I ask, as she gets into the car.

"Dad," Younger Daughter says, as if addressing an imbecile, "everyone changes clothes after a dance."

"And the boys?"

They're staying at so-and-so's house three blocks away.

"Not yet, they're not."

"Dad," Younger Daughter says -- extending the word to at least two syllables.

* * *

So how was the dance? Well, the girl whose house I'd eventually found did have a date. Of the "just friends" variety. And he and Younger Daughter hit it off quite nicely. I believe they were exchanging IM's last night. I don't know if Younger Daughter will be invited back....

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Oldest Son's interview brings back memories -- really, really bad ones

Oldest Son had a third interview with a big company last Friday. He'd survived two on-campus interviews; this was a 'meet the folks' interview at the Chicago headquarters.

I had to drive downtown last Friday; I agreed to drive him home when he was done. (He had to get ready to leave, you see, for the football game back at school on Saturday. Fall Break was ovah! [if that's the correct hip-hop spelling] Two of his buddies from the neighborhood were going to take him. One must keep one's priorities straight at all times.)

"It's nice to be the townie for a change," he told me as we walked from my office to the parking garage. He got to the interview on the Blue Line, but others were complaining about the out-of-the-way, hole-in-the-wall parking garage where they'd been obliged to park.

Oldest Son looked around the parking garage with increasing interest as we found my car. "I think this is the garage they were talking about," he said. A car with Iowa plates zipped by on the downward ramp just as we arrived. Oldest Son was convinced. "If I'd known this was where you parked," he said, "I might have been able to put this on my expense report."

Get that: An expense account for an interview.

This is a lot different from my experience. In my last year of law school I had a job, as a clerk, and we'd had discussions about my staying with the firm after graduation -- but no firm promises had been made. So I kept looking. My father was able to line up an interview for me with a new, ambitious, rapidly growing firm (he knew one of the senior real estate partners well). My father made it quite clear to me that he'd obtained an interview, not a job offer. I thought, going in, that my expectations were suitably low. I was mistaken.

The firm has since gone out of existence. But at the time, it was a supernova on the Chicago legal scene, a partnership of two power partners from two big firms, who'd brought along several of their minions apiece and had grown tremendously in the couple of years since their founding. They had ambitions of becoming a true silk-stocking firm and, at the moment, they had the client list to support to support those ambitions.

I showed up for my courtesy interview, on time and suitably accoutered. I was promptly ushered in to meet the trio that would conduct my interview. One was a middle-aged Italian-American partner from DePaul. He'd come over with one of the founders. The other two were more in keeping with the elitist ambitions of the firm: A female Jewish partner from New York and an African-American associate, newly arrived from Harvard.

New York greeted me with, "Oh crap!" (She may have used a stronger term, but this is a family blog.) "Just what we need, another Fish Eater."

"Fish Eater," I have since learned, is a pejorative term for Catholic. With more than a quarter century of experience, I now realize it was probably more of a friendly jibe at her partner, not a personal insult aimed at me.

At the time, however, I cringed noticeably. Even if I didn't know what "Fish Eater" meant, it didn't sound very promising to me.

Nevertheless, I managed to keep up with my new companions on the short trip to the Italian Village. The Italian Village was -- and still is -- a landmark restaurant on West Monroe Street in the Chicago Loop. It's now three restaurants, commonly owned, in one building. It has always been a fancy restaurant, with (for a Philistine like me) indecipherable menu items and stellar service.

The server took the drink order. Harvard ordered a glass of white wine. New York ordered a Perrier with a twist. DePaul ordered an ice tea.

Now it was my turn. I ordered a Coke. New York thought this was hilarious: "Just once," she laughed, "I'd like to see a candidate with the guts to order a martini at one of these things."

She may have actually used an even more intimate body-part reference. Either way, guts or the other, all of mine shriveled... and the interview went downhill from there.

I told this story Friday to Oldest Son on our way home. He'll not be asking me for advice on any future interviews any time soon. Still, he put a consoling spin on things. "You did get a nice lunch out of the deal, Dad."

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Lawyers and Doctors -- Part II

This really isn't a sequel to my earlier, similarly named post but it may become part of a continuing series in exploring the differences between the professions. Or not.

The first lawyer I worked for had the chiseled features of the movie star-fighter pilot variety; he'd actually been an aviator, I seem to recall, in World War II. He had a full head of sandy hair and was trim and muscular well into his 60's. He was a notable exception to a hypothesis I will posit here today: Male doctors tend to have full heads of hair, athletic builds, and look younger than their years; male lawyers tend to be bald, pudgy and look older than they really are.

Notice -- please -- that this hypothesis is limited to males. I may be stupid, but I'm not that stupid.

This hypothesis began to form nearly 30 years ago, when I was still in law school: I observed that all the males in our little study group, all of us in our early 20's then, were, uh, follically challenged. (Is follically a word?) I was a little less follically challenged -- then -- than some of my peers, so I prudently kept these observations to myself. Of course I've caught up since, too: It was distressing when Middle Son became taller than me and could see for himself that the top of my head has definitely arrived in the baseball cap phase of life. I tried to tell him I'd taken Holy Orders and undergone tonsure, but he didn't believe me.

The theory about male doctors didn't develop until I was practicing law and deposing doctors. I began to notice that all the male docs looked younger than me -- the me still in my 20's or 30's -- but were actually older. They all had hair. All of them were (apparently perpetually) tan, as if they'd just come back from an island vacation. I tend to sport a sickly gray or green pallor that comes from overexposure to flourescent lighting.

And then, in my late 20's, I had some health issues that required a couple of brief hospitalizations. At a teaching hospital. And the doctor who came by to take my history one morning looked pretty much exactly like this:

And that was my vivid impression then! I'm sure he'd seem much younger to me now.

I'm still trying to figure out why this hypothesis seems to hold up so well over time. My current theory is that it has to do with the training of interns: Only the strong and healthy types can endure the rigors of residency. Since they were strong to begin with, tney don't wear out quite as fast. And I just got back from court this morning, with this post half formed in my mind. And it was a long call besides. So I looked around the courtroom -- and, easily, the vast majority of male lawyers present were follically challenged. So I think the hypothesis is still valid.

What do you think?
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Owing to the press of other business, I will be away from this site tomorrow and probably not back again until Tuesday, Monday at the earliest.

Sure, I can stop blogging any time I want. It's not that I'm addicted or anything. Oh, wait, that's encroaching Dr. A's territory, isn't it?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A serious post about being funny? -- and -- Dish it out, The Curmudgeon can take it

Sort of a doubleheader today:

Seriously trying to be funny?

I saw this question yesterday at Miss Snark's website: "Do literary agents ever prowl around blogs searching for gifted writers?"

Miss Snark's answer was "no." In the comments, author P.N. Elrod chimed in with this quote from Rachel Caine: "Posting your novel (or blog) on the 'Net in the hopes that a big-time editor (or agent) will see it is like writing the perfect résumé and then tacking it to the front door of your house, hoping your future boss will walk by."

Which was a buzzkill on a couple of levels: It may also explain why I can't get a real job. I was so depressed, I almost didn't put out fresh résumés out on the front door, even though it rained here yesterday.

It occurs to me, however, that the Blogosphere may be the current incarnation of Vaudeville: It is the place where we try stuff out, find our voices, and learn what "works." Vaudeville had various 'circuits,' some more prestigious (and lucrative) than others. An ambitious performer would work his way up through the ranks until he "played the Palace" (in New York). We have Sitemeter. And Technorati. And Blogs of Note. And comments. And all sorts of stuff I haven't figured out yet.

In Vaudeville, people voted with their feet: They wouldn't come to the show. Or they'd come -- and then walk out. Or throw produce. And the next thing you know, the manager is handing you your pictures and you're looking for another booking.

In the Blogosphere, they click "Next Blog." And they don't come back.


George Burns wrote that when he and Gracie Allen started in Vaudeville, he was the comedian, and Gracie fed him the straight lines. And Gracie got all the laughs anyway. At first, this aggravated George: He was writing the jokes and he wanted the laughs.

But eventually eating triumphed over ego, and George took on the role of straight man... and George and Gracie became stars.


Jack Benny wasn't really cheap, either: But the 'miser' jokes worked for him. People accepted him as a miser. Benny sometimes chafed at this and did what he could to overcome the public perception. But it wasn't easy: Once he gave a very generous tip to a cab driver -- who immediately returned it. "Please, Mr. Benny," he said, "let me have my illusion."

This doesn't mean that all the "characters" you meet here in the Blogosphere are complete fabrications. At least I'm not: I really am a self-employed Chicago lawyer with five rapidly aging children and a long-time Long Suffering Spouse. I couldn't pass myself off as a doctor for 30 seconds, for example. Nor could I work "blue"; it would make me uncomfortable. I have decades worth of real material to work with. But I continue to look for ways and means to shape and present these experiences in a way that keeps you coming back... and eventually clicking on the fabulous advertising that this site will someday attract... and then publishers and agents will leave anxious solicitations in my comments, bidding for my services... (*maniacal, hysterical laughter follows*).

Dish it out, The Curmudgeon can take it

This is a shameless plea for comments. If you read the first part of today's essay, you know that I'm trying to hone my craft here and comments will help me do that.

Of course, comments that are uniformly favorable may not be all that helpful. I'm thrilled, obviously, when someone leaves me a nice complimentary comment -- but what about all the people who click away without saying anything?

What about the constructive criticism they might provide?

In my mind's eye, I can imagine just how that would work --

*shimmer* *shimmer* *dissolve*

The Curmudgeon opens his browser and finds three emails in the account where his blog comments are routed. He opens the first:

Today's post was good, but it
really wasn't your best work.


The Curmudgeon immediately collapses into a quivering, weeping mass of jelly. Within an hour or so, however, he uncoils from the fetal position, pulls his thumb out of his mouth and reaches up -- feebly, tentatively -- from the floor. He finds the mouse and clicks for the next email:

I'm sure you'll receive many compliments on
today's post. Really. But I just didn't get it.

He rolls up again in a ball.

But, eventually, The Curmudgeon steels himself, and clicks to open the third email:

Hey, loved your blog.
Loved, loved, loved it.

He brightens considerably. But he notices that the message continues:

And if you want your blog
traffic to
explode, click here!

Before collapsing into a ball again, The Curmudgeon makes a mental note to email Google about whether blog comments can be edited....

*shimmer* *shimmer* *dissolve*

Wait a minute, that's not the way I thought it would turn out when I first started imagining this....

But that's OK: Leave comments here or on any other post that catches your attention. I can take it.

(And if I can't there's always comment moderation....)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A visual post -- or -- You can call me Ray....

I may have become too warm and fuzzy of late for a true Curmudgeon.

This is a matter of concern for me.

This is more like how I see myself (note the concealed identity):


Or possibly like this:


This certainly conveys the right attitude. Although the image is way too skinny.

At first blush, this comports well with the image I'm trying to project here:


Although the associations with that character might be too jocular. And certainly too energetic. Maybe this is better:


(Actually, that's not a bad likeness.)

Now please understand when I say this -- because I really like comments. I really, really like comments. I try and leave as many as I can during the course of the day on other sites and so many of you have been generous in return, responding here and on your own sites. But lately I've noticed a certain contraction of "Curmudgeon" that is creeping into the conversation... and I think we are going to have to nip this in the bud. It's not that the contraction is offensive -- but I don't know... it reminds me of this:


While the skin color is certainly right, and so is the vacant look, I just don't think this picture portrays the real me....

A much shorter rant today, thank you

Yesterday was Boss' Day (I believe this is how Sr. Lucilla would have rendered it) which was not a particularly big deal here at my undisclosed location since I have neither a supervisor nor any employees. Which no doubt explains why I spend far too much time on line....

I begin to suspect that having a boss, or a staff, or both, helps one stay mentally sharp. Which no doubt explains my continuing decline....

Of course it didn't help the (now former) CTA employee who approved 3,000 signs for rapid transit cars in which the name of one stop was misspelled -- and instead of the transit help line listed the cell phone number of some guy named Nick.

Last week I got the bill for the new Sullivan's Law Directory, the publication of record that Chicago lawyers (or their assistants) turn to first to look up the phone or fax numbers of fellow lawyers. Which was odd, because the directory came in almost three weeks ago. My new office address and phone number are properly listed in the new edition... which was apparently unavailable to the person who sent out the bill: The bill went to my old office.

Over the weekend I received the amended declarations on my auto policy, adding the car we just bought and deleting the one that Middle Son managed to total on us last Summer. I've ranted recently about the difficulties I encountered supplying the necessary information. Now the insurance company's new declarations deletes the car that should be deleted... but resurrects a van that was traded in two years ago and adds it back to the policy, in place of the van that replaced it.

I blame technology. We can do things faster, sure -- but are we doing them better? And even as our habits of care are melting away, our expectations are growing steadily more unreasonable. Just last week, Long Suffering Spouse told me the story of a fellow teacher who gave a test to a struggling student at 8:30 am. The student's mother, concerned about her child's preparation or lack thereof, sent an email at 9:30 -- roughly 15 minutes after the class had ended -- asking the teacher to advise of the child's grade on the test. But the teacher did not respond. Actually, she didn't know about the email immediately since she had classes all morning.

My wife's colleague did check her email over the lunch break, however. That's when she found the email I just told you about -- and two increasingly shrill follow-ups.

Of course, I should probably take this as a cue to close now and return a few phone calls and emails myself.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
By the way: Is it "e-mail" or "email"? Lately I've seen the word rendered without the hyphen more often than not... but is that the now preferred spelling? Please enlighten me.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Prodigal returns... and he's got company

The Old Order Amish call it "rumspringa," according to a book review I saw this weekend in the current issue of the Wilson Quarterly -- "essentially," says the review, "an instutionalized period of apostasy, a rush of experience preceding the determination to reject the wider world and join the church permanently."

For many of the rest of us, that time is called "college."

The connection occurred to me after Oldest Son announced he'd be returning home for Fall Break after all. The issue was in doubt when he went away this August, but job interviews in Chicago, one of them this Friday -- plus the fact that he wouldn't have to pay for his food this week if he came home -- combined to lead him to this decision.

So that was good news.

Less warmly received in the Curmudgeon household was the announcement late Friday that he'd be coming in Saturday with two, or maybe four, friends. Long Suffering Spouse did not take the news well. "No!" she shrieked, but, anticipating this as the likely response, I had moved the phone away from my ear, thereby sparing my eardrum from the worst of the blast. "The house is a mess!"

And, yes, our house is not one of those places where you can drop in unannounced and find everything clean and tidy and sparkling. We live there; we do not entertain.

I was in a house where people entertain last night, for a meeting of Youngest Son's new travel baseball team. They had three plasma TVs, each one bigger than the next. And there was not a book, or a magazine, or a stack of unopened or unfiled mail, or a pile of newspapers anywhere to be found. And where was the recycling?

In my house, there are books and magazines everywhere. Some are mine to read for fun; some are professional journals which I intend to read and sometimes do. Youngest Son has sports related magazines and catalogs in the mix. Long Suffering Spouse has teaching magazines and catalogs. Younger Daughter does not contribute to this clutter, not on the main floor anyway, since all her teenage magazines ("smut books" I call them) are hoarded in her room, beneath piles of hair care product and make-up. And the Bluejay Park Library hasn't taken paperback donations on a regular basis since it moved from teeny-tiny cramped quarters to a spacious, modern building. You might think that they'd be more receptive to donations now that they have more room for them -- but, so far, no. So the paperbacks are stacking up.

There is mail everywhere, too, in our house because Older Daughter, Oldest Son, and Middle Son still receive mail at home. Creditors send me duplicate bills every month -- wouldn't you think that once would be enough? I mean, if I had it, wouldn't I pay it?

I am making progress on picking up the newspapers. I do tend to read and disgard them around whatever chair I'm sitting in. Sometimes they wind up in the kitchen on top of a counter or the toaster, if it's not being used. And when the newspapers do pile up, it's almost always my fault. Long Suffering Spouse likes to look at the food pages. They come Wednesday, and if she hasn't gotten to them by Sunday, I'll pick them up too.

The discarded newspapers go into paper bags in the dining room because the school collects newspapers for recycling -- and the school gets a little money out of it. A double winner in my book. And the plastic bags have to go in the "bag of bags" because the City doesn't recycle them, but a couple of stores around here will. And then there's the separate bin for paper as opposed to the one for plastic and metal.

And who says there's no faith in our modern, secular world? We carefully separate our garbarge into traditional garbage, paper recycling, and plastic and metal recycling, each in its proper bag, and we believe that they will somehow remain separate when the recycling blue bags and the rest of the trash bags are all mashed and crunched up together in the back of the same garbage truck. If you want an illustration of the 'simple faith of a child' look no further.

And then there's the bags of paper bags: We still get paper bags at the grocery store. The cashier will look at you funny, and sometimes make an announcement for a price check, but you can tell it's just a code because people come over to stare... but we do it anyway. We can grow more trees for paper bags. Plastic bags come from oil. We reuse the paper bags as garbage bags. Oh sure, we use black plastic trash bags, too -- because they'll keep the recyclables clean when the garbage truck mashes everything all down together. We believe! (Clap real hard if you want Tinker Bell to live. Clap harder!)

Oh, and did I mention we have to keep certain box tops for the school, certain soup labels, and now empty print cartridges? These have to go somewhere, as do the materials my wife keeps at home for school.

Sometimes -- like last night -- I wish we had plasma TVs, too. But this other stuff is what makes our house our home.

But it also makes Long Suffering Spouse apprehensive about letting strangers into our home. Oldest Son, if he ever considered the point, which he would not, would conclude that these people he was bringing were not strangers to him and therefore see no reason for concern.

I tried to console LSS by pointing out that Oldest Son and his comrades really were just planning to drop their stuff off at our house and then repair to the fleshpots and 'meet markets' of Lincoln Park or Old Town. There may have been a better way to put that....

Eventually it was agreed that the group would sleep in the basement -- as many of them had done the last time Oldest Son brought a group home. We have blankets. We have pillows. (We have an inflatable bed, too, although I'm not sure it survived this particular visit; I'm told that the group tried but failed to inflate it after they returned to our house.) I was confident that, if I just left things alone, Oldest Son would figure out arrangements for himself. And I was supremely confident that I was going to leave things alone if Long Suffering Spouse would let me.

Oldest Son and his four friends, each from a different part of the country, showed up around dinner time on Saturday. (Imagine that, five college kids just happening to show up when it was time to eat.)

Oldest Son quite considerately instructed me to order pizza when his group crossed the border from Indiana on the Chicago Skyway and, since I was short of ready cash, I found out the procedure for charging pizza from our neighborhood place. There is something about paying 21% interest on pizza that offends me. When I can explain it, I will.

The kids did bring their own beer (they are all 21). They arrived minutes before the pizza. I ordered more than Oldest Son had requested; oddly enough, none of it went to waste.

Then other kids started showing up.

When we would go to another person's house -- back in the Dark Ages -- it was customary to ring the doorbell, or perhaps knock on the door.

No more.

Now they use cell phones: "I'm outside. Open the door."

Thanks to the miracle of modern communications, word spread quickly that Oldest Son was back in residence. People showed up from Oldest Son's high school class, and a couple from his grammar school class. There were ten young men and one young woman. They all decided to leave. "I don't like the odds here," one of Oldest Son's roommates told me. I nodded in agreement. What else could I do?

It was now approaching midnight. The young woman's father came with a van and drove half the group and I was dragooned into driving the other half. We went down into Lincoln Park -- Disneyland for twentysomethings -- with hordes of young people swarming the streets. Mostly unattached -- and looking for attachments. Oldest Son's college friends had made plans to meet some other fellow students at a particular place; the rest of the group came along. Oldest Son and his group would take a cab back to the neighborhood.

I went home and went to sleep. Around 4:30 or so, I heard them come in.

Shortly thereafter, I had to take Younger Daughter to 7:00 am Sunday Mass (she had to be at work by 9:00). My plan was to first make coffee for Long Suffering Spouse and myself. It would be ready by the time I got back from dropping my daughter off.

It was a good plan. We'd have our coffee; then we'd take Younger Daughter to work and ourselves to 9:00 am Mass, maybe with Youngest Son in tow, depending on how, or whether, he woke up. (He'd aggravated a nagging ankle sprain in Saturday's football game and remained in considerable pain throughout Saturday night; we were willing to let him sleep as long as he wanted.)

I filled the coffee pot with water, opened the can... and, to my horror, discovered that it was empty. There were two spare cans... in the basement. Then Younger Daughter came downstairs... and discovered there was someone sleeping on the couch in the den. I didn't recognize him.

I got Younger Daughter to church and, after consulting with my spouse, decided to see if I could tiptoe round the sleepers in the basement and get to the coffee.

I crept down the stairs, but abandoned the project almost immediately: Even in the near total darkness I could see that there were too many bodies between me and door behind which the new can of coffee was waiting.

We hit on a new plan. We would take Younger Daughter to work and ourselves to church and then go to the grocery store. We would add coffee to the shopping list. Coffee keeps a long time in an unopened can -- and it never has a chance to grow stale in our house anyway. In the meantime, I'd gone to the bakery and bought donuts for the sleepers.

Fast forward now: We have returned from the grocery. Oldest Son is awake and the couch is no longer occupied by a stranger. It was one of the high school classmates, Oldest Son explained, and he had to leave early. As if that explained everything. Oh, and one more thing, Oldest Son said: Two of the girls came back with us, too. They're downstairs with the others, he said. True, they had a place to stay in Lincoln Park, but Oldest Son explained that he and the others had painted such an exciting picture of the 24 hour taco place where they were going after the bar closed, the girls felt they had to experience it too. Besides, one of the girls was the long-time girlfriend of one of Older Son's roommates; the other was her roommate when they'd lived in London last year as exchange students. No problem at all, according to Oldest Son. Long Suffering Spouse handled this revalation better than I thought she would.

Fast forward one more time: The sleepers have all awakened, more or less. At least they've moved their base of operations up to the den. Youngest Son is there, with an ice pack on his ankle, sitting in the recliner, trying to watch the early football game. I'm seated at the computer desk. Long Suffering Spouse is hovering nearby, being a gracious hostess. I'm making fun of Oldest Son's inability to pour coffee from one of those new-fangled serving pots where you have to unscrew the lid just so in order for coffee to come out. "And you a student in the College of Engineering," I tell him.

Oldest Son has assumed control over the TV remote. One of our houseguests is from the Philadelphia area -- the Eagles are in the early Fox game -- while another is from Western New York State -- and the Buffalo game is the early offering on CBS. In order to make fun of the girl from Texas, Oldest Son switches to the rodeo bull-riding on ESPN during commercial breaks in the football games.

At this point I turn to Youngest Son, too attentive to all of this, his painful ankle notwithstanding. "Pay no attention to any of this," I tell him, "it's all an Advil-fueled hallucination. None of it's real."

The college kids all laugh. But it's not real; it's rumspringa.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Extreme retirement planning

This AP story, in this morning's Chicago Sun-Times, caught my eye:
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A man who couldn't find steady work came up with a plan to make it through the next few years until he could collect Social Security: He robbed a bank, then handed the money to a guard and waited for police.

On Wednesday, Timothy J. Bowers told a judge a three-year prison sentence would suit him, and the judge obliged.

"At my age, the jobs available to me are minimum-wage jobs. There is age discrimination out there," Bowers, 62, told Judge Angela White.

The judge told him: "It's unfortunate you feel this is the only way to deal with the situation."

Bowers said he had been able to find only odd jobs after the drug wholesaler he made deliveries for closed. He walked to a bank and handed a teller a note demanding cash in an envelope. Bowers then handed the money to a guard and told him it was his day to be a hero.

* * *

"It's not the financial plan I would choose, but it's a financial plan," prosecutor Dan Cable said.
It's sure not the kind of financial planning they advertise during the football games -- but I have to admit, the plan has a certain appeal.

While I have no immediate plans to rob any banks, I must admit that there are days when a nice long stretch in a minimum security, white-collar crime Federal prison farm seems attractive.

A lot of disgraced Illinois politicians reguarly spend time in the Federal prison and spa in Oxford, Wisconsin and many seem to return looking tanned, rested and fit.

Now this may be entirely inaccurate speculation on my part; except for a brief sojourn in a Milwaukee lock-up nearly 30 years ago, I have no personal prison experience. But I do recall that one of my ex-partners had a client who once did a stretch in the Federal pen.

This client was not a politician. He owned a restaurant in Rosemont and an "adult" bookstore. I don't remember what got him sent away; I'm pretty sure my ex-partner was not his criminal attorney. We didn't handle that kind of work. I am pretty sure we represented this client in a matter concerning the bookstore. Another of my ex-partners, a very sober, conservative person, married to a graduate of Wheaton College, was drafted to write the brief and argue the case in Federal Court. That's why I remember the incident: I've often wondered how he explained that case at home.

But back to our story: I do not wish to insinuate that my ex-partner's client was a member of any... organization. However, if only because of his career choices, he could not help to become, uh, acquainted with persons who perhaps may have been. If you know what I mean. And I know you know.

Anyway, when this guy called the office from prison -- collect -- it behooved my ex-partner to take his calls.

The client was really excited when he called one day. "You'd really be proud of me, Matt," the client said. (Matt, of course, is not the actual name of my ex-partner.) "I'm associating with a much better class of people here."

Matt had to ask. Wouldn't you? "What do you mean?"

"I've been invited," the client gushed, "to dine tonight at the Governor's Table."

He was not referring to the person in charge of the prison. No, he was referring to a former Illinois governor, then a fellow inmate.

Apparently, Matt told me later, dining at the Governor's table was akin to dining at the Captain's Table on an ocean voyage: A true social honor. Perhaps the client was going to be asked to provide subscriptions to some of his best-selling magazines for the other guests. I never did find out how the dinner went.

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A challenge -- and absolutely no prizes of any value will be awarded

Now, lest I have to resort to criminal activities in order to maintain a roof over my head, I am going to stop goofing around and get to work. But I leave you with a challenge. It's called "complete the sentence." Today's sentence is, "I'm so out of it that...."

I got the idea yesterday, when I was looking for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin before going to court. Among other things, the Law Bulletin lists the court calls in all the different courtrooms -- and one of the places I was going to yesterday always has a lot of cases on the morning call and I wanted the handy guide to see where I was and how long I'd be stuck there.

Anyway, it was cold in Chicago yesterday -- so cold that we had our earliest measurable snowfall... ever. So I was going through the stack of old papers, finding only October dates, and becoming increasingly agitated because I was sure it must be November and why didn't someone throw out these really old papers already?

Eventually I realized what month it was (and still is, I notice) -- and I realized also just how out of it I am.

Anyway, I'll go first:

I'm so out of it that I thought Paris Hilton was a place you might stay while visiting the capital of France.

Now it's your turn. Keep it clean.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Why the Irish wouldn’t have me

Imagine the near South Side of Chicago near the turn of the 20th Century. Maybe you think automatically of Finley Peter Dunne, who, as the fictional Mr. Dooley of the tavern on Archey Road, cracked wise on foreign policy and local politics for a national audience. But the neighborhoods must have been desperately poor and probably look far better through the filter of nostalgia than ever they looked in reality.

The streets of Chicago were teeming with newly arrived Irish immigrants, and among these were most (if not all) of my ancestors. When I was a little boy, my grandmother told me a story about how these people would find their proper place in society.

You have to understand that humans, like all apes, are social, hierarchical creatures: Apes groom their betters, and seek grooming from their inferiors. People need other people that they can look down on.

My grandmother told me that most of the new arrivals were from County Mayo. Of course she didn’t say County Mayo. She said “County Mayo, God help us,” as do most people of a certain age to this day. For the longest time I thought the proper name of the place was Mayo-God-help-us.


Mayo (God help us) was a poor place, my grandmother told me, full of rocks and failed farms. The big rocks became walls; the little rocks were moved from time to time for the planting of crops. People from there who made it over here were lucky to arrive with their skins intact; they had nothing else at all (at all).

The first thing that a new arrival would do, she told me, upon finding a place to stay in Chicago, was to go to Mass at the local parish – and look around, very carefully, to see if anyone was there from his or her home village. If he didn’t know anyone, he could invent a more prosperous past for himself and thereby acquire some sort of status over the neighbors.

The farmland in County Cork was much better than the worthless stones in County Mayo (God help us), my grandmother told me, so if there was no one in the parish who could contradict their story, the new arrivals would claim that their people were from County Cork. Sure, they still had no more money than his neighbors, she told me, but the neighbors would view the new arrivals with a measure of respect, because their relatives must be more well-to-do.

Even as a little boy, I knew the obvious question to ask: “Where were your people from, Grandma?”

“County Mayo, God help us,” she told me without hesitation.

“What about my grandfather’s people?” I asked then. My grandfather had died long before I was born. His father, the one who’d made the trip across, died, in Chicago, around 110 years ago.

My grandmother didn’t miss a beat. “From Cork,” she said.

Years ago, when I was working in a firm, we had a little boomlet of Irish immigrant clerical help. I would tell this story to each new hire in turn... and every one, without exception, looked at me liked I’d just escaped from the asylum. My story touched no mystic chord of memory; there was no spark of recognition. The story made no sense to any of them... probably because the country from which they’d come bore little resemblance to the country from which my ancestors emigrated. It was a different country, even if the name was still the same.

The bottom line here, though, is that I don’t know from where my ancestors came.

Oh, sure, you say, they probably all came from County Mayo (God help us) and, of course, you’d probably be right – but that answer would be, well, insufficient for the Irish.

Some years ago, when Cook County board members were still elected from either the City at-large or the county at-large, a friend of mine was a candidate. He was passing his leaflets out at the Irish American Heritage Center on the Northwest Side of Chicago. A group of older men at one table decided to engage my friend in conversation.

“Where are you from?” asked one, as my friend tried to press his leaflets on the little group.

He answered by naming his parish. In Chicago that is usually a sufficient answer: Even non-Catholics (“publics” as we sometimes call them – always, of course, with the greatest respect) would use the nearest Catholic church as the neighborhood landmark. That may not be as widespread a practice as it was... but for people of a certain age it is the only sure way of being understood.

But, this time, it was the wrong answer. The gentlemen at this table weren’t interested in where my friend the candidate resided (or at least his answer did not prompt further questions). So one of them asked again, “Where are you from?”

My friend understood, now. They needed to know where his people were from. “County Mayo, God help us,” he told them.

At this point, they regarded him with the pitying looks. Clearly, my friend was an idiot, and utterly incapable of answering even the simplest question. “No,” said one of the old men, speaking slowly now, lest by speaking any faster he might further befuddle my obviously feeble-minded friend: “Where. Are. You. From?”

Mayo, you see, was a given. They wanted the village. And my friend recalled that his grandfather had once told him the name of the village from where he’d come. My friend supplied the name. The old men beamed.

But I can’t name a single village. All I know is that my people are from Cork....

The Irish would never have me.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Curmudgeon's routine -- or -- How the Internet ate my workday


I have always believed that a good lawyer should be well informed. Able to speak with authority on a wide variety of subjects. And, besides, you never know where you'll find the tip, the news item, the inspiration, that leads to the next case, or helps you settle an existing one.

But I think I'm starting to push the envelope here.

I read the Chicago Sun-Times every morning on the train. Sometimes that provides fodder for this blog. When I get to the office, I check my various emails. Lately I first check the one that routes comments from this blog. I'm thrilled when there's a comment or two, crestfallen when there's none. I didn't used to be this way: I knew no one was reading this when I started, but I was doing it for myself. But now... now that some people are reading, I'm becoming greedy. I want more readers, more, more, more! (Insert maniacal movie evildoer 'bwahaha' here.)

The only way to get more readers is to read more blogs. Thus the first dilemma every morning: Start reading the blogs I go to every day? Or go to the other email -- which today had 96 emails waiting for me when I logged on. (Some days it's nearer 200.) Sure, a lot of these are nonsense ads, but I also subscribe to 'listservs' sponsored by the State Bar. A lot of these are nonsense posts... or not relevant to anything I'm actually doing in my practice... but sometimes... sometimes there's something that has to be printed out. Saved. Put in that big pile of paper in the middle of my desk where, when I find it again, I may... or may not... remember which file I had in mind when I printed it out in the first place.

And today there were emails about Youngest Son's travel baseball team that had to be handled. And one from Middle Son's college baseball team: A parent roster, with all the names and addresses and phone numbers. I have to print that out for further reference... and I had to ask, ever so humbly, if the person who obviously spent a ton of time putting the list together could please spell Long Suffering Spouse's name correctly. Because that's a pet peeve of hers. And everyone can have one pet peeve, right?

And I have to check the kids' away messages: In college, you leave your computer on all the time, and you have an "away message" set up on AIM so people who know you know where to find you, or what's going on, or why they should or shouldn't call you. Today, Oldest Son had an away message that read something like, "Hoping to get a job before anyone sees my midterm grades." Now that's funny: He's a senior, he's interviewing, he's had some serious interviews, and follow-ups are scheduled. Why interview season coincides with midterms is beyond my ken. But as I've told Oldest Son recently, people will be making unreasonable demands on your time for at least the next 45 years -- if you're lucky -- so you might as well get used to it.

Assuming my role as father and wet blanket, I immediately IM'd him and told him that I hope no prospective employer sees this message. He must have been nearby because he shortly thereafter IM'd back and told me I was paranoid. The companies he's interviewing with, he said, have better things to do than to 'stalk' possible hires.

I hope he's right.

But, finally, I can start to look at the blogs. Ken Levine's Northern California travelog today was hilarious. Judging from his comments, Bee had better watch out that her husband Charlie doesn't steal her blog entirely. And Bee's post about Charlie cleaning house for the BA meeting is a classic.

And there's another problem: There are way too many talented people out here in the Blogosphere. From the newspapers you'd think that most blogs were from young mothers writing how 'today baby made a poopie' or teenagers writing about their fantasies. If only it were so: I'd be a commodity. I'd get my book contract in no time. But, no, all of you people with talent have to ruin it for people like me.... (Wait, did that come out right?)

Not everyone is everyone else's cup of tea, I realize. I look forward to Captain Picard's Journal every day -- but not everyone has been watching Star Trek for 40 years like I have. (OK, 39 -- I didn't really catch on until the second season of the original show.) I recently became a regular reader of Doctor Anonymous -- and he's not necessarily light reading. Despite myself, I can actually learn stuff there... and then there's all the links to and from Dr. A. -- where I've met people like Mother Jones RN (who really does have the best artwork).

There are a lot of nurses blogging, I've noticed: There's a one-liner here about record keeping, but I don't have time to think it through now. Best to recognize that this is a potential mine-field and move on. I'm on a roll.

And then there are the writers' and writing blogs. I started reading Patry Francis some time ago. Sometimes it takes awhile to go through one of her posts, and longer still to formulate a comment. And then I found Miss Snark, the literary agent and Agent Kristin -- allegedly polar opposites in temperament, both dispensing seemingly good advice to the author wannabes. (If I ever get brave enough, I may someday actually try following some of that advice... instead of hoping that someone will just find me here and throw money at me....)

Speaking of writers, Edie found me here, as did Heather and Qulicum RN(speaking again of nurses) -- but they weren't the ones who could throw money at me. I haven't figured out much yet about Shelly Franz except that, when you click the buttons underneath her title, her entire page background changes. So far I can't get past playing with that.

I've also noticed that there are not a lot of lawyers doing this kind of blog. There are a lot of *haruuumph* very stuffy legal blogs very seriously addressing very serious subjects. (These are called "blawgs." Get it?) I have one of these as well, under my real name, which I don't update very often. In my defense, it takes a long time to write a serious article -- and I don't have the time... because I'm over here doing this stuff.... Hmmmm. This defense may need work. Anyway, the only semi-regular visitor here who admits to being a lawyer is cmhl -- and she doesn't write much about that sort of thing. There's another one-liner in here about why lawyers don't blog. Nurses? Go ahead, I can take it.

Anyway, I've checked the email, looked quickly -- really quickly -- at all these different sites... and a few others besides. I've made a comment or two, and taken a couple of calls from Younger Daughter -- who's home sick with strep today -- and one from Long Suffering Spouse, who called me from school when she couldn't reach Younger Daughter... because she was talking to me. I had the land line phone in one ear and the cell phone in the other relaying their questions and answers. And, yes, I thought they should have heard each other right through my head, too.

But, now, finally, I'm ready to start my own blog entry... and the morning is nearly gone and I'm flat out of time.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Older Daughter finally visits a cemetery -- or -- Maybe there really is something to this Irish superstition thing

Older Daughter called yesterday afternoon with news. She'd been to a wedding in Pennsylvania over the weekend and, on the way, her traveling companions had stopped off at Gettysburg. Older Daughter even went into the cemetery with her boyfriend and her boyfriend's parents.

Now this may hardly seem newsworthy to you, but I can assure you it was. And this is an appropriate time to explain why it was, too.

Today is the anniversary of the end of the Chicago Fire -- the fire that probably wasn't started by Mrs. O'Leary's cow after all.


The Chicago Fire got all the publicity (the above illustration first appeared in Harper's Weekly -- this reproduction is borrowed from the Chicago Historical Society web page), but there was another, even bigger fire that also started on October 8, 1871 and destroyed the town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin -- and a couple of towns in Michigan besides. Far more people died in the Peshtigo Fire -- four to eight times as many -- as did in the Chicago disaster.

Now come back with me about 10 years or so. The Curmudgeon family was engaged in one of our frenetic mini-vacations: I was supposed to have the week off, but I worked Monday and Tuesday, and we had doctors' appointments or something on Friday, but we were determined to go somewhere. And so we did. We went around Lake Michigan in 68 hours. With five kids.

When I saw the sign for Peshtigo, I knew we had to stop. I knew about the Peshtigo Fire (I'm a history geek), but I didn't know much, and I'd certainly never been to the site.

The fire museum is pictured at left. The nice old lady who had us sign the guest log and showed us around was particularly pleased to see people from Chicago. (If she was representative, they really are still sensitive up there about the difference in the attention paid to Chicago and Peshtigo after the fires were struck.)

After we had gone through the museum and seen what there was to see, the nice lady asked if we'd like to visit the cemetery next door.

It seemed appropriate to go in and pay our respects. The 'attraction' at the cemetery is the mass grave of 350 people -- the grave contains whole families wiped out in the conflagration, with no one left alive to claim their bodies. The mass grave is pictured below and on the right. (For any fellow history geeks, the Peshtigo photos are taken from this site.)

But Older Daughter would not come in. She wouldn't budge.

I've made reference here (and I've recently seen some of you echo this belief on your own sites) that the Irish see the borders between this world and the next as a bit more porous than is generally accepted. Older Daughter is only half-Irish -- but, looking back, I guess this was just her way of handling -- or not handling -- a boundary that she felt to be particularly thin. As of course it probably was.

When we went to Springfield, Illinois to see all the Lincoln sites, Older Daughter would not go with us to see Lincoln's Tomb. In fact, I can't remember a time before my parents' funerals when Older Daughter would voluntarily set foot in a graveyard. So yesterday's call was big news after all. Now do you see?

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I don't want to overdo this Irish mystic stuff.

First of all, the Irish wouldn't have me, my bloodlines notwithstanding.

I'll give just one illustration and save the rest for another post: I was driving along the road one day to court in Joliet. And the Sun came out from behind the clouds and there was, briefly, a vivid, glorious rainbow.

I'm Irish enough to know that this was certainly an omen. But I'm so thoroughly Americanized, I was willing to believe that it was a good omen.

(Oh, that'll get me in trouble with someone for sure....)

Monday, October 09, 2006

Job dissatisfaction

In her October 5 post, "ON LOVING YOUR WORK... Whatever it might be,"Patry Francis writes, "What does annoy me is people who hate their jobs and are proud of it. People who despise the individuals who are directly or indirectly responsible for paying their salaries."

I hate to give offense, even to people I know only through the Blogosphere, but *taking a deep breath here* I frequently do hate my job and, oh yes, I often despise the individuals who are directly or indirectly responsible for paying my salary.

It's not that I hate my boss -- usually -- which is particularly important for me, since I'm self-employed.

But take today for example: I've been working on a long pleading, that will cost my client a ton of money. We're suing an insurance company because my client had the bad grace to develop cancer shortly after becoming a policyholder. It's not as if he developed cancer on purpose. There are cases in which someone has a volleyball sized growth protruding from his midsection, and he lies in applying for coverage, telling the insurance company that he knows of no ongoing health problem, thank you very much. The insurance company is entitled to rescind coverage in such a case. But that's not my case: My guy was feeling fine and he got a physical just before applying for the policy. He got an essentially clean bill of health at the physical, too, although it was suggested that -- since he was turning 50 -- he should have a colonoscopy. Buried in the lab tests from that same physical was an abnormal finding on a blood test that might have suggested, in the full glare of hindsight, after the cancer was discovered (at the eventual colonoscopy), that a problem might be developing. (And for the medical people in the audience, I'm not talking about the occult blood test. That test was negative. That's the big one, as I understand it, for identifying colon cancer.)

The insurance company, however, feels betrayed: It only wants to accept premiums from healthy people and thereby maximize its profits. That insurance company is responsible for the fees I will charge today which will be paid in the first instance by my client. Maybe, someday, far down the road, I might recover my fee from the insurer because a court will find that the insurer was guilty of "bad faith." Don't hold your breath.

Friday I was working on a case for a lady who lost her mother in a car accident. With a drunk driver. My lady was in the car at the time, and it was only her mother's last conscious decision -- to turn the car so that she absorbed the full force of the head-on collision with the drunk -- that saved my client's life. The drunk had been weaving down the Interstate at speeds of 90 mph before going airborne across the median and head-on into my clients' car. The drunk had almost no insurance. My client also had very little insurance. And I'm trying to negotiate the amounts that the lienholders will collect. It makes no difference to my bottom line where the dollars go -- my fee attaches to the gross amount collected -- but it makes a lot of difference to my lady... and I feel I earn my fee in trying to maximize what she gets to keep. In this case I just have way too many claims chaing too few dollars. So, yes, I hate that, too.

Maybe it's not that I hate my job: Maybe it's just that I'd rather blog and tell war stories... but that doesn't pay my salary directly or indirectly.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Halloween tagging -- no eggs involved

Doctor Anonymous tagged me with a Halloween-themed 'meme'. Of course, tagging me is probably not all that difficult to accomplish: Not only am I a Curmudgeon, I'm pretty slow-moving besides.

I haven't been big on tagging or being tagged: Seems an awful lot like answering Interrogatories to me. On the other hand, I could prepare answers to these just-for-fun Interrogatories... or real ones. (Imagine a very short moment in time elapsing here.) OK, let's get started:

1. What's the scariest movie you've ever seen?
This is a tricky question. I was so scared by The Birds that I never got all the way through it. Still haven't, in fact. Can you believe that this movie was shown at a day camp when I was a kid? (Neither can I.) I believe the last horror movie I actually paid money to see in the theatre was The Omen -- and, no, not the remake earlier this year. The 1976 original, with Gregory Peck.

I tell the kids I don't need to go to a movie to be scared. I just need to look in my checkbook.

2. What was your favorite Halloween Costume from childhood?
I can't remember. But Long Suffering Spouse and I did attend costume parties back in the days BC (meaning "Before Children" -- please, I'm not that old). I remember I was proud of a Mr. Spock costume I put together. In my imagination I looked something like the picture above. In reality? Well, that's what recollection is for.

And there was a year when LSS and I were still dating that we rented costumes, a George and Martha Washington thing. I didn't get the wig then. (I could probably use it now.... *sigh*).

3. If you had an unlimited budget, what would your Fantasy Costume be for this Halloween?
Bill Gates, Donald Trump -- or maybe Warren Buffet (see left). But the disguise would have to be good enough to fool their respective bankers. Then I'd withdraw a large sum of money... and I'd get away with it too because the disguise would be so good and I'd never tell a soul.

Oh, wait....

4. When was the last time you went Trick Or Treating?
For my own account? Probably *gulp* about 40 years ago. Oh, that can't be right....

5. What's your favorite Halloween Candy?
Yes. "Yes" is what my father would say when asked if he'd like apple or pumpkin pie. Seems appropriate here, too. But nothing with marshmellows or creamy fillings. Or razor blades.

When the kids were little, it was my job to insure the safety of their candy by eating as much of it myself as I could get away with. No burden too big to bear, no sacrifice too great... these are my mottos....

6. Tell us about a scary nightmare you had.
Answering Interrogatory No. 4, supra.

7. What is your Supernatural Fear?
That God doesn't have a sense of humor. Or that He finds mine objectionable.

8. What is your Creepy-Crawlie Fear?
All of them. Perhaps that makes me a wimp. I prefer to think I'm just cautious.

But what I fear most of all is when Long Suffering Spouse senses that there's a mouse in the house. Because then the air is electric with tension until the poor unfortunate rodent is caught and killed. And it's very, very noisy when this happens. And, trust me, LSS knows when there's a mouse in the house. But those are stories for another time. (While you wait, you can always review this very funny story by cmhl. But LSS is even more fiercely opposed to the presence of even the smallest mouse than cmhl was to the presence of that small snake. LSS isn't scared, though, not exactly -- very jumpy, yes, but she is also determined. Insistent. No mouse would have a chance.)

9. Tell us about a time when you saw a ghost, or heard something go Bump in the night.
I'm of Irish descent -- so I'm pretty certain the boundary between this world and the next is permeable. But I can't think of any specific time -- right now -- when I've been visited.

But I can give you a ghost story, sort of: Every year there is a list published in the papers of "the most haunted" cemeteries in America. Last year, Oldest Son was invited to go on a road trip to one such place: Well, it's isolated, you know, in the middle of nowhere. Small. And old. And Oldest Son was interested... until he realized that this was where his grandparents (my parents) are buried.

10. Would you ever stay in a real Haunted House overnight?
Not if I knew it was haunted first.

11. Are you a traditionalist (just a face) Jack O'Lantern Carver, or do you get really creative with your pumpkins?
I'm left-handed and a tad uncoordinated, so I'm lucky if I can carve out even a traditional face.

12. How much do you decorate your home for Halloween?
Not as much as for Christmas. A lot more than we do for Arbor Day.

13. What do you want on your Tombstone?
Vacancy.
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Now, I have a question for Dr. A.

He runs this picture of Bertie Wooster on his blog, but I see no homage to P.G. Wodehouse anywhere.

And such an unflattering picture, too. Bertie looks as though he's spent a fortnight at the Drones Club. I can't imagine Jeeves allowing such a photograph to be circulated. Aunt Agatha would be positively aghast if she saw this image. What's going on here, Doc?

At right we see a picture of Bertie Wooster and the incomparable Jeeves in happier days. Or at least on a day when Bertie is more properly attired.

Actually, the look on Wooster's face suggests that he's receiving bad news. Is this when he finds out about the picture you're running, Doc?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Filling in the blankety blank blanks

If there's one task at which most lawyers seem not to excel, it's filling in forms.

Oh, we make forms for others to fill, and tax lawyers must somehow learn this skill, but when we try to fill a form out ourselves, it seems always to be a problem. It's always a problem for me.

For one thing, there's never a box marked, "It depends." How is a lawyer supposed to answer any question without the option of saying, "It depends"?

Case in point: Today I went to add our new car to our insurance policy. I mentioned somewhere here in passing that Middle Son had totaled one of our cars in July; we replaced it last month, I think, or was it in August? Well, that's part of the problem: You have 30 days to add a new car to your insurance policy in Illinois; unless you do, the grace period expires and it's no longer insured.

So being a Curmudgeon of middling technical skills but burgeoning technical ambitions, I decided to enter the information on line. I found the insurance agent's website after only a couple of searches and remembered both my log-in and password.

Hold your applause, please; it's all downhill from here: There was a form to complete.

Some questions I could answer -- but most of these had already been filled in by the computer upon my successful completion of the log-in. I did have the VIN handy. (Don't say "VIN Number." Everyone does, but it's redundant. "VIN Number" would be "Vehicle Identification Number Number" and that sounds silly.)

But then the form asks questions about my deductible. Well, I'm at the office; the policy is at home. Do you think I remember these things? And then whether I want/already have towing coverage? With passwords and log-ins rattling around in my brain, it's a wonder I remember where the car is parked, much less picayune details about the existing policy.

And then came the clinchers: Does the vehicle have anti-lock brakes? Pardon me, but do I look like a mechanic? This is the car in which Younger Daughter is taking her driving practice (and taking me along for the ride). Believe me, I know the car has brakes. But who knows what kind? Who cares? (At least as long as the car stops....)

And then, "does the vehicle have an anti-theft device?" Well, the doors lock. And the ignition operates with a key. These aren't merely challenges for the bored vehicle owner; they clearly serve to deter would be joy-riders. And there's a blinking red light that turns on when the car is turned off that scared me half to death when I first noticed it that has something to do with what sort of key is needed to start the car. (I looked it up at the time -- but when I was satisfied that it was not a portent of imminent mechanical doom, I immediately began to lose grasp of the details.) So maybe that's an anti-theft device and maybe it's not. That's when I started looking for the "it depends" option.

I looked in vain.

And that's when I started looking for the fax number. I can still write a letter. Someone else can fill in the blankety blank blanks.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

This must have seemed like a good excuse at the time

An AP story reported in this morning's Chicago Sun-Times:
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- A man who police say was caught with two pounds of marijuana allegedly told officers the drug wasn't his because he stole it.

Linn County Attorney Harold Denton said it doesn't matter how Bradley Robison, 18, got the marijuana -- only that he had it. "If you steal it, you steal it and you possess it," Denton said. "It's a double whammy."
Well, yes: Isn't possession nine-tenths of the law?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Bittersweet baseball playoffs begin


If you've browsed in the Archives at all here you'll know I'm a long-time, long-suffering White Sox fan. Last year, when they won it all, I couldn't appreciate it because it was too good to be true... I was afraid I'd wake up... I was afraid to disturb the karma... I was just afraid.

This year, though, I was ready to sit back, relax and enjoy the ride back to the postseason.

I was ready; the pitching was not. And somehow Ozzie-ball -- bunting, sacrificing, stealing and taking the extra base -- turned into imitation Boston Red Sox station-to-station. And waiting for a home run.

The final disappointment came yesterday when the White Sox failed to sweep the Twins.

Because that means Oakland will now face Minnesota in the first round, while the Tigers will be sacrificed on the altar of the Yankees. I thought the Twins could dispatch the Yankees. I would root for that. And I could root for Oakland too, to beat the soon to be extinct Tigers.

But now.... This morning I was reminded of Thomas Jefferson's dialog between head and heart as I considered the Oakland-Minnesota match-up.

In my head, I think Minnesota should win -- they have the home field for this series, they've played so well in the second half -- but, in my heart, I'm pulling for Oakland. Because Frank Thomas is there. I've bought one baseball card for myself that didn't come with bubble gum: A genuine Frank Thomas Birmingham Barons card. Oldest Son, a world-weary cynic at 21, is a starry-eyed five year-old at the mention of Frank Thomas' name. Older Daughter got Thomas' autograph -- which did not go up on eBay, contrary to the oft-stated fears of every athlete that signs a scrap of paper -- but resides, in a frame, proudly, on Youngest Son's dresser at home.

And I'll root for Detroit, too, though I know it's futile. Red Sox fans are famous for hating the Yankees -- but White Sox fans are second to none in their odium. The New York Yankees are one of the works of Satan expressly renounced in the South Side baptismal rite. It's worse for White Sox fans, really, since we're ignored by Yankee fans -- who return only the Red Sox fans' hatred. And yet... if Yankee Stadium is the House That Ruth Built, the upper deck of Old Comiskey Park was also built by Ruth: Mr. Comiskey could sell the extra seats when Ruth came to town. And Ruth's between inning jaunts across 35th street to the long-lost McCuddy's are the stuff of legend.

But that's fine: Let the Yankees win a divisional series. Their losing in the ALCS would be that much sweeter. Of course, Middle Son is dangerously close to a Yankee sympathizer. He points out, not unreasonably, that Joe Torre and Derek Jeter and several other current Yankees are not arrogant and do not swagger. But they're still Yankees, and if Frank Thomas (and Barry Zito, Middle Son's favorite) and the A's are in the ALCS, harmony, or at least unanimity of opinion, will reign in The Curmudgeon's home.

I am only dimly aware of who's playing in the National League playoffs. I only root for a National League team when it plays the Yankees in the World Series. The only time I didn't was in 2000. I didn't know what to do then. All of us here in Flyover Country can only hope that this nightmare scenario does not come to pass again this year.

But here's one thing on which perahps all of us, of whatever baseball persuasion, may agree. Well?