Friday, January 22, 2010

The dangers of trying to avoid political commercials

I was flipping channels last night, trying to find a program to watch -- and trying desperately to avoid political commercials.

We're having a primary in Illinois on Groundhog's Day and the attack ads are coming so thick and fast now that anyone might be tempted to crawl into Punxsutawney Phil's burrow and hide behind the ungainly rodent.

I found a Star Trek rerun on a local station and soon discovered there was a high price to pay for political commercial avoidance. The very first commercial, in fact, was for urinary catheters -- delivered to your home, apparently, by a kindly doctor with hair as white as his lab coat -- clearly the sort of good fellow who would never tell your neighbors what was in that large, but plainly-wrapped, box.

Long Suffering Spouse was entering grades on the computer. She tried her best to tune out the commercial -- but when kindly Dr. White Lab Coat held up a fistful of devices and said that Medicare used to pay for only four of these a month -- but, now, will pay for up to 200 a month -- so you never have to reuse a catheter again -- Long Suffering Spouse put her hands over her ears and started shouting "No! no! no! no!"

The next commercial was for some powder promoting prostate health. After the catheters commercial, this was almost a relief.

The funny thing is that -- in theory -- I'm in favor of unfettered political commercials. The Supreme Court's opinion yesterday in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission strikes me, on the basis of what I've heard and read so far, as mostly a good thing. Restrictions on campaign financing, however well-intended, have the (allegedly) unintended consequence of preserving incumbents in office. (I say 'allegedly' because, after all, campaign 'reform' laws are passed by lawmakers who mostly hope to keep their jobs. The numbers don't lie: Since campaign 'reforms' have been enacted, incumbent congressmen win more and more frequently.) Full disclosure of campaign financing remains necessary under the opinion (a point on which all the justices except Clarence Thomas apparently agreed). (Full disclosure of my own -- I haven't yet read the linked 183 pages of opinions and dissents.)

I say, preserve free speech -- even if it discomfits some long-tenured officeholders -- and even if it gets nasty out there.

As if it wasn't nasty already?

In the meantime, whatever my theoretical beliefs, I may resort in practice to local stations with icky medical commercials. I just have to find the remote with the mute button.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Curmudgeon angry at being played for a chump

I go through a cash flow crisis at the beginning of every calendar year. I practice law as a corporation for tax reasons. And to maximize that tax advantage, my accountant tells me I'm supposed to drain my corporate account at the end of the year.

I did this -- incorrectly -- for several years and wound up paying corporate income tax in addition to my regular personal income taxes. I think I figured out my error last year -- at least I didn't have to pay a corporate income tax last year -- and I did everything the same way this year.

What this does is make January tighter than usual... and it's always been a pinch.

The "extra" that I took out in December is long spent on January bills and there's still a sheaf of them awaiting payment, both here at the Undisclosed Location and at home. Technically, my business checking account is in the red -- but only because I can't yet cash an income check on which my withholding taxes have been duly paid. My personal checking account is just about zeroed out, too. My bank will hit both accounts with penalties this month for dipping below the required minimums (another proof of the fact that it costs more to be poor in this country than to be rich).

And -- if you've stayed with me this far -- isn't this just the sort of self-indulgent whining that the Curmudgeon does every year?

Well... yes... and no.

For years, I'd get depressed about "my" failures -- "my" inability to maintain a reasonable cash flow.

But this year it occurs to me that I have two clients that, between them, owe me $28,000, all of it more than 90 days billed and some billed more than six months ago. (No, I'm not currently doing anything for either of these clients.) I always have receivables, but this is an unusually large amount. It helps me realize that "my" failures aren't mine alone.

When the client is desperate, it's all full steam ahead and damn the torpedoes! But when the crisis is past, and it comes time to settle accounts, the client is all excuses. Or simply invisible.

I can't repo the services I provide the way Ford can take back a car when payments are missed. I can't foreclose. I can sue... and invite a counterclaim for malpractice -- not because I've committed it, but because deadbeats know that it's a great way to bring additional financial pressure on lawyers. Not only do malpractice insurers spike rates for for lawyers who try and collect their fees (if they agree to renew at all), they require lawyers to pay the first x dollars of their own malpractice defenses. I have a very small retention on my malpractice policy -- as these are measured -- but $5,000 when you don't have $500 might as well be $5,000,000.

So I'm angry, not depressed at this point. (OK, I am depressed. But I'm not just depressed.)

And now I have to undertake a big project for another client -- a client who was, until just a couple of months ago, a very good pay.

Since then, though... nothing. And I'm worried that I'm throwing good time after bad in undertaking this project. Which makes me even angrier.

This pending project is one reason why posting will be sporadic and blog visits will be limited in the next week to 10 days. I have to work through this.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Coming Attraction: Living Oprah

We begin, of course, with full disclosure: I received a free copy of the book pictured above, and have been solicited for a review, by Liza Lucas of Goldberg McDuffie Communications.

Living Oprah (that's a link to is a memoir of an experiment. Chicago actress and author Robyn Okrant (that's a link to the author's website) decided to do everything the Oprah way -- buy what Oprah recommended -- live according to the principles Oprah espoused -- eat as Oprah suggested -- for an entire year. And she blogged about it, too. (I'll bet you can guess what that's a link to all by yourself.)

I am not an Oprah-watcher. I am not even female. I regard Oprah with great affection and respect due her as a person who has helped, in no small ways, to hold down my property taxes in Chicago because of her many contributions to the local economy. I was devastated when she announced that she'll pull up stakes and leave us -- but more as a revenue matter than a personal loss. Thus, I might seem an unlikely reviewer for Ms. Okrant's book. I hope that Ms. Lucas's employers will not be cross with her for sending me a free copy, however.

From another perspective I am predisposed to be as sympathetic to Ms. Okrant as I can possibly be: Let's see.... Chicago writer with a blog who gets a book contract... how could I fail to identify with (and, of course, be jealous of) such a person?

Living Oprah hit the bookshelves on January 4. I think Ms. Lucas hoped that I would have something up about the book by now -- but her initial efforts to send a copy of the book faltered somewhere between her office and my Undisclosed Location. My copy of the book did not even arrive until Wednesday.

In the meantime, there are some actual legal cases to which I must attend -- I don't think a United States District Court Judge (even a female one) will be too sympathetic if I plead for an extension of time to file a long-promised summary judgment motion because I need to finish reading and reviewing Living Oprah. (*Shudder*) I don't even like to imagine how such a suggestion might be received.

But Living Oprah is firmly established on my To Do list and I shall report back on this at the earliest possible opportunity....

In which the Curmudgeon has a phone call at home

Long Suffering Spouse continues to decline into the depths of a viral illness, an illness waaaaay too similar to the one from which I am now more or less recovered -- an illness so similar, in fact, that my bride is sending accusatory glares in my direction. These glares hold the promise of swift and terrible revenge when she recovers sufficient strength. She continues to teach, of course. The weaker sex? Pshaw!

So there we were last evening in the Curmudgeon manse: Long Suffering Spouse in her chair, wrapped in a blanket, and gazing vacantly at the television, signaling (because her voice is almost entirely gone) to find something she could watch on television. This is the miracle of cable television: There are literally hundreds of channels now from which to choose and, still, there's nothing on. Eventually, scrolling through the menu loses its charm and I decided to put on a DVD instead.

"It's too late for a movie," Long Suffering Spouse managed to croak.

No movie, I said, pulling out one of the Jeeves and Wooster episodes that we got for Christmas.

LSS can tolerate these -- and I love them. Even Youngest Son, who wandered into the room during the course of these events, approved of the selection.

I pushed all the requisite buttons and went to warm some cider for LSS.

The phone rang.

The thing you should know about my house is that, when the phone rings, it is never for me. It might be a sales call. We have a primary election in Illinois in less than three weeks now and the political phone calls are coming thick and fast. My wife's mother might call. Youngest Son's school might make a "robo-call" about some upcoming meeting or event. But that's about it. Personal calls for my wife or son go to their respective cell phones. Nobody wants to talk to me.

As with all hard and fast rules, however, there is an exception: If I put on a program that I would like to watch, I will receive a phone call.

And, thus, when Youngest Son answered the phone last night, he promptly announced, "It's Oldest Son, Dad, and he wants to talk to you."

(My kids don't necessarily call my cell phone because I turn it off at every opportunity.)

Resigned, I picked up the kitchen phone.

"No, we haven't seen the priest yet," I began, hoping to shortcut the proceedings. "I've been sick, you know, and now your mother is."

For some reason, I am the person in our house to whom Oldest Son has decided all wedding-related information must be directed. Long Suffering Spouse is truly interested and therefore asks all sorts of questions. I don't ask any questions. I suppose that's why the kid wants to talk to me. He doesn't have any answers: He takes direction from his fiance and compiles a list and executes said list. Take him off the script and he's lost.

Anyway, we chatted for awhile about the pre-Cana arrangements. Because the wedding will be in Texas but the bride and groom are here, the pre-Cana can be done here, too. Because we are Catholic there are forms to be completed at every stage of the process. I know I've said this before, but the requirement of forms and paperwork on all occasions is further proof, if proof were really required, that Holy Mother Church inherited the bureaucratic mindset of the temporal Roman Empire. Did you know that Julius Caesar was Pontifex Maximus in his time? This is a title used to refer to Popes (although, Wikipedia says, while the title has been used in various "inscriptions referring to the Popes, it has never been included in the official list of papal titles published in the Annuario Pontificio, which instead includes 'Supreme Pontiff of the whole Church' [in Latin, Summus Pontifex Ecclesiae Universalis] as the fourth official title, the first being 'Bishop of Rome.'")

But I seem to be digressing.

Anyway, the status of the hotel and rehearsal dinner were also on Oldest Son's list. He hasn't picked a hotel yet. He had some helpful advice about buying airline tickets. And, he said, the place where he and his fiance hoped to have the rehearsal dinner would not be available. The rehearsal at the church would end too late, he told me, to make the last available time for use of that restaurant's banquet room.

He was explaining all this to me because, as father of the groom, I am expected to front the cost of that meal. Never having been to San Antonio I have to rely on my son to pick out a reasonable place. Still, I was willing to venture a couple of suggestions: "I suppose White Castle is out of the question?"

"Yes," he said, without even finding the need to refer that suggestion back to his fiance.

"Golden Corral might be nice."

"No." Oldest Son laughed. "Don't worry, Dad, we'll be reasonable."

By the time we covered all the items on his list, I'd missed the first half of my show. Thus, every hard and fast rule has its exception... and its price to be paid.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Would you believe....?

Channeling someone or other....

I've not blogged for a couple of days.


Well, I've been really busy giving career advice to Conan O'Brien.

You don't believe that? Would you believe I'm just waiting for everyone else in America to finish expressing their opinions about Mark McGwire before I give my own?


Well, would you believe that I've been busy doing other things?

Not that either, huh?

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Still, the truth is often hard to believe, at first.

I had a text yesterday morning from Middle Son -- you know, the one who moved out Sunday night? He thought he'd come home last night for a visit.

I dutifully informed Long Suffering Spouse of our son's plans when we spoke at lunchtime.

"What's Wrong?" she exclaimed.

Nothing, I told her. And, for a change, I was right.

I got home after Middle Son did. I found him, eating my dinner and using my Internet. (He was trying, in fairness, to make arrangements to get cable and broadband service installed in his new swinging bachelor pad.)

He went back safely to his apartment last evening, freighted down with additional things he or his mother thought he might be able to use. He had so much to take back, in fact, that he forgot something.

Long Suffering Spouse was going to call but I persuaded her that he'd probably hold out without this food item until next he sees us. Which will probably be Sunday.

There were times when he was living under our roof that I didn't see him this frequently. But that's another story.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Heads or Tails #122 -- Sweet

In this morning's Heads or Tails, we can discourse on either "sweet" or "sour." Because I am a registered Curmudgeon, Barb and any other occasional HoT visitors might have guessed that (were I to participate... my record is somewhat spotty of late) I would surely choose "sour." But always do the unexpected; that's my motto. That, and keep one eye on the door in case you have to run away. But enough about mottoes; time now for the bitter to write about the sweet....

Soda pop wine. These were sold, at one time, and I would assume still are sold, as wine coolers.

When the public health authorities get serious about curbing alcohol abuse by persons too young to drink, the focus should be on soda pop wines.

When I was but a lad, these were the drink of choice, particularly among the girls my age, for those interested in getting blotto on a Summer afternoon.

Someday the researchers will figure out, after spending oodles of government money, that children are attracted to sweets. As we age -- as those critical synapses link up -- our taste in sweets changes. As a child, I would spit out dark chocolate as too bitter; now I far prefer it over any other kind.

Our tastes change in general: A good scotch tastes like poison to one too young to drink it (instinct, I believe) -- and like the "water of life" (that it truly is) to one old enough to appreciate it.

I seem to recall experimenting with soda pop wines at some point in the course of my misspent youth. They were too icky, sicky sweet for me even then. I remembered what my grandmother told me: "When I take a drink, I want to know there's liquor in it." Southern Comfort tasted like there was liquor in it, surely, but even that was too, too sweet for me. My tastes in those days, such as they were, went to bourbon -- much sweeter than scotch. I'm quite sure that, owing to these youthful experiments, some of the synapses that should have gotten hooked up in my own cranium remained disconnected.

At least that's my excuse now.

I'm unhappy looking in the mirror these days. I complain that, in family photographs, some old guy has been Photoshopped in wherever I was sitting. But there is at least one advantage to maturity: We outgrow any taste for soda pop wines.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Secret insight into the male psyche revealed -- and why Curmudgeon is more screwed up than usual

I will let you in this morning on a deep insight into the male psyche: We crave an orderly routine above almost anything else. This is not to say that women prefer chaos -- that would be silly -- but women can cope with it better. Usually.

I suppose it all goes back to the earliest days of the human species, when men were out hunting mastodons or great elk or bison or whatever. Everything had to be done just so in order for the hunt to be successful. And the hunters' quarry followed a predictable routine -- gathering at the bend in the river after the snows melted and when the Sun rises over the Great Rock -- that sort of thing. Our most remote male ancestors struggled to discern patterns in their surroundings -- and the men who were better at it had more successful hunts and lived long enough to reproduce.

Meanwhile, back at the caves, our great-great-grandmothers were tending the young and gathering roots and berries and maintaining the cooking fires and tanning hides -- multitasking right from the Dawn of Time. Babies then, just like babies now, would wake up unpredictably, demanding to be fed, sometimes in the middle of the night and sometimes during roots and berries time. And of course, occasionally (and unpredictably), while the hunting parties were off chasing deer, a bear might wander into camp and try to repossess the cave. The women would have to cope with that, too.

Thus, from earliest times, women have been conditioned to handle whatever comes -- and men aren't.

Recent events in the Curmudgeon household illustrate how these primal principles are still operative. Older Daughter just finished nursing school, you'll remember, and she's stressed about the upcoming boards -- and she's got the kinds of problems that a lot of young married persons have when the honeymoon daze dissipates. And she's going to have gall bladder surgery at the end of the week. Long Suffering Spouse copes with it. I do my best to ignore it.

Oldest Son is getting married in May and we have to hie ourselves to San Antonio for the occasion, with all the disruptions that this entails. Long Suffering Spouse is coping with it. I'm doing my best to ignore this, too.

Youngest Son is driving for the first time to school and getting up at ridiculously early times for baseball and/or football workouts -- but not everyday. Long Suffering Spouse keeps track. I am annoyed that my morning routine is interrupted on days when Youngest Son doesn't leave early. Or maybe it's on days that he does....

Younger Daughter had to get back to school this weekend. Well, actually, she doesn't have classes until Wednesday, but she was complaining about sitting around the house with nothing to do while the rest of us were at work or school. And, oddly enough, her boyfriend is back on campus, too. Hmmmmm. Long Suffering Spouse had to cope with Younger Daughter's saving all her laundry to be done yesterday and then her haphazard packing. All I had to do was drive and help carry stuff.

Also, this weekend, we had to take down the Christmas decorations. I was against putting these up in the first place -- but the house settles into a routine with the tree up so that's fine. But the holiday routine is destroyed by taking everything down. (I may want to talk about this one separately at some point.) But Long Suffering Spouse coped while I chafed.

The one thing that's putting Long Suffering Spouse closest to the edge at this moment is Middle Son. He finally started -- last week -- that job he had been promised for June. In the last couple of weeks, he's bought a car, rented an apartment, bought a new phone and a giant TV set -- all with money he hasn't earned yet. For the last week he's stayed at our house, visiting his swinging bachelor pad perhaps only once or twice. "There's no hurry," Long Suffering Spouse counseled, especially since Middle Son (who loves to eat) has not learned to cook... or iron a shirt....

Nevertheless, yesterday afternoon, when Middle Son awoke, he announced to one and all that yesterday would be his last in the Curmudgeon house. While Long Suffering Spouse ironed his shirts for the coming week, Middle Son borrowed our van to take over a bed and a table to his new digs. He returned to gather up his clothes (including the newly ironed shirts), stuffing his new car, and finally leaving last night around 10:15.

Long Suffering Spouse had reached the end of her ability to cope. "This is crazy," she told me. "He can't cook, he can't iron -- will he get up in time to get to work? He has to do well in this job!" I asked Middle Son to text me this morning when he arrived at work -- and he did -- but, on a primal level, I understood what is happening here: Middle Son is feeling the instinctive lure and comfort of a routine, even a new one, and there can be no routine living in two places.

He'll be back frequently for meals; I just know it.

In the meantime, I have hopes of reclaiming a routine of my own. And about time, too.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Curmudgeon explains deposition practice

Much of the time after a civil case is filed and before it comes for trial is devoted to something called "discovery."

Discovery is another word for billing.

Well, not exactly: In discovery each side tries to find out juicy information about the other that will, if revealed, cause the opponent to seek surrender (settlement) terms.

There are several different discovery "tools." These may be called different things in different jurisdictions but the major ones are interrogatories, document requests and depositions.

Today's lesson is about depositions.

Depositions are where a lawyer tries to find out what a person will say at trial by asking him or her questions that the lawyer would never, ever ask in front of a judge or jury.

A deposition is just like any other conversation.

Except that it's usually conducted in someone's conference room. And the witness is under oath, of course, and in at least theoretical danger of being slapped with a perjury charge if he or she lies (and, in case the witness happens to be President of the United States, in danger of being impeached). And Every Single Word Spoken is taken down by a court reporter. And an attorney for every party in the case may be present waiting for a turn to ask the exact same questions that his or her colleagues have asked already.

Other than these things, a deposition is just like any other conversation.

Sometimes the witness is represented by counsel. Usually that's because the witness is also a party to the suit. But sometimes the witness is not a party and has an attorney present because the witness wants to stay that way.

The attorney representing a witness at a deposition usually believes that his or her job is to interrupt every time the lawyer asking questions starts asking questions that might reveal relevant information. This sort of deliberate obstruction is typically prohibited by ethical codes, so the obstructions are usually framed as objections. The experienced practitioner will remind counsel that speaking objections are prohibited (at least they are in the jurisdictions in which I've practiced) -- which reduces the interrupting attorney to becoming something of a verbal Geiger counter: Objection. [Long Pause.] Objection. [Shorter Pause now.] Objection.... Objection.... Objection.... [Now No Pause At All.] Objection!Objection!Objection! Thus does the experienced attorney hone in on the good stuff without having to prepare too much.

Depositions are often taken of persons who have submitted Affidavits. Affidavits are also testimony but, because they are pieces of paper, are notoriously hard to cross examine.

An attorney who wants to "test" an Affidavit will seek the deposition of the "Affiant" (that's the person who signed the paper). Usually the lawyer will ask the Affiant-witness if he or she said each of the things that he or she already said in the Affidavit. Now these things have been said twice.

Of course, sometimes a witness will surprise everyone by, for example, denying that he has have ever seen that paper in his life. Then someone -- the lawyer who drafted the Affidavit, for example, helpfully points to the witness's signature and asks a clarifying question: Isn't that your signature?

The witness's agreement that this is indeed his or her signature may not do all that much to restore the witness's credibility, but it presumably spares the lawyer a disciplinary inquiry.

Another way that lawyers "test" Affidavits is by asking the witness whether he or she prepared the Affidavit.

Let me say this to the lawyers of America: Any darn fool who would let a non-lawyer witness prepare his or her own Affidavit should be immediately disbarred on the grounds of terminal stupidity. Of course witnesses don't prepare their own Affidavits; hopefully the witness has supplied the factual information that is at the core of the document -- but the ribbons and bows and linguistic flourishes must be supplied by a lawyer licensed in the jurisdiction and well versed in the peculiarities of the local practice.

I recently watched a lawyer ask a bunch of nice people who signed Affidavits in a case whether they prepared their own Affidavits. I only wish one of them had responded this way:
Q. Did you prepare this Affidavit?
A. I provided the information that's in this paper, yes.
Q. No, I mean, did you physically prepare the paper?
A. Are you asking whether I go around starting stories by saying, 'I, BARTHOLOMEW T. BOONDOGGLE, being duly sworn on oath?' Do I push away from the table at the country club on Saturday evening, having regaled all present with my latest golfing triumph, by proclaiming 'FURTHER AFFIANT SAYETH NAUGHT'?
Q. Well, yes, I suppose....
A. No, I don't. Do you?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Best one sentence review of Avatar

I wish I could take credit for this one, but I heard it from my son-in-law:

Avatar: Ferngully meets Dances With Wolves.

This is not a knock against the movie. I saw it this weekend in 3D and enjoyed it immensely. The indispensable Roger Ebert compared Avatar to the original Star Wars in his review. The comparison is appropriate: Like Lucas in 1977, James Cameron has stretched technology in remarkable ways in order to create a wonderful new world.

Pandora is so breathtakingly beautiful, in fact, that we don't mind the derivative plot, which here is a not-very-thinly disguised Halliburton vs. Noble Savages morality play. Guess who Mr. Cameron is rooting for? We don't even mind that a key plot point involves mountains floating in mid-air (a nod to Flash Gordon, presumably?) or that the mineral that the Earthpeople want to extract from Pandora is called "unobtainium."

Like the original Star Wars, Avatar will long retain the power to transport the people who saw it in first run to a wonderful place -- even after the technology that made it possible becomes commonplace. But one also hopes that Mr. Cameron will learn from Mr. Lucas' experience with Star Wars: No matter how much we loved Avatar, that doesn't mean that we'd be interested in a prequel.

By the way, the human behind the beautiful blue Princess Neytiri is Zoe Saldana -- who played Lt. Uhura in last summer's Star Trek remake.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Things that go bump in the night... or early morning

Long Suffering Spouse and I thought we were pretty smart on New Year's Eve. Middle Son went to a party in Michigan -- at a friend's summer cottage -- in the Snow Belt. He was staying overnight. Younger Daughter found a party invitation much closer -- but she too was invited to spend the night. We assented.

Eventually, Youngest Son also found someone to invite him to spend the night. We agreed.

See, our plan was that we wouldn't have to worry then about them getting home. They could enjoy the evening -- and we could have a little peace of mind. As a parent, it's not the New Year's revels I mind half so much as the necessity of avoiding the other revelers on the way home. We very strictly enjoined each of the kids that they could stay at the places they were going... and they could not leave.

It would just be the three of us at home, then, on New Year's Eve... me, my wife and my sinus infection. Ah, romance.

I got my first scare of the evening at 11:00pm. The phone rang.

Now I realize the kids think nothing about talking on the phone at 1:00am or 2:00am or 3:00am or whenever they get in, get bored, or remember something they needed to say to someone else. But my blood runs cold when the phone rings late in the evening. For a lot of people -- I'm pretty sure I'm not alone on this -- phone calls late at night mean disease or disaster and maybe even death.

I was reconciled to the phone ringing at midnight on New Year's Eve. My wife wants all the kids to call in so they can wish each other a Happy New Year.

But 11:00? Something, I thought, was surely wrong.

But it was only Older Daughter, calling from her party in Indianapolis. Indianapolis runs an hour ahead of Chicago. Thus it was midnight there. She'd call again at our midnight, too, because I guess that made it twice as official. Whatever. Long Suffering Spouse coaxed me down from the ceiling in time to field the various calls at midnight Central Standard Time.

We both dozed off thereafter, watching TV, just as on any other night, and eventually one of us woke up enough to get the other to go upstairs to bed. We debated about locking the front door as we went by. Long Suffering Spouse advised against it, but I said we might as well. After all, it was already well past midnight. But the kids don't have keys, my wife said. (They don't ordinarily carry house keys because you can't lose what you don't have -- and no one else can find what you didn't lose either.)

I was not concerned, I told her. If anyone's plans had changed, we'd know about it by now, I said. And anyway, I added, we'd surely be up long before any teenager or 20-something began to stir. I locked the door.

And, just as you'd expect, Long Suffering Spouse and I were both beginning to stir as the sky outside was just beginning to go from dark to medium gray. My wife was more awake than I was; she heard the noise first.

"There's someone in the house!" she hissed.

Now I know that this is a cliche in old movies and sitcoms -- the wife who hears the noise and the dubious husband who is forced to investigate. But I listened for a moment and I heard the noise too!

I am not real wild about the prospect of confronting a home invader in my PJs, but I was even less enthused about my wife doing so. So I jumped out of bed and ran to the stairs, Long Suffering Spouse right with me and both of us mighty scared.

That's where we found Youngest Son, clomping up the stairs like all three billy goats gruff going across the troll's bridge all at once.

Researchers say that the teenage brain is still developing throughout adolescence. This is why kids sometimes make dumb decisions. Youngest Son might have called the house from his cell phone when he discovered that the front door was locked. But he didn't.

Instead, with the temperature below zero (Fahrenheit), Youngest Son wandered around the outside of the house looking for a window to force. He managed to squeeze in through a kitchen window that my wife sometimes opens, even in Winter, when the stove or oven is on too long. She must have forgotten to lock it after the last such occasion. Youngest Son found a garbage wagon, wheeled it underneath the window, crawled up on it (denting it in the process) and thence through the window and onto the stairs.

After all, standing out in the cold, who wouldn't choose to fiddle with trying to break into the house for 30 minutes over making a 30 second phone call?

It seems that one of the kids with whom Youngest Son was staying -- the son of the host family, in fact -- became violently ill in the wee small hours of the morning. Rather than expose himself to the presumably communicable germs, Youngest Son chose to absent himself from the premises. I had one question: "Do the kid's parents know you're gone?" He assured me that they knew.

Later, Youngest Son's older siblings would be less accepting of this story -- it had been, after all, New Year's Eve -- which prompted them to speculate that the illness from which the other boy suffered might not have been contagious. Not unless Youngest Son drank from the same bottle. If you know what I mean. But I saw nothing at the moment of initial confrontation to arouse my suspicions.

Youngest Son continued on to bed. But Long Suffering Spouse and I were now thoroughly awake.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Curmudgeon begs for antibiotics

I was whining about being sick just last week so I hesitate to bring the subject up again.

But I'm still sick.

I thought I'd rallied a bit by the end of the week. I stayed home Thursday to baby myself (and to build up my strength for dealing with the kids' New Year's Eve plans -- I'll get to that tomorrow, I hope). By Friday I felt good enough to venture to a friend's home for an early evening open house. Saturday evening, Long Suffering Spouse and I went to see Avatar (you know it must truly be a gigantic hit movie when the missus and I are seeing it in first run).

I was never truly clear of my sinus congestion, but it was less disgusting for a while.

Then came Sunday... and it was back to square one.

I played a computer game and kept a desultory eye on the day's football games and dabbed at my nose. I honked like a whole flock of Canada geese every five minutes or so. Long Suffering Spouse and Youngest Son both tried to get me to go out to the local immediate care center yesterday afternoon, but the effort required to stand was beyond me. I hoped -- against all evidence and logic -- that this condition would somehow resolve on its own. Even though it's persisted, on high gear or low, for the better part of a month now.

I gave up and went this morning.

There was a time -- 20 years ago or so -- when I had no personal doctor. When I had the sniffles for more than a couple of days, I would drop by the local immediate care center and get a prescription for antibiotics. I would take the antibiotics -- all of them, just as prescribed -- and get well.

Have you ever had dandelions in your lawn? When you pull a dandelion out, you must take care to get out the entire root -- otherwise it will grow back, stronger than before. So it is with germs attacked by antibiotics. Too many people didn't take all their antibiotics. They stopped when they started to feel better... and new and stronger, more antibiotic-resistant strains of wee beasties began spreading.

The end result was that doctors stopped prescribing antibiotics as a matter of routine. You could still get a prescription... but you had to suffer a while first.

I did not want to go to the doctor and get turned down because my case was not sufficiently severe. On the other hand, the holiday slowdown is over and I have work to do. I wanted those antibiotics. So despite the fact that I didn't want to even talk, I knew I had to sell the doctor on the length and severity of my ordeal.

Long Suffering Spouse doesn't start school again until Wednesday. So she could drive me over this morning and I could muster my strength.

But there is a ritual in seeing a doctor at the immediate care center that must be observed before treatment can be sought. First, they have to find you in the computer. I hadn't been there for treatment in several years, but computer storage is bigger and better these days so my record could be found. I was then obliged to turn over my insurance card and driver's license to be photocopied. Certainly, this made sense; after all, it couldn't hurt to confirm that my current information was consistent with that stored in the computer.

I was then handed a clipboard and a sheaf of papers to fill in. For the most part, this consisted of a history and various privacy disclosures. The 'privacy disclosures' can't be gotten around, not in the present age of increased federalization of health care (and this is without whatever Obamacare may spawn). Nor was it unreasonable to ask for an updated history. Actually, I've had quite a checkered medical career since I last presented myself for service at that location.

But I took umbrage at having to fill out the insurance policy information again....

It's not that I object to meaningless paperwork -- Good heavens! I'm a lawyer. I depend on meaningless paperwork. But if I could have handled meaningless paperwork this morning, I'd have gone into the office directly, without a detour at the doctor's.

I was squandering my limited reserves of strength in order to complete the meaningless paperwork on the clipboard at a time when I needed every last ounce of strength for the task of persuading the doctor to let me have antibiotics.

It all worked out in the end, though. I persuaded both the young resident and the attending on duty of my sincere need for actual medicine and I was rewarded with the necessary prescription. After downing the first dose, Long Suffering Spouse brought me here to the Undisclosed Location.

Where meaningless paperwork is demanding my complete attention.