Monday, April 30, 2012

On the roller coaster -- again

That tight grip of fear has got me again this morning. It's a helpless feeling, really, and all the more frustrating for that.

I've written about Older Daughter's struggles with IVF this year -- the "Family Way" posts in the archives will bring you up to speed, if you need to know, or just click on the "IVF" tab at the bottom of this post and start scrolling down when the new page loads.

But, other than mentioning why Long Suffering Spouse and I were in Indianapolis recently, I haven't subjected you to a lot of discussion on the latest efforts.

I'd rather brag on grandchildren when they're born.

But things had been rather optimistic -- mostly happy phone conversations between Long Suffering Spouse and Older Daughter, at least on that subject -- and we'd begun to think, well, this time may really be it.

Last night, though, Older Daughter texted that she was having cramps and spotting and she was going to bed. We already knew she had a doctor's appointment this morning.

My wife's cell phone went off at around 7:00am.

The news is decidedly mixed. The doctors still think Older Daughter is pregnant, but they can't say if she will hold the eggs with which she's been implanted. The cramps and spotting may turn into something else. But it might not go that route. Many women spot and cramp early in a pregnancy -- before they have any business knowing that they're pregnant, in fact -- and don't realize that it's not a variation on the monthly misery.

I am increasingly convinced that doctors can't do a whole heck of a lot besides monitor. Observe. Report. They think they can do so much more, but they really can't. They can't do a whole lot more for Older Daughter than I can, or her mother can -- and we're pretty helpless at this point. What will be, must be.

So the doctors can't really tell Older Daughter whether she's in trouble, or whether this momentary crisis will past and be largely forgotten as things progress.

And, if things do turn back around, and if things do go well in the end, I'd probably forget all about the hollow feeling I have right now -- unless I come back and review this post. The brain forgets, but the lining of my stomach acquires yet another scar.

The Narrator is starting a new blog

Very few of you will remember me -- The Narrator. I've been trotted out on increasingly rare occasion in this blog, usually when The Curmudgeon hasn't wanted to say something himself. Well, now I'm getting a blog of my very own. It's called "The Blog of Days" and, yes, that's a link to the new venture in this sentence. The idea, see, is to pick something out to observe or commemorate on every single day -- and not necessarily the obvious things, either. Of course, that means it will supposedly be a daily venture. I hope you'll stop by from time to time to see if I'm keeping up.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Yes, this is cruel. But it's still funny.

From the webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, by Zack Weiner.

Of course, were you to try this in real life, with your own child, you could expect a visit from DCFS and probably a serious custody issue -- or, at the very least, huge therapy bills down the road.

And I still couldn't help but laugh.

Sorry.

Friday, April 27, 2012

A song for Friday: Pettin' and Pokin'


The great Louis Jordan (backed by his Tympany 5). Here's the words if you want to sing along. Try to keep up:
Now this is the story of Jack & Jill, and I don't mean the couple who went up the hill. I just mean a couple of lovers that live next door, and they always battling & I'm just contriving to keep score.

They're always pettin' & pokin' & jabbin' & joking & cooin' & crackin' and wooin' & wackin.'
They keep necking & knocking, singing & socking, squawking & squeezing & burning & freezing.

Why he holds her hands as long as he's able, but when he lets go she bops him with a table.
They start right in pattin' & pinchin' & clouting & clinching. They're enjoying themselves, havin' a good time.

Now Reverend Green thought that he'd call one day on these nicely newlyweds across the way, but just as the pastor knocked on the door, a straight right connected -- "Mop," he hit the floor.

They was pettin' & pokin' and banging & bopping & cooing & kissing & hitting & missing.
They kept on grooving & grieving & loving & leaving, kickin' & cacklin' & ticklin' & tacklin'.

Now one night a neighbor tried some intervention, but one short jab knocked out his good intention.

They started right in stewing & stabbing & jiving & jabbing. Having a good time.

Now once a lion escaped from a circus train. He strayed in Jack's & Jill's domain. Just then they got in a towerin' rage. Lion took one look & jumped back in to his cage.

They started swatting & swinging & plotting & playing, stomping & stabbing & grooving & grasping they kept dancing & ducking, tripping & trucking, potting & pleading & banging & bleeding.

Her mother said, "I'll go right in there and fetch her," but mom came out riding on a stretcher.

They started right in, hitting & holding, fainting & folding. They was enjoying themselves. Having a good time.

Now once a reporter called on the wife just to gather some data on her hectic life. She told him she'd never found time for books, she always busy duckin' left hooks.

They were always swatting & swinging & socking & singing & cutting & cuddling & messing & muddling. They kept on fondlin' & fussin' & kissin' & cussin' & tappin' & teasin' & swattin' & squeezin'.

Once a voice said "Stop! I'm the law." But all he stopped was a hay-maker to the jaw.

They started in jiving & jumping & throbbing & thumping. They was enjoying themselves. You see, they were in love. Ain't married life wonderful? Hey will somebody call Dr. Kildare? Is Dr. Christian in the house? Huh?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A visit to Indianapolis -- Part II

Scroll down for Part I.

So I missed Phillip Humber's perfect game. So what? White Sox pitchers have hurled three in their history, two during my lifetime. I missed both of them. (Buehrle's came in a day game against Tampa; I was at work. My wife held the phone to the TV during the ninth inning.)

Who cared? The important thing was that Older Daughter may or may not be pregnant. We want her to "catch" this time; that's why I'd accompanied Long Suffering Spouse on this mission of mercy -- not that we can do anything, mind you, except take up space, but when that's all you can do, you do it.

The other thing we did was go see the house the kids are planning to buy. Before we found out about the perfect game, Hank had to go over to his church -- an architect by trade, he's on the church building and grounds committee, too -- and Older Daughter thought that while he was on this errand she could show us the house.

I'd mentioned the house briefly yesterday. The house looks nice enough, I suppose, a two story, brick and siding affair with a two-car garage on a suburban-type street. Older Daughter insists that this house is merely a temporary stop, an investment, but that she and her husband will eventually move to Chicago. Hank has friends in Chicago, I'm told, and there's plenty of work here in his architectural specialty, if he can only get hooked up with the right job. I don't believe it. Hank's parents are in Indy; he's an only child. Hank has been tied into his church choir his whole life; he's a paid soloist besides.

"She's all alone down there," Long Suffering Spouse tells me.

But, when we'd seen the house, we drove back to the church (the house is much closer to the church than the apartment -- and, no, I'm not surprised by this either) and waited.

There was a wedding about to get underway. The daughter of two long-time choir members was being married; Hank and his wife had not been invited. That was something of a scandal (although Hank's parents were, so I think that makes up for that somewhat).

Anyway, we parked by the church -- Hank wasn't quite done yet -- and watched the invited guests arrive.

Now I don't know what it is about Protestantism that makes for such obnoxious punctuality. But Older Daughter assured me that all these guests hustling into the church were early, not late. Nobody's on time for a Catholic wedding, including the bride, but the good Episcopalians at Hank's church consider a person late if he's not an hour early. Since Older Daughter was married in that church, now almost three years ago, that was a matter of some stress for us at the time.

But the point is this: Older Daughter, who my wife fears is "all alone" in Indy, named every person passing by, providing sly biographical details for most of them.

After we returned from this errand, and after the baseball news, and after we'd resumed our Harry Potter film festival for awhile, it occurred to both my wife and me that now might be a good time to think about getting something to eat.

Older Daughter and Hank wanted to order pizza from a nearby place. The last time they'd ordered pizza from this place, when Long Suffering Spouse and Younger Daughter were on their now-infamous road trip, during Older Daughter's first go-round with IVF, it had taken hours for the pizza to arrive. When the food finally did show up, green olives had been substituted for green peppers. My wife likes green olives well enough, I suppose, but not on pizza. But Hank didn't even call the joint to complain -- and, by that time, Long Suffering Spouse was hungry enough to eat olives or the cardboard box the pizza came in. (The box tasted better than the olives, she said later.)

So, naturally, of course, they'd go back there on this trip, right?

Now, the first problem was what to order. While it was generally agreed that green olives were not a good idea, there was no agreement on virtually anything else. All I wanted was just plain cheese. I'm a boring person. Long Suffering Spouse will take sausage or pepperoni or green peppers, but not onions, licorice, ham and eggs or whatever it was that Hank and Older Daughter were talking about. Once I was assured that some portion of some pizza would be cheese only, I tuned the discussion out. Watching a Harry Potter movie for the 80th time was far preferable than watching Older Daughter struggle to make a decision.

Let's put it this way: I recall a discussion at Thanksgiving dinner in 2002. Older Daughter was then but a freshman in college, at the University of Illinois. She'd done from a high school of 350 or 400 girls to a college of 35,000 or 40,000. In high school, she'd had few schedule choices; in college, her choices were virtually unlimited. I asked her if her schedule was set yet. Everyone at the table assumed I was asking about her second semester schedule; Older Daughter and I both knew, however, that I was inquiring about her first semester schedule, the one that would end in just a week or two. "Almost," she said.

And this was without hormones, and shots and acupuncture and trying to buy a house besides.

Eventually, however, Older Daughter and her mother decided what to order -- but then Older Daughter could not figure out how to work the pizza joint's ordering system from her cell phone. She fiddled with it for what seemed like an eternity and then woke up Hank, who'd made the perfectly understandable decision to take a nap while the negotiations over toppings dragged on. She wanted him to place the order instead.

Hank was not pleased to be snatched from the arms of Morpheus.

In Hank's defense, I have to agree that naps are very important to me, too. I nap every chance I can get. I'd be napping now, only I have to write this post and prepare for an interview this afternoon. (OK, yes, I'm stalling on the interview prep by doing this post. Don't be such a pain.)

But, while I acknowledge that Hank had every right to be miffed at being prematurely awoken from his nap, it occurred to me, if not to him, that he was miffed at the woman who had just undergone hellish medical procedures in order to be able to carry his child. She wasn't functioning on all cylinders, true, but you'd think he'd make some allowances. Instead, he refused to place the order.

"They also have a phone," he said. "You could call them on the phone instead of placing the order online."

But she didn't want to call them on the phone; she wanted to place the order online and the site wasn't working on her phone. Hank gave her his. "Try this, then."

They must have bickered for another half hour before the order was eventually placed. I'm afraid I can't tell you if they did put the order in online or over the phone. I was verrrrry carefully not paying attention at this point.

Look -- yes, I am an attorney -- but, no, I don't particularly like conflict. I certainly don't like it in the home. Older Daughter, on the other hand, doesn't seem happy unless she's battling with someone. In this, she resembles my mother-in-law. Long Suffering Spouse and I have had a number of conversations about whether Abuela's home is getting to be too much for her. And it might be -- but we can't imagine her living with anyone either. It might technically be called an apartment in the suburbs but it would really be located in a state of perpetual conflict.

Older Daughter and I were alone in the living room at one point over the weekend, she on the couch, me still on that love seat (I was sitting or laying on that thing for 90% of the trip). Long Suffering Spouse had gone to the kitchen to chop up vegetables for a snack. My wife called out a question to her daughter, but I could see that Older Daughter was dozing, eyes closed and everything. I tried to answer in a stage whisper that she was sleeping -- when a sleepy voice from the couch interrupted: "I am not!"

As near as I can tell, Hank's no better. He'll pick at any scab he finds too.

Sometimes Long Suffering Spouse and I wonder how well these two really know each other. They don't seem as supportive of one another as we'd like, or in sync, or in tune, or whatever phrase you use in your experience. Hank knows that his wife can't lift anything consequential in these critical first few weeks, but after we'd gone home he refused to buy groceries. Later, though, he bought flowers and all was sweetness and light again.

Anyway, we got the pizza -- without green olives this time -- and, late as I thought it was, Long Suffering Spouse assured me (later) that this was at least two hours earlier than she'd been fed last time. "I think they were on their good behavior because you were there," she told me later when we were headed home. "That was their good behavior?" I asked.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A visit to Indianapolis -- Part I

Sometimes, when I prepare these little essays, I want to share more of what's going on in my world with you -- "you" meaning the few readers I do have, as well as you, the potential readers that exist only in my fevered imagination -- but I am reluctant to do so lest I reveal too much and compromise my anonymity.

This weekend provides an example; I'd explain but that would defeat the purpose.

I can tell you that Long Suffering Spouse and I went to Indianapolis to visit Older Daughter and her husband, Hank. Older Daughter was just implanted again, and Long Suffering Spouse was planning to visit and see to it that Older Daughter really did rest. (Older Daughter is undergoing IVF treatment. If you're interested, you can catch up here and here -- feel free to read all seven parts if you really want.)

I was not planning to go. I thought I'd be at home with Younger Daughter and the pseudo-dog, Rodent. Rodent is the pocket-sized pooch owned by Oldest Son and his wife Abby (following the links from this post will tell you more than you ever wanted to know about Rodent). Oldest Son and his wife were in Vegas for an extended weekend and Younger Daughter was asked to dog-sit. Since Younger Daughter has no place of her own, and dogs -- even very small ones -- are frowned upon in her college dormitory, the Curmudgeon residence is always volunteered as the venue for the dog-sitting.

Not by me, you understand.

I had stuff I'd planned to do at home -- viz., the grass, the laundry, a post on my public blog, preparing for a speech on Monday evening, preparing for a cable appearance on Wednesday afternoon -- and we wouldn't ordinarily leave Younger Daughter home by herself, especially with the dog. There would really be nothing for me to do in Indianapolis except mope around. Long Suffering Spouse was planning to stay at the kids' apartment; I'd have wanted to stay at a hotel -- but that would have been inconsistent with my wife's goal of hovering to make sure her daughter stayed at rest. So the decision that we would go our separate ways this past weekend seemed settled and uncontroversial. But Long Suffering Spouse was enormously tired by the end of the week. I already forget why. So much is going on in our lives at this point that I'm having trouble keeping track. It may not have been any particular crisis; it may just have been the consequence of my wife's return to the classroom after Easter Break: We're both usually dead tired by Friday evening.

Anyway, Older Daughter and Younger Daughter were both concerned that Long Suffering Spouse would have difficulty making the drive by herself on Friday. I suggested that she stay home Friday and leave early on Saturday -- but that was vetoed. And by late Friday morning it had become apparent that I was going to have to go too.

I left the Teeny Tiny Law Office in mid-afternoon and Long Suffering Spouse and I started packing immediately. We had dinner at home, though, so we weren't able to leave until 6:30. We weren't moving fast.

And we only moved slower when we got on the Tollway. I know better than to try and drive through the city on a Friday evening -- the Kennedy delays can make forever seem like an eye-blink -- but there was an accident on I-294 and it took us a good hour to make a portion of the trip we can usually make in 10 minutes.

We heard from Younger Daughter en route. It seems a giant centipede ("furry" and "with stripes") had decided to show itself just after we left. I asked if the centipede ate Rodent; Younger Daughter was not amused. Although he had escaped the giant centipede, Rodent had begun barking, first at the front door, then the back door -- just little yip, yap, yip barks -- the kind that confirms for any experienced gang of house-burglars that herein lies easy pickins. Younger Daughter could not get the animal to stop. She'd looked out the windows but saw no gangs of any kind; nevertheless, she'd turned on every light in the house. (She'd already turned on most of them in response to the centipede. Younger Daughter had a spray bottle of bleach ready to confront that centipede should it reappear. Long Suffering Spouse counseled against this. "You'll only make it mad," she warned.)

We got to Indianapolis well after 11:00pm local time. Hank poured me a tumbler of Irish whiskey to help me unwind from the drive. I don't think he minded too much because he had an excuse to join me. Then I had to wind my 6'2" frame into a 4' loveseat. (Oh, yes, we had to stay at the apartment, even with me along.) Long Suffering Spouse was on the full couch with Older Daughter -- who refused to toddle off to bed until long after I went to sleep passed out.

Saturday Hank and I went out -- I had a charge card bill to pay at Chase. Chase makes it impossible to pay a bill on line unless you give them a cell phone number so they can send you a phony "security code." Look: A security code is entirely stupid and pointless when someone is trying to pay a bill. First of all, I really don't care if some stranger wants to put some money toward my staggering Chase Card balance. I don't mind if you do. Why should there be a security code to discourage that? Second, I realize that the only reason Chase wants me to give over my cell phone number is so they can sell it and I can start getting sales calls on my cell phone. The bastards. They are never getting it from me.

One of the reasons our departure was delayed Friday was that I was trying to pay the stupid bill on line. I was trying to get Chase to send my unnecessary, unneeded and unwanted security code to an email account -- Chase says it provides this service -- but I sat waiting... and waiting... and waiting... and the email did not show up. Meanwhile, while waiting for Chase's email, the Chase site automatically logs off -- for my protection, of course. The thieves.

So Hank and I went out. Fortunately, there's a Chase by Hank's office and, even more fortunately, Hank needed to stop by his office anyway to scan some documents he and Older Daughter needed to send to their mortgage broker.

It's not enough, you see, that they're trying to get pregnant with this horribly invasive IVF process, with the shots and the pills and the acupuncture and the ovaries in overdrive and all that stuff -- Older Daughter and Hank have also decided that now is the time to buy a house. Well, their dog, Cork (more about him here) had been chewing holes in the carpeting in the apartment, so naturally the remedy for this would have to be to get the dog his own house with a backyard to play in.

Naturally.

While we were at Hank's office, Hank introduced me to one of his colleagues who was there doing a little extra work on a Saturday morning. Hank said, "This is my father-in-law," and the young man said hello. I said, "Yes, it's Hank's turn to watch me this morning."

The young man did not bat an eye.

Either he has no sense of humor -- or he took one look at me and found what I'd said all too plausible.

I'm hoping it's the former.

These errands alone were not enough, of course. Two men can not go out on a Saturday morning without returning with baked goods. This is a survival from prehistoric times. The cave women would want to chitchat, so they'd tell the menfolk to go out and find a mastodon or something for lunch. I think donuts and coffee cake are much more civilized, and also easier to carry.

So we ate and watched Harry Potter movies (Older Daughter wanted a 'film festival') and I missed Phillip Humber's perfect game.

I didn't know anything special was happening until Oldest Son texted me -- just one word: "HUMBER!!!"

I'd better get me some by-gosh grandchildren out of all this.

More on the Indianapolis trip tomorrow. Probably.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mayor Emanuel gets his speed camera money tree

The ever-docile Chicago City Council has approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel's latest scheme to steal money from drivers on Chicago streets (and enrich his friends in the process).

Speed cameras are coming to Chicago. An all-seeing eye suspended on a pole will determine if drivers are driving too fast past Chicago parks or schools. This is supposedly to save the lives of children who might otherwise be hit by speeding cars. But who really benefits? (Quoting from the linked Tribune article):
The mayor's effort has been supported by the Traffic Safety Coalition, a group pushing for the speed cameras that is run by close Emanuel political ally Greg Goldner and funded by Redflex Traffic Systems, the city's red-light camera vendor.
Remember that name -- Greg Goldner -- because, if the classic Chicago pattern is followed here, he will inevitably be indicted on some sort of kick-back theory. But how much will be stolen from drivers in the meantime?

Here is what the Tribune had to say about Mr. Goldner in a March 13, 2012 article by David Kidwell, Jeff Coen and Bob Secter:
When Rahm Emanuel was a first-time candidate for Congress, Greg Goldner was behind him, quietly marshaling the patronage troops who helped get him elected. When Emanuel ran for mayor, Goldner was there again, doling out campaign cash to elect Emanuel-friendly aldermen to City Council.

And when the rookie mayor was looking for community support for his school reform agenda, there was Goldner, working behind the scenes with ministers who backed Emanuel's plan.

Now, it turns out the longtime allies share another interest -- the installation of automated speed cameras in Chicago.

As consultant to the firm that already supplies Chicago its red-light cameras, Goldner is the architect of a nationwide campaign to promote his client's expansion prospects. That client, Redflex Traffic Systems Inc., is well-positioned to make tens of millions of dollars from Emanuel's controversial plan to convert many of the red-light cameras into automated speed cameras.
Today, as noted, the Tribune claims that Goldner runs the Traffic Safety Coalition. I'm not entirely certain that this claim holds water.

Goldner is the founder and chief executive of Resolute Consulting. However, Goldner's name appears nowhere on the website of the Traffic Safety Coalition -- but Redflex is listed as among the organization's "partners." The well-meaning folks who think they're in charge of the Traffic Safety Coalition may be merely what used to be called "useful idiots."

And, speaking of idiots, the City Council actually showed a surprising amount of spunk in approving the Mayor's scheme by a vote of only 33-14. Those of you from outside Chicago may think a better than two-to-one majority something of a landslide. But, in Chicago, this kind of dissent is practically unheard of.

Extreme provocation may be seen as the reason for this slight evidence of independent thought: This is such a rank pile of manure to heap upon the body politic! But loyal 33rd Ward Ald. Richard Mell (Rod Blagojevich's father-in-law) is quoted in the story as saying, "Who would say it wasn't worth it if it saves one [life]?"

Look, I'll eat my words -- just as soon as a speed camera climbs down from a pole and snatches a child from in front of a fast-moving car.

These cameras will go off based on the speed of the vehicles passing beneath. For now, a person driving six to 10 mph over the limit will get a $35 ticket. The fine for going 11 mph or more over the limit will be $100. Of course, if revenue expectations aren't met, the fines can be raised or the cameras can be set to go off at lower speeds. And all this whether or not an actual child is in the vicinity.

This, literally, is highway robbery.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What comes out of the woodwork when you "social network"

As befits a dinosaur like me, I've had to be dragged into all this social networking stuff. Basically, the fact that I'm in Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter should tell you that these are dying brands and the future lies in Tumblr or one of these other misspelled gimcracks that I haven't yet contaminated.

Long Suffering Spouse is not on Facebook. The Chicago Archdiocese warned its teachers to avoid Facebook -- and thereby avoid all the problems that can come with "friending" students' parents (to say nothing of "friending" the kids themselves).

About half the teachers in my wife's school heeded this suggestion; I'm "friends" with a number of those who didn't. One or more of my kids are "friends" with several others (but -- remember -- some of my kids are as old, or older, than some of these teachers. One of the kindergarten teachers was a classmate of Oldest Son's.)

But, anyway, because Long Suffering Spouse is not on Facebook, I have no Facebook "relationship status."

When I first signed up, therefore, I looked like any other middle-aged male anxious to "meet people." Well, you know what that means.

Or might mean, anyway.

And, sure enough, I received all sorts of "friend" requests in the early days from, um, persons in the hospitality industry. (If you know what I mean -- and I think you do.)

No, I didn't accept any of them. I've built my Facebook collection on people I actually know -- all five of my children have "friended" me, for example, and four have actually acknowledged me as their father on Facebook. (Oldest Son is still "pending." For a couple years now. I prefer to think that this is because he doesn't bother much with Facebook anymore. I don't think he's waiting for blood test results or anything.) I expanded my base with persons who came to me through my public blogs -- the ones that aren't anonymous. So, like most Facebook users, I don't really "know" all my "friends" (even where "know" is so loosely defined as to be able to pick someone as vaguely familiar out of a lineup, much less match a face to a name).

But I don't get the "lonely hearts" friend requests anymore; they've moved on to more receptive new users... or perhaps to Tumblr or Google+ or FourSquare or something.

They were certainly waiting for me when I signed up for Twitter. What I found most amusing was that the porn "actresses" who wanted me to "follow" them on Twitter had mostly PG or (at most) PG-13 jokes for tweets, most apparently culled from dog-eared jokebooks. I didn't click on any of the actual links you understand. Many of these mostly horizontal celebrities seemed eastern European, although maybe my impression is clouded by the spam storm I've received on my non-anonymous blogs of late (and which I endured here a couple of months ago).

But, as befitting its more staid, professional image, there were no soiled doves looking for roosts when I signed up for LinkedIn. On the other hand, I did recently receive a "connection" request from a Chicago lawyer with an unusually generic name. It wasn't "John Smith," but it was close enough (it was actually a generic female name) that I thought I'd run the name through the ARDC website and see if there really was such a person.

There wasn't.

And yet, as of Sunday, we had 10 mutual "connections." (I think we may have even more now.)

I decided to "ignore" this request.

Why would someone create a fictitious person to lurk on LinkedIn? Just for grins? To see if any associates are looking to leave?

High school and college coaches create fictitious persons on Facebook to keep track of their students. Boys' coaches, for example, will take a picture of a pretty girl and open up a Facebook page for her and try and friend all the kids on their team. That way, when the kids break training -- and post pictures, because kids are all idiots -- the coaches can take action. (I've warned Youngest Son of this widespread practice.)

Employers do something like this, too.

That's why the recent brouhaha about prospective employers demanding applicants' Facebook passwords is so stupid. They can "friend" the applicant just as easily -- up-front and above-board and/or surreptitiously as well -- and find out anything they really need to know.

Of course, this practice of pretending to be someone you're not can be taken to an extreme. You've heard about tragic cases where kids have literally been cyberbullied to death -- but that's not the only danger. Take a look at Bonhomme v. St. James, 407 Ill. App. 3d 1080, 945 N.E.2d 1181 (2nd Dist. 2011), for another chilling example. Bonhomme has been accepted for review by the Illinois Supreme Court.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Linking with... what? Curmudgeon tries to get in touch with his entrepreneurial self

Curmudgeon as entrepreneur?

That sounds about as likely as a dinosaur with feathers, doesn't it?

Except that feathered dinosaurs really do seem to have once existed.

Times change. Paleontology changes. And even dinosaurs like me had better change with the times. And, judging by my increasingly obvious bald spot, I'm not likely to sprout feathers anytime soon. So I've realized, finally, I'd better come up with something else.

I'm trying to reinvent my law practice, trying to recast myself as a mediator instead of a litigator, or trying to find someone who'll hire me to think deep thoughts for them, or at least write their appellate briefs or handle their coverage matters. I'm looking to find a way to turn my blogging and/or my interest in politics into some actual money.

I've made fun of professional networking sites like LinkedIn here previously, calling LinkedIn "a combination of job board and trophy case." At the time I wrote that (only last November) I had a half dozen "connections," one of them Younger Daughter (who'd asked me to sign up so I could evaluate her profile).

I thought myself very clever at the time. I wrote, "Those who are looking for work are desperately trying to make connections. Those who are already successful use LinkedIn to showcase all their many achievements. Either way, there is no humility on LinkedIn."

I started the day yesterday with 200 LinkedIn connections; I have over 270 this morning.

Do I sound desperate enough?

I'm still not sure how this is supposed to help. I spent all day online yesterday, combing through profile after profile, requesting connection upon connection. I didn't write a word. I didn't sign up any sort of a case. But every status update I make now on LinkedIn will be available -- and ignored -- by all sorts of interesting people.

I've read, however, that all this networking is somehow entrepreneurial. "Entrepreneurial" may be just a fancy word for panicking... but I'm not sure of that. Not yet. And so I continue to play the game. Excuse me... someone else just accepted my connection request....

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"Does our son have a drinking problem?"

That was the urgent question posed by Long Suffering Spouse recently.

She's been home for spring break and she's been cleaning house. She'd zoomed in on Youngest Son's room mainly because, despite his faithful promises over Christmas break, he'd left behind baskets of clean clothes never put away and and a basket of dirty clothes never washed. And Long Suffering Spouse just knew there were dozens of unmatched socks anchoring the dust bunnies under the kid's bed.

What she didn't know was that she'd find an empty pint of Jim Beam in a drawer when she went to put clothes away.

There had been no attempt to hide it, except (arguably) to close the drawer. That might be considered an attempt when one figures the kid can't be counted on to actually close his dresser drawers.

Long Suffering Spouse gave me all these facts in a quick burst in response to my question, "Why do you ask?"

I had to think on the question a bit then. I finally gave the lawyer's stock response: "It depends."

My wife is a bloodhound when it comes to extracurricular alcohol consumption. I get caught every time I have one on the way home. The kids have all been caught, too. If Youngest Son had been nipping at it in his room it would be almost impossible for my wife to miss the odor. She didn't catch him with this; that argues for the probability that he smuggled it home from someplace where he'd consumed it with others.

Youngest Son is a freshman in college. Experimentation with alcohol at that age is technically illegal -- and darn near unavoidable. He'd had opportunities over the past summer to be out with friends overnight -- so that he might have come in the next morning minty fresh... with an empty in his overnight bag. Experimentation can become problematic, but not always.

Youngest Son is an athlete. On the one hand, at his age and in his condition, he is likely to suffer fewer ill effects from occasional overindulgence than one older or in poorer shape. That makes it harder for even a bloodhound -- like my bride -- to ferret out. On the other hand, he is an athlete. He has games and practices and conditioning to maintain; too frequent consumption of alcohol will go a long way toward drowning his athletic career. Yet he seems to be doing well this year.

Nor have his grades suffered. Youngest Son is not going to compete for a Rhodes Scholarship, and his academic performance has always been hot and cold. It'd be easier to spot a sudden decline in the performance of a consistently good student, but I don't think his pattern has really changed.

I don't think there's anything funny about having a drinking Problem, capital P intended. That stuff can take over your life. But I'm no born-again bluenose. I used to tipple more than my share, especially when I was that age. I used to say Lent was a time to air out my liver. Sometimes I'd declare it was time to hang my liver out to dry and it wasn't Lent. There was a time, back when I was in college, when I'd spend whatever little money I made on booze: I'd drink my paycheck. Later, in law school, I made a little more money as a law clerk -- and I still tried to drink my paycheck. I soon realized I'd kill myself if I kept trying. I had to slow down. Some people can't slow down. They have to stop. My brother Bob apparently never did figure out how to do either (I haven't heard from him now in a year or more).

So I don't make light of the possibility that the kid has a drinking problem.

But... thinking it over... I think it's more likely, at this point anyway, that the kid has a stupid problem.

Youngest Son is an idiot: You don't leave an empty in the house where your mother can find it. (Bob used to hide his empty beer cans in the suspended ceiling in the basement of my parents' home in Boondockia. One day my father had occasion to try and adjust a tile. He was darn near buried in the avalanche. Bob had a stupid problem, too.)

When Youngest Son is home, he is usually the one who smuggles our recycling into neighboring Park Ridge, where my mother-in-law lives. They recycle; in Chicago, we're still talking about doing something someday. So he could have easily put the empty in the bag he left in Abuela's curbside blue bin.

He could have put it in our garbage can, too -- not entirely safe from discovery, but plausibly deniable if found -- unlike the discovery in a dresser drawer.

He could have left it at the kid's house where he consumed it: Let that kid's mother fret about it.

But he didn't do any of these things. And he's been found out.

And now Youngest Son's mother is on the case. Her antenna are up; her hackles are raised. If the kid's consumption exceeds the bounds of reasonable experimentation, Long Suffering Spouse will know.

Monday, April 09, 2012

You thought ants were bad at a picnic?

(Photograph by Alex Wild. Used here with permission of the copyright holder.)

I may have mentioned, from time to time, that our house is infested with ants.

Not the large, dangerous carpenter ants (that are as bad as termites and survive in harsher climates) but, rather, the little, ordinary brown ants that live in the dirt and gravel crawl space beneath our kitchen or the dirt crawl space beneath our den (or so I imagine).

It is an old house.

With the early spring this year, they've been more numerous than ever -- and Long Suffering Spouse has never been more vigilant.

She uses bleach in areas where food may be prepared and various types of sprays in other locations. Now we have grown kids who bring their dogs over for visits, so Long Suffering Spouse was recently casting about for something a bit more "pet friendly" than Raid.

She found something that claimed to be pet-friendly and organic and green and all those good things. As long as it was safe in the can, we looked very responsible and ecological.

But then she sprayed it.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have never smelled such a stench. My wife thinks it smells like some sort of rancid wintergreen -- and she hates wintergreen. The odor reminds me of the green powdery stuff the school janitors used to throw on top of kids' vomit -- only not nearly so pleasant. And it's heavy. It sinks like the poison gas used in World War I. The day after it was applied on the first floor, I had to go into the basement -- and thought I would choke to death. Thank heavens it's been warm this spring, so we can open the doors and windows and flush out the stink.

The spray does kill ants -- but not indefinitely.

So it's been a battle all spring. Attack and counterattack. And sometimes the ants attack the kitchen counters, too. A chip fragment or cookie crumb on the den floor, one so small as to escape my notice when I left it behind, can become a little brown ball of greedy ants in a few hours.

But fast forward now to Easter Sunday.

Youngest Son couldn't come home from school; the very secular South Janesville College does not give any time off for Easter and he had doubleheaders on Good Friday and Holy Saturday both. Older Daughter had to work and her husband Hank had to sing at his Easter Sunday services in Indianapolis. Younger Daughter and Olaf had to be at the home of Olaf's aunt. Olaf's mother and aunt have taken charge of decorations for the forthcoming wedding (Olaf and Younger Daughter will be wed in June).

Olaf and Younger Daughter promised to get back to our house for dessert. But Oldest Son and Abby and their little dog Rodent came to dinner, as did Abuela and Middle Son. And Middle Son brought a guest.

Middle Son has been dating a girl -- I'll call her Margaret because that's not her name -- for some time now. (It was around this time just last year that I discovered that Middle Son had gone public -- on Facebook -- with the arrangement.) Margaret has met all Middle Son's siblings -- but Middle Son had not (until Easter) been quite ready to subject her to Long Suffering Spouse and me. But for his sister's wedding, he might have put off this introduction even longer. As it was, he'd only warned us a week ago that he might be bringing Margaret to Easter dinner.

This is a big step.

There were a couple of girls that I dated that came to my parents' house in Boondockia, but I'm pretty sure that the only girl I ever actually brought to a family function at that house was the future Long Suffering Spouse. Oldest Son never brought any girl to our house until he brought Abby. Hank hung around the house for seven years on assorted holidays -- but Older Daughter had never inflicted anyone else on us before. A couple of Younger Daughter's disgruntled ex-boyfriends tried to burn down our house once or twice, but the only one she's brought into the house is Olaf.

So Middle Son's bringing Margaret to Easter Dinner is/was officially a Big Deal.

She seems very nice. Not tall, in my opinion, but not too short. (Middle Son is tall.) She's thin -- very thin -- delicate-looking, maybe even fragile in appearance. But really thin people often have harsh facial features, and I'd noticed (from a few Facebook photos that I'd seen) that her face might appear angular and sharp. But, in person, the lines were softened. She's clearly bright. She has a pale complexion. You know the one the romance writers call milky white? She really is. Middle Son says she dyes her blondish hair dark, but I don't know if he's pulling my leg. He might be, you know.

Anyway, Long Suffering Spouse cooked and cleaned, and cleaned and baked and I assisted with everything except food preparation. I carried stuff up and down the stairs. I washed dishes that couldn't go in the dishwasher, loaded and unloaded said dishwasher, set the table, dusted. I even got the laundry started.

Now ham is the main course of every Easter dinner in my experience. I don't know if that's a Chicago thing, a U.S. thing, or a worldwide truth. But we always have ham.

And my wife always bakes one or more lamb cakes.

The symbology of the lamb cake at Easter is, I assume, obvious. Usually, Long Suffering Spouse will make a pound cake and decorate it with frosting, including shredded coconut to suggest wool -- or dyed green around the cake to suggest grass. And, in the last several years, if she makes one, she must make two: Abuela wants her own.

But this year Long Suffering Spouse made a third lamb cake -- this one of German chocolate.

I truly love German chocolate cake, and I don't get it nearly enough.

There's a fine line in families. If only Dad likes something, it will be dropped from the family menu. If everyone likes something, Dad will be lucky to get a taste. German chocolate cake is something that only I like, apparently, although Younger Daughter recently said she liked it too. I have no illusions. Long Suffering Spouse made it because Younger Daughter would help me eat it.

Dinner went well. Middle Son teases Margaret all the time, accusing her of 'eating like a bird.' That, indeed, was one of the few pieces of information Middle Son had ever doled out about her before Sunday. Not to be outdone, I offered Margaret the supermodel special -- a stick of celery with a daub of ranch dressing -- if that wasn't too much. Margaret tucked into two platefuls of everything just to show us. Middle Son was impressed.

Rodent was not too obnoxious. She's too small to really beg at the table. She was excited, though, and did let loose with the Wee Wee of Joy on the living room rug at one point. Oldest Son cleaned it up immediately.

Long Suffering Spouse, as always, had enough food to feed the Russian army, just in case it might march through during dinner. The dining room table was crowded, and Long Suffering Spouse spilled her wine a couple of times trying to serve everyone with everything.

And, finally, it was time for dessert. Abuela had made flan and Abby looks forward to it. I don't think Margaret had ever heard of flan, much less tried it, but she tried it Sunday and bravely claimed to enjoy it. I had a small piece -- but I was saving up room for my German chocolate cake.

Finally someone brought it out, still wrapped in aluminum foil. Long Suffering Spouse had set this out on a table near a window so it wouldn't be in the way.

I greedily unwrapped it.

Middle Son, seated to my left, was the first to notice.

"Um, Dad? Look."

"Oh my." There were ants. Lots of ants. They'd penetrated the aluminum foil, but as near as I could tell, they were mostly on the bottom of the glass serving platter. I brushed them off onto the tablecloth and dispatched them. (Hey, the wine had already been spilled, OK?)

Middle Son was looking at me in horror. "Um, Dad?"

I kept brushing and squishing, brushing and squishing. I really like German chocolate cake.

Finally Middle Son could take it no longer. He jumped up and took the platter away from me and showed it to his mother out in the kitchen. Muffled, embarrassed sounds emanated therefrom; then there was a thumping noise. I figured out what had happened.

"You threw out my whole cake?"

"Mom said. And there were ants everywhere." Maybe they blended in with the frosting and I couldn't tell. I think he was exaggerating. But I'm really unhappy with ants just now.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Allergic to our wonderful Spring? It just figures...

The weather has been amazing in Chicago in the last several weeks. Yesterday was only five or six degrees above the normal average temperature for that date -- and a lot of folks complained how "cold" it was.

Today will be colder still -- frost warnings are posted for tonight in the western suburbs -- but that's almost certainly because the Cubs open at home today. It wouldn't be baseball season without cold and damp weather. (The rain is expected by Saturday evening.)

Still, this year, today, when the Chubbies open, the ivy on the Wrigley Field wall will be nearly all green -- amazing for this time of year. But it's consistent: Our lilacs are already past their peak. Usually they bloom in time for our anniversary in early May. The forsythia bloomed before the lilacs, as is customary. What departed from custom was that they bloomed in March. Mid-March. Flowers are leaping out of the ground. Lawn services are already busy (our grass should probably be cut, too). The magnolias have bloomed and all the other flowering crabapple and other trees, too, the delicate pink and white blossoms, and the maple seeds are starting to helicopter, and... and...

My nose is stuffed. My eyes are red and watery. I feel like I've swallowed a bucketful of phlegm. I originally thought I'd caught cold, but this has persisted for weeks now. I took increasing amounts sinus pills, the kind that honest people have to sign their lives away for, lest we set up meth labs with our 40 pills or capsules.

I'd get some relief, but I grew more fatigued with every passing day. My doctor explained that I was sending my blood pressure up through the roof. He wants me to snort seawater up my nose instead. If I'd wanted to snort things up my nose, I would have taken advantage of the cocaine occasionally offered to me in the 1970s.

Well, says my doctor, we're having a mega-abundant-spring; seasonal allergies are therefore in overdrive mode as well. "And," he adds, with just a delicious twist of malice, "seasonal allergies tend to get worse as we get older."

Thanks, Doc.

Sometimes I've been accused of being insufficiently curmudgeonly. But not today, buster. No siree, Bob.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Curmudgeon on insurance coverage litigation

My learned opponent was showering me with praise that was both effusive and insincere. "Mr. Curmudgeon," he intoned, "has invented an extraordinary position in this case. According to his reading of the policy, he must prevail: Heads he wins, tails I lose."

"Well, of course," I wanted to shout -- but didn't -- after over 30 years of courtroom experience, I am somewhat able to control my outbursts -- "if it were otherwise, I wouldn't have filed the case."

Let me explain: Insurance is a way to spread risk. There are four basic kinds of insurance.

Property insurance protects us against some things we cannot control -- risks like fire, tornado, or a car careening off the road and into our living room. Without insurance, a house fire might bankrupt a family. But, thanks to insurance, where every policyholder pays a little against the prospect that this bad thing might happen to them, a house fire is merely a horrible ordeal -- but one from which a family can recover. Things can be replaced.

Property insurance covers things that can happen, not things that must. Things that must happen -- entropy increases -- are not covered. The roof on your home will eventually wear out -- and loss caused by ordinary wear and tear is not covered.

Of course, property insurance does not cover everything that can happen. Flood, typically, is not covered by your homeowners insurance. The risk of flood is too great in some areas; in those areas -- flood plains -- the government sells a separate policy. Which (if you live in such an area) you really should have. Earthquake also is not typically covered. Insurance companies want to survive even if the Big One hits California.

The second and third types of what we call "insurance" aren't really insurance at all. If you think of insurance as something that protects you against what might happen, as opposed to what must happen, life and health insurance make no sense at all. Everybody dies; the risk addressed by life insurance is really the risk of dying young -- because not everybody does that. If you live a long and full life you've more than paid for any life insurance your heirs collect.

Health insurance is more or less a scam. The risk of catastrophic illness is insurable, because not everyone will face catastrophic illness in their lifetime (it just seems that way). However, "wellness care" or annual checkups or any of a dozen gimcracks and geegaws larded onto the typical health "plan," some by statute, have nothing to do with any arguable concept of shared risk; they're just ways of getting someone else to pay for stuff you'd otherwise pay on your own. And you know the really important flaw in this? If you don't have to pay for it, and you get it anyway, you probably don't really care what it costs, do you? Here is the source of our ever-rising health care costs.

The fourth type of insurance is liability insurance. Liability insurance policyholders get someone else to pay for their mistakes. It was always worthwhile to sue if you got rear-ended by a Rolls-Royce; mandatory insurance laws may make it worthwhile to sue even if you were hit instead by a used Yugo. May.

The basic struggle in liability insurance is between negligent and intentional conduct: Mistakes happen (there are earthier ways to express this) -- but sometimes someone does something accidentally... on purpose.

If I were to whack you upside the head with a pool cue and knock out a few of your teeth, you might have me arrested for battery. But that wouldn't pay your dentist. You might sue me for battery -- an intentional tort -- but I may be without assets to compensate you. So, instead, you sue me for negligently swinging my pool cue around the barroom without first ascertaining whether your head was in the way. Now -- perhaps -- my liability insurance will pay your dental bills.

You can see the problem: Without easy access to liability insurance proceeds, all sorts of folks injured by the wrongful conduct of others will be forced to wholly bear the costs of the others' harm. The slogan of toddlers and teenagers everywhere -- it's not fair! -- is also a powerful mantra in the law.

Insurers tweak their policies continuously looking to limit their exposure to truly accidental occurrences; judges look at insuring agreements and exclusions with a jaundiced eye, looking to penetrate those verbal defenses wherever arguably possible to achieve a fair result (fair often being defined to mean that the insurance company has the only money and can afford to pay).

An insurance coverage attorney, then -- me, for example -- has to be aware of this fact of life and to always, always, always urge the insurer to caution about asserting a potential policy defense. It might be different in environmental coverage cases, where it might make sense to risk hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees against the possibility of avoiding millions, or tens of millions in exposure -- but in normal homeowner or CGL policy situations, the cost of asserting a defense is frequently -- often -- maybe even usually -- outweighed by the risk of failure. By the risk of a judge deciding not to read the policy as written or apply the exclusion because... well, just because.

Small wonder, then, that, in coverage litigation, when an insurer decides, after careful consideration, to pursue a defense that there would be more than one path to victory for an insurer. The policies are designed to dovetail, to interlock; if a judge opens one door, he or she may very well have closed a window.

Such was my case yesterday.

We'll see what the judge thinks. He was reviewing a case transferred to him from another judge. I'd made a different argument to that judge and she, in ruling against me, in being "fair," had made some findings which (in my opinion) necessitate the application of a different policy defense. The court was initially not too sure about this... but who knows?

The funny thing is, if you sit in the Daley Center courtrooms as often as I do, you'll see that insurers do win coverage cases. All the time. Every judge seems to understand -- as I've explained to you this morning -- that no prudent insurer brings a coverage case unless it is certain sure of its rights. Every judge in the Daley Center seems to understand this, alas, except the ones I appear before....

Sometimes it just gets to me.

Sometimes I just want to scream....

It's not fair!

Monday, April 02, 2012

"Dustin" storyline prompts soul searching -- or at least iPod searching

One of my new favorite comic strips these days is "Dustin," by Steve Kelley & Jeff Parker. The title character is a 23-year old slacker kid who has finished college but hasn't found full-time employment or moved out of his parents' house.

I don't have one of those. So far. Thank God.

But I identify with Mr. Ed Kudlik, Dustin's father, a paunchy, balding, middle-aged lawyer. (Gosh... why would I find anything in common with someone like that?)

Last week's strips focused on the loss of Ed's iPod -- on which Dustin had thoughtfully inscribed his father's name and phone number so it could be returned if lost. Extortion ensues. I've included four from the set, which culminated on Sunday, to give you the gist of the storyline. (You can find all of these, for the time being, on the Chicago Tribune Comics Kingdom site.)





After this little story, I identify with Ed more than ever now: There's Barry Manilow on my iPod, too. And some Paul Anka, too (though not "Having My Baby"). There's Air Supply, and Bread and Meat Loaf and the Bee-Gees on my iPod as well.

In Sunday's strip, Mr. Kudlik tries to persuade the blackmailer that the threat of exposure does not frighten him. "Your threat [is] to disclose that I enjoy a healthy variety of popular music?" he asks. The blackmailer replies, "My mistake, Mr. Kudlik. I'm sure lots of professional, middle-aged men have six Bee Gees hits on their iPods."

Um.

I have 11 on mine. I just counted. Including the insufferable "New York Mining Disaster 1941." Oh sure, you don't remember the title. But if I start falsetto singing, "In the event of something happening to me/ There is something I would like you all to see...," years of therapy might come undone and, worse, that dumb song would be stuck in your head for a week. Even though you hated, hated, hated it when it was in the Top 40.

You give me a hard time here and I'll cue up Jim Stafford's "I Don't Like Spiders and Snakes."

I like having that stuff around, really, just in case I ever get tempted to think that popular music "then" was uniformly great.

I really do like a variety of music. Stevie Wonder just gave way -- just now -- to Artie Shaw on my iPod. Earth, Wind & Fire and Blood, Sweat & Tears and Tony Bennett. Louis Jordan -- the King of the Jukebox -- still reigns on my iPod, in heavy rotation. (When I was little, my father told me "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby" was the national anthem of the South Side of Chicago. I believed him.)

I've never traveled much. But when I'd go out of state for a deposition, one of the first things I'd do would be to look for the Oldies station on the rental car radio. I would generally be disappointed. I mean, I'm OK listening to Kansas, the Cars, Elton John or the Doobie Brothers for the thousandth time -- but there'd never be anything by the Temptations or Smokey Robinson or Lou Rawls. In Chicago we had both on our radio stations (WCFL and WLS). Was it really that different elsewhere?